This is the first of a two-volume textbook that is aimed at first-year undergraduates as they begin their study of medieval history. It covers the period from the so-called ‘fall of Rome’ in the course of the fifth century through to the ‘Norman moment’ in the course of the eleventh. The textbook covers the broad geographical area defined by the former Western Roman Empire in an even-handed fashion, giving equal attention to Iberia and to Sicily as to England and to Francia. Each chapter deals with a given region within a defined chronological framework, but is structured thematically, and deliberately avoids a narrative presentation. The topics of governmentality, identity and religiosity serve as broad overarching categories with which to structure each chapter. The authors outline the scholarly debates within each field, explaining to a student audience what is at stake in those debates, and how different bodies of evidence and different interpretations of that evidence give rise to different perspectives upon early medieval European history. Medieval history can seem to the student as if it were an impenetrable thicket of agreed fact that just has to be learned: nothing could be further from the truth, and this textbook sets out to open the way to an engaged understanding of the period and its sources.
In place of an introduction, this first section – before the chapters proper – sets out the conception of the textbook for an undergraduate audience. It speaks directly to the student reader and explains the geographical and chronological restrictions within which the textbook operates. It sets out the three guiding themes of governmentality, identity and religiosity that structure each chapter, and explains what the authors of the chapters understand by them. The front cover of the volume, which reproduces the frontispiece of the Liber vitae from the New Minster, Winchester, is explored in order to demonstrate the interplay and significance of these three themes. A final note explains the balance that each author has tried to achieve in the presentation of bibliography between English- and foreign-language items, and how the short-form references in the footnotes and the bibliography should be used to pursue the study of particular issues.
The final chapter considers the Normans as a trans-regional entity and so functions as a counterpart to the broad geographical context of the first chapter. It begins by exploring the debate surrounding Norman administration: whether the Normans were responsible for introducing a particularly advanced governmental administration into areas they occupied, or whether they co-opted pre-existing structures. Here the Domesday Book in England is an important case study. The chapter turns next to the question of Norman identity: whether there was a common sense of ‘Norman-ness’ across the different areas conquered and ruled by Normans, and for how long and to what extent common bonds remained. It considers the extent to which Normans imposed change on the religious institutions and practices (notably the cult of saints) that they encountered locally. Finally, it discusses the Norman cultivation of a sense of being divinely guided in their mission of conquest, and the hotly debated question of whether the Norman conquest of Sicily ought consequently to be considered the ‘real’ First Crusade.