Seminary XX: Hugh Kennedy is inaugurated

Agh! The previous entry is already on its way to being the most popular thing I ever wrote, and it was someone else’s findings. All I can do is add content to remind people I have actual academic interests as well as spending my time on the Internet darkening the name of young ladies. So! it’s a post about an actual academic paper!

You see, the London School of Oriental and African Studies have a new Professor of Arabic, and it’s Hugh Kennedy. And therefore there was on the 18th February an inaugural lecture and I was there, because I try not to miss an opportunity to hear Hugh speak; it always leaves me with a real humbling sense of how much more there is to know and hope that it’s actually possible to know it. Someone who really knows their stuff but stands basically outside your normal field of work can do this, as I’m sure you’ve experienced.

This time Hugh was talking to the title “History, Memory and Legend in the Great Arab Conquests”, and if you follow his career closely, this may sound a bit familiar:

Cover of Hugh Kennedy’s The Great Arab Conquests

Hugh talked about the problems of the factual content of the sources for the early Arab conquests, you see, which are mainly non-contemporary and highly literary, and argued that they are not good evidence for the facts of the conquests, although that may sometimes be in there, but they are excellent evidence for the attitudes and issues of the writers who are living with the consequences of the conquest. Now as I recall that general answer is how we were supposed to get our A-grade at History A-Level (“every source is evidence for its writer, even if not for much more sometimes”), but it’s always worth seeing what applying this gets you.

I’m not going to go into great detail about what we got actually was, though, because you can buy or otherwise get Hugh’s new book that I’ve pictured above, as did I, and find that actually most of this lecture is in pp. 1-40, arranged slightly differently but hey. This is not to say that it wasn’t good, and it was certainly worth hearing what Chris Wickham had to say in his introduction speech, but it did make my two sides of avidly-made notes a bit redundant. Ach well. It’s a remarkably readable book…

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3 responses to “Seminary XX: Hugh Kennedy is inaugurated

  1. Hugh is great. I had a chance to interact with him several times while I was a student at St Andrews.

  2. It would appear he gave the same paper in Southampton today. I was rather surprised by the fact that he began his talk with a comparison to the Battle of Hastings and particularly the _Carmen_’s account of it. His assertion that we know a lot about Hastings was also news to me. That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the seminar.

  3. Oh be generous :-) I was a bit bothered that he treated the Carmen as if it was authoritative, but we’ve got, what, four close-to-contemporary accounts of Hastings? One from the English side, even? And better-than-decent archaeology by the standards of the era? We don’t realise how lucky we are sometimes. With that sort of evidence Arabists would have been able to discredit hadith decades ago…

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