Artifacts From Medieval Europe. By James B. Tschen-Emmons. Daily Life Thorugh Artifacts. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2015. 321 pages. Acid free $100 (ISBN: 978-61060-621-0). E-book available (978-1-6109-622-7).

Artifacts are defined in this book as “any object made or used by humans” (xix). These characteristics distinguish artifacts from written primary sources, although both are studied to learn about the past. The author combines forty-five visual images of artifacts, related textual sources, and brief explanations and analyses to introduce information about medieval life in Europe.

This book is divided into nine topical sections with essays six pages in length that focus on selected artifacts. The sections are agriculture and animal husbandry; armor, weapons and tools; art and architecture; communication and business; domestic items; entertainment; religion; science and technology; and transportation. Readers will find essays on real artifacts such as a butter keg, horse collar, cradle, tunic, religious icon, pilgrim’s badge, flying buttress, chessboard, astrolabe, and cog. In each essay there is an illustration of an artifact, an introduction and description of the item, and a discussion of its significance and relationship to broader issues on the topic. Also many of the essays have a related textual primary source in English, and all have a selected bibliography that sometimes includes websites for further reading.

The essay on the horse collar shows a portion of an illuminated manuscript page from the Luttrell Psalter (1325–35) in England. The illustration depicts a man plowing a field with a horse fitted with a collar. The author explains how the image can be interpreted to learn about the use of horses in agriculture, particularly for plowing, and how people developed the harness for greater efficiency and comfort for the horse. This discussion leads to the broader importance of horses for transportation, and the relationship of people to animals such as cattle, chickens and pets. Also, the essay has an excerpt from a fifteenth century book on hunting. In another example, a fifteenth century woodcut shows a cog, a small boat with a single sail. The cog is compared with other vessels used at the time, and the author describes life on ships and changes in boat design. Included is a photo of two ship anchors but no print primary source.

The essay topics do not always give an indication of the direction taken by the author. In the essay on the Prague Jewish Cemetery the author shows a photograph of a cemetery with graves dating back to 1439. He writes little about medieval Jewish burial practices, focusing instead on burial among various religions and also includes information on the place of Jews in medieval Europe. There is a text document from St. Bernard requesting that the people of England improve their treatment of Jews. In the essay on bone ice skates that appears in the entertainment section, the author examines the use of animal bones as skates in winter and offers an excerpt from textual source that refers to this use of bones. This leads to a discussion on weather changes in medieval times, a topic the reader might not expect.

This book is a very basic, introductory reference source for learning about medieval life through artifacts. The writing is engaging and clear, and students can browse the artifacts and subject index. A brief chronology of events and a section on how to evaluate artifacts accompanies the work. This book is recommended for secondary school students and general readers.—David Lincove, History, Political Science, Public Affairs, Philosophy Librarian, Ohio State University Libraries, Columbus, Ohio


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