I think I have now given up on Anderson & Bellenger’s Medieval Worlds as any kind of textbook. It is not, as I said, that the selection of texts is bad, because it isn’t, it’s wide-ranging, intelligent and interesting. It’s not the citation, even, though problems with do irk me. (You noticed? Well fair enough.) It’s not even the fact that so much of its content is recycled from earlier source gatherings, because this is standard practice, though the fact that those references are all you get mean that in many ways you’d be better off with one of those textbooks, because they’d tell you where the source actually comes from. (I mention some of the books I mean below.)
The problem, the problem that means you shouldn’t let your students have this, is the utter lack of context for the texts. I just got through the chapter about the Papacy. And fair enough, we do want the Bull of Innocent III accepting King John of England’s submission to the Papacy in there I think, it’s not even obviously on the web. I might prefer that it was actually captioned as that, rather than as John’s letter of submission, which instead it merely contains, but I’ll live. However, it is necessary to tell the reader that John and England were under a papal interdict at the time, or else it looks like spontaneous Romanist piety and little could be further from the truth.
Likewise, it is useful that the chapter opens with The Donation of Constantine, because you can’t really cover the topic without it. It is odd to place it there, though, as Anderson & Bellenger’s sorting is roughly chronological, and so it would only belong there if its purported date were accurate. Also, in an ideal world, the excerpt would include the portion of the text that allotted to the popes the secular dominion over the lands of Rome, because it supports so many later claims that the editors do indeed discuss, and there is as linked above a public-domain version at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.
But mainly, it would help if the reader was told the document was a forgery! They do at least caption it “c. 750″ but, given its odd position in the chapter that’s only going to alert the sharpest students. Unless you have a whole class of these, you want to use something else, you really do. For lack of a sentence or two about each actual source in this supposed source-book, the final result is interesting but also wildly misleading.
But this leads me onto another question. You can’t teach with this book, mainly because it will make more work for you in explaining the sources than not giving them at all. Also, of course, it being so new, you couldn’t really photocopy chunks because lots of it is still in copyright—not that several of the places I’ve seen teaching really worried about that, and it is sometimes hard to see copyright law as anything other than ridiculous these days—but assuming that you do care, you have a problem. The publishers would like you, of course, to get your students to buy a copy each, but you won’t do this because of the problems I’ve outlined (I hope). So what do you do?
Assuming that you find the Internet Medieval Sourcebook a bit thin in places, which I think would be fair enough, the obvious texts of this kind are things like:
- Oliver J. Thatcher & Edgar H. McNeal (edd./transl.), A Source Book for Medieval History: Selected Documents Illustrating the History of Europe in the Middle Age (New York 1905; repr. 1971)
- Ernest F. Henderson (ed./transl.), Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (London 1892, repr. 1896 and several times since)
- David F. Herlihy (ed.), Medieval Culture and Society (London 1968)
- Patrick Geary (ed./transl.), Readings in Medieval History (Peterborough 1989, 2nd edn. 1997)
- Alfred. J. Andrea (ed.), The Medieval Record: sources of medieval history (Chicago 1997)
These all have their problems. The first two are now pretty definitively public-domain, and have thus been plundered by several of the others and the IMSB, and the translations are usually OK but rather stuffy and of course written with Victorian mores shot through them. And because they’re so old, you can’t possibly equip a class with them so it means a lot of photocopying. Herlihy isn’t yet public-domain in at least the USA, and in any case it comes with its own particular spin, not one I disagree with per se but it’s there. It’s recently been reprinted so could probably be bought in bulk, but you might still not want to, and some of its translations go back to the older two anyway. (It’s all very medieval…)
I’ve seen Geary and it’s good but its publishers, as the IMSB found to their discomfort, are jealous of copyright. I haven’t used Andrea but I only know of it because Anderson & Bellenger do; they also use Henderson and Thatcher & McNeal. I suppose these are your options. But as yet, I’ve never seen a course teacher dare to rely on his or her students all buying the source-book anyway, so it comes down to photocopying in the end. And how would we teach if the copyrights were all enforced, then?
I also wanted to mention, because I’ve used them and found them good, but too specialised for this general edit:
- Paul E. Dutton (ed./transl.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader (Peterborough ON 1997)
- Brian E. Tierney (ed./transl.), The Crisis of Church and State, 1050-1300: with selected documents (Englewood Cliffs 1964, repr. Cambridge MA 1989)
- Edward Peters (ed.), The First Crusade: the Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and other source materials, Middle Ages Series (Pennsylvania 1971, repr. 1998), especially the reprint which adds some useful extra Byzantine material
These people are or were trying to help, and it’s a pity that the law makes it so difficult for us to take advantage of it.