What is Towards a Bibliography of Medieval Anglo-Jewry?

This blog does exactly what it says on the tin: it aims towards providing a comprehensive bibliography of work which relates to the Jews of medieval England. This will not only be material which has been produced by historians but also by literary specialists, economists, Jewish Studies specialists and anything else which relates to the Jews of medieval England. Equally, I do not seek to define the period more specifically than ‘medieval’. For arguments sake this can be taken to refer to the one thousand years between 500 and 1500. This is because, while the Jews were only present in England between c. 1066 and 1290, the Jews were considered in the literature and theology (and many other areas) of the period, despite the absence of Jews in England at the time. It is also important to note that the basic premise of this blog is not merely to provide a plethora of bibliographical references comprehensible only to those who specialise in the field (and even to those such an endeavour would be difficult, and tedious, to decipher). Rather, I shall be uploading a different reference on a weekly(ish) basis with a discussion of the content of the piece in question and the implications of that within the field (I will upload more when possible and less when necessary). However, I shall try to vary the nature of the references each time (for example, if one week features a discussion of a piece of literature on the Expulsion then the following week’s reference might be concerned with domus convesorum). This will have two major implications. First, the bibliography that I hope will be compiled here will take a considerable amount of time to amass and given the nature of academia will never be completed in the literal sense. Second, this will make the field of medieval Anglo-Jewish history more accessible to a much wider audience.

Why create this blog in the first place?

First and foremost, I can take absolutely no credit for this concept. It wasn’t my idea and nor would I claim that it was. It was actually an idea which the late great Dr Robin Mundill and I discussed in our pleasurable correspondence with each other over the last two years of his life. It was Robin’s hope to make the field of medieval Anglo-Jewish history accessible to everybody from professional historians to the layman (and everybody in between) and a bibliography of this type was a concept that we kept coming back to. However, we are from two very different generations: Robin envisioned something Jacobs and Wolf: 1888, and he certainly went some way to starting this bibliography in Mundill: 2011. In contrast, I am of the opinion that any such publication would be quickly outdated, even with constant revision, and have opted for a digital platform. On a more practical level this format is probably the only way that I can start this project: Robin may have had the reputation which would have convinced a publisher to allow him to work on this project for actual publication but I certainly do not.

Who am I?

I am currently an MA student at the University of Manchester studying towards my degree in Medieval and Early Modern Studies and I am very interested in the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry (some would, and have, labelled this as an obsession). I was introduced to the subject of medieval Anglo-Jewry as (a very small) part of my A-Level course on the Angevin Empire in 2010. I did that course twice. The first year I couldn’t have been more disinterested in the Jews of medieval England. The second time around, I fell in love with the Jews of medieval England. That probably has a lot to do with the combination of textbooks which were used that year, Huscroft: 2006; Mundill: 2010, both of which rarely leave my desk these days. Having firmly entrenched myself as a medievalist, due to reasons beyond my control, in September 2012 I began a history degree which covered the period from 1500 onwards at Liverpool Hope University. While I have no regrets about doing that degree (I had an immense amount of fun doing it and made a lot of good friends) I spent most of my spare time reading about the Jews of medieval England (and as a steadfast medievalist working out how to fit a sizable chunk of medieval history in to my university essays and this was an easier task for some were essays than others – the essay on Soviet Russia posed a particular, though not insurmountable, challenge!). So when I read Mundill, 2011 in late 2013 I had already read quite a lot of material on the Jews of medieval England and was looking for a way to start doing a bit of my own research and Robin’s e-mail address was at the bottom of that paper so I thought that I’d drop him an e-mail. I did this, not expecting a response, assuming that I would never get a response, which would then have given me the excuse to say ‘it’s too hard to do on my own so I can give up.’ For three weeks I was proven right and I got no response. However, after a particularly long and tedious week in January 2014 (I live in Northern England so it was probably raining, or had just started / finished doing so), I checked my e-mail and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw an e-mail marked ‘Robin Mundill’. Far from being the ivory tower academic that I had expected of a historian with his reputation, Robin opened by apologising profusely for having taken long to answer my e-mail, offered a whole host of references and ended with the sentence ‘Now having made contact do not let go sometimes good questions are immediate!!’. True to his word, Robin continued responding to my e-mails and as time progressed, and I learned my craft, we moved away from the mentor/student e-mails and started discussing (and debating) matters which were of interest to us. One of the most prominent of these issues was how to make the field of medieval Anglo-Jewish studies more accessible: a bibliography like this one being the most obvious suggestion that we both kept returning to and I hope to bring to fruition here.

Why do this now?

I owe Robin a lot and I feel that it would be an insult to his memory not to try and complete those projects that he didn’t have time to complete – have absolutely no problems with failing spectacularly but I do have a problem with failing to try. I have already made one tribute to Robin (Irwin, 2015) but this doesn’t even come close to repaying the many debts that I owe to Robin. Moreover, I am at a stage in my academic career, I’m halfway through my MA and hope to start my PhD in September (funding permitting), where I think that I can do some justice to Robin’s aim although I can never hope to complete it to his standards –he had more than thirty-years of experience behind him and was a truly exceptional historian whereas I have five (though he was a very good teacher). So for the first time I have the requisite knowledge and time to do this (or at least I think that I do).

What about my opinions?

As anybody who knows me can tell you, I have an opinion on virtually every subject I encounter – I am not a Saint and I do not have problem adopting a position that is labelled as controversial if I think the evidence supports what I’m saying. Moreover, given that I subscribe to many of Robin’s arguments (though by no means all) that would tend to put me in a different historiographical camp to people like Professor’s Robert Stacey and Paul Brand and Mr Joe Hillaby on a number of issues. I make no apologies for the conclusions that I reach on the basis of the evidence and certainly do not seek to hide time (I am an abysmal diplomat). However, if you don’t like what I have to say then I have a very simple suggestion: write a response and I’ll upload it alongside my comments (and if you convince me of that I have taken the wrong stance and include an amendment of my piece).

What format will the commentaries take?

The short answer? Your guess is as good as mine. I have absolutely no idea and this is likely to evolve as I gain experience writing these pieces. Certainly, commentaries on journal articles will be shorter than for books and will be heavily influenced by knowledge, interests and available time. Beyond that I can only beg your patience as I grapple around in the dark to find the right balance and I am happy to accept suggestions (indeed I encourage them). One thing that will be present are references. For the moment I have been unable to work out a way of referencing properly so I shall do so using the Harvard system (with the addition of page numbers where necessary) and include a ‘work cited’ section at the end of each piece but I will endeavour to establish how to include footnotes as soon as possible.

What can you do?

Whatever you want to do! If you want to walk away in disgust then that’s your prerogative. If you want to read my posts then I’d be grateful. If you want to suggest items that should be reviewed more quickly then you’re welcome to (the items that I discuss will be based on my research interest but if somebody suggests something else then I’m happy to go in that direction). If you want to engage in debate then I’d be ecstatic about that (I don’t claim to be omnipotent or akin to Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with two tablets of stone with the word of God inscribed on them – I love debate). If you want to contribute discussions of work yourself for me to just upload then that would be fantastic (I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject and I don’t expect you to be – though if you are then you’re more than welcome to contribute – though knowledge of the field has to be evident in any piece, including mine). If you’re somebody who has written on the subject and want your piece discussed then if I have access to it then I would love to engage with you in this way (if anybody wants to send me a free copy of a book that I don’t already have access to then I wouldn’t be adverse to it!). Everybody else, feel free to adopt any position between love and loathe and engagement or antipathy.

How is the blog funded?

This is a question that I've received a lot since starting the blog so I include the answer here: it's not. I have access to the resources either through my university membership, or through my subscription to the Jewish Historical Society of England. In addition, I have quite a large collection of books on the Jews of medieval England which has taken a great deal of time and money to assemble. So this blog really is run on the basis of my core concept, rather than for any financial benefit.

How can you contact me?

The easiest way to contact me is via e-mail at deanantonyirwin@yahoo.co.uk. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter @medievaljews (yes, I’m that sad), though I warn you that I have no idea how to actually use it and still haven’t  worked out how to use the ‘hash-tag’ system. You can also join the Facebook group via this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/163168817403014/

Works Cited:

Huscroft, Richard, Expulsion: England’s Jewish Solution (Stroud, 2006).

Irwin, Dean, ‘[In Memoriam] Dr Robin Mundill, 1958-2015’, Jewish Historical Studies, 47 (2015), pp. 248-250.

Jacobs, Joseph and Wolf, Lucien, Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica: A Bibliographical Guide to Anglo-Jewish History (London, 1888).

Mundill, Robin R., ‘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. 272-601.

1 comment:

  1. I am definitely a layman concerning the subjects of the medieval Jews but I find the subject very interesting and look forward from learning all I can from you.