The last day of the International Medieval Congress at Leeds is a half-day, unless you’re on one of the excursions. I never do these because of being conscious that I could visit the Royal Armouries or Conisborough Castle any time I liked, and more specifically when it didn’t clash with conference papers, and yet of course left to myself I never do. Anyway. It was the last day, there were only two sessions, and I went to one each.
The first of these was perhaps a mistake. I always regret that there isn’t more archæology presented at Leeds, but often when I go and seek it I find that the papers aren’t very good. I have yet to work out whether this is just because I am a historian and see merit in papers differently from archæologists, or because I am trained to expect quite a lot of analytical rigour and don’t always get it from archæology as presented, in easy-to-consume chunks, for historians. Anyway, my first venture was this:
1522. Hagiography and Archaeology: contrasts and convergences (4th-11th centuries)
- Sébastien Bully, “Entre vitae et archéologie : le case des tombes saintes des abbés Lupicin (Ve siècles et Valbert (VIIe)”
- Michèle Gaillard, “The Tomb of the Martyr Quentinus from the 4th to the 10th Century: hagiographic evidence and recent archaeological investigations”
- Pascale Chevalier, “The Tomb and the Miracles of the Cluniac Abbos Maieul and Odilo in Souvigny in the 11th Century: a confrontation of texts and material evidence”
The main lesson from this one is that if you have too much material, even switching unannounced back out of English (which annoyed two Scandinavians in the audience who were there expressly because it was French archæology in English—one’s audience in Leeds is not all English and US no matter how much the comments make it seem so, and a lot of people are already listening in their second language) will not prevent you over-running. I got far less of this than I should have because it’s a long time since I’ve had to listen to scholarly French and scholarly French delivered nervously at high speed is not the best way back in. I think the guy had a really interesting site in which one cult more or less appropriated the space used by another older one, but I’m not sure about this or about anything I wrote down. My poor language skills mostly to blame, but also his lack of preparation.
A particular Picardy site where archæological digging has substantiated two different Merovingian saints’ lives by finding the saints’ burials, though the modern church is basically as restored after the Great War and therefore full of its own complications of periodization; a real link between past memory and living memory here.
Basically the exploration of a particular possession of Cluny which came to hold the bodies of two of Cluny’s most famous abbots, and the points where their lives and histories tie up with the actual archæogical evidence for cult, which the monks of Souvigny progressively separated from the general public with screens and translations out of the public area of their church where the cults were first established. Lots for someone to draw out of this.
Then coffee then the last session of the conference, It was good to see a decent showing for this, in fact, especially given that two of the speakers were relatively unknown locally, but the first one may have helped make up the difference, or it may just have been the interest of the theme:
1629. Methods of Christianization
- Julia Barrow, “How Coifi Pierced Christ’s Side: another look at Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, II, 13
- Cullen Chandler, “Orthodoxy in Doctrine and Practice in the Carolingian Spanish March”
- Asya Bereznyak, “From Paganism to Heresy: the conversion of Bulgaria as an example of Byzantine Christianization Methods”
Occasionally Dr Barrow brings a voice of authority to comments here and now she was doing the same to the famous episode in Bede’s History where King Edwin’s court converts, arguing that it hadn’t been seen allegorically enough and that the whole thing is a Biblical reference to John spiced with symbolism. I asked stupid questions showing that I don’t know either text well enough but it was really interesting, and while distancing us inevitably from the actual conversion brought us that bit closer to Bede, which rarely seems like a bad thing.
Cullen is of course my principal rival in print, and so far he’s winning. This is the first time I’ve actually seen him present, and of course I had quarrels with it but it was an interesting attempt to show how the Carolingians, here as with many other places, brought an ideological conquest as well as a political one, and how here also as elsewhere the former wound up taking a deeper root than the latter. I felt that the biggest thing missing here was an awareness of the parallel battlefront between Adoptionism and Carolingian-style orthodoxy being waged in Asturias, which fed into the Carolingian one at both ends—Alcuin responds to Beatus of Liébana as well as Felix of Urgell and the Asturian kings and clergy seem to have used the new orthodoxy as part of their legitimation process.1 But as Cullen said, in twenty minutes you can only cover so much, one can be excused for not suddenly moving two hundred miles east for five minutes only to conclude that more work needs to be done.
I can’t help feeling that this is the paper the session was originally built round: it was certainly the one that most closely addressed the session title. The principal focus was a study of what themes most interested Bulgar converts—principally the Apocrypha it seems—but also by way of passing pointing out that Christianity in Bulgar territories seems to have predated the Byzantine missions to an extent, and so we don’t really know what kind of background those missionaries were pushing against. This fits quite nicely with work of other sorts I’ve mentioned here before and when my most relevant colleague gets back from digging bits of the relevant area up I’ll have to pass this on…
And so it was over. Lunch with Cullen, at which we both agreed to vilify each other in print like Vroomfondel and Majikthise so as to keep each other on the gravy train for life, was followed by a very kind lift back home by one of the many Cambridge ASNaCs with whom I seem to have friends in common by other routes, which, as my bicycle managed to find a nice piece of glass to skewer its tyre with even as I rode up to the car, was much appreciated, and then a scant few hours of gossip and philosophy later, I was at home considering what I’d achieved.
I think chief among achievements was having fun, to be honest. I haven’t always managed this and even at this one I felt quite glum about my place in the whole history business, or indeed life more widely at times, but there were people around who helped me feel better. After this long chasing the impossible some of the people in the same pursuit are genuine friends, and several of them were there. I won’t embarrass them by naming them as such, also but I owe specifically academic thanks to Julio Escalona, Wendy Davies (as ever), Alex Woolf and Teresa Earenfight, and it was good to meet Jeffrey Cohen, Eileen Joy and Mary Kate Hurley of In the Medieval Middle, Stuart Airlie, Cullen Chandler (know thine enemy! :-) ), Anine Madvig Struer, and a bunch of other people too who deserve better than to be anonymised like this, sorry. And of course especial thanks to those who either spoke in or moderated my sessions and thus saved me all the nerves that could be saved. And I managed a publisher’s meeting, two (I think) invitations to submit to a journal, a lot of well-chosen but ill-timed book purchasing and only a sensible amount of drinking, and recognised the references of most if not all of Guy Halsall’s t-shirts, which probably means that I get onto some special hitlist or something. I’m not sure I did so much of meeting people as introducing people I knew to other people I knew (someone complimented me on my memory for the catalogue of research interests I seemed to be carrying round in my head, which only goes to show that not all of these people knew me very well) and that’s also good.
All the same. I’ve kind of done this now. I’ve run sessions, I’ve given papers, I’ve networked, and ultimately though it is important to be seen, it is still not winning me the game. And, despite widespread advice that it is vital to do, it may not really be the best use of my time. I think I need to be working on stuff for print almost to the exclusion of everything else. A friend of mine brought this home by being much less well-known than I am, but still getting an interview while we were there for a job that I didn’t; the main difference between us in their favour is recent publication and I can only assume that’s what swung it. People are asking me if I’m running sessions again next year and I don’t know. I don’t myself have anything I can think of to present for it, because my sessions are not on my core research topic; I wouldn’t mind doing a paper that was, but it would have to be for someone else’s session. I don’t have enough speakers to make much of a showing of Problems and Possibilities for next year. People higher up structures than me across the pond are now wondering whether they really need to do Kalamazoo; I think I may have squeezed all the immediate use out of Leeds. Ironically, I am likely to be doing Kalamazoo for the first time just as they all quit. But in this game, or the European instance of it at least, it really isn’t teaching experience as long as you have some, or outreach or activity at conferences though again it’s wise to have those items on the CV somewhere. From where I am nothing counts so much as print. Now, by next year—though how many years have I been saying this?—my print presence will be much advanced, by hopefully three papers and a book. And it would be nice to rock up and see my book on sale, I’ll admit. But, the work that needs to be done now to attend then is probably not the best use of my time. I must communicate with other people about this, and we’ll see.
Bit too much like catharsis there again, sorry. But when it clearly isn’t working one starts looking for things to change. It’s a pity though, because it seems to me that this sort of exercise is what research and international collaboration should be about, but as with many of the things we actually want to do in our jobs, or the jobs we want for those of us that don’t have it yet, it’s not something that the system rewards.
1. I have in fact just been reading something about this that I should have read ages ago, Julio Escalona, “Family Memories: inventing Alfonso I of Asturias” in Isabel Alfonso, Hugh Kennedy & Julio Escalona (edd.), Building Legitimacy: Political Discourses and Forms of Legitimation in Medieval Societies, The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, 400-1500, 53 (Leiden 2004), pp. 223-262, and now I know that there is much more for me to know about this subject even though there is so little evidence and that my “Neo-Goths, Mozarabs and Kings” still has a long way to go before it’s ready to submit, alas.