October 2009 Archives

The Spice Must Flow

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For this week's seminar, I read Paul Freedman's book "Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination." In a similar vein to Phillips in "The Medieval Expansion of Europe," Freedman explores Europe as part of the greater world order, yet places it in the comparative economic perspective it deserves in relationship to the Mongols, Chinese, Arabs. His theory, that the pusuit of luxury goods - specifically that demand for spice fueled exploration by Europeans in the Eastern (and eventually Western) hemisphere.

Readings

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This week I read J. R. S. Phillips' "The Medieval Expansion of Europe" which was a fairly painless read. The author's prose is relatively easy and doesn't presuppose an extensive knowledge of medieval history - I think it's good as a point-counterpoint text for general reading.

Even though the reading was quite general, Phillips' hypothesis raises several concerns and questions about situating Europe on the periphery of the world.

Reading This Week

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I've recently finished reading Jean Verdon's "Travel in the Middle Ages" (in translation) and I have a few thoughts on the book.

Mechanically, the book is quite accessible though the edition I read (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003 translated into English by George Holoch) is severely lacking in citations, the text is usually very clear and accessible. There is also a presupposed knowledge of the Middle Ages, or at least the expectation of a willingness to suspend chronology in order for the thematic arguments to flow together. Overall, I thought this to be a very accessible book for a general audience.

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