Medieval-Modern musings

As mentioned in prior posts, I’m in the midst of trying to make sense of the European intellectual history of the late medieval/early modern period. As such, I’m more interested in the texts used in education as well as the various theological and political disputes than in, say, the daily lives of the peasantry. (A good, comprehensive history of such might nonetheless be useful as a reference, especially if and when elites begin to pay attention to the politics of the peasantry; ditto with merchants.)

While I’m willing to read much wider than my mark (cf. Freeman’s book on the transition from the pagan to the Christian era), I do pay particular attention to technological innovations, trade, and the various maneuverings between and among the various monarchs, emperors, cardinals, and popes. I clearly don’t hew to a strictly materialist interpretation of history, but insofar as I believe that ideas are not unmoored from their concrete surroundings, I’m looking at those technologies and techniques which in particular were disruptive of prior ways of being.

That, after all, is what I’m really trying to understand: both the ways of being and their disruptions. Maybe if I can see some of what happened back then, I can see more of what’s happening now.

My reading list:

  • A Splendid Exchange, William J. Bernstein
  • The Waning of the Renaissance, William Bouwsma
  • Handbook of European History, 1400-1600,  vol II, Thomas Brady, Heiko Oberman, James Tracy, eds.
  • Europe, Norman Davies
  • Machiavelli in Hell, Sebastian de Grazia
  • The Age of Religious Wars, 1559-1715, Richard Dunn
  • Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris
  • The Science of Liberty, Timothy Ferris
  • The Closing of the Western Mind, Charles Freeman
  • The Theological Origins of Modernity, Michael Allen Gillespie
  • Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
  • The Story of Art, EH Gombrich*
  • The Forge of Christendom, Tom Holland
  • Divided by Faith, Benjamin Kaplan
  • God’s Crucible, David Levering Lewis
  • The House of Wisdom, Jonathan Lyons
  • Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, Diarmaid MacCulloch
  • A World Lit Only By Fire, William Manchester
  • Fire in the City, Lauro Martines
  • The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, B Netanyahu
  • Sea of Faith, Stephen O’Shea
  • The Age of Reform 1250-1550, Steven Ozment
  • The Fourth Crusade, Jonathan Phillips
  • Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, Uta Ranke-Heinemann
  • The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559, Eugene Rice, Jr and Anthony Grafton
  • Aristotle’s Children, Richard E. Rubenstein
  • Dissent and Order in the Middle Ages, Jeffrey Burton Russell
  • A Social History of Truth, Stephen Shapin
  • The Scientific Revolution, Stephen Shapin
  • Leviathan and the Air-Pump, Stephen Shapin and Simon Schaffer
  • A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman*
  • The Individual and Society in the Middle Ages, Walter Ullman
  • Medieval Technology & Social Change, Lynn White, Jr
  • The Mapmakers, John Noble Wilford

*Suggested by others.

I’ve heard that Levering Lewis’s book isn’t very good, and I was unimpressed with the writing style de Grazia deployed in his introduction, but I’ll still read ’em both.

Anyway, these are the books I have; there are a bunch more on my list that, if they make it to the Strand or whatever used bookstores I happen to hit, I’ll add. I know I want MacCulluch’s Reformation, and I’d like  good intellectual bios for both Luther and Calvin. Philips’s book, Holy Warriors, has gotten good reviews, but I may wait for the paperback version.

Among the rest: The Inheritance of Rome, Chris Wickam;  Making of the Middle Ages, Richard Southern; What is Medieval History, John Arnold; Lineages of European Political Thought, Cary Nederman; The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe, Daniel Nexon; The Last Days of the Renaissance, Theodore Rabb; Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, Merry Wiesner-Hanks; Economic and Social History of Later Medieval Europe 1000-1500; Growth of Medieval Theology, Jaroslav Pelikan; Calvin, Bruce Gordon; Debating Politics and Power in Early Modern Europe, Sharon Jansen.

Finally, I have books on the history of political thought by Sheldon Wolin, Leo Strauss, George Sabine, and Quentin Skinner, as well as the primary texts of the usual suspects. Still, any books which focus specifically on the political thought of the transition period would also be helpful.

Commentary on any of these books as well as any suggestions  for further reading are always welcome.

Updated: June 13, 2010

6 responses

16 06 2010
Sorn Jessen

So I don’t know what your background is but here are a few books, as you requested I found helpfull in my intellectual Journey. Most of them are a bit dated but they do well because they are what was once refered too in a more literate time as Middlebrow.

Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy. His Prose really is among the best. There are things that others may do better but really to understand European Intellectual history which is your main goal few do as well at making this stuff understandable to the layman. Also if his writing style catches you volumes 7-10 of his Story of Civilization also do well. They Are

The Age of Reason Begins
The Age of Louis XIV
The age of Voltaire
Rousseau and Revolution

For the history of Religion Mircea Eliade’s 3 books The History of Religious Ideas really can’t be beat. He is the foundation of most comparative Religion
Volume 1 From the Stone Age to the Eulusian Mysteries
Volume 2 From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity
Volume 3 From Mohammed to the Age of Reforms

These next two books are valuable, but as they come from the 19th Century and need a modern re-appraisal both of the author’s insights and his Major Flaws. Maine’s theory of patriarcal lineage being the basis of all society, while it describes how Roman society ran at it’s emergence is hogwash, but these two books when modified by others, you will hopefully find in your reading, help to open up pathways that add to understanding.

Henry James Sumner Maine Ancient Law and Lectures on the early history of institutions
Coupled with The Victorian achievement of Sir Henry Maine : a centennial reappraisal Alan Diamond

The Next book deals with the evolution of kingship in Britain from James 1 to the acension of the house of Hanover

The Right to Be King: The Succession to the Crown of England, 1603-1714 (Studies in Legal History)

The next few I found helpful in part because they provide usefull context but in part because they are a lot of fun.
Paul Kennedy The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
William James The Varieties of Religious Experience
Christopher Hill God’s Englishman Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution
The Anatomy of Revolution Crane Brinton
The Proper Study of Mankind Isaiah Berlin

Now we get into rougher waters. Hic Sunt Leones here be lions as they say. These are books I have at home that I haven’t gotten around to reading but I picked them up cheap and they looked interesting. Many of them I got when a Priest who used to teach history at the College I go to retired. He was at the Gregorian with Bernard McGinn whose books on Christian Mysticysm in the Middle Ages I have been meaning to read since they were recomended to us in Western Civ Freshman Year. This priest was an expert on Church History and the Middle Ages.

The Classical Heritage of the Middle Ages Henry Osborn Taylor
Isaac Husik A history of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy
The Jew in the medieval world Jacob R Marcus
Western Languages AD 100-1500 (Read most of this it’s a good book)
The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages Beryl Smalley
Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages R.W. Southern
The Catholic Reformation Henri Daniel-Rops
The Reformation in England 3 Volumes: Phillip Highes
Volume 1 The Kings Proceedings
Volume II Religio Depopulata
Volume III True Religion Now Established
England in the Middle Ages J.d. Griffith Davies and F.R. Worts
The Age of Metternich Arthur J. May (read this fascinating read is best followed by Kissenger’s Book Diplomacy but it might be a little late for your interests)
Heirs of the Roman Empire Richard E. Sullivan
The Age of Revolution and Reaction Charles Breunig (Read part of this good book overall never got back to it it’s part of the Norton History of Modern Europe. Some day hope to have them all and start from the begining).
The Medieval Philosophers The Age of Belief Anne Fremantle
Reformation Europe 1517-1559 G.R. Elton
Richard S. Dunn The age of Religious Wars, 1559-1689
The Birth of the Western Economy: Economic Aspects of the Dark Ages Robert Latouche
The Bloodless Revolution England 1688 Stuart Prall
Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages Fritz Kern (translated by S.B. Chrimes)
The elements of Christian Philosophy Etienne Gilson
The Christian Tradition A history of the development of Doctrine
Volume 1 The emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)
The Puritan Dilemma: The story of John Winthrop Edmund S. Morgan
Change in Medieval Society Sylvia L. Thrupp
The Coming of the French Revolution Georges Lefebvre (translated R.R. Palmer)
With Napoleon in Russia The memoirs of General De Caulaincort, Duke of Vicenza (not because it’s related per se but because it’s fun from the parts I have had time to read).

Finally if your interested in the reformation as your list indicates there is no substitute for The Book of Concord which has the basic historical documents of the Lutheran Church, Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly, Thomas More’s Utopia, but you will meet these and others in your reading. I would however invest in a good copy of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary if you plan to go down the English history route because words have changed their meaning and a good copy of Johnson’s dictionary helps sometimes to render a passage clear.

Hope this list helps a little bit.

16 06 2010

Sorn, I’m going to owe you a week’s worth of drinks.

Thanks for the list in general, the Christian history list in particular, and in particular particular, the gloss on Durant. I always see his stuff, and always wonder if it’s worth a read.

Now I know.

If you ever need any suggestions for readings in bioethics, contemporary political theory, or science & technology studies, lemme know. I would like to reciprocate.

17 06 2010
Sorn Jessen

Caveat on those Durant books, sometimes he says things that aren’t koscher when viewed through the lense of recent scholarship on gender/race/class and things like that because he was writing in a time before the emergence of the new type of scholarship that came out of the 50s and 60s but his passages on the major philosophers and intellectual currents of the time make up for these statements that if he were living today he would not make. In my opinion, the passage on Montaigne alone to say nothing of his discussion of Spinoza, or Peter Bayle or Diederot is the reason to still read these books.

There is something paralyzing in universal skepticism; it preserves us from theological homicide, but it takes the wind out of our sails and drains us of fortitude. We are more deeply moved by Pascal’s desperate attempt to save his faith from Montaigne than by Montaigne’s willingness to have no faith at all.
We cannot put our faith in such criticism; it interupts only passingly our joy in the gaya ciencia, the laughing learning, the allergo piensieroso, of this unsilenciable gossiper. Where again shall we find so animated a synthesis of wisdom and humor? There is a subtle similarity betweeen these two qualities, since both may come from seeing things in perspective; in Montaigne they make one man. His loquacity is redeemed by quaintness and clarity, there are no shopworn phrases here, no pompus absurdity. We are so weary of language used to conceal thought or its absence that we can overlook the egoism in these self-revelations. We are suprised to see how well this amiable causuer knows our hearts; we are relieved to find our faults shared by so wise a man, and by him so readily absolved. It is comforting to see that he too hesitates and does not know; we are delighted to be told that our ignorance if realized, becomes philosophy. And what a relief it is, after St. Bartholomew, to come upon a man who is not sure enough to kill.

Passages like that were what drew me in to history.

24 09 2010
7 10 2010

One book I found fascinating and helpful on the transition from the medieval to the modern was Law and the Rise of Capitalism by Michael Tigar and Thomas Emerson. It delineates the changes in thought and law as society changed from a customary exchange economy to a capitalistic one.

16 03 2011

Thanks for the tip! Added to my ever-growing list. . . .

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