As I understand them, the Journal of Medieval Worlds has at least four goals. First, it aims to publish research that expands upon the concept of a “global Middle Ages.” The editors seek contributions, in other words, that both illuminate traditional Western European medieval studies from a global perspective as well as scholarship that treats parts of the world outside the traditionally accepted boundaries of medieval history in Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Here, we have been particularly anxious to receive contributions that treat Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas, as well as pieces that are thought provoking and make theoretical contributions to our understanding of this larger vision of the medieval period. Second, the journal aims to publish work that is comparative, setting the findings from one geographical or chronological space alongside another in an effort to make new observations about each. Third, we have been particularly interested to support research that illuminates traditional questions and problems—the migrations of peoples, the transmissions of texts, the development of social networks, to name just a few—through new methods. From the first, our discussions about the journal’s brief pointed to the growing body of research that draws upon new scientific methods like DNA analysis in the quest to deepen understanding of the movement of peoples, or the possibilities that computer-assisted research offers to mine large data sets. And finally, the journal is committed not just to the publication of original research, but to expanding readers’ understanding of best practices in pedagogy related to global studies and the Middle Ages.

This issue offers something that speaks to all these goals. The first piece, “Verifying Source Citations in the Hadith Literature” by Mairaj Syed, Danny Halawi, Behnam Sadeghi, and Nazmus Saquib, reports on their efforts to evaluate the reliability of Gawāmiʿ al-Kalim, a database software that presents hadiths compiled from the eighth to the tenth centuries. The hadith, a collection of reports about the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad as reported by witnesses to the Prophet, has long been an authoritative source alongside the Qur’an in Sunni Islamic tradition. It was through the hadith that the idea of the Five Pillars of Islam came to be seen as normative in the early religion, even as this written tradition of stories also aided in establishing prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol, the eating of certain foods, and gambling.

For historians of Islam, the hadith is a treasure trove, since as each story came to be committed to written form, it was accompanied by an isnād, a source citation that recounted all the figures who had transmitted and recorded the account. The enormity of this written tradition will astonish Western European medievalists who confront the scarcity of data and records in their period every day. The hadith texts compiled in the Gawāmiʿ al-Kalim database, for instance, recount more than four million transmissions of hadith stories recorded by almost 50,000 individuals. Since Islamic scholars of the same period kept detailed biographical records about the many scholars, historians, and theologians who transmitted the hadith, these texts in sum present modern historians with an unparalleled resource for reconstructing the development of early Islamic teaching.

But how reliable is the enormous database compiled in the modern Gawāmiʿ al-Kalim software? This is the issue that the study of Mairaj Syed, Danny Halawi, Behnam Sadeghi,and Nazmus Saquib considers. To evaluate the integrity of the database itself, the authors have conducted a bidirectional analysis of the transmissions identified in the database. Their findings suggest that the software is generally reliable and has relatively few errors, although they do note that several hundred may exist in the collection, a small portion of such a large database. Their conclusions suggest ways to correct for these anomalies, as well as methods of social network analysis that might be used in future studies to examine the texts. The result is a stimulating exercise in method that will surely provoke data envy among medievalists studying other regions.

Moving away from the methodological to the theoretical, the next article in this issue, “The Sense of Distance and the Perception of the Other” by David Blanks, revisits the discussions of Otherness that Edward Said and Tzvetan Todorov initiated in the final third of the twentieth century. For Said, mystery and ignorance of the Middle East on the part of Westerners long sustained subtle prejudices against Arabs and Islamic culture. In his Orientalism (1978), Said argued that such incomprehension bred historical and cultural scholarship that went hand in hand with imperialism, that demeaned the region and its culture, in other words, subordinating itself to, and ultimately justifying the colonial ambitions of European powers. In his The Conquest of America (1982), the French philosopher Tzvetan Todorov argued that Western attitudes toward foreigners were shaped by quite different traditions. In considering the Columbia Exchange, Todorov pointed to the long history of the fantastic imaginary about the Other that shaped Europeans’ reactions to the New World. In that tradition, successive accretions had peopled the terra incognita around Europe with horrific, weird, and bizarre peoples, beings who were radically different, or Other, from everything familiar at home.

Blanks’s evocative essay, though, turns such easy generalizations on their head and points out that most Europeans had little or no frame of reference with which to evaluate what kind of life, peoples, or cultures existed beyond their borders. Most theories about how Europeans reacted to those from other continents and regions, Blanks argues, have relied on evidence from intellectual elites. And as Carlo Ginzburg’s famous account of the miller Menocchio reveals, even the semi-literate could create eccentric cosmologies and histories about the greater world that were cobbled together from a dim understanding of texts. In place of the too-easy notion of an immemorial tradition of racist, exoticist, or anti-Arabic prejudice, Blanks argues that a subtle mix of empiricism combined with knowledge of oral tradition and some limited knowledge of textual traditions shaped the ways in which most Europeans reacted to the non-European world. A variety of responses to peoples beyond European borders was the order of the day, and greater particularlity, differentiation, and even tolerance flourished than has been imagined. Blanks article prompts us, then, to revisit and perhaps revise those interpretations of European contact with the greater world that are rooted in the grand theories of scholars like Todorov and Said and to discriminate more subtly the varied responses of Europeans to the worlds beyond their borders.

Oil shocks, trade wars, and military events in our own times have demonstrated how important international stability is to industrial supply chains, and how interdependent the farflung regions of the modern world are. Sharon Farmer’s “Global and Gendered Perspectives on the Making of a Parisian Alms Purse” richly demonstrates that such interdependency was vital to medieval European production as well. Like a number of recent studies, Farmer’s article treats an artifact, an alms purse produced in fourteenth-century Paris, and follows it through all its stages of production. The level of intricacy her piece recounts in the processes of production fascinates, but what is even more interesting is the way in which she documents the origins and production of the component parts of this relatively modest, yet highly decorated artifact. The article demonstrates the rich complexity of medieval modes of fabrication, even as it shows that the late medieval economy was already one that was to an extent “globalized,” with gold and other precious materials assembled from far corners to produce the handsome, decorative objects that were growing more common in a commercial economy.

The final two articles in this issue, Mackenzie Cooley’s “Teaching Tepahtia: A Pedagogical Reflection on Knowledge and Medicine in Mexico, 1400-1600,” and Santiago Muñoz Arbeláez’s “Indigenous Scripts in Mesoamerica and the Andes,” shift our attention from the eastern to the western hemisphere and offer practical insights on pedagogy and secondary literature. Mackenzie Cooley’s article presents the fascinating microhistory of Doctor Francisco Hernández, a Spanish physician tasked by Philip II with exploring sixteenth-century Mesoamerica to collect information about the region’s herbiary and its nahua medical practitioners. There Francisco Hernández discovered a practitioner class reluctant to share its secrets, a form of healing known as tepahtia, in case they might be rendered redundant. Cooley recounts these difficulties but then uses them as an entrée into a fascinating discussion of pedagogy. She transforms Hernández’s mission into a metaphor for the struggles all modern, Western-educated scholars face in trying to unearth the strangely foreign ways of the past, even as she also suggests ways in which the story might be effectively deployed in the classroom to raise students’ consciousness of methodological complexities, scholarly distance, and the limits of objectivity.

Santiago Muñoz Arbeláez’s final article reviews two recent studies of Incan and Mesoamerican societies during the pre-colonial period and the Columbian Exchange that followed. The anthropologist Gary Urton’s book, “Inka History in Knots: Reading Khipus as Primary Sources” (University of Texas Press, 2017), attempts to unlock the mysteries of the khipus, those enigmatic knotted records long famous in the Incan tradition. Urton has long been concerned to demonstrate that the purposes of these knotted fabrics was to encode linguistic as well as numerical data, and in the present study he aims to show the ways that the khipus, the only linguistic artifact to survive from the Incan period untouched by Europeans, can be used to create a history of that civilization. As Muñoz Arbeláez demonstrates, though, Urton’s work raises some uncomfortable questions for scholars, for in his attempts to dispel the notion that the history the khipus reveal is more primitive or somehow inferior to other traditions, Urton wanders into the very thicket he is tryng to avoid. The khipus do not provide the kind of data for constructing an event-based or materialistic history in the mode of Bloch or Febvre, but instead are populated with legends and myths. For medievalists, who once debated the validity of the ideas of Walter Ong and similar scholarship on the impact of textuality, Urton’s work revives questions about the impact of alphabetic literacy on mentality vis-à-vis other record-keeping systems. Urton’s Inka History in Knots, Muñoz Arbeláez concludes nonetheless, is a work whose implications resonate far beyond the geographical confines of Incan America.

The second book Muñoz Arbeláez treats, Painting a Map of Sixteenth-Century Mexico City: Land, Writing, and Native Rule (Yale University Press, 2013), a volume edited by Mary E. Miller and Barbara E. Mundy, explores an entire culture history through a limited canvas. The essays contained in the volume treat a famous sixteenth-century map of Mexico City held in Yale’s Beinecke Library. The various contributions to the volume demonstrate, like Sharon Farmer’s fourteenth-century alms purse, the possibilities that close attention to an artifact can reveal, since the essays collected in the volume analyze the map’s place in cartographic tradition, its historical development and revelations about Mesoamerican society at a crucial juncture in the Columbian Exchange, and its physical characteristics, including even consideration of the origins of the ink used to draw it. Like Farmer’s study, this book demonstrates the relevancy of artefactual examination and material culture generally in the construction of global histories.

In introducing an eclectic issue such as this, one hopes to tantalize, without spoiling the secrets that lie within its covers. I hope my brief comments here have conveyed something of the richness these studies display for constructing new interpretations of medieval worlds and their unique dynamics. Those who read the issue in its entirety will discover many insights about how to write and teach about medieval global history, even as they explore exciting new dimensons in the histories of religion, medicine, economy, and society.