The late Middle Ages are a challenging period to survey and synthesise. Any attempt to summarise their complexity, chaos, and dynamism within a restricted publisher’s word limit and at the same time provide an effective textbook for undergraduates is fraught with issues of coverage, comprehensiveness, and accessibility.
David Wootton discloses to the reader on page 182 that his aim is to provide an intellectual biography of Galileo Galilei. But this book does not. Wootton's aim is rather to re-enter, re-open or even unhinge the structures of all arguments about the so-called Galileo affair that have been written until now.
Penelope Fitzgerald’s historical novel The Beginning of Spring, set in Moscow in 1913 but written at the height of perestroika, conveys an ambivalence familiar to those of us who spent time there during the Gorbachev years.
In his New Year’s address for 2012 the British Prime Minister sought to rally a demoralized people saddled with debts, recession, and unemployment in the face of a continuing policy of wholesale transfer of assets from public to private, by reminding them of the forthcoming Olympic Games and the Queen’s Jubilee.
When Pero Tafur visited Bruges in 1438 he had a keen eye for the material wealth of the town and the splendor in which its citizens seemed to indulge. In his famous travel diary he noted that ‘without doubt, the goddess of luxury has great power here, but it is not a place for poor men, who would be badly received here.
Child of the Enlightenment is a captivating book: charming, moving, and richly informative, it melds the intimate and distant, weaving together bodies, emotions and minds, Enlightenment ideas and philosophy, and revolutionary politics.
Nuremberg in the later Middle Ages was one of the most prominent cities in central Europe: a free Imperial city, the location of the imperial regalia and the place where Imperial Diets were held, it was also a wealthy centre of economic life, one of the largest cities in German-speaking Europe, and an important manufacturer of many industrial products, in particular weapons.
Michel Foucault famously described sodomy as an utterly confused category. The same could be said for marriage, especially during the Middle Ages, as the two studies under review demonstrate. Like sodomy, marriage is a category traversing several fields – law, culture, religion – that bites into people’s flesh.
The study of religious minorities and their experience of persecution is sadly topical.
Contemporary interest in the period of the Crusades has intensified in the last decade or so, partly because of the inflammatory invocations of holy war and jihad made immediately after the traumatic events of 9/11.