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Open the doors to medieval history! Discussions on history of the medieval period of the world, specifically Europe and Scandinavia. Hosted by Wendy Jordan, MPhil (Master's) in archeology from Cambridge University (UK) and BA in history from the University of Oklahoma. Produced by RDG Communications. Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/randy-gibson8/support
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Ever wanted to understand the key themes driving over five hundred years of European history? In this album, architecture reveals the social, religious and economic fortunes of some of the most influential people between 1400 and 1900. By the end of the 19th century Queen Victoria presided over the vast British Empire. She looked out from London, the heart of her empire, with its buildings echoing Imperial Rome. Brussels’ architecture, like London’s, was also designed to show the world the p ...
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Although we often think of friendship today as an indisputable value of human social life, for thinkers and writers across late mediaeval Christian society friendship raised a number of social and ethical dilemmas that needed to be carefully negotiated. On Amistà: Negotiating Friendship in Dante’s Italy (University of Toronto Press, 2023) analyses …
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Between 1348 and 1350, Jews throughout Europe were accused of having caused the spread of the Black Death by poisoning the wells from which the entire population drank. Hundreds if not thousands were executed from Aragon and southern France into the eastern regions of the German-speaking lands. But if the well-poisoning accusations against the Jews…
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In recent decades, the study of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as Byzantium, has been revolutionized by new approaches and more sophisticated models for how its society and state operated. No longer looked upon as a pale facsimile of classical Rome, Byzantium is now considered a vigorous state of its own, inheritor of many of Rome's features,…
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The Cidvilāsastava is one of the most comprehensive treatments of the esoteric contemplation of ritual found within the Śrīvidyā tradition and Śaiva tantra in general. This short forty-verse hymn offers esoteric knowledge and creative contemplations (bhāvanā) for critical steps in the ritual worship of Tripurasundarī. Although belonging to the Śrīv…
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In 1341 in Aragon, a Jewish convert to Christianity was sentenced to death, only to be pulled from the burning stake and into a formal religious interrogation. His confession was as astonishing to his inquisitors as his brush with mortality is to us: the condemned man described a Jewish conspiracy to persuade recent converts to denounce their newfo…
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Is contemporary international order truly a secular arrangement? Theorists of international relations typically adhere to a narrative that portrays the modern states system as the product of a gradual process of secularization that transcended the religiosity of medieval Christendom. William Bain's Political Theology of International Order (Oxford …
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Shakuntala Gawde's book Narrative Analysis of Bhagavata Purana: Selected Episodes from the Tenth Skandha (Dev Publishers, 2023) presents an analytical study of selected narratives of the tenth skandha of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa with the framework of Narratology. It checks the possibilities of interpretation of some popular narratives from Kṛṣṇa saga. …
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Custom was fundamental to mediaeval legal practice. Whether in a property dispute or a trial for murder, the aggrieved and accused would go to lay court where cases were resolved according to custom. What custom meant, however, went through a radical shift in the mediaeval period. Between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, custom went from being…
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The Life of Padma, or the Paümacariu, is a richly expressive Jain retelling in the Apabhramsha language of the famous Ramayana tale. It was written by the poet and scholar Svayambhudeva, who lived in south India around the beginning of the tenth century. Like the epic tradition on which it is based, The Life of Padma narrates Prince Rama's exile, h…
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Michael Johnston's The Middle English Book: Scribes and Readers, 1350-1500 (Oxford UP, 2023) addresses a series of questions about the copying and circulation of literature in late medieval England: How do we make sense of the variety of manuscripts surviving from this period? Who copied and disseminated these diverse manuscripts? Who read the lite…
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Tudor Networks of Power (Oxford University Press, 2023) by Dr. Ruth Ahnert & Dr. Sebastian Ahnert is the product of a groundbreaking collaboration between an early modern book historian and a physicist specialising in complex networks. Together they have reconstructed and computationally analysed the networks of intelligence, diplomacy, and politic…
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Adam Bursi’s Traces of the Prophets: Relics and Sacred Spaces in Early Islam (Edinburg University Press, 2024) uses writings by early Muslims to map a history of material objects, relics, and tombs of prophetic figures as they were conceptualized in the 8th and 9th centuries. The book draws from various genres of writings, including biographies and…
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Though commonly used today to identify a polity that lasted for over a millennium, the label “Byzantine empire” is an anachronism imposed by more recent generations. As Anthony Kaldellis explains in Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium (Harvard University Press, 2019), this has contributed to the denial of the ethnic identity that most deni…
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The dawn of the Tudor regime is one of most recognisable periods of English history. Yet the focus on its monarchs' private lives and ministers' constitutional reforms creates the impression that this age's major developments were isolated to halls of power, far removed from the wider populace. Royal Justice and the Making of the Tudor Commonwealth…
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War is often thought of mainly the concern of professional soldiers and maybe politicians as well. However, philosophers and theorists of varying types have addressed the issue of war in its many aspects. This is because war has numerous political, ethical, philosophical, and even legal elements. When is the right time to go to war? What is a legit…
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Santideva's 8th-century Mahayana Buddhist classic, "The Guide to the Practices of Awakening" (Bodhicaryavatara), has been a source of philosophical inspiration in the Indian and Tibetan traditions for over a thousand years. In Buddhist Ethics and the Bodhisattva Path: Santideva on Virtue and Well-Being (Bloomsbury, 2023), Stephen Harris guides us t…
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Nicholas Morton’s The Crusader States and their Neighbours: A Military History, 1099-1187 (Oxford UP, 2020) explores the military history of the medieval Near East, piecing together the fault-lines of conflict which entangled this much-contested region. This was an area where ethnic, religious, dynastic, and commercial interests collided and the ca…
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John Gower’s "Confessio Amantis" ("The Lover’s Confession") is one of the most important English works of the fourteenth century. Within its frame of the lovesick lover’s confession are well over a hundred stories, mainly derived from classical mythology, the Bible, and history which exemplify the Middle Ages. Echoing the octosyllabic line of the o…
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The history of Islamic mapping is one of the new frontiers in the history of cartography. Medieval Islamic Maps: An Exploration (University of Chicago Press, 2016) offers the first in-depth analysis of a distinct tradition of medieval Islamic maps known collectively as the Book of Roads and Kingdoms (Kitab al-Masalik wa al-Mamalik, or KMMS). Create…
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How was music important to medieval society? In Medieval Sex Lives:The Sounds of Courtly Intimacy on the Francophone Borders (Cornell UP, 2023), Prof Elizabeth Eva Leach, a Professor of Music at the University of Oxford explores the history and content of the Douce 308 manuscript to tell the story of the cultural and sexual scripts that framed cour…
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A vivid and illuminating new history--separate fact from fiction, myth from legend--exploring the early Vikings settlements in North America. Vikings are an enduring subject of fascination. The combination of adventure, mythology, violence, and exploration continues to grip our attention. As a result, for more than a millennium the Vikings have tra…
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The Illuminated Window: Stories Across Times (Reaktion, 2023) is a unique journey through stained-glass installations that spans both time and place. Diverse in technique and style, these windows speak for the communities that created them. From the twelfth to the twenty-first century, we find in the windows stories of conflict, commemoration, devo…
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Meanings of Antiquity: Myth Interpretation in Premodern Japan (Harvard UP, 2023) is the first dedicated study of how the oldest Japanese myths, recorded in the eighth-century texts Kojiki and Nihon shoki, changed in meaning and significance between 800 and 1800 CE. Generations of Japanese scholars and students have turned to these two texts and the…
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Uncovering the hidden history of Islamophobia and its surprising connections to the long-standing hatred of Jews. Hatred of Jews and hatred of Muslims have been intertwined in Christian thought since the rise of Islam. In Jewish Muslims: How Christians Imagined Islam as the Enemy (U California Press, 2023), David M. Freidenreich explores the histor…
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Over the past seven decades, Peter Brown has transformed our collective understanding of the late Roman Empire and the European Middle Ages alike, establishing Late Antiquity (ca. 250-800 CE) as a distinctive era of creative religious, social, and intellectual ferment. This was the time of the prophet Muhammad, of Augustine of Hippo, of Byzantium’s…
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Triumph and Illusion (Faber & Faber, 2023) is the final volume of Jonathan Sumption's epic history of the Hundred Years War. It tells the story of the collapse of the English dream of conquest from the opening years of the reign of Henry VI, when the battles of Cravant and Verneuil consolidated their control of most of northern France, until the lo…
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In the current context, where Vladimir Putin justifies his war against Ukraine by insisting on an inevitable, unbroken teleology that binds Kyiv to Moscow, he need to critically reexamine such interpretations is painfully evident. Christian Raffensperger and Donald Ostrowski's book The Ruling Families of Rus: Clan, Family and Kingdom (Reaktion Book…
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The Middle Ages have provided rich source material for physical and digital games from Dungeons and Dragons to Assassin's Creed. Playing the Middle Ages: Pitfalls and Potential in Modern Games (Bloomsbury, 2023) addresses the many ways in which different formats and genre of games represent the period. It considers the restrictions placed on these …
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How did medieval people think about the environments in which they lived? In a world shaped by God, how did they treat environments marked by religious difference? The Keys to Bread and Wine: Faith, Nature, and Infrastructure in Late Medieval Valencia (Cornell UP, 2022) explores the answers to these questions in Valencia in the later Middle Ages. W…
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In Sacred Foundations: The Religious and Medieval Roots of the European State (Princeton University Press, 2023), political scientist Anna Grzymała-Busse corrects a long-standing distortion in the study of state formation in Europe, writing religion back into the story and examining, at once pithily and methodically, the multiple contributions of t…
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The Power of Protocol: Diplomatics and the Dynamics of Papal Government, c. 400 – c.1600 (Cambridge University Press, 2023) by Dr. David d’Avray asks: How did the papacy govern European religious life without a proper bureaucracy and the normal resources of a state? From late Antiquity, papal responses were in demand. The 'apostolic see' took over …
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Today I talked to Roslyn Weiss, editor of Hasdai Crescas: Collected Writings (Library of the Jewish People, 2023). Hasdai Crescas spent his life in public service - as a rabbi and community leader in desperate times in 14th-century Spain. Despite having limited time for writing, he produced several important works, which Collected Writings presents…
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A princess born to the Thuringian royal house. A captive in war, forced to marry the Frankish king who killed her family. A queen, who renounced her position, received consecration as a deaconess, and took monastic vows. A religious leader, who acquired a fragment of the Cross of the Crucifixion for her convent of Holy Cross in Poitiers. And, lastl…
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Anti-blackness has until recently been a taboo topic within Arab society. This began to change when Nader Kadhem, a prominent Arab and Muslim thinker from Bahrain, published the first in-depth investigation of anti-black racism in the Arab world in 2004. This translation of the new and revised edition of Kadhem’s influential text brings the convers…
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Was there international law in the Middle Ages? Using treaties as its main source, International Law in Europe, 700-1200 (Manchester University Press, 2022) by Dr. Jenny Benham examines the extent to which such a system of rules was known and followed in the period 700 to 1200. It considers how consistently international legal rules were obeyed, wh…
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Magic is ubiquitous across the world and throughout history. Yet if witchcraft is acknowledged as a persistent presence in the medieval and early modern eras, practical magic by contrast – performed to a useful end for payment, and actually more common than malign spellcasting – has been overlooked. In Love Spells and Lost Treasure: Service Magic i…
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Fake news about the past is fake history. Did Hugo Boss design the Nazi uniforms? Did medieval people think the world was flat? Did Napoleon shoot the nose off the Sphinx? *Spoiler Alert* The answer to all those questions is no. From the famous quote 'Let them eat cake' - mistakenly attributed to Marie Antoinette - to the apocryphal horns that ador…
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Today I talked to Steven B. Bowman about his book Sepher Yosippon: A Tenth-Century History of Ancient Israel (Wayne State UP, 2022). Sepher Yosippon was written in Hebrew by a medieval historian noted by modern scholars for its eloquent style. This is the first known chronicle of Jewish history and legend from Adam to the destruction of the Second …
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Æthelflæd (c. 870–918), political leader, military strategist, and administrator of law, is one of the most important ruling women in English history. Despite her multifaceted roles and family legacy, however, her reign and relationship with other women in tenth-century England have never been the subject of a book-length study. This interdisciplin…
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In a saga reminiscent of Game of Thrones and Battle for the Island Kingdom: The Struggle for England's Destiny 1000-1066 (Osprey, 2023) reveals the life-and-death struggle for power which changed the course of history. The six decades leading up to 1066 were defined by bloody wars and intrigues, in which three peoples vied for supremacy over the is…
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Belisarius and Antonina were titans in the Roman world some 1,500 years ago. Belisarius was the most well-known general of his age, victor over the Persians, conqueror of the Vandals and the Goths, and as if this were not enough, wealthy beyond imagination. His wife, Antonina, was an impressive person in her own right. She made a name for herself b…
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It was common during the years of the U.S. invasion of Iraq to talk about the Sunni-Shia split—and how the sectarian violence was the result of a “centuries-long hatred” between the two different religious schools. But seeing this divide as the result of a longstanding feud—or to see it in the model of other religious schisms, like the Catholic-Pro…
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Song, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern France: Toward an Environmental History (Oxford University Press, 2023) investigates how northern French vernacular poets and musicians writing in the late middle ages expressed relationships between people and their environments. It explores medieval French song through the critical and disciplina…
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Witchfinder General, Salem, Malleus Maleficarum. The world of witch-hunts and witch trials sounds archaic and fanciful, these terms relics of an unenlightened, brutal age. However, we often hear ‘witch-hunt’ in today’s media, and the misogyny that shaped witch trials is all too familiar. Three women were prosecuted under a version of the 1735 Witch…
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In Medievalist Comics and the American Century (UP of Mississippi, 2016), Chris Bishop surveys the medievalist comic, its stories, characters, settings, and themes drawn from the European Middle Ages. Hal Foster's Prince Valiant emerged from an America at odds with monarchy, but still in love with King Arthur. Green Arrow remains the continuation o…
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Youcef Sufi's book The Rise of Critical Islam: 10th-13th Century Legal Debate (Oxford University Press, 2023) is a fascinating and engaging exploration of the history of critique in Islamic legal and intellectual history. It does this specifically through a case study of dispensations and disputations, known as munāẓarāt in Arabic. Dispensations we…
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In the eighth century, the Byzantine Empire began a campaign to remove or suppress sacred images that depicted Christ, the Virgin, or other holy figures, whether in paintings, mosaics, murals, or other media. In some cases, the campaign extended to breaking or wrecking images through what became known as iconoclasm. Over the following years, the em…
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In this interview we deep dive into the historiographical issues of the texts in The Rise of the Mongols: Five Chinese Sources (Hackett, 2021), edited and translated by Christopher P. Atwood, with Lynn Struve. For a complementary, more general interview of the book dealing with the period under discussion listeners can also check out the July 2023 …
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England and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages: Papal Privileges in European Perspective, c. 680-1073 (Oxford University Press, 2023) by Dr. Benjamin Savill provides the first dedicated, book-length study of interactions between England and the papacy throughout the early middle ages. It takes as its lens the extant English record of papal privile…
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How 'green' were people in late antiquity and the Middle Ages? Unlike today, the nature around them was approached with faith, trust and care. The population size was many times smaller than today and human impact on nature not as extreme as it is now. People did not have to worry about issues like deforestation and sustainability. This book is abo…
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