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What did medieval authors know about their world? Were they parochial and focused on just their monastery, town, or kingdom? Or were they aware of the broader, medieval Europe that modern historians write about?
Christian Raffensperger's edited volume Authorship, Worldview, and Identity in Medieval Europe (Routledge, 2022) brings the focus back to medieval authors to see how they describe their world. While we see in these essays that each author certainly had their own biases, the vast majority of them did not view the world as constrained to their small piece of it. Instead, they talked about the wider world, and often they had informants or textual sources that informed them about the world, even if they did not visit those distant places themselves. This volume shows that they also used similar ideas to create space and identity – whether talking about the desert, the holy land, or food practices in their texts. By examining medieval authors and their own perceptions of their world, this collection offers a framework for discussions of medieval Europe in the 21st century. In this conversation we talk about how this volume goes about broadening both the geographical scope and methodological approaches to reading medieval sources.
Erika Monahan is the author of The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Eurasia (Cornell UP, 2016) and a 2023-2024 Alexander von Humboldt Fellow
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