From a Giant to a Wrecked Ship: 10 Medieval Studies’ Articles Published Last Month
What is new in medieval studies? Here are ten articles published in January, which tell us about topics including Bestiaries, Bridget and Baḥrīyah.
This series on Medievalists.net highlights what has been published in journals over the last month that deal with the Middle Ages. All ten articles are Open-Access, meaning you can read them for free. We now also have a special tier on our Patreon where you can see the full list of the 50 open-access articles we found.
The Cerne Giant in Its Early Medieval Context
By Thomas Morcom and Helen Gittos
The recent dating of the Cerne Abbas Giant came as a surprise. This huge, naked figure was cut into a Dorset hillside not, as many have supposed, in prehistory, nor in the early modern period, but in the early Middle Ages. This means that for the first time it is possible to place the Cerne Giant within a cultural context. In this article, we propose an explanation for when and why he was originally cut as an image of Hercules. We also argue that, contrary to conventional views, he is referred to in an early medieval source and that this, in turn, helps to demonstrate that by the eleventh century he was being reinterpreted in a surprising way, as Saint Eadwold. This is only one example of many such reimaginings, among which one of the most enduring is that he is neither classical hero nor saint but instead an image of the pagan god Helith. We end by showing how that idea came into being.
The intersection of medieval studies and Indigenous studies: A Norse-Saami case study
By Solveig Marie Wang
Medieval texts reveal the normalised presence of Saami peoples in medieval Fennoscandia, suggesting close interactions involving trade, relationships, rituals, and magic. Despite growing recognition of these relations, the Saami remain overlooked in general studies of the Middle Ages, often relegated to symbolic roles or footnotes. As a result, Saami characters are typically depicted as the exotic Other within Norse society, often being stripped of agency and humanity in historical narratives. To counter these biases and distorted narratives, an essential step is analysing exclusionary structures in medieval literature and critically reviewing existing research on Saami representation. This process challenges dehumanising portrayals and confronts present-day stereotypes. The present study aims to ‘re-humanize’ (as Paulette F. C. Steeves puts it) the medieval Saami past by using decolonising frameworks and perspectives offered by the so-called ‘Indigenous turn’ of medieval studies, bridging medieval studies and Indigenous studies within a Norse context.
The medieval bronze doors of San Zeno, Verona: combining material analyses and art history
By M. Mödlinger, J. Bontadi, M. Fellin, M. Fera, M. Negri, J. Utz and G. Ghiara
The bronze doors of the Basilica of San Zeno in Verona, Italy, are a special case in art history research. They were made by several workshops during the twelfth century: stylistically, two to three workshops were assumed to produce the metal parts of the door. However, it is still unclear when exactly and if this interpretation can be supported by the chemical composition of the metal. In this research we aimed to verify the art history interpretation by identifying the alloy composition of each individual metal plate. The composition of the supporting wooden structures are discussed. A portable ED-XRF instrument and optical microscopes were used to analyse and document the doors non-invasively. The doors were also photographed to produce high resolution orthophotos and 3D models. We can confirm that the metal parts of the doors were made of leaded tin-bronze as well as leaded brass and mounted on a wooden structure mainly made of spruce and oak wood. Chemically, two/three different groups of alloys have been identified, which can be associated with two or three different workshops, and which largely correspond to the stylistic interpretation.
Eat, Sleep, Lust, Repeat: Bedtime Routine, Health and Herbals in Early Modern England
By Leah Astbury
Cultural and Social History
Getting a good night’s sleep was of great importance to early modern people because it was central to healthy routine and the practice of piety. Re-examining printed regimens and herbals reveals that lust was thought to interrupt slumber and that managing sexual impulse and activity is a hitherto unexplored aspect of sleep care. Aspects of routine had to be repeated moderately and in succession in order to prevent disease and imbalance. Feeling sleepy and feeling lustful were, this article finds, connected in complicated and often conflicting ways in bedtime routine. Printed herbals and domestic recipe books shows that soporific materials were also useful in lessening lust. Such findings point to a shared culture of herbal knowledge that centred around bedtime and beds. Early modern people grappled with social, practical, moral and medical concerns when deciding how and when to use their beds, revealing the ways in which sleep care, sexuality and the pursuit of a healthy body and soul intersected.
Bestiary Imagery in Hebrew Manuscripts of the Thirteenth Century
By Adam S. Cohen
In medieval bestiaries, knowledge about animals and their behavior is regularly given a Christian moral interpretation. This article explores the use of imagery related to the bestiary tradition in three Hebrew books made around the year 1300, focusing especially on the richly decorated Rothschild Pentateuch (Los Angeles, Getty Museum MS 116). These Hebrew books signal how bestiary knowledge and its visual expression could be adapted to enrich the experience of medieval Jewish reader-viewers, adding to our understanding of Jewish-Christian interactions in medieval Europe.
The Maderö wreck: a ship loaded with bricks from Lübeck sunk in the Stockholm Archipelago in the late 15th century
By Niklas Eriksson et al.
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
The Maderö wreck was discovered in the 1960s in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden. An archaeological investigation undertaken in 2022 included the inspection and documentation of visible ship parts, sampling for dendrochronological analysis and sampling for ICP analysis from the brick cargo. The results show that the wood originates from the Baltic Sea area and was felled after 1467, while the clay for the brick originates from the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern area. The ship’s technical analysis shows that it is a large clinker-built merchant ship. Traces of iron on a recovered stone shot indicate that the ship was armed when it sank.
Making St Brigit real in the early middle ages
By Elva Johnston
Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature
Brigit of Kildare is the first Irish saint to be celebrated in detail by Irish writers. Her cult enjoyed great depth and popularity. Nevertheless, Brigit’s very existence has been doubted; she has been recast as a pre-Christian goddess despite an overwhelming disparity in evidence. This paper reframes our approaches to the origins of her cult through examining how the earliest writers understood her and made her real for their audiences, real through shaping her sanctity, her historicity and her family relationships. They placed Brigit along a gender continuum where sanctity intersected biology. Yet, Brigit has been treated differently to Irish male saints, becoming a secondary character in her own biographies, reductively overshadowed by a barely attested goddess. It is time for a revitalised appreciation of Brigit as an actual woman, depicted by her first hagiographers as pushing against the grain of an elitist and patriarchal society.
The Enigma of the Baḥrīyah and the Political Legacy of Sultan al-Ṣāliḥ Ayyūb (1240–49)
By Yaacov Lev
Mamluk Studies Review
I have discussed the transition from the Ayyubids to the Mamluks elsewhere. In this article I offer a more thorough reading of volume six of Ibn Wāṣil’s (1208–98) history of the Ayyubids with thirteenth- and fourteenth-century historiography at the fore of the discussion. Ibn Wāṣil’s chronicle is a huge text, with many autobiographical references. Although his focus is on political history and military campaigns, battles are not described and other relevant military details are seldom mentioned. I will also use Makīn ibn al-ʿAmīd’s (1205–73) text and the annotated French translation. Additionally, I will refer to Ibn Khallikān’s (1211–82) text to argue that, in political terms, the period between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries constituted an unbroken continuum.
Newly Discovered Pieces of an Old English Glossed Psalter: The Alkmaar Fragments of the N-Psalter
By Thijs Porck
This article provides an analysis and edition of newly discovered fragments of an Old English glossed psalter in the Regional Archive of Alkmaar, the Netherlands. These fragments once belonged to the same ‘N-Psalter’ as fragments earlier found in Cambridge, Haarlem, Sondershausen and Elbląg. The article provides analyses of the language and textual affiliations of the Old English gloss and aims to reconstruct the provenance of the fragments and the N-Psalter as a whole. The annotated edition includes appendices with collations of the Latin and Old English texts of other extant glossed psalters.
The Trans Middle Ages: Incorporating Transgender and Intersex Studies into the History of Medieval Sexuality
By Tess Wingard
The English Historical Review
This article reviews recent work on trans and intersex history in the European Middle Ages, locating it within the established historiography on medieval gender and sexuality. It begins by surveying the three overarching themes in prior historical research on medieval gender and sexuality: identity, community and repression. Then, it introduces the context of the transgender turn in medieval studies, beginning in the late 2010s, by charting the origin of this sub-field and its rapid growth since 2020.
It then outlines three key theoretical concepts underpinning its methodology: 1) gender is socially constructed and historically contingent; 2) likewise, biological sex is socially constructed and historically contingent; 3) all societies include people who transition away from their assigned gender, and, while these identities are no less contingent, they nevertheless constitute a valid subject for long histories of transness.
Lastly, it argues that medieval trans and intersex studies contributes new perspectives and methodological approaches to each of the overarching research themes: 1) the lives and experiences of queer historical subjects such as Eleanor Rykener and Joseph of Schönau can be productively read through a trans lens, and trans historians’ focus on questions of agency and subjectivity provides a model for exploring queerness in the medieval archive; 2) trans historians’ arguments around community and mutual aid within trans case-studies revive the otherwise neglected historiographical topic of medieval queer networks; 3) trans historians demonstrate that medieval discourses around sexuality, gender and race are mutually constitutive, and significantly shape subsequent early modern European interactions with Black and indigenous societies.
We found 50 open-access articles from January – you can get the full list by joining our Patreon – look for the tier that says Open Access articles in Medieval Studies.
See also our list of open-access articles from December
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