Monthly Archives: May 2007

Seminary IV (Susan Reynolds)

This will be the last of these posts for a while, as the last of the papers I really can’t miss in the IHR‘s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar series this term has now occurred. No bad thing for my employers and for me also, as each of these visits this term has led to a small-scale personal disaster once I’ve stepped away from the academics (lesson for us all there), but I did make it to this one, Susan Reynolds talking on “Modern problems with medieval communities”. I won’t do it justice if I summarise, but it’s late and I don’t want to type up my notes just yet, so.

Cover of Susan Reynolds’s Kingdoms and Communities in the Medieval West

Professor Reynolds was basically arguing on two tracks. The first was that modern theories about communities which derive them from associations of individuals, theories with social contracts and so on in that she was arguing go back to Grotius in the sixteenth century, are fundamentally at variance with how the people of the Middle Ages saw their society. To them, she argues, the community was the natural state, not the `state of nature’ that modern theorists subsequently posited. Teleology has led to stressing of `communal’ or parliamentarian developments that took a long time to become associated and did not in fact develop in sequence one from the other. To medieval man and woman, society was fundamentally one of unequals, and therefore requiring a ruler, and this was, at least since (because of?) the Fall, `just how things were’. Evidence of people considering alternatives is pretty much non-existent—even the Communes deal with monarchs—and outside ecclesiastical circles, actually so. This was the other string of the argument: that to most people of the time, such theories were in any case irrelevant. People acted as communities long before they had any legal recognition as such, largely because the idea of legal personality that underlies the idea that they might need legal recognition so to act was not to be found before the twelfth century and then almost negligible in influence. A village was collectively responsible for its taxes without necessarily being a legal body; a body of frontier settlers (Professor Reynolds and I had a good talk about these, our common interest, later) raising a church don’t get permission to do so or a parish set, that comes with consecration. Communities have solidarity and can act together without needing to be told they can—this is self-evident, you may think, but Professor Reynolds believes that legal historians have managed to forget it. Mainly she was arguing through all this that the community, not the individual, was the basic unit of social action, and to understand the period we have to think in that way too.

There were obviously quarrels with this, mostly from Jinty Nelson on the grounds that priests at least saw their job as one of dealing with individuals and their souls, but someone (all right, me, I admit it) suggested that in this respect the City of God might be theorised differently from the worldly City, and hey, I thought it resolved the difficulty even if no-one else picked up on it :-)

There are obviously problems with any theory this grand once you dig down and find examples, and talking to Professor Reynolds helped me tease some of these knots out, but I thought there was certainly a helpful point of view in all this. Various things went wrong later on in the evening that have left me as yet uncaught up on sleep, however, and so that is the best analysis I can muster for the moment. Things will likely go quiet here for a short while now while I work on my Leeds paper but I’ll try and keep checking by meanwhile.

Seminary III (Alfred, medieval ritual and stuff)

King Alfred, from a manuscript at the British Library
After the sudden flood of commentary and networking that ensued from the last of these posts I almost hesitate to report on this week’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the IHR, especially since it was ninth-century not tenth-century. But, let’s face it, only almost.

This week it was Dr David Pratt, of Cambridge, speaking about (and very effectively summarising) his new book on Alfred’s political thought. It was very interesting, and he developed a very strong case for Alfred’s personal direction of the cultural renewal in ninth-century England as a practical exercise intended to bring economic and therefore fiscal recovery through sound and pious administration. Alex Burghart justly raised the possibility that the king was rather a vehicle for his various churchmen to funnel their own ideas for the realm through, but as Dr Pratt pointed out, the massively multicultural group behind Alfred’s works seems to have spoken with a dialectically West Saxon voice, which is at least suggestive even if the matter can’t be resolved.

Gerd Althoff’s Spielregeln der Politik im Mittelalter

All the same, that wasn’t the bit that really interested me. Because I work on charters, mostly, which as I’ve said elsewhere we have to accept involve a certain amount of ceremonial in their use, I am unwillingly involved in this lengthy debate over how much social ritual usages confined actual social practice that Gerd Althoff, Philippe Buc and now Geoffrey Koziol have been having for the last decade or more.1 Pratt was arguing strongly in the paper that Alfred’s use of the written word was performative, that he read texts out at court and thus made physical the process of the royal giving of wisdom and Scripture, and that by sending books in which his thoughts and interpretations had been added to such texts, disseminated this performance across the kingdoms under his rule. Someone then asked whether ‘ritual’ wasn’t a better word than ‘theatrical’, which was the word he had used, and Pratt wisely said that there was little or no private space in that political environment: everything has an audience. Eating, sleeping, yawning, giving justice but also clipping one’s nails or whatever, is all done on a public stage, so everything is performed. Only some of this qualifies as ritual, and Pratt argued that an awful lot of it, especially as played out by Alfred, was more or less original and spontaneous.

Now this is the escape route from Buc and Althoff. Not everything can be ritual (even in Louis XIV’s court, for heavens’ sake, although I do remember with some misgivings Notker’s account of the working of the court of Charlemagne through the ranks for the sittings at dinner)2, so when we admit that some of it isn’t, we may have a chance of rolling back that which has been taken to be ritualistic and preset until the people whom we study, whom we know had their own ways of doing things (even before the supposed Discovery of the Individual, another one of the myths that dissolve when you add the years with three digits to it), get their initiative back and so we can start to talk once more about why they did what they did and what it achieved.

1. The key works being G. Althoff, Spielregeln der Politik im Mittelalter. Kommunikation in Frieden und Fehde (Darmstadt 1997); P. Buc, The Dangers of Ritual: Between Early Medieval Texts and Social Scientific Theory (Princeton 2001); & G. Koziol, “The Dangers of Polemic: is ritual still an interesting topic of historical study?” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 367-388. Broadly, Althoff argues that medieval politics have to be understood as rituals that needed to be properly played out according to `the rules of the game’, so that the participants’ options were limited. Buc argues that this may well be the case but that our sources are part of those rituals and generated by participants so that we can’t really know, well, anything very much. Koziol mainly just argues :-) And, for what it’s worth, I argue (and am not the first: I think I got it from Matthew Innes) that rules were, if not made to be broken, at least broken or ignored when it seemed useful or warranted by the `players’, or, in other words, like Harrison Ford in Star Wars, these actors could write their own parts even when someone else decided on the play.

2. Hans E. Haefele (ed.), Notkeri Balbuli Gesta Karoli Magni Imperatoris, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores Rerum Germanicum) Nova Series Tomus XII (Berlin 1959), online through the portal of the Digital Monumenta Germaniae Historica, cap. 11.

So hello Livejournal II

In fact, now that I investigate that, since anonymous posting is disabled, I can’t actually reply to comments there, so I’m afraid I’ll not be looking for them. You’ll have to come and find me here, but you’ll be very welcome if you do I assure you.

So hello Livejournal

I have been kindly informed that this blog is now, for better or for worse, being syndicated at LiveJournal. And this is fine, but I wanted to warn any readers over there that since it’s not actually my account, I’m not necessarily seeing comments over there and I certainly can’t respond to them as the account owner. I’ll try and keep an eye on it but time is short enough already.

New data on Abbess Emma

The apse of the current (Romanesque) church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

My first and lonely appearance in academic print was an article in Early Medieval Europe about a count’s daughter whom he put in charge of a new abbey he’d founded on more-or-less unclaimed frontier lands in Catalonia. The documents preserved from the abbey tell us quite a lot about how she went about taking over the area and integrating the abbey into the community, and if you want to read what I wrote about it it’s been long enough now that I’m allowed to have it online. She seems to have been a fairly forceful woman.

The advantage that version will give you, too, is that its footnotes aren’t full of typoes and misreadings of my proof corrections, which the print version unfortunately was. But up until recently I’d figured that, really, no-one would be following those up, and so it didn’t matter that they were often botched or even that there were quite a few charters I missed.

Then a short while ago I was contacted by one Nathaniel Lane Taylor, whose name I knew vaguely from footnotes but who now put me to shame by saying how pleased he was that someone was paying attention to Emma, and by asking if I’d seen his publication of one of the two surviving charters she actually signed herself. And of course I hadn’t, even though it was out well before I started the Ph.D. in the course of which I wrote the paper.

So having now integrated that in my files, it seemed to me that one use for this blog thing was to occasionally update my work. I figure that at some point soon I ought to mount an actual page here about Abbess Emma, but for the moment at least I can provide what I believe, perhaps fondly, is an up-to-date list of the documents in which she occurs. And it is like this.

  • Prosper de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los Condes de Barcelona Vindicados, y Cronología y Genealogía de los Reyes de España considerados como Soberianos Independientes de su Marca. Tomo I: abraza los siete primeros, desde el año 874 al 1035 (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), pp. 88-90 (the will of her brother Count Miró, for more on which you can read Nat’s paper)
  • C. Devic, J. Vaissete, Histoire Générale de Languedoc avec les Notes et les Pièces Justificatives. Édition accompagnée de dissertations et actes nouvelles, contenant le recueil des inscriptions de la province antiques et du moyen âge, des planches, des cartes géographiques et des vues des monuments, rev. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & A. Molinier & ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. V (Toulouse 1875, repr. Osnabrück 1973), Preuves: Chartes et Documents no. 32 (Church council in which the bishops of the province promise her house protection)
  • A. Fabregà i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 7
  • E. Junyent i Subirà (ed.), El Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX i X, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs, doc. nos 55, 114, 117 & 166
  • R. Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats de Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueòlogica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos. 35, 119, 120, 192, 346, 419, 441, 645 & X; this also contains many of the documents from Junyent above and Udina below, but not quite all and Udina’s palæographical notes are indispensable. See also S. Sobrequés i Vidal, S. Riera i Viader & M. Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2003), 2 vols, which has some more of Udina’s documents in it and may be on shelves where his work is not
  • M. Rovira, “Un bisbe d’Urgell del segle X: Radulf” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 167-184, ap. 12
  • F. Udina Martorell (ed.), El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. nos. 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 16, 18-20, 23, 24, 26-29, 31-37, 39-41, 43-46, 48, 53, 55, 56, 59-62, 64, 66-68, 71-73, 75, 76, 78, 79, 83-85, 87, 95-97, 101-103, 107, 109-111, 113-115, 117, 118, 120, 121 & 128, ap. II B & ap. II nos. 16, 17, 29, 39, 40, 47, 50-53, 56-58, 61, 68, 69, 83-88, 98-101, 103-109, 114-117, 121, 127, 131, 132, 145, 146, 151-153, 155, 156, 165, 170, 179, 184-186, 188, 189, 193, 194, 199, 200, 202 & 268; doc. no. 10 is the other one she signs, the consecration act of the abbey
  • and last, out of order, but not least

  • N. L. Taylor, “An Early Catalonian Charter in the Houghton Library from the Joan Gili Collection of Medieval Catalonian Mansucripts” in Harvard Library Bulletin New Series Vol. 7 (Cambridge MA 1997), pp. 37-44.

With that set out, once I have made Dr Taylor aware of it, I shall be able to say: “these are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard… And there may be many others but they haven’t been discarvered” :-)

[Edit: one of these days I'll actually put something up here that doesn't contain anything that instantly needs correction. Some day.]

Seminary II

On Wednesday the I. H. R. got a surprisingly startling visit from Elizabeth Zadora-Rio of the Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques, and she got several of us worried. She was looking at parish networks, but by taking an extremely longue durée and noting how little seemed to change till the end of the Ancien Régime, she was able to introduce a variety of quite unsettling models for how parishes, and by extension most forms of medieval territory, might be assigned, defined or described. By the end of the paper, those of us who were happy to do so were moving towards a conception of territory almost entirely without linear borders, except at points of confrontation that had forced some definition, and I was wondering about mapping medieval power not in zones but with spider-webs of radiating lines from centre to lesser centre. This fits quite well with my way of looking at power as links between persons, and I’ve drawn diagrams of social phenomena in similar ways, but for some reason I hadn’t thought of doing the geographical layout like that.

I expect this will make itself felt in teaching, because however unsatisfying it is to people who like modern maps and borders, it is much much easier to deal with medieval evidence this way than that way. I’m still not one hundred per cent convinced that that is necessarily because that’s how medieval people thought about space (agh, mentalités once again) but there’s no point trying to fill in the gaps of sources to draw maps when we can do it more sensibly another way.

Scientific method II

On the other hand, there are things like this.

An article in that Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes volume I just mentioned,1 as well as asking so many of the questions that need asking about who sets the text of medieval charters—the scribe, or the person who orders it made?—contains the following about signatures (on p. 187):

Il est remarquable que cette expansion du champ de l’écriture coïncide avec le contrition ostentatoire de ceux qui avouent ne pas savoir écrire bien qu’ils aient appris à lire : « qui scit litteras, sed nescit scribere ». J’ai relevé soixante-dix de ces aveux en des documents généralement peu enclins au narssicisme. Si des témoignages isolés s’étendent de 923 à 1211, une concentration particulièrement important est visible entre 950 et 1050 : vingt-huit entre 950 et 1000, vingt entre 1001 et 1050.

(“It is remarkable that this growth in the extent of writing coincides with ostentatious regret on the part of those who profess not to know how to write even though they have learnt to read: `who knows letters, but does not know how to write’. I have found seventy of these professions in these documents, which are not in general inclined to narcissism. Although isolated examples stretch from 923 to 1211, a particularly important concentration is visible between 950 and 1050: twenty-eight between 950 and 1000, twenty between 1001 and 1050.”)

Now if I tell you that between 950 and 1000 Catalan documentary production (or at least, the preservation of that production in today’s archives) booms, and then goes into overdrive after 1000, to borrow this article’s markers, you’ll realise that the sample size is important.2 The 950-1000 concentration may well be important, and I suspect that in their context the 1001-1050 examples are actually showing something close to a disappearance, but without the numbers of which these figures should have been given as percentages, the actual significance of this evidence is completely obscure.

I wish, I really do wish I had as many brilliant ideas and interpretations as Michel Zimmermann (for it is he) but it’s things like this that, for me, make his work very hard to use. Also, if he’s interested, I can tell him where to find at least two instances of nuns signing documents autograph, Sant Pere de les Puelles de Barcelona’s freshly-recruited novices in 986 (who make such a profession as he mentions in the extract above) not withstanding.3 But that’s not the point, really, the point again is scientific method.

I have lots to write about, and I will add more tomorrow therefore, and I promise that both entries will be positive and contain genuine historiographical content.

1. M. Zimmermann, “Langue et lexicographie : l’apport des actes catalans” in O. Guyotjeannin, L. Morelle & M. Parisse (eds), “Pratiques de l’écrit documentaire au XIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 155 (Paris 1997), pp. 185-205.

2. Some account for English-speakers in A. J. Kosto, “The Liber feodorum maior of the counts of Barcelona: the cartulary as an expression of power” in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 27 (Amsterdam 2001), pp. 1-22.

3. F. Udina Martorell (ed.), El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas: Escuela de Estudios Medievales, Textos XVIII, Publicaciones de la Sección de Barcelona no. 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. nos 10 & 128; the same nun as in the former, Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll, also to be seen in the document presented in N. L. Taylor, “An Early Catalonian Charter in the Houghton Library from the Joan Gili Collection of Medieval Catalonian Manuscripts” in Harvard Library Bulletin, New Series Vol. 7 (Cambridge MA 1997), pp. 37-44, where the signature in question can be seen. Sant Pere’s ignorant nuns in Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 212.