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Engaging With Nature: Essays on the Natural…

Engaging With Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early… (edition 2008)

by Barbara A. Hanawalt (Editor)

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Title:Engaging With Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Authors:Barbara A. Hanawalt (Editor)
Info:University of Notre Dame Press (2008), Edition: 1st, 248 pages
Collections:Your library

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Engaging With Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe by Barbara A. Hanawalt



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Okay, since I read only 3 of the 4 medieval essays, and didn't touch the 3 early modern essays, I didn't actually finish this. The first, Richard Hoffman's argument for studying local climates, will please any fan of McCorkmick, Dutton, amd Mayewski's Volcano piece in Speculum 82 (2007): 865-95. It shouldn't be news that weather matters, but given lingering Cartesianism, and persistent anthropocentrism, it's news. However, since posthuman medievalism will get much from this kind of study, Hoffman's parting sneer at "postmodern" medievalists should have been stricken: they're really his allies. I'm pleased at his discussion of disruptions to local climates and geography by changes in human diet, but the "trophic pyramid" that illustrates some of his points leaves out something key, and, in so doing, keeps humans too firmly in their place in the hierarchy: for a hint on what's missing, see the black line running of the side of this example). The Susan Crane and JJ Cohen pieces I more or less knew already: I can recommend each highly, the Crane for its nuanced reading of aristocratic hunting and especially of deer poop (although given bourgeois participation in hunting according to various civic privileges, she should have called it elite hunting), and the Cohen for his expansion of his work on race and animality from On Difficult Middles and, especially, for his an-anthropocentric reading of SGGK, which is here, I presume, seeing print for the first time.

I've been assigned this book to review for JEGP, so I've finally read the whole thing. And I just downgraded it from 4 to 3 stars. Briefly, the medieval chapters are the best. Baring some complaints [see above:], great work Hoffman, Cohen, Crane, and Kaye [and the Kaye is really in the best mode of intellectual history:]. The Early Modern chapters range from the disappointing [Swann:], to the pointless [Smith:], to the appalling [Berger Hochstrasser:]. The slightest familiarity with, say, Horkheimer and Adorno, or this book, or ecocriticism could have saved these chapters; as it stands, their only real use is in providing raw material for future critical work. Overall, my MAJOR complaint is that--excepting Cohen--no essay ever thinks through the human relation to nature as an internal relation. It's as if nature is just 'out there.' In other words, this anthology desperately needed an essay on, say, medieval or early modern comparative anatomy, or medicinal anthropophagy, or the influence of the stars on the self, or anything that would recall to us that humans are part of nature too.

More to come when I write the actual review. ( )
  karl.steel | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0268030839, Paperback)

Historians and cultural critics face special challenges when treating the nonhuman natural world in the medieval and early modern periods. Their most daunting problem is that in both the visual and written records of the time, nature seems to be both everywhere and nowhere. In the broadest sense, nature was everywhere, for it was vital to human survival. Agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine, and the patterns of human settlement all have their basis in natural settings. Humans also marked personal, community, and seasonal events by natural occurrences and built their cultural explanations around the workings of nature, which formed the unspoken backdrop for every historical event and document of the time.

Yet in spite of the ubiquity of nature’s continual presence in the physical surroundings and the artistic and literary cultures of these periods, overt discussion of nature is often hard to find. Until the sixteenth century, responses to nature were quite often recorded only in the course of investigating other subjects. In a very real sense, nature went without saying.
As a result, modern scholars analyzing the concept of nature in the history of medieval and early modern Europe must often work in deeply interdisciplinary ways. This challenge is deftly handled by the contributors to Engaging with Nature, whose essays provide insights into such topics as concepts of animal/human relationships; environmental and ecological history; medieval hunting; early modern collections of natural objects; the relationship of religion and nature; the rise of science; and the artistic representations of exotic plants and animals produced by Europeans encountering the New World.
“As scholars of medieval and early modern Europe increasingly embrace environmental perspectives and animal studies, Engaging with Nature will be recognized as a landmark collection in the field. Taken together, the essays in this volume provide a synthetic overview of critical developments in the many disciplines that are now incorporating the approaches of natural and environmental studies. Each essay represents a substantial advance in scholarship and thought in its particular field. This is an essential collection for literary and cultural historians, and for historians of economy and society, art and ideas.” —Rita Copeland, University of Pennsylvania
“Engaging with Nature vividly captures the breadth and depth of human interactions with the natural world in premodern Europe. Its multidisciplinary approach generates new questions about how Europeans understood and connected with nature and delves into issues that will interest the specialist and the general reader alike. The book challenges readers to rethink not just the history of human engagement with nature but also the many ways the past has influenced our modern conceptions of ecology and environment.” —James Masschaele, Rutgers University
"This substantial collection of articles is far more than a response to current obsessions with climate change. It is a thought-provoking demonstration of the inter-disciplinary character of research on medieval history and culture. Students of medieval and early-modern society and economy, literature, philosophy, and art, will find much that is new in these essays, and much to provoke their own thinking about the vexed relationship of human societies with their natural surroundings." —Fredric Cheyette, Emeritus professor of history, Amherst College
Engaging with Nature is a deeply pleasurable volume to read. Using an incredible range of primary and secondary sources, the authors richly realize the methodological promise inherent in the emergent field of medieval and pre-modern studies on the history of nature.” —Kathleen Biddick, Temple University
Engaging with Nature is a collection of impeccable scholarship that will make a highly original contribution to the emergent field of medieval and pre-modern studies on the history of nature." 
Claire Sponsler, University of Iowa

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:49 -0400)

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