Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World

Article excerpt

All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World. By Ruth A. Johnson. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood, 2011. 2 vols. acid free $180 (ISBN: 978-0-3133-6462-4). E-Book available (978-0-3133-6463-1), call for pricing.

Rather than focusing only on the written record--the letters, diaries, public documents, and other primary sources traditionally used by historians in telling the story of the past--this volume takes a close look at the things our forebears left behind, such as tools, clothing, weapons and so on. It is, therefore, a catalog of artifacts from the period known as the Middle Ages, approximately 550 AD to 1450 AD.

Coverage is wide ranging, with the 116 entries discussing not only man-made things but the raw materials from which they came ("Iron," "Salt"), manufacturing processes ("Glass," "Jewelry"), and in some cases, activities and events ("Crusades," "Dance"). Most entries are several pages in length, with subheadings breaking up the text into easily digestible segments. Cross-references appear in boldface type and each article concludes with a further reading list. Crisp black and white photographs of objects discussed complement the text.

Unfortunately, there are some serious weaknesses apparent with this set, not the least of which are the minimal qualifications of the author. All that can be ascertained from the biographical blurb is that "Johnson is an independent scholar with a research specialty in medieval literature and languages. She is the author of A Companion to Beowulf (Greenwood, 2005)." No mention is made of her academic credentials and the possible lack thereof is reflected in her writing style. Much of the verbiage here consists of statements of the obvious, as in the entry for "Sieges" in which she posits that "the purpose of a ram is simple. …

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