contributor.author: Paolo Squatriti

title.none: Walton, Wind and Water (Paolo Squatriti)

identifier.other: baj9928.0711.019 07.11.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Paolo Squatriti, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, pasqua@umich.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Walton, Steven A. Wind and Water in the Middle Ages: Fluid Technologies from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, vol. 322/Penn State Medieval Studies, vol. 2. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006. Pp. xxvii, 300. $55.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-86698-367-8, ISBN-13: 978-0-86698-367-9 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.11.19

Walton, Steven A. Wind and Water in the Middle Ages: Fluid Technologies from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, vol. 322/Penn State Medieval Studies, vol. 2. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006. Pp. xxvii, 300. $55.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-86698-367-8, ISBN-13: 978-0-86698-367-9 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Paolo Squatriti
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
pasqua@umich.edu

There are eleven papers in this collection, a product of a Penn State University conference held in 2004. Only a survey of the contributions in Wind 8 Water in the Middle Ages. Fluid Technologies From Antiquity to the Renaissance will do justice to the heterogeneous richness of its contents. In the book's first chapter George Brooks traces the genealogy of the type of water mill Vitruvius first described clearly, with a vertical water wheel and gearing to transmit the wheel's motion to a horizontal millstone. Brooks describes the machine's fortunes in the first millennium AD as an "essential technological component" of the "medieval mechanical revolution" (1). Niall Brady's second chapter about early Irish milling instead is more adventuresome, and offers data on some very ancient examples (at Killoteran there are some fourth-century C-14 datings). Brady seeks to insert his archaeology into broad interpretative frames of the sort Richard Hodges adopted for his Anglo-Saxon Achievement (1989); early Irish agrarian history would thus fit in with the current sanguine assessment of the Carolingian economy. D. Fairchild Ruggles' third chapter moves far from these concerns to discuss fabulous gardens in the Islamic world, most known through texts. She claims that the gardens not only really existed, but were also an assertion of human ability to order nature (79, 86). Adam Lucas leads readers back into more traditional techno- historical territory, questions of mills' dissemination and Christian monasticism's contribution to the process. He confirms earlier findings about postclassical Italy and high medieval England, and proves that lords, secular as well as ecclesiastical, did not consistently enjoy banal rights in England's varied milling market. Perhaps the most interesting insight in Janet Loengard's description of late medieval English litigation about mills (ch. 5) is that the fines exacted from those who eluded the mills' ban were so low as to become in effect licenses to mill elsewhere (137). Tim Sistrunk, in ch. 6, analyzes discussions of "wind rights" in legal treatises after such rights became fiscally relevant with the popularization of windmills in twelfth-century Europe. This leads him to survey Roman notions of "natural rights" to air and (somewhat confusingly) into the concept of air space, or how property rights might extend upward from one's land. Next, Roberta Magnusson efficiently reviews a growing body of archaeological information on medieval London's domestic waterworks, concluding that private people led the way in coping with unwanted water or procuring desirable types, while London's governors sought only to mitigate the inevitable frictions produced by so much enterprise. Chapter 8, co-authored by Thomas Glick and Luis Martinez, is the volume's most ambitious, for it aims to extend its case study of late medieval Valencian milling into a model of how grain processing worked in "preindustrial Europe" (189). Using an early 1900s Romanian archive for comparison, Glick and Martinez conclude that low capitalization, microcredit, and personal relationships characterized the production and distribution of grain, making most middlemen as poor as most grain producers. David Marshall's much narrower chapter is perhaps the most successful in Wind 8 Water. It offers a close reading of "The Letter of Jakke Mylner," a document from the Great Rising of 1381. Marshall combines subtle understanding of fourteenth-century English cultural contexts with technological knowledge to prove the "Letter" was a call for a working class solidarity ample enough to encompass even infamous millers in the attempt to recreate right order in English society. Kirk Ambrose's chapter deploys visual evidence, mostly Romanesque sculpture, to suggest la Madeleine's famous mystic mill capital invoked active participation in the "construction of meaning" (251) on the part of twelfth-century viewers, who thus become precursors of post-structuralist readers of "texts." Finally, in chapter 11 Shana Worthen selects some literary instances of mill description to propose that such textual machines meant more than they appear to. Mills were the ultimate transformative technology and symbolized textual, spiritual, and other kinds of transformation to high and late medieval writers.

In his amiable introduction, Steven Walton, editor of this disparate collection, suggests that its chapters are connected to each other by four "unifying themes," namely "the environmental power of wind and water to turn mills," their utility to people, the "social consequences" of the energy wind and water made available, and the perception medieval people had of these elements (xvi). Given how capacious and elastic are these categories of analysis, Walton is doubtless correct that all the papers in some form address them. Yet Wind 8 Water remains a diffuse and scattered assemblage of data, methodologies, and interpretations. It is tenuously held together by most authors' concern with mills and milling, mostly aeolic and hydraulic, mostly in the period 1000-1500, and mostly in the British Isles.

Of course, as the volume's subtitle announces, "technologies" are an important, if somewhat ambiguous leitmotif in Wind 8 Water. Overall, the book will disappoint any who open it expecting "straight" technological history, in the sense of a neutral listing of machines and their components, and their development over time. Wind 8 Water's contributors do not consider technology socially or culturally neutral, but instead enmeshed in human relationships, if not in environmental ones (note 3, p. xxv explicitly reneges on this latter approach). Such an understanding of the social and cultural construction of technology should make Wind 8 Water more appealing to a wider audience of medievalists than more traditional overviews of medieval mechanisms. Still, several chapters in Wind 8 Water retain the scent of the standard teleological narrative in older technological histories. Thus watermills matter because they "explain" the Sonderweg taken by "the industrial West" in modern times (1), or stimulated "rational" profit-seeking (54), or favored the emergence of bourgeois entrepreneurial instincts (118). Beyond this Eurocentrism, there is also some old-fashioned concern for pinpointing origins of machines in Wind 8 Water. Such a celebratory "advent and conquests" style of technological history usually entails forgetting the endurance of more "primitive" mechanisms and the coexistence of multiple techniques within a single technological horizon. Old, proven, and hence (in societies that value novelty) glamorless ways of doing things, and their meaning, do not merit investigation. Their very normality consigns them to oblivion even in studies that are aware of how gender, or class, if not regional ecology, could inflect the history of medieval technology.

The experience of most readers of Wind 8 Water will not come from consecutive reading of its constituent parts and few will proceed cover-to-cover. This is a book made for browsing or targeted reading, textual techniques facilitated by a serviceable index that will mask the neglect of Aristotelian unities in this collection, and in many other representatives of the late academic taste for multiauthored, edited volumes. Still, Wind 8 Water misses several opportunities to concentrate scholarly attention in productive ways, despite the perfunctory references to the other papers within its covers in the notes of some chapters. For instance, the new interpretation of Vzelay's mystic mill could have usefully informed Wind 8 Water's other discussions of molinological symbolism, and could itself have benefited from the broader cultural context offered in the survey of mill symbolism (ch. 11). Likewise, Irish monastic mills should have become part of the various discussions of mills' dissemination. Loengard's observations on the triviality of multure fines might have illuminated discussions of lordly bans. Moreover, the two chapters on legal theory and practice could have entered into productive dialogue. Readers are not told which six of the eleven chapters derive from the 2004 conference, but it is striking how autonomous each contribution is and how little cross- pollination occurs between contributions. Like the Romanesque viewers imagined by Kirk Ambrose, Wind 8 Water's readers have to become active participants in making the volume mean more than the sum of its parts.