Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, Donald Scragg, eds. The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999. 537 pp. $59.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-631-22492-1.
Reviewed by R. A. Buck (Department of English, Eastern Illinois University)
Published on H-Albion (March, 2001)
Referencing Medieval Women
Referencing Medieval Women
Students and scholars who perhaps winced last year at the cloth price of The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England will be pleased to know that this treasury of medieval scholarship has just been reprinted in paper at a much reduced price. Those unfamiliar with the volume should know that, rather than being an encyclopaedia that simply offers broad and generalized treatment of selected individualized topics, Lapidge, et al. have compiled a unique storehouse of knowledge, a synthesized compendium of classic and contemporary research from a wide array of interdisciplinary fields within Anglo-Saxon and medieval studies. The editors state in their preface that their primary aim was to offer a collection that would appeal to specialists as well as to students; because of its interdisciplinary nature, specialists in medieval archeology, as an example, can easily access and learn the research interests of specialists of the period in related fields (art history, early church history, literacy studies, manuscript and textual studies, and so forth).
The line-up of 150 contributors reveals that the authors of the 700 articles included in the collection are the true experts in their fields, well-established Anglo-Saxonists such as Peter Baker, Michelle Brown, Rosemary Cramp, Simon Keynes, Michael Lapidge, Katherine O-Brien O'Keeffe, and Pauline Stafford, to name only a few. Their contributions offer a true celebration of the richness of the field, for we see active productive scholarship here as Lapidge notes, "enormous advances in all aspects of Anglo-Saxon studies" within the last thirty years (xii).
Scholars interested in women and Anglo-Saxon England will be encouraged by this volume. There is no doubt that the bulk of scholarship about women in the Middle Ages currently centers on women's reconstructed history after 1066; however, as we see in Blackwell's Encyclopaedia, more material is little-by-little emerging about women in the earlier period. Researching women in the Anglo-Saxon period often involves hard time-consuming labor. Information is rarely in one place and one must simply piece together what one can find from various, sometimes hard-to-find, sources. Students and researchers can now access synthesized material and useful bibliographic sources on medieval women of the period in one single volume.
Although Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, one of the most colorful and influential political figures in women's early history, is disappointingly not given her own individual entry and is rather subsumed under Aethelred, this most certainly was an oversight, for other important women political figures are given individualized attention: Cynethryth, for instance, Eadgifu, Aelfthryth, Emma of Normandy, Eadgyth (Edith), and others. Unfortunately, as a result of not having her own entry, Aethelflaed does not get included at the end of the volume in the index which classifies and lists royal women (and is instead included, and thus lost, under the category of royal men).
Religious women of the period such as Eadburg of Thanet, Hild of Whitby, Sexburg of Ely, and Leofgyth (Leoba), among others, provide interesting reading, even for a browser. Hildelith, abbess of Barking in the eighth century, as one example, is noted in a brief entry, yet we find facts about her here that otherwise would need to be reconstructed: that we know the name of her predecessor at the double monastery; that Bede tells us about her succession; that Aldhelm dedicated De Virginitate to the women in her religious community; that Hildelith is mentioned in a letter contained in The Boniface Correspondence.
In addition to learning about women figures of the period, a reader can find in this volume aspects about the social history of the period that are of particular interest to women's studies. We find individual entries with bibliographic source information on such topics as women, children, widowhood, marriage and divorce, nunneries, queens, malnutrition, diseases, medicine, food and drink, literacy, clothing, embroidery, tapestry, textiles, among many others of interest to the field. The volume includes art objects, sculpture, jewelry, and archeological artifacts relating to or depicting women.
In addition to graduate students, undergraduates at the senior level respond well to this volume. Each student may investigate a different woman figure or artifact or issue and report back to the class. The encyclopaedia provides a base, a place for students to begin their research; rather than coming to class with vague or generalized knowledge, the students come back equipped with issues that probe them into discussion and further investigation.
The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England is worth its weight in gold to anyone fascinated by this historical period.
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R. A. Buck. Review of Lapidge, Michael; Blair, John; Keynes, Simon; Scragg, Donald, eds., The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England.
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