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Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works,…

Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great… (alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi 1991; vuoden 1991 painos)

– tekijä: Norman F Cantor

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
6981024,300 (3.64)9
The lives, works, and ideas of the great medievalist of the twentieth century.
Teoksen nimi:Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century
Kirjailijat:Norman F Cantor
Info:William Morrow and Company Inc (1991), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 477 pages
Kokoelmat:Oma kirjasto
Arvio (tähdet):

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Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century (tekijä: Norman F. Cantor) (1991)


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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 10) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
The only thing I didn't like was that he denigrated Barbara Tuchman's book in passing but included J. R. R. Tolkien's as worthy of a chapter. Probably a simple case of writer's envy. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
This is probably the most gossipy 'academic' book I have ever read. Cantor takes as his purpose the outlining of the birth and growth of medieval studies as an academic field and discussing how the main players in each of the phases of its development that he has identified shaped our perception of the middle ages by incorporating their own generational, societal, and personal concerns into what was ostensibly an impartial research of the facts. Thus we have the specific interests and preconceptions of each succeeding generation of scholars subtly (or not so subtly) changing the face of our understanding of the medieval period...sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

Cantor does not stint in his discussion of each of these major players from divulging facts (and I imagine hearsay) tied to each of them and painting each of them with a rather broad brush so that they can be more easily classified. We can even see this in the chapter headings Cantor utilizes where certain scholars are either "the Nazi twins", "the French Jews", "the Oxford fantasists" or "the Once & Future King". I gather that Cantor himself was something of a controversial figure in the field and I am sure this book did not make him any more loved by his enemies. I am not sure how high I would rate this book as a real scholarly introduction to the study of the Middle Ages (not very highly I imagine), but I did find it useful as a source for what scholars and works I ought to look into to get a foundational grasp of the development of medieval studies...and it was certainly an entertaining read. ( )
1 ääni dulac3 | Apr 2, 2013 |
This is a moving, if idiosyncratic, historiographical meditation on the rise of "modern" medieval studies (to be distinguished from those of the nineteenth century). After a concise sketch of the broad strokes of medieval history and the movements of modern interpretation, Cantor dives into compelling portraits of the twenty medievalists who, in his opinion, "invented" the Middle Ages for the modern world of the twentieth century. Combining a standard academic's review of their works with an esteemed historian's synthetic stitching to tell the history of historians, Cantor attempts to understand not only what each of these men (and one woman) told us about the Middle Ages but also why they approached them the way they did.

The result is a mixed bag. On the one hand, he handles with skill and alacrity the various schools of ideas and approaches that these inventors either appropriated or crafted as their legacies; in this respect, this volume is a valuable precis for the modern student of how historians and, to a lesser extent, literary and art history scholars, have practiced their trades. On the other hand, Cantor clearly betrays his own academic pedigree and the prejudices it entails. His own political thoughts seem to be in line with the Wilsonian progressivism inherited from his own Doktorvater, J. R. Strayer (profiled, with appropriate stories from Cantor's grad school days, in Chapter Seven); while his sensitivities mark him as another "Knight of the Southern Round Table" (see pp. 359ff), even if his actual time spent with R. ("Dick") W. Southern while on a Rhodes was minimal. Cantor was clearly never a fan of the Marxist-influenced schools of thought that rose around the "martyred" Marc Bloch (Chapter Four) and other French intellectuals, and the only positive outcome, in his mind, of the tumultuous year 1968 was the disillusionment its failure produced (though he marks his chagrin that Wilsonian progressivism died, too). Some reviewers will take his ambivalence toward the "leftist" New Historicism as unrehabilitated conservativism; they would fail, in that conclusion, to understand the classically liberal idealism that, though perhaps faded and tarnished, still animates Cantor.

His strongest chapters are thus on those men whom he knew and under whose influence he has lived. He may be faulted for the starry-eyed encomium to Southern, the excesses of which extend to his idealistic frustration that Southern was never proactively ambitious enough; but he does, at least, acknowledge some of Southern's more obvious weaknesses as an historian, especially his ignorance of the world east of the Rhine and of women, admirably remedied by one of the "Knights", Peter Dronke (pp. 361-2). Cantor's wistful regret is that "Bloch's disciples have built vast power bases where they have done some good, but also much damage. Southern (...) turned away and made the 'great refusal'." (p. 351). The most moving portrait is also the most fragmented and tragic, of the outrider Theodor ("Ted) Ernst Mommsen (Chapter 10). Again, as one of Mommsen's students and friends and as the unique benefactor of Mommsen's library (p. 371), Cantor has a sympathetic and personal view of the man and allows the greatness that would be hidden from a more distant acquaintance to shine through. Indeed, despite the dismissive quality of the term "Outriders", Chapter Ten (Cantor's last) is the most poetically lyrical of the book.

The other best chapter is the third, on Percy Ernst Schramm and Ernst Kantorowicz ("The Nazi Twins"). Though most medievalists of any standing will have heard of the latter's The King's Two Bodies, and many may actually have read it, far fewer will be familiar with his far superior Frederick the Second; and only a small minority of American medievalists of today (as at Oxbridge at the time of Cantor's Rhodes work) will have the least acquaintance with Schramm's Kaiser, Rom, und Renovatio. I would recommend Cantor's study of the men to all, for the movements of pre-war German Geistesgeschichte (a tradition that Cantor managed to assimilate, to his benefit) are ignored by modern scholars to their peril.

As a work of medieval scholarship, this book is of uneven value. It is written from a certain old-fashioned stance that places it outside of the fashions of today's academe, though we should make two caveats. First, the book only ever claims to chronicle the great medievalists into the 1960's; as Cantor mentions multiple times (e.g. 156, 276-7, 364), the great era of "feminist" medieval scholarship, i.e. of women medievalists (the sneer is noted), only came into its own in the generations thereafter. Second, the book was written just at the end of the Cold War, under the first President Bush. The movements of medieval scholarship of the last twenty years are absent, and unfortunately for Cantor, they have not been in the direction he might have hoped. As just one example, in his "canonical" list of 125 key works in Medieval Studies, he appropriately includes Caroline Walker Bynum but only for Jesus as Mother. As absolutely fantastic as that book is, and essential on the bookshelf of anyone trying to understand the twelfth century, posterity has entered Holy Feast, Holy Fast into the pantheonic canon.

Where this book thoroughly shines is as the testament of a great observer of twentieth-century medieval studies. Cantor invested himself life and soul in this invention; these stories may be gossipy, but they are the stories of the very creation of the scholar and man Cantor understood himself to be. As biography, both of himself and of these medievalists, this book stands above. ( )
4 ääni nathanielcampbell | Aug 30, 2011 |
Having finished this book, I've sat and pondered for a while how best to describe Norman Cantor. Bitter? Egotistical? Historiographically wrongheaded? A raging douchebag? All those terms alone seem somewhat inadequate—perhaps some combination of all of them, with maybe a couple more thrown in.

When I came across this book in a secondhand bookstore, I knew I'd heard of it vaguely before, and the premise sounded very interesting—an exploration of the lives of some key twentieth century historians of the medieval period, examining their contribution to medieval studies and the historiographical context in which they wrote. I wanted to learn more about the history of the field in which I worked, and hey, it was only $3. (If only I'd mentioned the name to a professor of mine before I shelled out those three bucks—she practically spat on hearing the title. I could have spent the money on something else.)

I will not say that there's nothing useful in this book—I learned some things I hadn't known before, and have a much better sense of the connections between some key figures in the field. However, this is such a nasty, mean-spirited piece of work—a scorched-earth assessment of his colleagues which loudly trumpets Cantor's own intellectual superiority but which displays only a real inferiority of mind. Cantor was a Princeton grad and a Rhodes Scholar, but seemed to fancy himself as an establishment outsider, out to get back at The Man with Inventing the Middle Ages. The resulting book is a hatchet job which relies on dubious evidence and spurious attempts at understanding scholars' writing through incoherent psychoanalysis. Cantor seemingly despises historians of women's, Jewish, Islamic or African-American history—they are partisan ideologues, he declares, incapable of doing good work. (For white heterosexual male scholars, of course, can never engage in identity politics.) Only one female historian appears among the 27 discussed here, and even then Eileen Power is confined to a few pages in the last chapter, headed 'Outriders.'

Cantor's contextualisation of medieval history for the general reader does not make this book worth reading (it's often incorrect or woefully outdated; he clung to a conservative historiography long after it had been demonstrated to be false), nor does his turgid, adjective-laden prose. (If I had a nickel for every time he talked about a historian from Paris as a 'French mandarin', I'd probably recoup the cost of this book.) Even the bibliography at the end of 125 core books for anyone with an interest in medieval studies is laden with picks that are outdated or bizarre—what on earth is Barbara Tuchman's work doing there? Not to mention that, despite Cantor's lofty reassurances that this list has been double-checked against Princeton's (well!) own card catalogue, the reader is directed towards the work of Henri 'Pierenne', while Dáibhí Ó Cróinín becomes Dalbhi O. Cronin.

By the end, I was quite glad to see that Cantor was dismissive—actually downright offensive—about the founder of my own particular doctoral lineage. Praise from Cantor, I fear, would have been quite the indictment against his scholarship. A nasty, sneering, condescending work. Avoid. ( )
3 ääni siriaeve | May 10, 2011 |
Yes, this book is gossipy, and yes, Cantor's biases are quite evident, even to a reader who is not well versed in medieval studies, but I still found this book compelling. The book is highly readable and, as another reviewer indicated, includes a basic bibliography for those who want to learn more about the discipline. However, I am most interested in the direct and indirect criticism of the field that emerges from the text. Cantor acknowledges the fact that many of these great medievalists seemed to be driven--at least at some point in their lives--by melancholy and escapism. The reader is left to ask whether or not these qualities must necessarily define and color the great works in the field--and, if so, what does that mean for the possibilities and limitations of the field itself? ( )
  Chartres | May 9, 2009 |
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