Added in passing II

Firstly, whereas before it was not, now the schedule for this term’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research is up on the web. Happily for me, this is the same day as my KCL teaching, so I should be able to make it to most of them, and hopefully report back here having so done. It will not escape the alert that the first has already happened, and I will therefore so note it when I have time.

One of a great many differing covers of John Keegan’s A History of Warfare

Secondly, in trying not to let my previous reading pile go entirely unattended while I try and put together lectures, one recent late night found me briefly picking up John Keegan’s A History of Warfare. Now I’ve been enjoying this, but I have to say, his coverage of the early Middle Ages, in about six pages, is pretty impressively useless. You could read it and be left with the impression that between 476 and the First Crusade all warfare in Western Europe except for some Reconquista campaigns in Spain was internecine quarrels between local knights. It is just about mentioned that the Carolingians raised armies, but what use they put them to, such as for example and e. g. putting together and briefly holding the largest empire in Europe between the Romans and the Habsburgs at their peak (which may not even be fair on the Carolingians), you would never guess from this.

This is a pity, but despite the fact that I gather this is not the only problem critical readers have had with the book, it’s very readable and gives a first orientation in many areas about which I knew very little. (And it was free :-)) But as with so many wide-ranging books like this (I guess the last was the inspiring and fascinating but rather deterministic Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond) the few places where it touches my own field leave me aware that in following up its references (of which, let it be said, there are a fair few) I shall want to be checking for more up-to-date work in pretty much every case…

(To be fair on Diamond, my reaction there was generally more along the lines of “Hmm. I’d want to read the site report myself before I was sure about that.” I’m pretty sure that what he is saying is not sixty years out of date as Keegan’s ideas of the early middle ages seem to be. Perhaps Keegan just hasn’t been reading articles in the right places…)


2 responses to “Added in passing II

  1. Guy Halsall book on early medieval warfare takes a different tack. It proceeds by admitting all the things we don’t know — and by the time it’s done you have a confident grasp of what we do know. Brilliant.

  2. Guy’s work, whose earlier aspects were kind of the point of that final link, is really useful—I’ll have to pick this up in mail if that’s OK—but doesn’t go far enough forward, at least not for me. Though I think of myself as a Carolingianist, I really only start paying attention at 900, which is just when Guy’s book wraps up…

    Also, some would say that it’s wrong (History Co-Operative access required for that link), but this is part of a much longer-running and personal debate…

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