Reference works are a publisher's dream and an editor's nightmare. They have become more numerous and dreamier during the last decade or so, when every period, subject, country, or region seems to have acquired an encyclopedia of its own, some immensely helpful, others not. For medievalists there has long been, of course, The Dictionary of the Middle Ages, 13 vols. (1982-1989), edited by Joseph Strayer and currently being revised and augmented by William C. Jordan. For the stronger of heart and better of German, there is the marvelous Lexikon des Mittelalters, 9 vols. and Registerband (1977- 1999). The Strayer enterprise was immediately preceded in 1980 by Aryeh Grabois, Illustrated Encyclopedia of Medieval Civilization, virtually a one-scholar operation. And Strayer was followed in 1989 by H. R. Loyn's Middle Ages: A Concise Encyclopedia, and in 1999 by Norman Cantor, ed., Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, both multi-authored and compact. Andre Vauchez's ambitious French encyclopedia of the same subject is now available in English (with the learned assistance of Barrie Dobson and Michael Lapidge) as Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, 2 vols (1997-2000). Yet untranslated from French are Jacques Le Goff and Jean-Claude Schmitt, Dictionnaire raisone de l'occident medieval (1999) and Claude Gauvard et al., eds., Dictionnaire du Moyen Age (2002).
The popes (alternatively, the papacy) have now no fewer than three recent and decent ones: Philippe Levillain's three-volume The Papacy: An Encyclopedia (2002, but see Kenneth Pennington's critical review of the English edition in Speculum 78 , 941-4), Bruno Steiner and Michael G. Parker, eds., Dictionary of the Popes and the Papacy (2001), and Frank J. Coppa, ed., Great Popes Through History: An Encyclopedia, 2 vols. (2002). Gale and Garland have published a number of regional and other encyclopedias, and ABC-CLIO and other publishers are rushing still more into print, including Richard Golden, ed., Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, and Richard Levy, ed., Encyclopedia of Antisemitism. Looming on the horizon is The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages.
Such works are publishers' dreams because libraries with tight budgets will always spring for an up-to-date (or up-to-date appearing) encyclopedia or dictionary and because the editor does all the work, selects the entries, chooses the writers, pleads with their replacements when they fail to deliver, and has to produce the whole thing wrapped up and ready for the entry of production codes (besides budget, pricing, and marketing, the publisher's only task).
They are editors' nightmares for exactly the same reasons. Behind Jana K. Schulman's brief and grateful acknowledgment (xvi) of "those who took on added entries late in the day" must lie a dismaying history of frustration, delays, missed deadlines, broken promises, and mightily straitened hope. For editors it is always the Devil, never God, who is in the details.
Biographical dictionaries are a subspecies and present their own problems, whether on the world- or time- and place-specific levels. They are alphabetical within the chronological periods covered by the book (Schulman begins with Abbon of Fleury and ends with Wulfstan of York), often necessarily making for strange page-fellows--on p. 70 Berno of Reichenau (d. 1048), for example, is immediately followed by Blanche of Castile (b. 1188)--but of course they are not meant to be read cover to cover. When one starts looking from non-alphabetical perspectives, entire regions and periods come up emptier than they should. For Scotland, Macbeth is there (p. 282, with a useful reference to Barrow's history of Scotland), but Margaret isn't (neither are any other Margarets or Davids in Scotland or anywhere else), nor is William Wallace, in spite of Mel Gibson's cinematic extravaganza of a few years ago. But Wallace does turn up three times in Schulman's chronology (xxxii-xxxiii) as does another Scot without an article, John Balliol. There are, however, seven Icelanders, eight Norwegians, and five Danes. Central and Eastern Europe fare far worse. I cite these particulars here as examples of problems in the genre, not as specific criticisms of Schulman.
Schulman's work is part of a series in which so far have appeared Andrew Traver's volume on the ancient world (ca. 800 B.C.-A.D. 500, 2002), Clayton J. Drees's volume on the period that follows Schulman's, (1300-1500, 2001), and Jo Eldridge Carney's volume on the period 1500-1620 (2001). These volumes are all roughly the same length, implying that there were fewer people, or at least fewer memorable people, in antiquity and the early middle ages than in the much shorter periods covered by Drees and Carney. The sharp beginning and ending dates imply editorial co-operation and trade-offs, but entail a few surprises. Both Dante Alighieri (born 1265) and Ramon Llull (born ca. 1232) are in the Drees volume, but Llull is also in Schulman's. Arnald of Villanova and Robert Bruce are in neither.
These volumes have similar formats. In Schulman's case, a short historical introduction (vii-xvi), an extensive chronology (xvii-xxxiii), the dictionary proper (1-469, about 365 entries), a bibliography (461-483), an index of named entries with useful cross-references to notices of an individual in other articles (485-492), a general index (493-6), and a list of contributors, identifying their fields and institutions.
A recent competitor volume is Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Who's Who in the Middle Ages (2001). Its virtues include a useful occupation-contribution index, and her single general index indicates the biographical entries in boldface. But in general, Snodgrass's work, a one-person, non-specialist operation with very short entries, cannot otherwise compete with Schulman.
How do Schulman and her contributors do? There is not much that can usefully be said about the entire period in ten pages, but Schulman rightly justifies including individuals from Byzantium and the Arab worlds, the articles on whom are generally up to date and even-handed, and she conveniently brings into her historical introduction starred references to subjects of articles, which she might well have done also in the chronology. So far so good. The chronology is ambitious, sneaking in Clovis's baptism (dated here with the cautious c. 496, not a matter of universal agreement) just under the chronological wire and ending with Boniface VIII's declaration of the Jubilee Year in 1300, although the bibliography of the article on Boniface lists only the old Boase biography and omits the lovely and informative book by Kessler and Zacharias, Rome 1300: On the Path of the Pilgrim (2000), as well as other good recent histories of the popes, or, for that matter, here and elsewhere, the relevant chapters in the volumes of The New Cambridge Medieval History (another general reference that should be in the bibliography). Of course, one needs to know when these articles were submitted, reviewed, revised, and accepted before accusing their authors of bibliographical nodding. The latest date in any of the bibliographies here is 2000.
Which brings up another general problem, that of the languages of works in the bibliography and bibliographical references attached to each article. Schulman makes no policy statement, but many of the articles cite works in languages other than English--and sometimes don't, even where such works are essential. Andrea Schutz's article on Conrad II, for example, cites Erkens' 1998 study in German and Hampe's classic work in English, but omits Stefan Weinfurter's The Salian Century (1999), in English--as she does for her articles on the later Salians--which might have tempered some of her conclusions on Conrad. Nor does she cite I. S. Robinson's study of Henry IV (1999).
Schulman might have taken a page from Snodgrass and included in the bibliography a group of standard large-scale, recent reference works and reliable websites. She refers in the Introduction to the Patrologia Latina and includes a reference to the Strayer Encyclopedia, but there are other reference works that might be included. Another case in point is Stanley Greenfield and Daniel Calder's A New Critical History of Old English Literature (1986), justly a favorite of a number of contributors, sometimes indeed the only bibliographical reference given in an article, but cited as the sole reference rather too often. The same holds true for Richard McBrien's Lives of the Popes (1997) and Walter Ullmann's Short History of the Papacy (1972) instead of the English version of Bernhard Schimmelpfennig's The Papacy (1992).
Ubi est (or sunt) is the editor's bugbear and the reviewer's quibble. There is only so much space and so many entries possible, and Schulman and her contributors have produced a fair and useful book, particularly for lay readers and undergraduates, but also for scholars outside or on the margins of fields. Hers has been an unenviable task. Some contributors have been more diligent than others, and experts will find bibliographical and other shortcomings throughout. But at the moment Schulman's is probably the biographical dictionary to which most medievalists will turn for quick reference before going on to more complex works, and that is as it should be.
Let us hope that by now the editor and her contributors have received their generally well-earned small checks, usually in these cases, paid only upon publication.