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The Cambridge History of War goes to the Middle Ages

Every few years or so, we get a book about medieval warfare that tries to give to us the whole picture - what happens from the beginning of the period to the end, covering many places and peoples. Usually, this is a work by a single author, doing their best to tell a broad tale. However, sometimes we get books created by a group effort, where several historians explain their own corner of knowledge.

This second type of book can be seen in The Cambridge History of War, Volume 2: War and the Medieval World, edited by Anne Curry and David Graf. It’s part of a wider series that aims to explain warfare from ancient to modern times, It’s a very new book, having only been published online just a couple of weeks ago, with the printed version yet to be ready.

This is not a book review, as I’ve only briefly looked at it so far, but I do want to explain why I am excited about it. The first reason is that the 24 articles in this volume are written by a really great group of historians - I know many of them, and four authors I would consider friends, so I have high hopes their contributions will be of top quality.

More importantly, one of the goals of this book is to offer a look at the military history of the entire medieval world. The coverage here goes Western Europe to Byzantium, to India, to Japan. There are even two articles about warfare in China, and one set in the Americas. It is really quite rare for books about the Middle Ages, let alone about warfare in the Middle Ages, to be so diverse.

The editors point this out as one of the goals of the book, writing in their Introduction:

Bringing all of these stories together in one volume covering most of the medieval world is a significant undertaking inasmuch as it facilitates the identification of universal processes, local differences and variations, hitherto unsuspected connections between developments in far-flung geographic regions, and perhaps even helps to inspire the creation of new master narratives for understanding war in the global “Middle Ages.”

One hopes that this book can spur more research into the military history of the medieval ‘world’ - to see how we can compare and contrast aspects of warfare as it took place in different places but with similar circumstances. I find it fascinating to see how one civilization reacts to military threats or new technologies, and why they make different choices than the ones chosen by their neighbours, or even far away lands,

War and the Medieval World should prove a fascinating read. It’s not the type of book that will be found on many bookshelves - too expensive for that - but I hope that a library near you will purchase the series. If you want more details about the book, please visit the Cambridge University Press website.

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