Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations of Medieval London, by Arthur Bahr

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview Article


Medieval manuscripts, Arthur Bahr argues on the first page of his exciting, adventurous study of late medieval compilations, ‘expose as false the long-implied opposition between form and history’. He argues that compilations, assemblages ‘of multiple discrete works into a larger structure’ (p. 10), problematise—and destabilise—existing narratives of the literary history of fourteenth-century England, and should thus compel scholars to rethink not only the texts contained in them but also their contexts.

By analysing four sets of compilations produced in London, Bahr aims to produce a ‘richer perspective on the life of the City that produced them’ (p. 17). He chooses London compilations because that city was one of the likeliest places for texts to co-exist with the scribes who produced them and the patrons who bought them, and also because the social and textual identity of fourteenth-century London were ‘sufficiently strong’ that we can read its ‘textual assemblages as ways of engaging with the social imaginary’ (p. 18). By the late Middle Ages, London’s lived reality and idealised self were increasingly textual. Guild, mercantile and civic bureaucracy ensured that much of the daily life of the City was registered in textual form and, indeed, in order for it to preserve its political and economic freedoms in the face of a shaky relationship with the Crown, London increasingly relied on the ‘scrupulous maintenance of their various documentary bases’ (p. 19).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-123
JournalThe English Historical Review
Issue number554
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


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