Academic journal article Medium Aevum

New Cambridge Medieval History, VII: C.1415-C.1500

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

New Cambridge Medieval History, VII: C.1415-C.1500

Article excerpt

New Cambridge Medieval History, VII: c.1415 - c.1500, ed. Christopher Allmand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). xxii + 1,048 pp.; 24 plates, 21 maps. ISBN 0-521-38296-3.L 65.00.

Fifteenth-century Europe may not seem propitious territory for a multiauthored, monumental work like the New CMH. Caught, even now, between discourses of 'waning' and 'renaissance', this period is a difficult one to characterize; its sources are extensive, its politics are intricate, its major cultural, social, and economic dynamics obscure or debated. The achievement of Christopher Allmand and his contributors is thus particularly striking. This is a book which not only succeeds in its series's traditional task of presenting canonical information on a suitably lavish scale, but also rises to the more novel and difficult challenge of making sense of the fifteenth century, both as a whole, and in most of its constituent spheres. The country-by-country surveys which dominated the old CMH still account for more than half the book, but here they are preceded by three sections covering, respectively, conceptual and constitutional frameworks, society and the economy, and culture. Structure thus receives as much prominence as action, and most of the contributors succeed brilliantly in presenting and explaining their interplay: the thematic chapters typically have a dynamic element; the narrative chapters, which often cover more than politics alone, typically discuss structural conditions. Some of the structural chapters get bogged down in problems of definition or categorization; occasionally, they rely on dated generalizations (was fifteenthcentury Europe really beset by problems of authority unleashed by the Great Schism, for example? …

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