Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

The Expansion of Europe, 1250-1500

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

The Expansion of Europe, 1250-1500

Article excerpt

The Expansion of Europe, 1250-1500, by Michael North. Manchester Medieval Studies. Manchester, United Kingdom, Manchester University Press, 2012. xiv, 561 pp. $38.95 US (paper).

Title and subtitle seem strangely mismatched, as by most accounts Christendom stagnated or shrank for much of the period Michael North characterizes as one of expansion. The author insists on using the word chiefly in connexion with trade, credit, specie, the output of mines, and demand for some types of goods, especially luxuries, without attempting to suppress the shifts of rhythm and the patchiness of the patterns. He speaks of "expansion of the state," by which he means the lengthening reach and deepening penetration of governments realm by realm; but he does not accord natural disasters any part in fomenting state power or hard times any part in sustaining it. He refers to "social and cultural expansion" but it is not clear what this means, except change. The elephants in the room--plague and cold--bellow like eidetic images, apparently undetected by the author, who does not mention climate and hardly mentions disease. It might be possible to fit a narrative of expansion around the Black Death, which, perhaps, increased demand for slaves and for new sources of energy, released capital, and accustomed victim-societies to risk. But North makes no attempt of this sort, and shows no interest in what is surely the great paradox that links the period he tackles in this book with the subsequent period, in which he is a rightly applauded expert: an era of demographic constraint and abundance of land in Europe coincided with one of increasingly reckless long-range adventurism and colonization. …

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