Wednesday, 31 August 2016

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

Academic Entry:

A historiographical survey into scholarship on medieval Anglo-Jewry.

General Entry:

Since 1987 three historiographical surveys have been produced which consider the state of scholarship into medieval Anglo-Jewry (Stacey: 1987; Mundill 2011). For me, the best of those is also the least commonly cited and the hardest to get hold of – it is not available online and I only have a Microsoft Word copy which does not include references, so if anybody knows where it can be found properly please do let me know. Unlike the survey produced by Robert Stacey four years prior to this one, Mundill takes a more considered approach to his survey, acknowledging the contributions of the likes of Michael Adler and Cecil Roth, rather than considering them in a disparaging way. Given that I think that Michael Adler in particular produced some ground breaking scholarship for the time, it is not difficult to see why I prefer Mundill’s endeavour over Stacey’s (I’ve never quite gotten over Stacey’s suggestion that Alder ‘had done little more than plunder the printed records for curious details’).

In this article, Mundill commences by outlining the significance of the sectocentenial commemorations of the York massacre (1190) for the study of medieval Anglo-Jewry. Despite two decades of increased, and sustained, scholarship between the writing of this article and now, I am saddened to see that a sentence at the start of this article may be just as valid today as it was in 1990: ‘It is a surprise to most Englishmen [and women] that in the wake of the Normans a community of Ashkenazi  Jews began to colonise England.’ Following on from this, Mundill discusses the importance of the published volumes of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews – though I have a more sceptical view about these volumes, arguing that for all the information that they provide to historians, they are also hugely problematic. Subsequently, Mundill starts his survey of historians with Cecil Roth, which I find slightly disappointing as there was no attempt to engage with scholars from D’Bloissiers Tovey onward. That being said, Mundill does make the important point that Roth’s work inspired at least a generation of scholarship, as did H. G. Richardson. This point is elucidated by moving on to discuss two scholars who benefited greatly from Roth’s scholarship: V. D. Lipman and R. B. Dobson. Finally, Mundill highlighted the work of Zefira Entin Rokeah and Joe Hillaby and concludes by summarising the work of Robert Stacey and himself with the hopes that the increased interest in the subject would be maintained subsequently – which, it is fair to say, has been achieved in academic circles at least. Consequently, if you can get hold of this article then I highly recommend it as it is a wonderful read and, although circumspect, provides you with information on all the key players that you need to know, and who I talk about a lot.

Work Cited:

Robin R. Mundill, ‘Out of the Shadow and into the Light – The Impact and Implications of Recent Scholarship on the Jews of Medieval England 1066-1290’, History Compass, 9 (2011), pp. 572-601.


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

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