Italy In The Early Middle Ages: 476-1000 (Short Oxford History of Italy) Paperback – 27 Jun 2002
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About the Author
Cristina La Rocca is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Padua and is joint editor of 'Archeologia Medievale'. Her books include 'Pacifico di Verona. Il passato carolingio nella costruzione della memoria urbana' (1995),'Da Testona a Moncalieri. La dinamica del popolamento nella collina torinese'(1986). With D.Modonesi she is the editor of 'Materiali dietà longobarda nel veronese' (1989).
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Do not expect an entertaining story of what happened, with hows and whys - we are very far from the Peter Heather style of history writing. There is a chapter ("Invasions and ethnic identity") where Walter Pohl goes through some of the actual events (with some hows and whys), but apart from that, the reader is assumed to know the general background. There are nine pages of chronology and six pages of maps, but only one illustration.
The book deserves praise for its extensive bibliography, but I can only give it four stars: The writing is dry as wood, maybe it has suffered from the authors' and translators' desire to be precise. The lack of illustrations is appalling, and I sorely miss a chapter that could bring together the essence of the different parts, who in their present state seem to be heading off, each in their direction.
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As for the essays themselves, some are great (e.g. the chapter on the Rural Economy), others well illustrate the belief that Italian scholars can't see the forest for the trees (e.g. the chapter immediately following the latter). Since new archaeology looms so largely in the study of this period, you'll get many pages of details on this location, then that location, then that location, etc. In the hands of some authors, all that can be framed in a way that doesn't make it simple, but makes it comprehensible at a higher level. For some chapters though, one is confronted by a long series with a single limp sentence here and there meant to somehow give one a perspective. One is also left wondering sometimes why some topic is actually significant. The final chapter is a good example of this. It has a point, but not a strong one, and not a well argued one. Moreover, the author repeats it something like 6 times without ever giving a good sense of why the ability to catalog changes in epigraphic script really matters.
Overall, I found the essays to be well-written. Some of the essays are drier than others, making them more difficult to focus your attention upon. I like the idea of the subject specific essay though, allowing the reader to understand an aspect as a whole for a period before passing onto the next.
The book concentrates mostly on Northern and Central Italy. Southern Italy does not receive the same attention. From the text, I would gather that there is less material about the area available to study this period. Perhaps as more archaeological evidence is found and local histories are gathered, we can understand more about what happened in this area in this period (Note: the Byzantine Empire controlled the area for much of this period, as opposed to the Lombards, Goths and Carolingans farther to the north).
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about this period. It is important to understand the transitions that a culture makes if you are going to understand why a land is how it is (and if that makes sense to you, good).