Medieval Studies Books Every Student Should Read in 2017 (Selected by Medievalists)

Inspired by all of the end-of-the-year lists for this and that, particularly one in The Independent entitled “Professors at America’s elite colleges pick one book every student should read in 2017,” I decided to ask medievalists from around the world (and not only at “elite” colleges, whatever that means) to compile our own list of must-read medieval studies books for students. As was expected, many were eager to share their selections! These are the ones suggested to date, and there will likely be more in the future. They include a wide range: from a few primary medieval texts to mostly modern non-fiction and fiction. I will keep the list updated. If you have a book to add, please leave a comment (with your name/affiliation if you would like it included).

For my own selection, I have to go with one also suggested by a colleague below: The Book of Memory: The Study of Memory in Medieval Culture by Mary Carruthers. Yes, it was and is central to my dissertation and my current book project. Yes, those of us who work with memory live in its pages. But, other than that, it is an essential study of medieval culture that draws on diverse aspects of society as well as delves into the cognitive processes of the medieval mind.

–Kisha

PS If any information is incorrect, please let me know. This was mostly gathered over social media, and anything could have happened!


Eva Andersson (Gothenburg University, Sweden)
The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe by Patrick J. Geary
“While stretching to modern times, it still has its basis in the Late Antiquity and Middle Ages.”

Laura Ashe (University of Oxford)
Conquest and Transformation. The Oxford English Literary History vol. 1: 1000-1350 (forthcoming)
“Apologies for the self promotion, but no one else yet knows it exists!”

Orel Beilinson (Harari College Worldwide)
At Europe’s Borders: Medieval Towns in the Romanian Principalities by Laurenţiu Rădvan
“For a more ‘Eastern’ view, I’d recommend this book for it gives its readers a fascinating look at the urban world in Central and South-Eastern Europe, a perspective that most mediaevalists lack these days.”

Katrin Boniface (UC Riverside)
Images of Intolerance: The Representation of Jews and Judaism in the Bible Moralisée by Sara Lipton

Susannah Chewning (Union County College)
The Discarded Image: An Introducton to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis
Bisclavret by Marie de France

Stephanie Evans Mooers Christelow (Idaho State University)
The Identity of France: History and Enviornment, Volume 1 and 2 by Fernand Braudel

Anthony G. Cirilla (Niagara University)
The Discarded Image: An Introducton to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis
The Book of Memory: The Study of Memory in Medieval Culture by Mary Carruthers

Karen Cook (University of Hartford)
Music in Films on the Middle Ages by John Haines
“I’m using this book heavily in a spring medievalism seminar. Lots of good, lots to critique.”

Jeremy DeAngelo (Carleton College)
The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 by Robert Bartlett
“It’s a work that manages to tie a lot of phenomena together (especially the Crusades) that are usually treated discretely into a continent-wide dynamic. More importantly, it’s a work about, as I like to describe it, ‘people coming together and learning how to deal with one another’ – both in the positive and negative senses. It’s about the imposure of a cultural hegemony upon diverse populations, but also those populations’ leveraging of that hegemony to their own advantages. It deals with a lot of issues that too many people consider solely ‘modern’ – diversity, colonialism, tolerance – but it shows how a different time with different priorities tackled these issues. In 2017 I feel that we will need a reminder that these struggles to follow the better angels of our natures are not new, and that reverting to a supposedly more ‘natural’ intolerance is not a return to the proper order of things.”

A.J. DeLong (Suffolk County Community College)
The Dream and the Tomb by Robert Payne
“It’s a beautifully-written history of the Crusades and helps elucidate part of the current Middle East situation.”

Josh Eyler (Rice University)
Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women by Caroline Walker Bynum
“I always tell students that I think Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast is one of the best and most important books Medieval Studies, as a field, has produced.”

Katherine French (University of Michigan)
Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World by Judith Bennett
“It is about the complex world of misogyny, patriarchy, and patriarchal equilibrium.”

Shirin Fozi (University of Pittsburgh)
Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman World by Peter Brown
“Not his greatest, but it’s in a format that all undergraduates can read, and it’s so important to destabilize their understanding of the Christianization of Europe.”

Daniel P. Franke (Richard Bland College of William and Mary)
The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 by Chris Wickham
“I often assign chapter 10, ‘The Power of the Visual,’ to my students when we reach the early Middle Ages. His comparison of how Byzantines, Umayyads, Franks, and Italians reconfigured sacred urban space is just superb!”

Matt Gabriele (Virginia Tech)
Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse by Jay Rubenstein

Dorothy Gilbert (University of California, Berkeley Extension)
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
The Discarded Image: An Introduction of Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis
From Aesop to Reynard: Beast Literature in Medieval Britain  by Jill Mann
“I recommend the Beowulf Norton Critical Edition, for students. No education re medieval literature is complete without the first two of these books. The third is a fascinating intensive work of scholarship, sophisticated and full of insights. (There’s also my book, Marie de France: Poetry, A Norton Critical Edition, but someone else can mention that.)”

Rick Godden (Loyola University New Orleans)
Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child by J. Allan Mitchell

Ken A. Grant (University of Detroit Mercy)
The First European Revolution – c. 970-1215 by R.I. Moore

Paul Halsall (Internet History Sourcebooks Project at Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies)
Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World by Patricia Crone
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World by Gregory Clark
“These all provide some context to what we are studying in medieval history and overcome the tendency, so prominent for four decades now, to wallow in microhistory and to refuse the obligation of historians to attempt narratives and explanations (even if these are wrong).”

Brandon Hawk (Rhode Island College)
Medieval Hackers by Kathleen Kennedy

Carlos Hawley (NDSU)
El libro de buen amor by Juan Ruiz

Joanna Huckins (University of Connecticut)
The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 by Eamon Duffy
“It has been indispensable to me in classwork, in my teaching, and in my research.”

Máire Johnson (Emporia State University)
The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher
“It is fiction, but it is truly historical in that it draws from the one of the largest bodies of evidence from 14th-century England to recreate – and in some cases to create – the lives of those who lived in East Anglia in the 1300s. The story begins with the news of a terrible pestilence far away, follows the trail of that disease as it gets closer and closer to England and finally makes landfall, and then tracks through the lives of the people we get to know in the parish of the story all the way through the years following the initial blast of the disease. It is exceedingly readable, and the students I have assigned to read Hatcher have all enjoyed the book immensely. It doesn’t hurt that it also provides plenty of opportunities to discuss with students the ways these lives were reconstructed using primary source data, and students tend as a result to really get that history done well is VISCERAL rather than dry. It’s a story of people’s lives, of real, lived events, and that makes it relevant and relatable.”

Jonathan Juilfs (Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada)
The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture by Jean Leclerq

Marie Kelleher (California State Long Beach)
The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe by Patrick J. Geary
The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the Late-Medieval World by Bruce Campbell
“The first is about the myth of pure ethnostates; the second is about the havoc wreaked by climate change.”

Ada Kuskowski (University of Pennsylvania)
From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 by Michael T. Clanchy
Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art by Elly Truitt
“The first is a classic that shows the deep connection between cultural and institutional history, and the second is exciting new work that shows the breadth of medieval imagination.”

Kate Laity (College of Saint Rose)
Life of Christina of Markyate
“There is an inexpensive edition by Oxford World Classics.”

Kyle C. Lincoln (Kalamazoo College)
The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization by Teofilo Ruiz
The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance by Simon Doubleday

Erika Lindgren (Wartburg College)
The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
“I use this book in my class on Medieval Britain, which is a prep class for a UK travel course. I also recommend it to non-college students (e.g. parents of students or older adults who want to know what the Middle Ages were like).”

Nicole Lopez-Jantzen (Queensborough Community College)
Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages by David Niremberg
Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe by John Arnold

Kara Maloney (Binghampton University)
Fire Watch by Connie Willis
“It’s not medieval or nonfiction, but, as a friend put it, nothing makes the love or need for history more real. Why study history — any history? Read Fire Watch.”

Taiko Maria (University of Colorado Boulder)
Chariots of Ladies by Núria Silleras-Fernández
“This book looks at the medieval Iberian didactic literature that sought to shape the practice of female piety among queens.”

Charles-Louis Morand-Metivier (University of Vermont)
The Autumn of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga

Heather Nieto (Copper Canyon High School, Glendale, AZ)
Summer of Blood by Dan Jones
“This book is about the Wat Tyler rebellion against Richard II.”

A.J. Odasso (University of New Mexico Honors College)
Traditions and Renewals: Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and Beyond by Marie Borroff

Tom Ohlgren (Purdue University)
Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism by Erwin Panofsky

Kathleen O’Neil (Glasgow Libraries)
Courtly Love Undressed: Reading Through Clothes in Medieval French Culture by E. Jane Burns
“If anybody is even remotely interested in medieval dress (in literature in particular), they have to read. It’s still one of my favourite books.”

Frederik Pedersen (University of Aberdeen)
Papacy, Monarchs and Marriage, 860-1600 AND Dissolving Royal Marriages: A Documentary History, 860-1600 by David d’Avray
“Not an easy read, but so exciting. The two books must be read together.”

Anna Peterson (University of St. Andrews)
Leprosy in Medieval England by Carole Rawcliffe

Janine Larmon Peterson (Marist College)
Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe by Lester Little
Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe by John Arnold
On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State by Joseph Strayer
“Like all of these, Strayer’s is accessible but also short and, I think, would engender some good discussion.”

Mark Philpott (St Stephen’s House and Keble College, Oxford University)
St. Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape by R.W. Southern

Melissa Ridley Elmes (Lindenwood University)
Torture and Brutality in Medieval Literature by Larissa (Kat) Tracy
“This book is essential reading for anyone who thinks the Middle Ages consists of Game of Thrones-esque levels of violence, which is just about everyone who doesn’t actually study the medieval period. If I had to choose ONE book in medieval studies that provided the most bang for its buck in terms of a better understanding of the literature and culture, that would be the one I’d pick.”

Levi Roach (University of Exeter)
Formation of a Persecuting Society by R.I. Moore
“This book is a troubling but powerful view of socio-political transformation between the early and central Middle Ages. Honourable mention to Rosamond McKitterick’s Carolingians and the Written Word, a great book which has transformed the way we look at the early Middle Ages.

Abigail G. Robertson (University of New Mexico)
Strange Beauty: Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400-circa 1204 by Cynthia Hahn

Christopher Roman (Kent State University)
Musica Naturalis by Phillip Jesserich
Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor
“If you’re interested in medieval sound studies and the categorization of so-called natural and artificial music this erudite study is a must-read. Also, the Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor who thinks about education, study, and the division of knowledge and arts that still resonates. (An excellent translation is Jerome Taylor’s).

Charlie Rozier (Swansea University)
Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000–1125 by Susan Boynton
“A model of how to study a single community in a specified period, and someone everyone who is writing their first ‘I’ve finished my thesis but how do I write a book?’ should read for how to write a book!”

Silvia Ruiz-Tresgallo (Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, México)
Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power by Barbara F. Weissberger
“This is an excellent study on the representation of Queen Isabela of Castille (Isabel la Católica) in Medieval Literature and Culture.”

Yvonne Seale (SUNY Geneseo)
Why the Middle Ages Matter: Medieval Light on Modern Injustice edited by Celia Chazelle and Simon Doubleday
“Essay collection with lots of discussion fodder.”

Peter Sposato (Indiana University Kokomo)
Medieval Chivalry by Richard Kaeuper

Margrethe C. Stang (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography by Sara Lipton

Jeff Stoyanoff (Spring Hill College)
The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare by Helen Cooper
“One of the most important works on Middle English romance – Cooper’s work is both engaging and incredibly informative.”

Paul Sturtevant (Smithsonian Institution)
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A handbook for visitors to the fourteenth century by Ian Mortimer
“This is one for everyone, especially for people not actively studying the Middle Ages. It’s a beautiful and compelling history, written by someone with a verve for communicating history to a broad audience.”

Larry Swain (Bemidjii University)
Aelfric of Eynshams Letter to Sigeweard (forthcoming)
“Must read for every medievalist!”

Robert T. Tally Jr. (Texas State University)
A Medieval Woman’s Companion by Susan Morrison
“I’d like to nominate my colleague Susan Morrison’s book for the list, as a marvelous feminist contribution to the cultural study of daily life in that era. Susan is also the author of a novel, Grendel’s Mother, a retelling of the Beowulf tale from a feminist perspective. Both would be great reads for students in 2017!”

Kate Tuley (University of Minnesota)
Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades by Paul Cobb
Byzantium and the Turks in the Thirteenth Century by Dimitri Korobeinikov
The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands by Konrad Hirschler
The Silk Road: A New History by Valerie Hansen
The Silk Roads: A Brief History with Documents by Xinru Liu
“Cobb’s is about the only discussion of late 11th-century history in the Levant and Anatolia that actually makes it make sense. Korobeinikov’s uses sources from multiple languages/cultures, including diplomatic letters, to complicate the relationship between the Empire of Nicaea and the Seljuks of Rum in particular, although brings in the other Byzantine successor states, and, towards the end, the Mongols as well. Really interesting methodolog as well as argument. Hirschler’s is a detailed look at reading, education, and books. A bit later than Brian Stock’s The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the 11th and 12th Centuries, but both are well worth reading, especially for those who work primarily on textual evidence and need to be thinking about the context in which that evidence was written and read. Hansen’s is a fairly basic introduction, but with the topic as large and far-ranging in time, geography, and languages, you have to start somewhere. Liu’s is designed for classroom use, but still worth a skim.”

University of Toronto Press History (@utphistory)
Short History of the Middle Ages by Barbara H. Rosenwein

Elizabeth R. Upton (UCLA)
An Introduction to Gregorian Chant by Richard Crocker
“If you’re going to read only one book about medieval music, read this one!”

Mary Valante (Appalachian State University)
Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce AD 300-900 by Michael McCormick

Björn Weiler (Aberystwyth University, UK)
From Memory to Written Record by Michael Clanchy
Family, Friends and Followers: Political and Social Bonds in Early Medieval Europe by Gerd Althoff

Valerie M. Wilhite (University of Virgin Islands)
Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition by Marcia Colish

Andrea Williams (KCL)
The Arthur of… Series
“The Arthurian legend is so central to medieval literature (and there’s so much material on it, some of it very dodgy) – these collaborative reference books are a great place to start.”

Alex Woolf (University of St. Andrews)
Debt, the First 5000 Years by David Graeber
The End of Ancient Christianity by Robert Markús
Kristín Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Suggestions for Graduate Students
Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire by Paul Dutton
Medieval Europe by Chris Wickham
Phantoms of Remembrance by Patrick Geary
Holy War by Philippe Buc
Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities by Tim Reuter
Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society by Roy Mottahedeh

Bonus Titles!
The Medieval Imagination by Jacques Le Goff

16 Comments

Filed under Guest Post, Professional stuff, Scholar, Teaching

16 responses to “Medieval Studies Books Every Student Should Read in 2017 (Selected by Medievalists)

  1. Laura Ashe

    If you think it’s appropriate, this is forthcoming in summer 2017:
    Laura Ashe, _Conquest and Transformation. The Oxford English Literary History vol. 1: 1000-1350 (Oxford University Press, 2017)
    Apologies for the self promotion, but no one else yet knows it exists!
    Laura Ashe, University of Oxford.

  2. Malcolm Waugh

    Read two of the titles – Carruthers and Clanchy – both fantastic.

  3. I’m not a practicing medievalist, having ended up being a school librarian, so I’m not sure if I can speak with any authority! But if anybody is even remotely interested in medieval dress (in literature in particular), they have to read E. Jane Burns’ “Courtly Love Undressed: Reading Through Clothes in Medieval French Culture” (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005). It’s still one of my favourite books.

  4. My apologies – I forgot my affiliation! I work at Glasgow Libraries.

  5. Kara Maloney

    Connie Willis’ short story “Fire Watch.” It’s not medieval or nonfiction, but, as a friend put it, nothing makes the love or need for history more real. Why study history — any history? Read Fire Watch.

    Kara Larson Maloney
    Bibgjamton University

  6. Kate Tuley

    Kate Tuley, University of Minnesota

    Paul Cobb’s Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades. About the only discussion of late 11th-century history in the Levant and Anatolia that actually makes it make sense.

    Dimitri Korobeinikov, Byzantium and the Turks in the Thirteenth Century. Uses sources from multiple languages/cultures, including diplomatic letters, to complicate the relationship between the Empire of Nicaea and the Seljuks of Rum in particular, although brings in the other Byzantine successor states, and, towards the end, the Mongols as well. Really interesting methodolog as well as argument.

    Konrad Hirschler, The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands. Detailed look at reading, education, and books. A bit later than Brian Stock’s The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the 11th and 12th Centuries, but both are well worth reading, especially for those who work primarily on textual evidence and need to be thinking about the context in which that evidence was written and read.

    Valerie Hanse, The Silk Road: A New History. Fairly basic introduction, but with the topic as large and far-ranging in time, geography, and languages, you have to start somewhere. Xinru Liu’s
    The Silk Roads: A Brief History with Documents is designed for classroom use, but still worth a skim.

  7. Kate Tuley

    Whoops, Valerie Hansen, iPad keyboard.

  8. “The Arthur of …” series is all very well, but where is “The Arthur of the Bretons” or even “The Arthur of the Britons”?

    An issue for students of literature concerning the Briton/Breton Arthur is that he is historical, not fictional, and more influential in fact than any fantastic Arthur ever was. Perhaps I am betraying my background in the physical sciences by favouring hard realities over fables? Nonetheless, here it is.

    Geoffrey of Monmouth based the family of his “King Arthur” on that of the 11th century Welsh-speaking Breton/English/Norman knight commander, Count Alan Rufus (c1040-1093), whose epitaph emphasises repeatedly how Royal a Briton he was and identifies him with a star (evidently Arcturus).

    Alan’s achievements are astonishing in their breadth and lasting effects. Gaimar and Wace waxed lyrical about his devastating prowess at Hastings. St Mary’s Abbey’s cartulary names his brother and heir Count Stephen (c1056-1136) as the founder of the first English Parliament, at York in 1089, while another source affirms Alan’s presence. He established a domestic free trade agreement that endured until the English Civil War. Aside from the King, Alan is the most central figure in the Domesday documents, and all of the proposed masterminds of that project were particular associates of his: for instance, St Calais he arrested then firmly defended, Flambard (a name earlier found in Brittany) shared a Hampshire town with him, Samson of Worcester was ethnically Breton and the brother of Thomas, Archbishop of York, a combative ally of Alan’s in 1088. He created the Port of Boston and was the leading baron in Cambridgeshire. The University of Cambridge recollects him by the ermine cross in its coat-of-arms. The ermine of Brittany indeed became an emblem of royalty and aristocracy across Europe, and you can trace its adoption to descents from Stephen.

  9. Pingback: The to read list for Medieval Studies | Site Title

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