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About Jacqueline Alio
Jacqueline Alio is one of Sicily's leading medievalists, and the author of several monographs about Sicily's early queens. She wrote the first biography of Margaret of Navarre, the first compendium of biographies of the Sicilian queens of the Norman and Swabian eras, and a study of queenship in the Kingdom of Sicily during that period. Other books include the first English translation of a medieval chronicle written during the reign of Frederick II, a guide for educators teaching Sicilian Studies, a guide to the Norman-Arab sites around Palermo, a history of multicultural Sicily, a book on historical Sicilian women and a guide to Sicilian cuisine. At 740 pages, her Queens of Sicily 1061-1266 is the longest book written in English by a historian based in Sicily. In addition to the Ferraris Chronicle, completed in 1228 by a monk near Naples who knew Frederick II, Jacqueline Alio has translated other medieval texts for publication, including poetry composed in Sicilian by Frederick himself. She has lectured classes of university students and groups from organizations such as YPO, and been consulted by The History Channel and other media. Visit her at QueensofSicily.Com and at JacquelineAlio.Com
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Can the eclectic medieval history of the world's most conquered island be a lesson for our times?
Home to Normans, Byzantines, Arabs, Germans and Jews, 12th-century Sicily was a crossroads of cultures and faiths, the epitome of diversity. Here Europe, Asia and Africa met, with magical results. Bilingualism was the norm, women's rights were defended, and the environment was protected. Literacy among Sicilians soared; it was higher during this ephemeral golden age than it was seven centuries later.
But this book is about more than Sicily. It is a singular, enduring lesson in the way multicultural diversity can be encouraged, with the result being a prosperous society. While its focus is the civilizations that flourished during the island's multicultural medieval period from 1060 to 1260, most of Sicily's complex history to the end of the Middle Ages is outlined. Idrisi is mentioned, but so is Archimedes.
Introductory background chapters begin in the Neolithic, continuing to the history of the contested island under Punics and Greeks. Every civilization that populated the island is covered, including Romans, Goths, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Germans, Angevins, Aragonese and Jews, with profiles of important historical figures and sites. Religion, law, geography and cuisine are also considered.
The authors' narrative is interesting but never pedantic, intended for the general reader rather than the expert in anthropology, theology, art or architecture. They are not obsessed with arcane terminology, and they don't advocate a specific agenda or world view. Here two erudite scholars take their case to the people.
Yes, this book actually sets forth the entirety of ancient and medieval Sicilian history from the earliest times until around 1500, and it presents a few nuggets of the authors' groundbreaking research in medieval manuscripts. Unlike most authors who write in English about Sicily, perhaps visiting the island for brief research trips, these two are actually based in Sicily, where their work appears on a popular website. Sicily aficionados will be familiar with their writings, which have been read by some ten million during the last five years, far eclipsing the readership of any other historians who write about Sicily. Alio and Mendola are the undisputed, international "rock stars" of Sicilian historical writing, with their own devoted fan base. Every minute of the day somebody is reading their online articles.
This is a great book for anybody who is meeting Sicily for the first time, the most significant 'general' history of the island published in fifty years and certainly one of the most eloquent. It has a detailed chronology, a useful reading list, and a brief guide suggesting places to visit. The book's structure facilitates its use as a ready reference. It would have run to around 600 pages, instead of 368 (on archival-quality, acid-free paper), were it not for the slightly smaller print of the appendices, where the chronology, the longest Sicilian timeline ever published, is 20 pages long.
Unlike most histories of Sicily, the approach to this one is multifaceted and multidisciplinary. In what may be a milestone in Sicilian historiography, a section dedicated to population genetics explains how Sicily's historic diversity is reflected in its plethora of haplogroups.
Here medieval Sicily is viewed as an example of a tolerant, multicultural society and perhaps even a model. It is an unusually inspiring message. One reader was moved to tears as she read the preface.
Can a book change our view of cultures and perhaps even the way we look at history? This one just might.
Meet the peoples!
Sicily's culinary landscape is as eclectic as the island's complex history. Written by Sicilians in Sicily, this book introduces Sicilian cuisine, explaining what it is and where to find it. Presenting descriptions, background, a glossary and a dozen classic (and simple) recipes, it is a reliable reference for anybody captivated by Sicily's food, wine and timeless culture. This is a book to consult.
The chapters on festivals, wines and olive oils transcend the superficial treatments of those topics by most cookbook authors and chefs. Rarely does a book about Sicilian food present much information about wine, or vice versa. There are several useful maps indicating such details as wine and olive oil appellations. Here the authors have included a few things overlooked by most of the others.
Unlike many such books, this one is not personality driven. It does not promote specific chefs, wineries or restaurants, nor does it focus on the authors' psyches. Such sober objectivity is refreshing in a field where blatant commercialism is the order of the day, and where every food writer wants to reveal the intimate details of her culinary catharsis.
Whether your visit to Sicily is physical or virtual, this is a reliable place to chart your course.
Rarely have women found their place in the chronicles of Sicily's thirty-century history. Here one of Sicily's most popular historians introduces seventeen women of varied backgrounds who defied convention to make their mark in the annals of the complex history of the world's most conquered island.
Meet a timeless sisterhood of pious Roman maidens, steadfast Sicilian queens, and a Jewish mother who confronted the horrors of the Inquisition. Theirs are inspiring stories of the courage of conviction bursting forth to overcome the challenges of adversity. The lengthier ten biographies constitute full chapters, while seven are concise sketches of a few paragraphs each.
In addition to these profiles - most of these women lived before 1500 - the author presents a general survey and chronology of Sicilian history. Significantly, the book treats Sicily as the sovereign nation most of these women knew, and not as a 'region' of the unified Italy or a tiny piece of Europe. The chronology (timeline) reaches into the present century, and there's an appendix dedicated to Sicilian women today.
Until now, biographies of Sicilian women written in English (as the original language) have been the work of foreign authors. This one is a milestone, the first book about the historical women of Sicily written in English by a Sicilian woman in Sicily. It reflects a special passion and an astute understanding of its subject.
Some of the information is the result of original (scholarly) research, and a few facts were garnered from unique sources. The chapter on Queen Maria Sophia of the Two Sicilies, who died in 1925, is the lengthiest treatment of her ever published in English, and it was based in part on an unpublished interview with somebody who knew the Queen, namely her niece, the late Princess Urraca. Living links of this kind are precious in historical writing.
While the concise overview of the status of women in twenty-first century Sicily is provided merely for the benefit of readers who wish to compare the past and present, the pages dedicated to that topic are a rare occurrence in book publishing, especially in English. Here the author's statements are based on facts and statistics rather than anecdotes or stereotypes. It is clear that she knows her subject.
With its chronology and reading list, this volume is useful as a reference, but its narrative makes for an interesting read.
Jackie Alio is an insightful author, one of Sicily's most talented historians, and this book was long overdue.