Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia

By Barefield, Laura D. | Arthuriana, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia


Barefield, Laura D., Arthuriana


KATHARINA M. WILSON and NADIA MARGOLis, eds., Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia, 2 volumes. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. Pp. xxxix, 997. ISBN: 0-313-33017-4, 0-313-33018-1. $199.95.

This new encyclopedia presents the reader with two hefty volumes, packed with over 300 entries. Each entry comprises an essay of sometimes considerable length, followed by a bibliography of primary and secondary works. Entries are also cross-referenced to other similar topics. The editors have striven to include 'both basic and in-depth information,' on both individuals and broad topics, spanning from the second to the fifteenth centuries, that will provide a broad sampling of 'medieval women's diverse cultures.' This project consciously expands its boundaries beyond Europe, offering entries on non-western cultures such as China, India, and the Aztecs. The editors seek to include not only canonical topics but also those that have been neglected or marginalized, such as transvestism, in order to enable new avenues of study.

The coverage of this encyclopedia is generally good, providing entries on women active in most European countries as well as the Byzantine. Its focus is broadly interdisciplinary, including literary figures and writers as well as historical figures active in politics, religion, art, and music. This project focuses not only on individual women, however, but also gives attention to concepts useful in Women's and Gender Studies such as dress, rape, celibacy, and marriage.

There are inevitable gaps in any conceptual framework, and this is where these volumes fall short. For example, when one searches for 'Mothers' or 'Motherhood,' one is referred by a cross reference to 'Childhood and Childrearing.' Alas, when one consults that nearly nine page entry, which offers a splendid synthesis of the work of Aries and his successors, there is but one paragraph focusing on mothers, describing Clarissa Atkinson's work on the idea of Christian motherhood. …

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