Seven years, three editors, 120 texts, 60 contributors, thousands of emails and 611 pages — those are the numerical stats on Medieval Italy: Texts in Translation, a groundbreaking sourcebook of primary texts coming out this spring from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Medieval Italy is the work of three editors: University of Richmond history professor Joanna Drell, Catholic University history professor Katherine Jansen and University of St. Andrews Reader in Medieval History Frances Andrews. The three scholars, who travel often, teach regularly and maintain individual research projects, rarely met in person but E-mailed from Florence, Edinburgh, Washington D.C., Rome and Richmond to compile the various texts.

While sourcebooks abound on Italy in the Renaissance period, there is a gap in this kind of scholarship for the years 1000–1400. This gap is felt most keenly by Medieval scholars like Drell, who want easily accessible primary sources for her students. Thus, the idea for Medieval Italy was born.

“In the beginning, we all put together a wish list of what documents we would want to have in our classrooms,” said Drell.

The historical texts that ultimately made it into the book cover a broad swath of life in the Italian Middle Ages. Primary sources were translated and submitted by an international group of scholars. Some of the subjects covered in the book’s twelve chapters include spheres and structures of power, the papacy, violence and war, the commercial revolution, marriage and family, medicine and disease, education and erudition, law and order, and social memory.

“A big part of what made this publication so challenging to assemble was waiting for and then responding to emails,” said Drell, who acted as the administrative center of the compilation process, sharing her office for months with jumbo bins of the meticulously organized papers and folders.

The documents span a broad linguistic spectrum, translated from original works in Latin, Italian, Greek, Arabic, French and Spanish. Many of these texts have never been published or translated into English and the editors spent much of their time compiling, editing and writing scholarly introductions.

Though Jansen, Andrews and Drell all contributed equally to the project, Drell’s particular contribution helps to set Medieval Italy apart from other Italian scholarship of this time period. Her research focuses on southern Italy, an area that has only recently been included in the study of Medieval Italy — for many years Medieval Italian scholarship in the U.S. has focused on Central and Northern Italy (Florence, Venice, Rome). Drell wanted this volume to reflect contemporary scholarship, which meant making sure documents on southern Italian history had their place in Medieval Italy.

Medieval Italy
comes out in June and Drell greatly anticipates using it in her spring 2010 course on the Italian Middle Ages. Even more exciting is the fact that the tool these three professors envisioned using in the undergraduate classroom has evolved into a massive resource that will be used by scholars at all levels.

Speaking for all three editors, Drell said, “We’re enormously proud of the final product.”