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Book Review


Betteridge, Thomas, ed. Borders and Travellers in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot, Hampshire and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007). 204 pp, $99.95.

     This collection of essays explores several facets of borders and travellers in Early Modern Europe. Its authors apply the two terms in some thought-provoking ways and approach their respective topics from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives. Some examine how borders were defined, understood, expanded, and contracted in and around the sixteenth century. Others explain how individual travellers traversed borders, while others study how the printing press and the migration of ideas redefined both themes. Collectively, the essays offer some new information, sources and interpretations and stimulate a number of important questions of value to scholars and teachers. The volume would be strengthened if there had been a greater effort to tie the individual themes or topics to broader European trends and to connect or contrast conclusions identified in one part of Europe to others.

     In the volume's introduction, Thomas Betteridge asserts that Europeans found borders everywhere; some were permanent while others were more transitory. They could be territorial, like the oceanic boundary separating the New World from the Old or the frontiers between the various European states, but they might as readily distinguish ghettos, hospitals, sewers or other landmarks from the rest of individual communities. Borders also delineated the civilized from the barbaric or set boundaries between freedom and restraint. Once he has defined the various types of borders, Betteridge proceeds to describe the collection's unifying principles and summarizes the broad categories into which he has grouped the ensuing essays. The first three look at highways, hospitals and boundary hazards, travellers and sexuality in London, and identity, empire and piracy. The next three interpret the Hungarian-Ottoman frontier, shrinking urban borders in Germany, and translation and the migration of texts across Europe. The final set follow the travels of specific individuals, while an appended essay asks if cannibals enjoyed a Renaissance. While the topics and the sources that undergird them are eclectic, they are all broadly linked to the themes set in the volume's title.

     The opening essays look at borders and the people they encircle in relation to hospitals, brothels, and pirates. The first two, by Margaret Healy and Duncan Salkeld, underscore the efforts of local and state authorities to control urban space and people. According to Healy, not only were hospitals placed along the highways, but those in their care, such as those suffering from leprosy, existed somewhere between life and death and were completely isolated from the rest of society. London's prostitutes drew the regular attention of the city's magistrates who, though they never followed Sir Thomas More's path in expelling them, sought nevertheless to control and reform them. Claire Jowitt shows that pirates were bound in a similar fashion. While some Elizabethan and Jacobean pirates might have been celebrated for their heroic exploits at times by the state, they were just as readily hunted down and executed as base criminals.

     The portrayal of such borders is especially important for survey teachers because it reminds us of the constancy of change in history and the impermanence of enduring realities. These chapters offer useful glimpses into the ambiguities central to the human experience and ways to make them more intelligible to students. Though discussion of brothels in secondary classes might arouse local complaints, the other examples in the chapters work well and the theme of state efforts to regulate space and behavior is an important component in understanding the sixteenth century.

     In like manner, the middle essays about the Continent raise some important questions about the nature of borders and the ways in which they functioned. The territorial border separating Hungary from the Turkish Empire was both elastic and absolute, according to Mike Pincombe. He uses the lyric poetry of Bálint Balassi to illustrate how battles and skirmishes along this frontier enabled some to establish their manhood and create a unique image of the Christian hero. The collision of cultures in this period is an important theme in World History and the chapter offers useful materials for class use. The discussion of Balassi's poetry in Pincombe's chapter dramatizes ways that biographical literary sources might be more fully used by classroom teachers as well as opening richer possibilities for the study of war and warriors in earlier times. The author's admission at the outset that he is not a specialist in sixteenth-century Hungarian literature challenges specialists to revise and extend his work; however he also shows the possibilities of working with this type of source. His arguments are well constructed and his analysis of the poetry supports his claims. His scholarship is careful and his conclusions are cautious.

     Mike Pincombe helps the reader understand some ways in which borders might liberate the spirits of those who lived and fought along them; Maria Boes shows how urban borders in the Germanies became more restrictive and confining especially for Jews, Gypsies, the poor, and women. Her treatment of each is informative, if brief, and offers insights to supplement traditional discussions of the Reformation era on the continent. While the groups presented lived at the border of society in Early Modern times and city authorities in most places sought to limit their freedoms and make them less welcome, the treatment of refugee Calvinists from the Netherlands who brought their economic connections and successes with them is more difficult to explain. Boes' explanations are too brief and undeveloped to be satisfactory, although the broad outline of her presentation is sound. Comparing the treatment of beggars and paupers in Frankfurt with English towns and cities in the same period, for instance, would have made the argument more compelling.

     In the section's final essay, Andrew Pettigree studies translations and the migration of texts, which he labels as the third great trans-national migration of the time (after those of refugees from religious persecution and the movement of ideas). The essay focuses primarily on the Amadis de Gaule, an Iberian text relating to courtly behavior and fantasy. It was widely read for recreational purposes across Europe. He traces this and other texts and their translators to illustrate how readily printed works moved through Europe's borders. One of the chapter's most engaging dimensions is the discussion of how translators modified texts to appeal to local audiences. The chapter would be enhanced with a fuller examination of the roles of printers and a consideration of some of the centers for printing and text production such as Antwerp and Geneva. It raises interesting ideas of how the study of the dissemination of texts augments understanding of the century within Europe and beyond.

     The third section describes travels and travellers. David Baker traces the travels of Thomas Coryate as depicted in his published volume Crudities (1611) and the responses of contemporaries to him and his sojourns. It is the diversity, extent, and color described in his narrative that attracts author and reader. Coryate's travels took him as far as India, where he died in 1617. Though there are political dimensions to his travels, Coryate's life and writings emphasize the comedic and stand in stark contrast to Melanie Ord's study of Sir Henry Wotton, a diplomat and Italian cultural connoisseur. Thoroughly versed in the language and society, his career offers insights into the practice of diplomacy in the early seventeenth century. The concluding essay contrasts the depictions of the border separating the European, Christian world and America through the works of Hans Staden and Walter Ralegh. Neil Whitehead explains how these authors emphasized the exotic and the savage in the New World.

     In sum, the collection raises some interesting questions for world history teachers. The concept of borders and their various forms is a useful framework for presenting materials and themes to students. How do western ideas of borders compare with eastern?  Are borders global?  How do borders function in different societies?  How do western travellers contrast with others?  Are the things that interested westerners universal or culturally specific?  It is worth a close reading.


Michael J. Galgano
James Madison University


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