Thursday, 21 April 2016

[#18] Robin R. Mundill, ‘Out of the Shadow and Into the Light – the Impact and Implications of Recent Scholarship on the Jews of Medieval England’, History Compass, 9 (2011), pp. 572-601.

First and foremost, the same disclaimer that was outlined in review #13 applies here – in fact it applies even more given that it was as a direct consequence of this article that I came to make Robin’s acquaintance and, thus, as a result be in my present situation. That being said, this article isn’t the best written piece in the world but it nevertheless serves as an important ‘state of the field’ survey, something which is made more significant by the fact that it comes twenty years after two other historiographic survey appeared, prior to the taking off of the discipline (Stacey: 1987; Mundill; 1991). Moreover, in many ways, the bibliography which Mundill included at the end of this piece, which includes many of the more obvious works on the subject, is, in essence, the precursor to this blog and the inspiration behind much of the thought process which created it. That being said I would still love the opportunity to update this article at some point to reflect the important changes that have occurred in the last five years (I know Robin had thought a number of times about the possibility of regularly updating this article). Incidentally, I may write (or see if I can coerce any actual historians) some individual essays on each aspect of medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship for the blog if the opportunity doesn’t present itself to write an article for a journal.  

            In terms of content, I think that Mundill’s article should be the go to piece for anybody starting to think about the Jews of medieval England in any kind of detail. This is because Mundill succinctly (as was his way) outlines the different strands which are presently at the heart of medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship. In particular he highlights the lines of inquiry which Professor Dobson felt were still worthy of further exploration (‘Jewish capital accumulation’; ‘the distribution of Jewish settlement’; and ‘relations between Jews and Gentiles’ – Dobson: 2010, xxi) – this is hardly surprising that Mundill followed this line given that he shared Dobson’s approach (if not his conclusions) and his research was heavily informed by Dobson (who had been on the panel when Mundill did his PhD vita). However, he also discusses other aspects, such as the Expulsion which he himself helped to pioneer and it is hard surprising that these are the most detailed and considered sections. In each section Mundill discusses some of the major themes which have dominated that area of scholarship in recent years and then signposts some of the most important on that area from which it would be possible to discern the more specific publications and thus construct a reasonable image of the historiography.

            One issue that I do take with this article is the assumption that what was once an ‘exotic and esoteric footnote’ has now developed beyond that to being much closer to mainstream history. While I would be the last person to denigrate the accomplishments of the last two decades, I think that we are still a long way off from the point where we can put up the bunting and celebrate. As the bibliography which Mundill produced to accompany his article demonstrates the vast majority of those publications were written by specialist in Jewish history. Moreover, I was reading Michael Prestwich’s volume on thirteenth-century England for ‘The New Oxford History of England’ (2005) and there was hardly a mention of the Jews. Surely, when we’re still in a situation that even the most broad studies written by incredibly prestigious historians hardly mention the Jews then that is an illustrative of just how far we still have to go. As with all publications of this nature, in place it has become quickly dated by subsequent publications (such as Miri Rubin’s now published new translation of the Life and Passion of William of Norwich: 2014, which Mundill mentions as a work in progress).

Work Cited:

Dobson, R. B., ‘The Jews of Medieval York in the context of some other English Jewish Communities’ in Helen Birkett (ed.), The Jewish Communities of Medieval England: The Collected Essays of R. B. Dobson (York, 2010), pp. xix-xxvii.

Mundill, Robin R., ‘English Medieval Ashkenazim – Literature and Progress’, Aschkenas,1 (1991), pp. 203-210.

Prestwich, Michael, Plantagenet England, 1225-1360 (Oxford, 2005).

Stacey, Robert C., ‘Recent Work on Medieval English Jewish History’, Jewish History, 2 (1987), pp. 61-72.

Thomas of Monmouth, The Lifer and Passion of William of Norwich, ed. and trans. Miri Rubin (London, 2014).

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