Off the Shelf: Duane J. Osheim

February 21, 2008
Duane J. Osheim, history professor, Sharon Dale and Alison Williams Lewin, editors, "Chronicling History:
 Chroniclers and Historians in Medieval and Renaissance Italy." 
Penn State University Press.

“There is nothing like this on the market. . . . Nowhere is there offered such an ample body of translations; nowhere is there offered such generous commentary. There are some books of original sources . . . but none that covers as much chronological and regional ground.”
— James Grubb, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Literally thousands of annals, chronicles, and histories were produced in Italy during the Middle Ages, ranging from fragments to polished humanist treatises. This book is composed of a set of case studies exploring the kinds of historical writing most characteristic of the period.

We might expect a typical medieval chronicler to be a monk or cleric, but the chroniclers of communal and Renaissance Italy were overwhelmingly secular. Many were jurists or notaries whose professions granted them access to political institutions and public debate. The mix of the anecdotal and the cosmic, of portents and politics, makes these writers so engaging to read.

While chroniclers may have had different reasons to write and often very different points of view, they shared the belief that knowing the past might explain the present. Moreover, their audiences usually shared the worldview and civic identity of the historians, so these texts are glimpses into deeper cultural and intellectual contexts. Seen more broadly, chronicles are far more entertaining and informative than narratives. They become part of the very history they are describing.

Sharon Dale is Associate Professor of Art History at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

Alison Williams Lewin is Associate Professor of History at St. Joseph’s University.

Duane J. Osheim is Professor of History at the University of Virginia.