Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages

ISBN 13: 9780195188172

Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages

9780195188172: Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages
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First Published in 2001. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.

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Language Notes:

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French, Italian

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The perfect encyclopedia of medieval civilization seems to be as elusive as the Holy Grail. The 13-volume Dictionary of the Middle Ages (DMA) (Scribner, 1982-1989) is the most comprehensive--and at $1,400 the most expensive--encyclopedia of the Middle Ages in English. Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages (EMA) was intended to be on a smaller scale than DMA so that it would be affordable for individual scholars.

EMA was first published in France as Dictionnaire encyclopedique du moyen age (Editions du Cerf, 1997) and in Italy as Dizionario enciclopedico del medioevo (Citta Nuova, 1998-1999). Vauchez, editor of the French edition, edited the English edition in association with R. Barrie Dobson, honorary professor of history at the University of York, and Michael Lapidge, professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. Approximately 600 contributors wrote the 3,200 signed articles. Most are scholars at academic or research institutions in France or other French-speaking countries.

Because EMA was written for "a European public primarily concerned with their own history," its geographic focus is medieval Christendom, defined as "a set of regions extending from Iceland--or even because of Vinland, from Canada--to Ethiopia and Central Asia." EMA extends its scope to cultures that came in contact with the medieval Christian world, including the Jewish and Muslim cultures and peoples such as Lithuanians, Lapps, and Mongols. The chronological scope comprises the 7th through 15th centuries. The range of subjects includes all aspects of medieval civilization, but grants "privileged place" to philosophy, theology, spirituality, liturgy, and iconography, and "those aspects of medieval civilization that are hardest for most contemporary people . . . to understand." EMA also provides a medieval perspective on general topics such as Circumcision, Dreams, Drinking straw, Farces, and Food.

The alphabetically arranged articles vary in length from a paragraph to several pages, with longer articles including those on countries and major centers (England, Constantinople). The English edition contains around 50 added entries for British and U.S. audiences, including Battle of Hastings, Beowulf, and Robin Hood. However, the set remains distinctively French. The article Cathedrals discusses the cathedrals in France but not those in Germany, Spain, Italy, or England. The French origin of the set is also reflected in the bibliographies, which tend to represent the contributor's country of origin, which means that most of the items cited are in French. Exceptions are articles written by English or American scholars or on English topics. Dobson and Lapidge "made concerted effort to provide every article with relevant and up-to-date bibliography," and the bibliographies are indeed significantly more up to date than those in DMA, with most examined containing items published in the 1990s.

The quality of the articles is uneven. Many are excellent, defining terms and providing concise explanations in the opening paragraphs before progressing with more scholarly, but still lucid, text. An example of this type of article is Vikings, which addresses both the myths and realities of the Scandinavian pirates in a well-organized article. Articles written by British and American contributors (e.g., Salisbury, York) are among the most lucid, suggesting that the confusing language found in some entries may be caused in part by translation.

The design and illustration of EMA are disappointing. Article titles are in bold type, but there are no guide words at the tops of the pages to facilitate access. The 600 black-and-white illustrations are unsatisfactory in quality and placement. Photographs do not always appear within the text of the articles they illustrate, and sometimes they do not even appear on the same page. Thirty color plates are grouped together in eight places within the set. The color photographs are of good quality, but there is no indication of where the image is discussed in the text. In the map titled "The Roman World and the Barbarian Invasions," the legend and place-names are so blurred that they are illegible. There are few other maps in addition to color maps on the the endpapers.

EMA concludes with a handy "Table of Monarchs," including Caliphs, Seljuks, and rulers of eastern European kingdoms such as Hungary and Bulgaria as well as popes and kings of England and France. An index helps the user identify references to individuals or topics discussed outside their own articles

Despite some strong articles and up-to-date bibliographies, the Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages is a seriously flawed reference work. Only academic and large public libraries with comprehensive medieval collections will need to acquire this set. Other libraries should weigh its advantage of timeliness against its cost and uneven quality. RBB
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ISBN 10:  1579582826 ISBN 13:  9781579582821
Publisher: Routledge, 2001