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Response to Review of The Text and the World: The Henryków Book, Its Authors, and their Region, 1160-1310

I could not be happier with Shami Ghosh's review. It is a most lucid, thorough, and generous reading of all aspects of my book. As a piece of writing, it is in itself a type of response which I hope to elicit in writing the book.

Which brings me to a subject he and I both raise: a paradox. My contentment and gratitude are heightened by the author's single criticism of the book: his discernment of my caution in making ‘generalisations of any sort,’ of a kind that, if present, would enhance a reader's ‘understanding of medieval history’ in broader terms, through a fuller ‘overarching narrative.’ My response is not meant as polemic, but as an acknowledgment of a welcome opportunity. Dr. Ghosh is entirely right regarding my avoidance of major overarching generalizations, and my special concern, at the book's end, to preempt ‘big-picture’ simplification. His observation goes to the heart of the nature of my work. It also implicitly raises crucial questions of what is meant by ‘overarching narrative’, how and at what levels we ‘generalise’, and what cognitive purpose such devices serve – especially regarding a region of Europe where understanding on such levels has long been, and remains, fraught.

Let me say that, as Dr. Ghosh of course notes, I do indeed make one truly high-level ‘generalisation’ in the book under review: that the Henryków Book, its authors, and their context, address and shed light on a huge range of phenomena, each and all comparable to their counterparts elsewhere in medieval Europe. By comparable, I do not mean, strictly speaking, similar or dissimilar, but susceptible to description, analysis, and comprehension though a meaningfully shared framework of words and concepts – a formulation, and a vector for research, for which I am forever indebted to Susan Reynolds. Each piece of my earlier work centered on the Book treated one such phenomenon. The present book notes, or at least alludes to, all of them. At the moment, it seems to me that that is my ‘overarching narrative’, or ‘big picture’.

What strikes me as remarkable about Dr. Ghosh's review is how fully he himself responds to his own reservation – on my behalf, so to speak, eloquently, in warm, collegial, enviably lucid prose. Throughout his review, he points to precisely that entire range of phenomena which the book is meant to address, bring up front, and contribute to. That kind of outcome – providing an excellent colleague who specializes in a different region of the Continent with material specific to medieval Poland, which can be placed in the perspective of his or her own learning – exactly as Dr. Ghosh does throughout this review – has been my purpose in writing the book. The outcome is, in my view, exactly what we mean by ‘understanding medieval history’.

However, I understand that my views, intentions, and the like, are secondary to the book itself – its strengths and limitations. As an author, I am delighted at the convergence between the message the book is meant to convey, and Dr. Ghosh's responsiveness to that message. Far from ‘disapproval’, I am most grateful for his additional efforts to make that message more explicit, complete, or otherwise satisfactory. From the perspective of a reader, I completely understand a wish for such a message to have been conveyed differently, in different form, or from a different perspective. The kind of intellectual balancing, between the particular and the general, which this excellent reviewer calls for, has always been a most welcome challenge, with which I am pleased to be confronted anew. I thank Dr. Ghosh in the strongest terms.