Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval Italy: Texts in Translation

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval Italy: Texts in Translation

Article excerpt

Medieval Italy: Texts in Translation. Edited by Katherine L. Jansen, Joanna Drell, and Frances Andrews. [The Middle Ages Series.] (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2009. Pp. xxviii, 596. $69.95. ISBN 978-0812-24164-8.)

Frustrated with the dominant Anglo-French "normative" approach to medieval history, the editors have undertaken an ambitious and important task: to gather together "for the first time in one volume the primary sources in translation necessary for teaching the history of the Central and Later Middle Ages in Italy" (p. xix).This aid for university instructors is organized in twelve thematic chapters, beginning with the deep structure of the peasant economy, documenting the exercise of secular and ecclesiastical power, and culminating with examples of religious and social life. There is much to learn from what is certainly the most extensive collection of translated medieval Italian documents in the English-speaking world. Many of the 120 documents are translated for the first time from a variety of languages: Italian, Latin, Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew. Clear prefatory material introduces the documents, which are drawn from administrative records, legal codes, educational texts, and chronicles. Although often from minor political and economic areas, the documents are illustrative of texts and practices widely used throughout Italy.

Readers and instructors will do well to heed the editors' stated organizing principles to focus on the current state of Anglo-American research and the exceptional aspects of the Italian experience. As a result, this book is neither an anthology of well-known medieval texts nor a traditional survey of medieval history. Most of the selections are brief economic and political documents regarding people and places unfamiliar to most American undergraduates, the intended audience of the book. Scholars and students looking for the classic literary works, such as those by St. Francis of Assisi or Dante, will have to look elsewhere. Those seeking a straightforward historical narrative should consult the textbooks referred to by the editors in the introduction. …

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