Saturday, March 03, 2007

Medieval History question...

Does anyone have a recommendation for a relatively inexpensive, accessible (i.e., for an undergrad audience) book on general historical and cultural information about the Middle Ages? I'm teaching a medieval literature survey next semester and although I always give mini-lectures about historical issues (women and gender, the Church and anti-fraternalism, rise of mercantilism, etc.), one thing I've been getting from my teaching evals over the years is that students actually want to know MORE about the historical context (I know, it's amazing, but it's been a real trend! They say, "I wish Prof. Medieval Woman could give even more background on lepers and Lollardy"?!?) So when I teach Chaucer, I can't give them an adequate understanding of the historical context of the issues raised in the Pardoner's Tale or The Prioress's Tale, etc. without sacrificing precious time that we should actually be examining the literature. In my mini-lectures, I also save time to go over the various genres we're dealing with (drama, dream vision, fabliau, romance, etc.) and that also takes away from the time I have to give them enough historical background.

So, what I'm thinking is that if I could find a good solid history book that dealt with all of the major trends, like heresy, etc. I could make it a recommended text and if any student was interested in reading a little more about the history, they would have it there as an option. That way I could free up some of my time and sketch a basic historical background and then dive into the literature, which is ultimately the purpose of the class. I guess another option would be to make up a whole bunch of historical handouts for each class, but that would be a ton of work and if there was a nice accessible history book, I'd be happier with that!

Help me, Obi Wan....er, I mean, Medieval Bloggers. You're my only Hope!

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9 Comments:

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I've always been partial to Hollister (Medieval Europe: A Short History) for being fun and readable; there's also Cook & Herzman, The Medieval World View, which would probably fit in well with a lit course. (Of course you should probably wait and see what the real medievalists have to say... :)

 
At 11:13 PM, Anonymous medieval historian said...

The Hollister is good. I use Barbara Rosenwein's Short History of the Middle Ages in my survey classes, but it might be more expensive. The Penguin History of the Middle Ages (by Maurice Keen) is also pretty good, and a bit anglocentric, which might suit your purposes well.

 
At 11:58 PM, Blogger medieval woman said...

Thanks for the recommendations - the Hollister looks interesting as does the Keen book. I also just ran across a book titled Medieval England: A Social History, 1250-1550 by P.J.P. Goldberg and it looks pretty interesting. It has a section on Learning and Literacy, the Peasant's Revolt, etc.

Keep the recommendations coming - this is great!

 
At 8:19 AM, Blogger Another Damned Medievalist said...

There are also basic texts by Roger Collins (I think), Edward Peters, and Brian Tierney. We used Hollister when I was an undergrad. I would definitely not use Ruiz/Winkel.

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I have the Ruiz/Winkel but haven't looked at it yet - ADM, why don't you like it?

 
At 6:33 PM, Blogger HeoCwaeth said...

Robert Bartlett's The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350 is good for late medieval stuff.

I kinda hate that it starts at 950, cause, like, hello?! Carolingians anyone?! But, still, the book contains a good basic understanding of aristocracy and power and trading.

It's weak on heresies, though.

 
At 4:40 AM, Blogger Carine said...

well young padawan....
I'd go with Rosenwein. It's short, clear, has lots of good pictures and a decent website with study questions and stuff. Very well suited for your purpose, I'd say. And a lot 'lighter' than Warren/Hollister, Thierny/Painter etc.

 
At 5:18 PM, Blogger Another Damned Medievalist said...

Re Ruiz/Winks (not Winkel, as it turns out). I wish I could find the review of it that I sent to LDW. My recollection is that it oversimplified a lot of things and was just wrong in terms of some of the earlier stuff. Ruiz is a Late MA person, and it was clear he had no real grasp of the changes in the historiography of the Late Antique Early Medieval period over the last 30 or so years. At least, that's my memory of it.

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Ah, that makes sense - I got that book because I loooooove Ruiz's work on Spain, but I can see how he could be much weaker on the early medieval stuff.

 

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