Islam, Pirenne, and Historiography with Clare Gillis

Welcome to 2016!Orange-Duck

I’ve been a bit delinquent with podcasts for a couple of months, but here, finally, is a new one.  This one was inspired a few months back by the youtube comment stream (crazy but true!) on a John Oliver Last Week Tonight clip: the “How is this still a thing?” on Columbus Day.  Don’t ask how I ended up reading that far into the comment stream…in general I’m a fan of John Oliver, but not an avid reader of youtube comments.

But back to this podcast.  Basically, someone took the discussion about Columbus and turned it towards the general idea of the pros and cons of “Western Civilization” (one of those great internet almost unanswerable threads that invites plenty of trolling.)  In and amongst the discussion someone brought up Henri Pirenne’s Mohammed and Charlemagne as evidence (in a discussion with otherwise about zero evidence.)  In the podcast, I talk with an early medieval expert – Clare Gillis, who is great to talk to – about how Pirenne ended up in that sort of discussion as well as the origins of Pirenne’s ideas and his place in contemporary medieval scholarship.

Lastly, I just want to note that my dad gave me a copy of Pirenne’s Economic and social history of Medieval Europe, before I had even really become a Medievalist.  He enjoyed reading Pirenne in college, before a lot of the revision we talk about in this podcast had taken place, so this podcast is dedicated to him for having introduced me to Pirenne in the first place.  Thanks!

And for the food, clearly a full dinner that crosses the “Pirenne Line” mentioned in the podcast is in order.  So I recommend Duck a l’Orange.  Sautéed or roasted duck with a deglazed brown sauce sweetened with orange juice and sugar and served with orange slices.  Humans in Europe have been eating duck for a very long time.  However, citrus fruits probably originated in central Asia (perhaps northern India).  Lemons appeared in Rome, but more as decorative plants than as food.  The use of oranges and lemons in cooking entered Europe as a direct influence of Islam in Sicily, Italy, and Spain.  Lemons and Oranges are now almost ubiquitous fruits, but even in the 16th or 17th century, they would have felt foreign or somewhat exotic in European cooking.  But today there are several European “classic” dishes that involve citrus as a core component – hence Duck a l’Orange.


There are tons of books on any of these topics as I mention in the podcast, so e-mail if you want to read more, but for the main references from the podcast itself, here they are.



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