15.04.03, Bak and Jurković, eds., Chronicon

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Chris Given-Wilson

The Medieval Review 15.04.03

Bak, János M. and Ivan Jurković. Chronicon: Medieval Narrative Sources, A Chronological Guide with Introductory Essays. Brepols Essays in European Culture, 5. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. 493. ISBN: 9782503548333 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Chris Given-Wilson
University of St. Andrews

Chronicon is an updated and much expanded version of the handlist of medieval narrative sources first published in 1987 as a guide to the contemporary chronicles, histories and other selected narrative sources for European history from the fifth to the early sixteenth century. The 1987 edition has been a most useful tool for scholars of the middle ages, and its successor looks set to be even more so. The principal mover behind these editions is János Bak. 'Narrative sources' is, of course, an elastic term: annals, chronicles and histories, whether self-styled or widely recognized as such, are relatively unproblematic, but only quite a small selection of hagiographical sources is included, plus some sagas and travelogues. Literary works, even if historically based or alleged to be historically based (e.g. Arthurian romances), are not included. To be listed, texts must have appeared in print: works still in manuscript only were not considered eligible. All this is entirely understandable and it is difficult to see how the editors could have produced a coherent handlist on any other basis.

Preceding the handlist are nine introductory essays, some of which are intended to introduce western scholars (the assumed dominant readership) to the historical literature of regions with which they will be unfamiliar (the Christian East, the Muslim world), and others to serve as a general introduction to medieval historical writing. These focus strongly on early medieval sources: the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are barely mentioned, while the eighth to eleventh centuries are mentioned a great deal. Several of them focus on specific texts well known to the individual authors; the most useful as an introduction to the period as a whole is Norbert Kersten's brief but well-balanced survey of "National chronicles and national consciousness." The introduction concludes with an essay from Balázs Nagy on "Medieval narrative texts digitalized." Although (as Nagy admits) it will already be out of date by the time it is published, it provides a good idea of just how much has been made available on the web in the last decade or so. Strikingly, he concludes that it is his "subjective impression" that the best way to search for medieval texts online is through Google or Wikipedia rather than "specialized medieval search engines" (136). But he also issues a warning that online texts are not necessarily the best, most up-to-date or critically edited versions.

The real meat, and value, of this book lies in the tables. These are organized (i) chronologically and (ii) regionally. Chronologically, the periods adopted are from late antiquity to c. 900, from c. 900 to c. 1300, and c. 1300 to c. 1500. Within each of these periods, sources are divided up by region, according to "historical geography" (144). This means, for example, that for the middle period Normandy is grouped with England rather than with France. There will of course be plenty of room for debate about such groupings, but in general they make good sense. The regional headings under which titles appear correspond broadly to the political realities of the day, and the net has been cast widely, including for example a selection of relevant Russian, Balkan, Mongol and Ottoman texts as well as the more familiar western European ones. In all, 1,227 sources are listed. There is no attempt to provide critical or editorial comment. The information given for each text is (i) the title and (if known) author; (ii) the dates covered by the work, or the date of the last entry; (iii) the edition(s) in which it can be found, including in some cases online editions; (iv) translations into a modern language, if appropriate, with the language of the translation (e.g. EN, FR, etc). The aim, in other words, is clear and simple: for those who want to know what are the principal printed narrative sources for a given region in a given period, this book provides the required information, and for those who want to know where the edition(s) of a specific source can be found, it does likewise. As the editors admit, their lists will be in constant need of updating, and they invite additions and corrections for possible later revised editions (9). Presumably the easiest way to do this would be via a digitalized online version of the handlist, which seems like a priority for carrying the project forward. That is to be desired, for it is a most useful project and will be a great help to scholars working on the European middle ages. The editors deserve both gratitude and congratulations for the work they have put into this and the straightforward, effective way in which the mass of information is presented.

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Author Biography

Chris Given-Wilson

University of St. Andrews