Is there a medievalist in the house?
April 28, 2011 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Are you a medievalist? I'm looking for books, diaries, art books, websites and other resources about private life and printing in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

I'm on the beginning stages of a short story for which I'm starting research. It's early days in this project, but I think that part of the story will center around a 15th century printer in the early days of printing and the other will center around the era of Medieval romances, say between the 10th and 12th centuries. Here's what I'm looking for:

1. Social histories that would give an account of the day-to-day life around these times. Basic questions like--what did people eat, what did their homes look like, what would a typical day have been like, etc.

2. Books and articles about the early days of printing and possibly about monastic hand-copying of texts. I'm interested in the actual process of doing these things as opposed to their historical significance. I want to know what kind of pen a Medieval monk might have used or how long it took for someone like Guttenberg to set type.

3. I'm also looking for images of hand-copied texts and 15-16th century printing. I'm sure there are great art books on this as well as galleries online.

4. Bonus points if you are a medievalist and wouldn't mind answering a few questions by email every once and a while.

I've read this question, which looks great, but I'm posting anyways, because of the focus on printing and my more specific time windows.

FYI - Books I've liked on this topic include Hyatt Mayor's book on prints, Huizinga's Waning of the Middle Ages, and Umberto Ecco's Art and Beauty of the Middle Ages. I just bought the History of Privacy volume on the Middle Ages, as well as stuff like the diary of Margery Kempe and the Penguin edition of Hildegard of Bingen.
posted by johnasdf to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a dabbler at best these days but here are some books that I own that might help out:

Food - Fabulous Feasts

Hollister's Medieval Europe, A Short History and Medieval Europe: A Short Sourcebook

Herlihy's Medieval Society and Culture

some of the printing press stuff is more Reformation-y -which my advisor was into and I was not.

a useful blog?

I was more art, art history, architecture, less printing and so forth, but that's just stuff off my personal shelf and not all of it, either. I'd be happy to lend to you as long as you're happy to return. :)
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:00 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nice little book on early printing of classics in Venice (with lots of images!) is Martin Davies _Aldus Manutius, Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice_, Malibu: Getty, 1995. Gives a fair bit of detail about commercial and social aspects of early printing.
posted by philokalia at 9:27 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and University of Toronto Press has a cool little illustrated series on Medieval Craftsmen, e.g. Scribes and Illuminators. They are not children's books - don't be fooled.
posted by philokalia at 9:29 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock is a short but excellent account of one peasant's life (though she was relatively well to do) in England in the turn of the 14th century.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:37 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

For a web resource on medieval and renaissance food, check Gode Cookery. There's also a discussion group associated with the site that you might be able to hit up for food and cooking questions.
posted by immlass at 9:44 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I remember reading A History of Private Life, vol. II and liking it, although that was years ago.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:09 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is the 14th century too late? If not, take a look at A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman.
posted by jquinby at 10:21 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Life in a Medieval Castle is a classic
posted by Flood at 10:32 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out the trove at the J Paul Getty Museum. They have extensive scholarship on Medieval lifestyle details. A few years ago they had an entire display on constructing manuscripts, including stretched vellum, and still offer workshops in making a manuscript.
posted by effluvia at 10:32 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: #droolscopiously

I'll nth Flood's suggestion of Life in a Medieval Castle, but add that the authors, a married couple with the surname Gies, have independently and together published numerous books of that nature on various different spheres of medieval life. Also nthing anything of David Herlihy's.

With Huizinga, my understanding is that you have to be careful with the translation, as the first English one hacked up the text pretty badly? I haven't read either one, so I can't offer personal comment.

The foundational text in 20th century medieval studies, which is brilliant (if not obviously to be taken with a slight grain of salt ideologically as it was written in the twenties) is Marc Bloch's two volume Feudal Society, which is a valuable read simply for the kind of scholarship he does.

I took a class last semester on medieval manuscripts, tracing the development of text from the scroll in late antiquity through the changing permutations of the codex during the medieval period to the "death" of the manuscript in the early modern period. I can absolutely send you the syllabus for the class if you're interested, and answer any further questions you might want to ask to the best of my ability. I've taken a pretty considerable amount of coursework on the Middle Ages from a number of different angles.

I'll think more about this. I feel like there are obvious things that I'm forgetting.

posted by myownlostrib at 10:50 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England. I read it; it's excellent for information on everyday life.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:12 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For the early days of printing: The Book in the Renaissance
posted by Lycaste at 12:44 PM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In both cases, place matters a great deal. Life in twelfth- or fifteenth-century Florence is going to differ significantly from life in twelfth- or fifteenth-century Augsburg, London, Orléans, etc.

One useful book for getting at a significant shift between the 12th and the 15th centuries is Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum, The History of the Hour, which notes changes in how people measured and thought about time after the introduction of mechanical clocks as large-scale prestige objects in the early 14th century.

The basic introductory textbook on the economic history of the period is Carlo Cipolla, Before the Industrial Revolution.

And depending on when in the 15th century your printer is situated: recent research by Paul Needham and Blaise Aguera y Arcas has radically rewritten the early history of printing types. The Open University has a good summary of their findings. The standard account, e.g. in Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book, needs serious revision.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:53 PM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Great suggestions here. A few more to consider:

Christopher DeHamel's Scribes and Illuminators
Christopher DeHamel's History of Illuminated Manuscripts
JJG Alexander's Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work
Elizabeth Eisenstein's The History of Printing in Early Medieval Europe.
Anne Baer's Down The Common: A Year in the Life of A Medieval Woman (a novel, but a surprisingly good picture of life in a later medieval village)

[I've taught classes in medieval art history for several years (just finished my doc) and have a MLS with a specialization in rare books and manuscripts-- feel free to ask questions via memail if any of that is useful.]
posted by Heretic at 1:04 PM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Dude, I've been on Metafilter for more than a decade (not always in this incarnation) and this is the most helpful and generous Ask MeFi thread I've ever initiated. I'll probably end up marking each answer as favorite.

Myownrib and Heretic -- Thanks so much. I'm in the early stages, so I need to get a better sense of the story, but I'd love to ask you some questions when I'm further developed.

Brianogilvie -- Good point re location--something I regretted the instant I hit post. I imagine it would be something like Orleans or Venice, but I'll need to think about it more.
posted by johnasdf at 1:15 PM on April 28, 2011

+1 for "A History of Private Life". I love the whole series. Vol.II is indeed what you're looking for.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:32 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can get a copy, the Gies have an illustrated compilation of the three 'Life in a X' books that's very good.
posted by Paragon at 4:53 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most of my current reading is based on Early Modern Europe between 1450 to 1650. I've around 200+ titles covering just about every subject in the era but here are some suggestions for you which may be of use:

Medieval Science, Technology and Medicine : An Encyclopedia

Medieval & early Renaissance medicine: an introduction to knowledge and practice

Encyclopedia of women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England

Travel and translation in the early modern period

Preachers of the Italian Ghetto

The art, science, and technology of medieval travel

The Premodern Teenager : Youth in Society 1150-1650

The printing revolution in early modern Europe

Food in early modern Europe

The Cost of Empire: The Finances of the Kingdom of Naples in the Time of Spanish Rule

Small Towns in Early Modern Europe

Popular culture in early modern Europe

You'll definitely want to do some reading about Albrecht Dürer.

So far as handwriting I happen to have a copy of Elizabethan Handwriting by Giles Dawson and Laetitia Kennedy-Skipton next to me as I type this which is an excellent resource.

If there's anything specific you're after otherwise please memail me as I'm sure I can find you some suitable texts otherwise.
posted by longbaugh at 5:16 PM on April 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook ed. Emilie Amt is a nice collection I was browsing in the library the other day.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:00 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To answer your question about early printing: Eisenstein's The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe will give you a good overview, but if you're looking for detailed information about life in a printing workshop, I'd recommend the following:

Giovanni Mardersteig, The Remarkable Story of a Book Made in Padua in 1477 (1967)
Adrian Wilson, The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1977)
Martin Lowry, The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (1979)

Sadly, all of these are long out of print, and expensive to buy secondhand, but they are well worth getting hold of if you have access to a good library; Adrian Wilson's book in particular gives a fantastic insight into the making of an early printed book. Leon Voet's The Golden Compasses, though covering a slightly later period, is a useful source of crunchy factual information about production costs, paper supplies, etc. A friend of mine wrote a novel partly set in a seventeenth-century printing shop, and found that Voet's book told her most of what she needed to know.

On Gutenberg: Janet Freeman's Johann Gutenberg and His Bible (1991) is the best short introduction. On Caxton: try Lotte Hellinga's William Caxton and Early Printing in England (2010), or the British Library's webpages on Caxton's Chaucer. A personal favourite of mine is Cynthia Harnett's novel for children, The Load of Unicorn (published in the US as The Cargo of the Madalena), which is set in Caxton's workshop; I read this as a pre-teen and it was the book that first fired my interest in printing history.
posted by verstegan at 1:47 AM on April 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This page links to some comments where Making Light's Abi Sutherland explains the history of book binding; might be of interest and give you some more terms to search on.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:16 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll double-recommend Huizinga and un-recommend Bloch and Hollister. Those two are fairly dated and more contemporary scholarship on general medieval social history would be a better place to go digging. Maybe Susan Reynolds's Kingdoms and Communities?

The Gies books are pretty heavily used by fiction authors and have a good reputation for being solid works.

Barbara Hanawalt has done some great social history on gender and children, but it's all fairly specific to medieval England (and mostly London).

You might also find Power's Medieval People helpful. 6 narratives are built from the lives of 6 individuals rather than the typically broad abstracted history.
posted by ahughey at 3:42 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Daily Life in the Middle Ages ?
posted by kristi at 11:54 AM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey all,

Sorry for not responding earlier--things have been busy, partly because I've been working on the story! So, prior to this thread, I had a number of medieval lit books (Heloise & Abelard, Margery Kempe, Caxton, Beroul's Tristan, Percival, Gawain, Silence, Chretian de Troyes, and a lot more). Anyone who hasn't read Margery Kempe's diary should--it's like avant-garde literature: a diary by a sexually obsessed woman who refers to herself in the third person as "creature," regularly conferences with God and company, and begins the diary by trying to get people to write her hagiography. Some of my favorite secondary materials were:

* Umberto Eco's Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages (erudite, abstract; Eco is, to paraphrase Auden on Eliot, the best quoter);
* Huizinga's The Waning of the Middle Ages (like hearing a learned orator intone marbled sentences about an alien fantasy world filled with dung and public executions);
* Emma Jung's Grail Legend (like Zizek reading your astrological chart using Chretian de Troyes as a tarot card set); and
* Hyatt Mayor's Prints and People (smart in every sentence, excellent ability to see things).

This thread has been awesome. I googled every book in this thread and mostly ordered based on price, as some of these were rather pricey.

* A History of Illuminated Manuscripts from Phaidon by Christopher De Hamel
* The Coming of the Book by Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin
* The Book in the Renaissance by Andrew Pettegree (Yale UP).
* History of Private Life, Volume II: Revelations of the Medieval World (which it turns out I'd already owned but had left at my family's house a decade ago)
* Life in a Medieval Castle by Gies
* Daily Life in Medieval Times by Gies

I also found a great Medieval prints book, whose name I can't recall, but which has cut-out illustrations pasted into the text--itself a story of a more recent age of printing, I suppose. So far, Verstegan's links have actually been at least as helpful as the books--anyone interested, should click on them. Every single comment in this thread has been helpful, so I'm going to favorite each one. I'm going to mark as best answers the comments that have been more directed towards printing.

myownlostrib, Heretic, longbaugh -- Thank you for offering to help. I'll send a quick intro email your way. Thanks everyone!
posted by johnasdf at 5:17 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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