The series is designed to highlight the importance of medieval Europe in the history of expansion, and to demonstrate how much happened before Columbus and the subsequent "great discoveries" and colonization. The perspective therefore is determined by a polemic with modernists who would put the beginnings of expansion in the modern age. Although continuities between "medieval" and "modern" have been highlighted for decades, as well as changes within the "medieval period," it is true that not all modern historians, let alone the general public, are aware of this more nuanced picture. The first two volumes--in a series planned to include fourteen volumes on the medieval expansion of Europe--tackle the question of the concept and significance of expansion, and the so-called internal colonization of Europe.
The first volume consists of three parts. The first, on "expansion," contains articles on widely different topics: frontiers, colonialism, missions, and racist ideologies. This in many ways is the most disputable section. Although each article in itself is interesting, they do not constitute a cohesive body of material.
William Shepherd's "The Expansion of Europe I" from 1919 reflects the tendency to posit a radical change with the coming of "modernity." He situates this break in the fifteenth century: from that time the interaction of European and non-European civilizations characterized the development of modern civilization. He insists that this was not the achievement of particular nations, but a European achievement; and that colonization should not be confused with expansion, a crucial distinction that other authors (including in this volume) do not always make. He then sets out a program of research on European and non-European interaction, including the impact of that interaction on both parties. Some of the ideas expressed in this essay make readers in the twenty-first century flinch: "It is the European who has devised, cherished and applied the thought of the advantage of all peoples, of achievements for the general benefit of the human race" (3). On the other hand, other passages are startlingly relevant to our own world and seem prophetic: "European statesmen...think that what has proved to be a suitable course of action in a recent past...will suffice...for all lands and peoples...Until...an adequate knowledge of the interaction of European and non-European which has been gathering intensity for half a millennium has been acquired...'forward peoples' of Europe will continue to look for guidance and inspiration backward over 'European history,' and 'backward peoples' elsewhere will be made to look forward in accordance with rules of procedure current among the nations of Europe..." (7).
Carlton J. H. Hayes's "The American Frontier--Frontier of What?" from 1946 argues that America is a frontier of Europe. Militating against American "intellectual isolationism" (21) which he sees as outright dangerous, and against the idea that there is an entirely indigenous American way of life, he emphasizes the continuities between European and American history. To demonstrate that Americans belong to the European or Western civilization, Hayes cites several examples, such as missionary and crusading zeal, and highlights the errors of purely national frameworks for understanding history. Merril Jensen and Robert L. Reynolds in "European Colonial Experience: A Plea for Comparative Studies" use expansion and colonization as synonyms, and thus encapsulate very different types of population movements in a "universal history of European colonization" (37), from medieval German settlers in Slavic lands to British and French colonies. They focus on the continuities between medieval and modern processes including such diverse aspects of European expansion as technology, financial techniques, warfare, colonial government, patterns of relationship between mother countries and colonies, and theories of colonization. Robert I. Burns's "The Significance of the Frontier in the Middle Ages" analyzes the conceptual changes of the meaning of "frontier" in American studies, and the proliferation of frontiers in medieval history. He then offers a case-study of thirteenth-century Aragn, using the frontier mainly in its meaning of process: warfare and interaction between Christians and Muslims. He concludes that the frontier "makes a valuable tool" for "comparing...zones of interchange and conquest" (75).
Bryce Lyon's "Medieval Real Estate Developments and Freedom" investigates the relationship between land reclamation and the growth of peasant freedom. He cites many regional studies and then analyzes Flemish documents to conclude that "free reclaimed land exerted a constant and powerful pressure for the emancipation of the common man" (89). Joshua Prawer's "Colonization Activities in the Latin Kingdom" concerns rural settlement and the creation of Frankish agricultural society in the crusader state. Prawer examines different cases, settlement around strongholds, frontier colonization, a detailed case study of Ramle, the colonization activities of the Church, Cluniac colonization and royal enterprise. He gives examples of the system of administration, rent-collection and types of agricultural work such as the cultivation of vineyards that were put in place.
Mathias Braun in "Missionary Problems in the Thirteenth Century: A Study in Missionary Preparation" discusses the mendicants' contribution to evangelization, their emphasis on peaceful methods and especially the attempts to ensure the study of languages. Richard C. Hoffmann's "Outsiders by Birth and Blood: Racist Ideologies and Realities around the Periphery of Medieval European Culture" argues that "racialist or genetic ideas" (149) were used in different ways to interpret social realities in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Hungary and Poland. The article consists of unequal sections, with lengthier discussion of some cases, but barely half a page on Poland. It is questionable whether all "racialist" ideas should also be called "racist"; the terminology in the article fluctuates. The examination of the relationship between ideologies and realities, however, is illuminating: the distinctions formulated in terms of birth-status or something carried in the blood stood for "different real discriminatory criteria, cultural and behavioral in Scotland and Spain, socio-political in Hungary." The myths designated real "fissures in a social order" (167) but the explanations were invented.
The second part concerns the late Middle Ages. Its title suggests the main themes of contraction and the reorientation of expansion, but the articles apart from the first one all discuss the latter question, the shift towards the Atlantic. Archibald R. Lewis's now classic "The Closing of the Medieval Frontier, 1250-1350" argues that Europe's internal and external frontiers ceased to expand, and this closing of the frontier was the key underlying reason of the late medieval crises.
The subsequent articles all analyze continuities between medieval European expansion and American colonization. Charles Verlinden in his "The Transfer of Colonial Techniques from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic" investigates how medieval precedents in the eastern Mediterranean or Levant influenced developments in colonizing America and Africa. Despite pointing out that Italian establishments were "more truly colonial" (193) than crusader settlements, Verlinden does not elaborate on the distinction between medieval settlements created by expansion and modern colonies exploited from the mother country. He traces continuities through individuals who took part in both types of enterprise, and through institutional forms and administration, types of landowning, the role of companies in controlling colonies, and communal organization. He discusses the transfer of sugar production from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and finally explores the continuities in the use of slaves. Archibald R. Lewis's "The Medieval Background of European and American Oceanic History" is an essay on why Europe developed oceanic navigation and conquest, comparing the European achievements to the Indic, Islamic and East Asian cases. Indic, Chinese, Japanese and Islamic polities ultimately failed to sustain naval navigation and power, although at times they developed even more advanced naval methods than Europe. Europe's development of marine technology, naval warfare capacities, economic methods and experience of overseas political control allowed it to even borrow business principles from its rivals while finally displacing them as the single most powerful naval power.
Two authors explore medieval contributions to Latin American history. Luis Weckmann argues that precedents created on the Iberian peninsula during the Reconquest were transferred to Latin America and influenced its history ("The Middle Ages in the Conquest of America"). Myths and legends about mythic beings or a rich kingdom to be found, architectural styles and the teaching of Latin are among the examples he uses. Charles Julian Bishko provides a mainly historiographical assessment of fields already covered by research and others that should be investigated in "The Iberian Background of Latin American History: Recent Progress and Continuing Problems."
Lynn White, Jr.'s "The Legacy of the Middle Ages in the American Wild West" closes this section, with strong statements not confined to the "detailed and massive continuity" (277) of the history of the United States with that of the European medieval period. White even claims that "today the United States is closer to the Middle Ages than is Europe" (ibid). Everything from the dislike of centralizing political authority, the affirmation of the wilderness as an area for spiritual perfection, the wagon, the revolver, gambling with cards, a preference for whiskey and the method of execution by hanging go back to medieval routes so that "unconscious mediaeval patterns of preference dominated the American frontier" (284).
The third part situates Columbus in the context of long-term processes and changes and sketches his achievement in the light of previous European expansion. Jaime Corteso argues in "The Pre-Columbian Discovery of America" that the Portuguese already discovered Newfoundland before Columbus's journey, but kept it a secret for economic reasons, and that Columbus himself received information from Portuguese sailors who had this knowledge. Delno West's "Christopher Columbus and his Enterprise to the Indies: Scholarship of the Last Quarter Century" is a bibliographic essay, with special attention to studies that place "Columbus within the context of European and world history" (304). Seymour Phillips starts from the basis that Columbus does not represent a break with the European past, but a phase in the history of European expansion ("European Expansion before Columbus: Causes and Consequences"). He argues that European mastery of international trade techniques, means of shipping and navigation alone would not have led to the European discovery of the rest of the world; instead, religious and cultural factors were the key to European success, by "turning European attention...towards...the eastern Mediterranean and...the Asian continent" (335): pilgrimage to Jerusalem, missionary drive and legends about the East determined the direction of European expansion.
Finally Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo in "The Inter-Atlantic Paradigm: The Failure of Spanish Medieval Colonization of the Canary and Caribbean Islands" looks at the development of techniques of empire-building and colonization from the perspective of the colonizers themselves, through a comparison of the colonization of the Canaries and the Caribbean. He highlights how failures of traditional Iberian Reconquista techniques on the Canaries engendered new policies which then became the norm in the New World. Colonization based on repopulation was abandoned, to be replaced by imperial subjugation; different forms of economic interdependence with the indigenous population developed; hereditary titles to land were replaced by a search for profit, and the complete collapse of local society followed colonization. It is questionable that the indigenous populations would have made the distinction between "radically contrasting modes of European contact, the one peaceful [missionary efforts] and the other violent [armed attacks]" (348). Naturally, a military attack is violent, but, in other ways, so is an intrusive missionary attitude, so well captured for example in Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible. Some of the contrasts between the Reconquista and later expansion are too starkly drawn. Even on the Iberian peninsula, Muslims were eliminated by the conquest from many places and eventually entirely; nor did a successful mass conversion take place there. These aspects of conquest were not novelties in the Caribbean Islands. However, the author's contribution to showing the transitional nature of Spanish colonization, evolving practices, and adaptations is valuable.
The volume is distinctively American in orientation, with its emphasis on continuities between Europe and the Americas, and a primarily American conceptualization of expansion. It would have been interesting to compare other historiographical traditions on expansion, such as the German or British ones. The editors mention that they chose particular articles from journals and hard-to-find publications. To reproduce older and perhaps now outdated or disputed results, a kind of archaeology of scholarship, can be a valuable enterprise. It is also salutary to realize that old scholarship is not necessarily outdated. But it is often impossible to tell how a particular piece reprinted in the volume fits into current knowledge, as there is no information on subsequent scholarship and more recent studies. It would be beneficial to present more explicitly how thinking itself evolved on certain issues (for example "colonialism") over time. In particular, it would have been helpful to clarify the terminology. Expansion and colonialism are distinguished by some and used as synonyms by others. I find the second approach muddles rather than clarifies our understanding of historical processes. Settlement (whether through conquest or peacefully) and the development of new societies is not the same as the acquisition of territories governed from and economically exploited by a mother country.
The approach in this volume is particularly problematic when it comes to the conceptualization of expansion through the notion of frontiers. Scholarship on the topic has burgeoned in the last twenty years after the pioneering studies published in Medieval Frontier Societies, yet it is precisely an article from that book, by Robert I. Burns on "The Significance of the Frontier in the Middle Ages" that is the most recent work to be reprinted here. Nor do the editors discuss or even refer to works published since then concerning both American and medieval European history. Such books and articles have not only dismissed the Turner thesis on every possible ground (e.g. P. N. Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, New York, 1987; James R. Grossman, The Frontier in American Culture, Berkeley, 1994), but also substituted other concepts such as "middle ground" (Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, Cambridge, 1991) which could be pondered in a volume on expansion. Scholarship now encompasses a myriad of articles and reflections on the meaning, usefulness, and dangers of the concept of "frontier" for medieval history (for example, D. Power and N. Standen, eds., Frontiers in Question: Eurasian Borderlands 700-1700, London, 1999; Walter Pohl, Ian Wood and Helmut Reimitz, eds., The Transformation of Frontiers From Late Antiquity to the Carolingians, Leiden, 2001; D. Abulafia and N. Berend, eds., Medieval Frontiers: Concepts and Practices, Aldershot, 2002; O. Merisalo and P. Pahta, eds., Frontiers in the Middle Ages, Louvain-La-Neuve, 2006).
Finally, a more comparative approach with other civilizations would have been welcome. There are some comparative reflections in a few of the articles (notably A. Lewis on Oceanic History) focusing on why it was Europe that developed dynamically and discovered the rest of the world, but no systematic comparison.
After a brief introduction, the second volume begins with a section on "Mentality and Demography," to explain the factors in European history that led to internal colonization. Karl Leyser's "The Ascent of Latin Europe" highlights the importance of the late tenth and the first half of the eleventh century, and especially of historical writing, in creating the cultural ascendancy of western Europe. The article asserts that historians not only described the process of expansion and introduced a new self-awareness but also integrated "newcomers like the Polish, Magyar and Scandinavian aristocracies into Latin Christendom" (5). He does not, however, analyse the audience and impact of authors such as Adhmar of Chabannes, Thietmar of Merseburg or Rodulf Glaber. Leyser suggests that these authors started to create "a groundwork of attitudes," serving society as a whole (23). Although an excellent essay on some early historians of the period covered by the volume, raising interesting questions on religiosity and the use of Latin for example, one is left to wonder how representative these texts in fact were of the "mentality" of the period.
Lopold Gnicot's "On the Evidence of Growth of Population in the West from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Century" was the first sustained attempt to enumerate how historians would be able to calculate the growth of population between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. Gnicot lists indices for population growth such as military and fiscal documents, inventories, genealogical studies, price trends and so on, and indicates lines of possible research, especially pointing out regional variations.
Jacques Heers gives an early critique of "feudalism" as it pertains specifically to the economy in "The 'Feudal' Economy and Capitalism: Words, Ideas and Reality." He militates against the sharp a priori distinction between medieval and modern, equated to feudal vs. capitalist. He demonstrates how medieval economic practices including banking and credit were not very different from early "capitalist" practices. Seigneuries were not as uniform or powerful as traditionally believed, and did not have the monopoly of economic or military power. Nor was peasant society uniform and completely subject to lords. Medieval attitudes did not exclude at all a search for profit: lords managed land in order to generate profit and invested in their estates; various financial techniques penetrated the entire society, even its lowest strata. One should note however, that Heers draws his examples mostly from the later Middle Ages.
Lynn White, Jr. searches for the reasons of medieval European technological advances in "Cultural Climates and Technological Advance in the Middle Ages." He situates a critical turning point in the relationship of man to the natural environment in thirteenth-century Europe. Invention became a systematic project to solve problems, with an attendant technological attitude toward problem solving itself, replacing the accumulation of specific, haphazard inventions. He proves through a wide array of examples how difficult it is to characterize the relationship between forms of society and technological inventions, so that labor shortage alone for example is no explanation for inventions. He also distinguishes between science as a theoretical investigation of nature and empirical attempts to harness nature. Ultimately he seeks explanations in the "general cultural climate" (100), Europe's receptivity in adopting and adapting inventions, and its particular form of Christianity (distinctive even from Orthodox Christianity), which led to the image of God as a master craftsman, the priority of action, and monastic involvement in secular matters including the practical arts.
Part II on infrastructure and ecology addresses human impact on the natural environment and the development of land transportation. Richard C. Hoffmann's fascinating and detailed study of human impact on streams and lakes demonstrates how human activity such as building dams, more waste from larger concentrations of people, and demand for fish as food led to major changes in fish-populations ("Economic Development and Aquatic Ecosystems in Medieval Europe"). He also proves that medieval awareness of the problems led to attempts to mitigate them, which in turn often resulted in a further deterioration of the environment. Margaret Ley Bazeley's analysis of "The Extent of the English Forest in the Thirteenth Century" seems a strange choice for this volume: she discusses the inclusion and exclusion of woodlands in territories under special royal law (forest law). This was not environmental protection, and she does not examine the extent to which trees were felled in areas that were withdrawn from the protection of such law (disafforestment).
R. S. Lopez's "The Evolution of Land Transport in the Middle Ages" reveals the importance of merchants in influencing the development of medieval road-systems, and compares the characteristics of Roman and medieval European roads. Marjorie Nice Boyer calculates the speed travel could take in "A Day's Journey in Medieval France," distinguishing between kings and nobles travelling with large retinues and messengers and others who tried to achieve maximum speed. R. A. Donkin's "The Cistercian Order and the Settlement of Northern England" challenges the received opinion predominant at the time (1969) of Cistercians as settlers in the wilderness. He demonstrates both that many sites moved after the original area chosen for a foundation proved to be inhospitable, and that many Cistercian houses were adjacent to existing villages and their policy of consolidating land holdings led to the dispossession and eviction of the peasants.
The third part on the rural economy includes M. Postan's "The Chronology of Labour Services," which argues against the idea of a continuous and uninterrupted process of the commutation of labour services, and highlights instances of "partial or complete commutation" followed by "partial or complete return to labour services" (259). P.J. Jones provides a detailed study of the development of rents, services and the status of populations on great estates in Lucca in "An Italian Estate, 900-1200." M. Toch uses primarily German evidence in "Lords and Peasants: A Reappraisal of Medieval Economic Relationships" to argue that lords retained a much more important economic role than previously thought after the contraction of the demesne and direct cultivation. Lords retained control and influence over the peasant economy because they provided equipment, cattle, and grain for the peasants. Without the investment by landlords, the peasant economy would not have functioned. E. M. Carus-Wilson's "An Industrial Revolution of the Thirteenth Century" demonstrates that the decline of the cloth industry in English cities of the thirteenth century does not equate to the decline of the industry as a whole. Rather, changing technology, using fulling mills, meant a reorientation of cloth-making to the countryside.
The fourth and final part on urban and commercial expansion contains two articles. Maurice Lombard's "Urban Evolution during the Middle Ages," translated from French for this volume, argues that the circulation of money was the main impetus to urban growth, and that western European urban renewal was based on the influx of Muslim gold in exchange for slaves, wood, iron, weapons, tin, and furs. This renewal started at the end of the eighth century and the beginning of the ninth where commercial and monetary routes arrived in the west from the Muslim world: Amalfi, Naples, Gaeta, Venice. He also links all other urban growth including in northern Spain, Central Europe, the Baltic and so on to the effects of the circulation of gold from the Muslim world. D. Nicholas's "Settlement Patterns, Urban Functions and Capital Formation in Medieval Flanders" challenges the Pirenne thesis that wandering merchants were key in the process of urban development, and instead highlights the significance of previous settlement and the agrarian hinterland, with urban growth based on the domestic markets.
In this volume as well, it would have been immensely helpful especially for student readers to have a much longer introduction which gives more context on the articles featured in the volume, together with an explanation of what led the editors to select these particular pieces. It would also have been important to assess current scholarship on the issues addressed in the volume, in particular concerning the older articles dating from the 1940s-1970s. While detailed studies on particular areas are useful, without an overall evaluation, it is impossible to know how particular regions fit into the larger picture. The potential problems of simply juxtaposing studies based on a different source-base are highlighted if one reads Heers and Toch for example: their conclusions are contradictory on the role of lords.
Both volumes will be very valuable collections for history courses on medieval European expansion and economic and social developments for undergraduates as well as graduates. They will also serve as a useful corrective to the modernist bias, providing at least a selection of work for scholars not studying medieval history, but interested in the early history of expansion and the development of Europe's role in the modern age.