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The World of Books: An Acquisitions Editor on Reading, Contracting, and Writing Great Medieval History Books

All acquisitions editors must be thankful for the fifteenth century. Not only did Johannes Gutenberg usher in the so-called ‘Printing Revolution’ when he started to use a movable-type printing press while in Strasbourg, ultimately providing us all with employment, but perhaps more importantly, Muhammad ibn Sa’id al-Dhabhani  started to brew coffee in the Yemen, without which none of us would be able to do our jobs.

The truth spoken here in jest is surely the remarkable potential for writing and publishing to bring together different parts of the world into closer connection to one another, often in unexpected ways. Great history books in particular possess the ability to deepen cultural understanding and relationships between very different sorts of people. My role as Acquisitions Editor for Late Antiquity and Global Medieval History with Arc Humanities Press enables me to actively participate in this noble endeavour, complementing my own research and scholarship along the way.

The encounter with a ‘great history book’ opens new ways of thinking and, indeed, new opportunities to grow personally and intellectually. One such book fell into my hands while, in the early 2000s, I neared the completion of my undergraduate degree in history and philosophy, altering the direction of my studies and leading me toward my doctorate and beyond. In trying to understand the end of the Roman Empire and its aftermath, I turned to the (then recently published) second edition of Peter Brown’s The Rise of Western Christendom. Unlike so many books and, indeed, so many university courses on ‘Western Civilisation’, Brown’s monograph did not start in the city of Rome or ancient Greece, or with Cicero or Plato. It started in Edessa, modern Şanlıurfa in south-eastern Turkey near the Syrian border, with Bardaisan’s Book of the Laws of the Countries, in which the Edessan scholar surveyed the societies across the great arc of civilisation from China to the north Atlantic. ‘We should always remember’, Brown urged us, ‘that the “Making of Europe” involved a set of events which took place on the far, northwestern tip of that arc.’ It was not enough for me to learn about Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans along the banks of the Tyne; I needed to learn about the walls built by the Romans in Libya, Tunisia, and Jordan – then about those built by the Persians in Gorgan…

The commitment by Arc Humanities Press to a global approach to premodern history opens the field to publishing scholarly works that range even beyond Bardaisan’s ambitious field of vision. Our series Beyond Medieval Europe confronts western-centric conceptions of Europe by focusing attention on interconnectivity with eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Baltic, Russia, and the Latin East of the Crusades. Medieval Islamicate World looks at the shared history of Muslims, Jews, and Christians from al-Andalus to China. Black Sea World unsettles our centre of gravity, shifting us away from individual polities like Ottoman Turkey or the Crimean Khanate to examine the Black Sea region as its own distinct cultural and economic zone. We are currently developing new series that venture further still, across the Punjab with South Asian Medieval and Early Modern Studies and into the Americas with The Caribbean World.

As acquisitions editor for these series I look forward to meeting future authors from all over the world and to working closely with them to develop their research and to bring it to the wider public. Most of all, I look forward to continuing to be enriched by the experience. And, of course, I hope to continue to produce little history books of my own on Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

by Erin Thomas Dailey E.T. Dailey