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What to Look for among
The Works of Cantor's Medievalists
So, you've found a book by one of the scholars in Cantor's list, but you're not sure if it's particularly valuable. If you are on a buying budget, here are a few rules for knowing what to take and what you can leave behind:
What to take:
- Books from university presses
- Stand-alone monographs
- Single-subject and monographic studies
What to leave:
- Books from commercial publishers
- Volumes in a series
- Introductions and syntheses
The case of the Oxford scholar Sir Richard William Southern (aka R.W. Southern) (1912-2001), one
Cantor's heroes, whom he styles "St. Richard" and, in Arthurian fashion, the "Once
and Future King" of medieval studies, illustrates all of these rules. Southern is perhaps best
known for his introduction to medieval history, The Making of the Middle Ages
(Yale University Press, 1953). But this book has been reprinted in paperback so many times as to
be worthless if you are only looking to resell it. (I first encountered Southern in his
Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages , for the Penguin History of the
Church. The Penguin imprint should be a clue that the same thing goes for the value of this book
as for The Making.) But in a long career, Southern published many other important books,
including one book I've recently sold, the highly topical Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages (Harvard University Press, 1962), a $40-$50 book. Also watch for his monographs on St. Anselm of Canterbury and Robert Grosseteste.
Knowing the names of these scholars and having some understanding of their bodies of work can also help you successfully ignore some other book-hunting rules. One of my rules is always avoid books from the Northeastern nonfiction reprint houses, like the old Dorset Press, which was owned by Barnes & Noble. Dorset Press reprinted, in serviceable hardcover editions, an enormous number of important historical studies, which were originally published by university presses and commercial publishers alike. The problem was that Dorset printed them - and B&N sold them - in enormous numbers. I consider them to be the better alternative to paperback reading copies, but they're usually a tough sell.
I recently came across a 1990 Dorset Press reprint of a work by Marc Bloch (1886-1944), the rising
star of French historical studies in the 1920s and '30s, who was executed by the Nazis for
his participation in the French resistance. (With many others, Cantor calls him the
"martyred historian.") Bloch's work on Feudal Society is well known, but his monograph
Les Rois Thaumaturges (1st ed. 1924), translated into English as The Royal Touch, on the medieval belief that the king possessed a healing touch, is a book I knew but thought just obscure enough to be saleable. It should bring $25-$35, even in the Dorset edition.
Some of these books may be hard to find, but they are out there. At a local thrift just a month ago
I found a nice hardbound first edition, in a serviceable dust jacket, of Ernst Kantorowicz's
The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton University Press, 1957), a $50+ book no matter how you slice it. (I had never seen a first edition but have sold some of the later, paperback reprints.) So keep looking and good luck collecting - and selling - the Middle Ages.