- Copertina flessibile: 400 pagine
- Editore: Penguin; 3 edizione (1 agosto 2002)
- Collana: Penguin History of Europe
- Lingua: Inglese
- ISBN-10: 0140166645
- ISBN-13: 978-0140166644
- Peso di spedizione: 240 g
- Posizione nella classifica Bestseller di Amazon:
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Europe in the High Middle Ages: The Penguin History of Europe (Inglese) Copertina flessibile – 1 ago 2002
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The Penguin History of Europe series ... is one of contemporary publishing's great projects (New Statesman)
With five volumes now out, the Penguin History of Europe series ... is shaping up to be the best general account available, superseding all previous ones (Economist)
William Chester Jordan is Professor of History at Princeton University and the author of THE GREAT FAMINE.
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The author however leaves out some important parts of the story. That the High Middle Ages represents an important period of growth and arguably is the era when Western Europe first developed a distinctive culture that stood as an equal to that of its neighbours cannot be doubted. The author sets out well enough a broad outline of the narrative of these developments but if you are interested in a deeper understanding of why this transformation occurred, the discussion does not go much further than the basic narrative. An end to raids by Vikings, Hungarians and Arabs, population growth, an expansion of agriculture, technological change such as the spread of the heavy plough, the development of trade and cities, the establishment of deep and durable connections with Islam and Byzantium all made their contributions to the transformation of Europe but any real discussion of how these factors worked to bring about that transformation and what were the most important is missing.
The absence of any real overview of economic history thus is a specific weakness. For example, the workings of the feudal system and indeed any discussion of what it was or whether it really existed outside certain parts of France could add to the narrative. The importance of the revival of trade especially long distance trade that connected the Champagne fairs to far off parts of the world is a major omission from the work, particularly given the importance of this trade to urban life - and to the broader context - see below. The revival of a vibrant urban life was an important feature of the period.
The treatment of links with the Islamic world is disappointing. Although the Crusades are well covered as are aspects of the Reconquista, relations with Islam are portrayed essentially as a political conflict with Western Christendom resulting in defeat for Christians in the Holy Land and victory in Spain. Apart from some reference to the influence of Avicenna and Averroes on Christian thought, there is little or no discussion of the important positive role that interaction with Muslims played on the transformation of Europe. This included diffusion of technology such as the astrolabe, ship building, irrigation and new crops such an oranges and rice. The long standing relationship/alliance between Venice and Egypt a key partnership with Muslims was one of the cornerstones of inter-State relations during the period. This relationship was to a great extent a foundation plank of Venice's power and wealth and therefore a key part of the story of the times. This gets no airplay. There is also no discussion of the tolerance that could and did exist alongside political and religious conflict especially in Spain and Sicily under both Muslim and Christian rulers. It was that tolerance that allowed Christians, Muslims and Jews to work together and develop much of the intellectual groundwork for what later became the Western tradition. There is complete absence of any discussion of life in Muslim ruled states in Spain and Sicily. This too is part of Europe and its past. No discussion of the High Middle Ages could be complete without some coverage of the subject but this is missing.
There are specific instances where the lack of coverage of Muslim Europe and its multi-faceted relationship and engagement with Christian Europe can lead the author to make incomplete or even wrong statements. For example, he refers to the introduction of the astrolabe as a "new" instrument. In fact it was not new at all but used previously in the Islamic world before being transmitted to Christians. He also makes the statement that there were no universities in Spain. This may be correct in the sense that universities following the Western model were not founded in Spain during the era but the statement misses the leading role that equivalent Islamic centres of learning in Andalusia played in the development of new knowledge. Roger Garaudy makes the case that the real "renaissance" of learning during the High Middle Ages began there and later spread to Christian Europe. This may or may not be on point but suggests a general development of knowledge that encompassed both the Christian and Muslim world (in which the Muslims (and Jews) took an early lead) as part of a common process that underpinned the era.
The coverage of Eastern Europe is also wanting. There is a good coverage of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia and to this extent, Jordan's book goes further than older histories to provide a more complete narrative. However, there is little or nothing on Orthodox Europe ie Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. Byzantium itself is discussed but only insofar as it's interactions with Crusaders makes its way into the narrative. As a part of the narrative in its own right, Byzantium gets little mention. This too is a significant omission given the importance of the Greeks in the rise of Venice and the expansion of Christianity into the Slavic lands. The Russian connection is also important for example the contest between the Teutonic knights and Alexander Nevsky that in the end established the boundary between Orthodoxy and Catholicism within Europe. This gets little coverage.
The failure to engage adequately with Islam and the Orthodox lands results also in missing the importance of long distance trade that linked Europe not just with Islam, Byzantium and Russia but also India and ultimately China. Europe during the High Middle Ages was sharply distinguished from earlier centuries by the beginning of its enduring links with a newly globalised world that had become possible because of the Pax Mongolica and Islamic trade routes across the Indian Ocean. It was of course that long distance trade that become so important towards the end of the period in question that eventually propelled the developments of the fifteenth century taking Western Europeans across the Atlantic and directly into the Asia. That globalised world that began during the High Middle Ages, described by Janet Abu Lughod in her groundbreaking work "Before European Hegemony" is the ancestor of the world today. The High Middle Ages for Europe was not just a key formative period in more than one way but the global context is missing from the narrative.
Despite these significant omissions, Jordans work is a good basic introduction to part of the story. To complete that basic introduction, the reader will need to look elsewhere. The classic work of Henri Pirenne, Marc Bloch and Georges Duby might be a good start to looking at the economic history of the era although a serious reader will need to look further to contemporary works. The writings of the two Gies might provide a good overview of medieval technology and the story of its diffusion from as far away as East Asia. The globalised context is described admirably by Abu Lughod. A definitive general history of High Medieval Europe needs to integrate the story told by Jordan with the broader context set by the Islamic and Orthodox World and the economic and technological dimension that takes the narrative into a global setting. That definitive history is yet to be written.
The organization and writing is workmanlike. Jordan's schema divides the period first by century and then by region. This inevitably leads to repetition when the same event impacts dfferent regions and when Jordan backtracks or foreshadows events from other centuries in order to establish context. It is impossible to create a smooth narrative in such a rigid framework. The organization lends itself to spot referencing rather than reading cover to cover. Jordan may not be a prose stylist, but his writing is clear and concise.
There are no footnotes nor endnotes. The "References" section is a scant four pages long and is made up mostly of secondary sources. Jordan makes an occasional historiological feint, but without any real substance. One is left feeling the book is neither fish (a serious academic history) nor fowl (a popular history for the general public).
The most glaring defect in the book, for this reader, is its treatment, or rather non-treatment, of Muslim rule in Iberia and Sicily. Jordan finds time to tell us the sad story of Isaac, a Christian hermit, who persisted in reviling Muhammad in the streets of Cordoba in 852 and was executed after being warned to desist. Yet there is no mention of the Ummayad dynasty that had unified the Iberian peninsula into the Caliphate of Al Anadluz, whose officials put Isaac to death! At the beginning of the 11th Century Al Andaluz may have been the richest, was probably the most tolerant, and was certainly the most cultured region of Europe. Jordan devotes far more space to the "Reconquest" than he does to the Arabic culture and language that dominated the peninsula throughout the period covered in his book. The library at Cordoba contained 400,000 books and manuscripts at a time when the largest libary in Europe north of the Pyrenees had less than 500. Jordan begins his chapter, "The World of Learning" by connecting the start of "...a long period of renewal and creativity in Europe" to the First Crusade. In fact, the translations of classic Greek works of philosphy and science he says fueled the development of the schools of Paris and other universities came from Arabic texts translated by Muslims and Jews in Toledo at the behest of Abbot Hugh of Cluny. More than a page in the chapter on vernacular literature is devoted to the Song of Roland without noting that the chanson commemorates the retreat of Charlemagne before the armies of the first Ummayad Caliph Abd al Rahman. Jordan writes of the freebooter El Cid and "...his struggles with the Muslims", failing to mention that El Cid fought for Muslim rulers as well against them. In the extensive genealogical tables at the end of the book one finds lists of every Christian dynasty from Byzantium to Norway, but no mention of any Muslim dynasty. The first "King" of Portugal listed is Afonso I who ruled midway through the period with which the book is concerned. No earlier Muslim ruler is listed. The same thing is true of the rulers of Spain, Sicily, Tripoli, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Christian rulers of the period are listed, but nary a Muslim monarch. Jordan seems to have gone out of his way to render Muslim participation in and contribution to Europe's high middle ages invisible.
As pointed out by another reader-reviewer, this book is significantly shorter than the other published volume in this series, Timothy Blanning's quite good book on 18th century Europe, and consequently provides less depth. Areas where more discussion would have been useful would be more description of economic history, some discussion of history of technology, and some history of Medieval science. Two disappointing features of this book (and Blanning's book as well) are the absence of footnotes and only a short bibliography.
Although the nations of Europe began to take their modern shape during the high middle ages, political power was extremely decentralized, especially in France, more than in the period immediately before and afterwards. The Papacy became more prominent on the international stage and powerful Popes could even challenge kings and emperors for influence. It all ended in the middle fourteenth century with a change in climate that caused a decade of famine. Then the horrors of the Black Death struck Europe in 1349. No institution in Europe survived unscathed, and the optimism and vitality of the High Middle Ages was gone. When Europe began to recover from these disasters, it was no longer the Middle Ages, but the Renaissance, and the West was moving in a new direction.
William Chester Jordan brings this fascinating period of history to life in his book. Like the other books in The Penguin History of Europe, The High Middle Ages focuses less on a detailed chronology of events and more on a general overview of cultural and historic developments, especially including the political development of the emerging nation states of Europe and their relationship with the Papacy. There is also a lot of information on the intellectual trends of the High Middle Ages as well as a good account of how it all seemed to fall apart in the fourteenth century. Unfortunately, the author breaks of the story in 1350, just as the Black Death is ravaging Europe, leading to a kind of cliffhanger effect. Still, I can recommend Europe in the High Middle Ages for anyone who wants to learn more about that fascinating period of history.
For all its faults, Cantor's "The Civilization of the Middle Ages" is the better book. I wish that Jordan had written, or been allowed to write?, a book twice as long -- more the length of "The Pursuit of Glory" in the same Penguin series. Perhaps there will be a second edition.