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.

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9 responses to “Seminary II

  1. Pingback: Recent Finds Weblog» Blog Archive » Borders, Runestones and Points of Confrontation

  2. That trackback isn’t very informative, I guess.
    Your post inspired me to some thoughts on runestones and borders.
    I like the thought of a territory (or parish or whatever) as a web of nodes or points rather than a certain area limited by a thin, black line all around it.

  3. Hej Henrik, and thankyou for the comment. I’ve added some stuff at your blog that you may find of interest, but it isn’t showing up yet. Hopefully all technically OK and just queued for your approval or something?

  4. Yup, comments with lot’s of links are held for moderation ;-)

  5. Ah, well, I understand that all right. It’s a shame though because heavily linking things is kind of what the WWW is for

  6. I think it’s only the first post. Once you’re inside you can spam me to hell with smut links ;-)

  7. Derek the Ænglican

    Interesting. Thinking from a different angle, something about this reminded me of the insistence in Omnis utriusque that confessions be made specifically to one’s parish priest and no other. I’d always thought that had to do with keeping mendicant friars from cutting in on the local business but still it says something about power and affinities…

  8. That’s later than I’d know much about but I’m not sure there aren’t similar prescriptions in some of the Carolingian reform capitularies. Thing is that’s connections between people, centres and nodes again, it doesn’t imply territory, only an acknowledged bond to a particular priest or site, I think.

  9. Derek the Ænglican

    Precisely my thought… connection-oriented rather than territorial.

    It’s late for me too, but may well codify common practice where auricular confession spread from first–the Insular world… I wonder of Ps-Egbert says anything about it…

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