Thursday, June 26, 2014

New Release: Bednarski on "The Life and Times of Margarida de Portu, a Fourteenth-Century Accused Poisoner"

New from the University of Toronto Press: A Poisoned Past: The Life and Times of Margarida de Portu, a Fourteenth-Century Accused Poisoner (May 2014), by Steven Bednarski (St. Jerome's University, University of Waterloo). The Press explains:

This is the story of Margarida de Portu, a fourteenth-century French medieval woman accused of poisoning her husband to death. As Bednarski points out, the story is important not so much for what it tells us about Margarida but for how it illuminates a past world. Through the depositions and accusations made in court, the reader learns much about medieval women, female agency, kin networks, solidarity, sex, sickness, medicine, and law.

Unlike most histories, this book does not remove the author from the analysis. Rather, it lays bare the working methods of the historian. Throughout his tale, Bednarski skillfully weaves a second narrative about how historians "do" history, highlighting the rewards and pitfalls of working with primary sources.

The book opens with a chapter on microhistory as a genre and explains its strengths, weaknesses, and inherent risks. Next is a narrative of Margarida's criminal trial, followed by chapters on the civil suits and appeal and Margarida's eventual fate. The book features a rough copy of a court notary, a notorial act, and a sample of a criminal inquest record in the original Latin. A timeline of Margarida's life, list of characters, and two family trees provide useful information on key people in the story. A map of late medieval Manosque is also provided.
Reviewers say:
"Nothing better stirs the hearts and minds of modern students than a lively small story abrim with the strange stuff of life long gone. Steven Bednarski knows that well; he employs microhistory's wiles to catch his readers' imaginations and sharpen their scholarly wits. This is a charming way to teach good historical method." -- Thomas V. Cohen
"Steven Bednarski has crafted an exceptionally thoughtful volume. Blending vibrant storytelling with methodological rigor, he guides readers through the personal experience of historical analysis in all of its various demands, occasional frustrations, and exhilarating discoveries. He simultaneously brings to life the detailed and intricate world of a late-fourteenth-century woman, and prompts vital questions about the very nature and limit of the historical enterprise." -- Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane
More information is available here.