What is a ‘Companion’ for?
David Rollison has written a remarkable work of social and political history: vertiginously ambitious, A Commonwealth of the People showcases England’s constitutional and economic development from the 11th to the 17th century within world histories of nationalism, democratization, and globalization. ‘My subject’, he writes, ‘is the emergence of a “civilization”’ (p. 16).
In the wake of Douglass North’s theories on institutions and economic growth, the last two decades have seen various kinds of medieval and early modern institutions increasingly regarded as factors aiding in, rather than obstructing, the transformative processes that eventually led to modern industrial capitalism in the 19th century.
It is a brave man who would take on the job of writing a history of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire between 1493 and 1806. Many historians would maintain that neither Germany nor even German national consciousness (certainly not German nationalism) existed during this period; as for the Holy Roman Empire, there is a long-running dispute over what it actually amounted to.
Professor Dyer’s A Country Merchant represents the development of several emerging themes in late medieval and early modern history: for one, the increasing recognition of the long 15th century, and especially the period roughly framed by the reign of Henry VII, as an important ‘Age of Transition’, most eloquently highlighted in his own book of that title.(1)
This collection of essays forms an excellent Festschrift for Professor John Hatcher, whose eclectic range of research is displayed by the volume’s division into three parts: the first explores the medieval demographic system; the second charts the changing relationship between lords and peasants; and the third highlights the fortunes of trade and industry after the Black Death.
It is a prerequisite that prosperous, expanding towns need to maintain a secure and ample food supply. How towns managed this issue, drawing foodstuffs from both their immediate hinterland and from further afield, and the resultant effect upon agricultural productivity are examined in this collection of 11 papers.
The Ottoman Empire, over the course of its existence, evolved a cultural synthesis of strands coming from its Arab, Persian and Byzantine antecedents, as well as the folk culture of its constituent populations. Culinary traditions were part of this legacy, and the taste for sweets an ever popular and refined element, constituting a repertoire extending into modern Turkey and the Middle East.
At first sight this looks like another of those increasingly common commodity books, some of which are intended to be global in scope, and which include studies of chocolate, sugar, cod, salt and many others (digestible or not!). As Riello points out, commodities are a good way to tell a global story since many of them have been traded throughout the world for centuries.
Desan’s fascinating book approaches the only seemingly obvious act of ‘making money’ by examining what it actually means to ‘make money’. While Desan does acknowledge the physical act involved in this process, such as the striking of coins and the printing of bills, her primary focus is to study what gave money value and validated it as a reliable medium of egalitarian exchange.