Monthly Archives: August 2010

CFP: Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies conference; also, want my job?

No time! I somehow managed to write a paper in six hours flat yesterday that means I will not embarrass myself next weekend, at least not too much. Write here, however, no, not really. So instead let me point you at a couple of things on the web that you may wish to know about. Firstly, the estimable Kathleen Neal asks me to mention “the upcoming biennial ANZAMEMS (Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval & Early Modern Studies) conference”, whose CFP closes very soon (3 Sept). “This time the meeting is to be held in the South Island of NZ”; for more details see the conference website at: http://www.otago.ac.nz/mems/anzamems/

Their CFP reads as follows:

We would like to encourage papers and panels in the broadly-defined academic disciplines of medieval and early modern studies, including but not limited to history, literary studies, music, art history, theology and religious studies, cultural studies, philosophy, science, medicine, maritime studies, performance studies, gender studies. We particularly welcome and encourage papers from graduate students and early career researchers.

Proposals for full panels are very welcome. These should include three proposed speakers, and, if possible, a chair and/or a respondent. Individual papers will be grouped with two others. Parallel sessions will last an hour and a half, which means that papers should be no longer than 20 minutes each to leave sufficient time for discussion.

The final deadline for proposals is 3 September 2010, but early submissions are encouraged. Proposals should contain a title, an abstract of your paper (200 words), and your name, contact details, and institutional affiliation.

Participants who need to make travel arrangements are welcome to submit their proposals early and the convenors will assess their abstracts promptly.

Proposals should be sent to: anzamems2011@otago.ac.nz

Then secondly, you have all been really nice about the new job, thankyou. I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who might want the old one, but, if you fancy stepping into my shoes at the Fitzwilliam Museum, the post is now advertised here. That’s all for now: next, I hope, pictures of Siena and Florence.

Big News I & II (& III, IV… )

This is all terribly behind-hand now, but still important, so let’s get it finally out of the way. The main item was already known to many of those of you I know in person, but when you found out, I was still waiting for vital pieces of paper without which I couldn’t tell people who officially needed to know, so I didn’t want to put it online yet, and then those papers arrived but I had conference reports to do… whine, whine whine. So okay, here we are now and everyone else is saying, “Jarrett, Jarrett, get a hold of yourself, speak English man, what’s the news?” Friends, it is as follows.

Employment

Contract of employment offered by Oxford University

'I have in my hand a piece of paper...'

That piece of paper, well, it is a contract from the University of Oxford that makes me a Lecturer in Medieval History in the Department of History and a Career Development Fellow of Queen’s College there for the next three years, starting October 1st. This has arisen because Professor John Blair, of whom of course we have spoken here before, has obtained three years’ research funding and leave and they need someone to take over his teaching. And, well, it’s me.

You can all imagine how I feel about this—exhilarated and overwhelmed at the same time, as this suddenly calls time on a great number of projects that must now be finished post haste, and of course means I have to find a place to live in a city I hardly have time to visit before I need to be a resident there—but though I am really excited about it, I have also got to say how lucky I am to have had a more-or-less steady job at the Fitzwilliam Museum for the last five years, when not everyone has been so lucky; I’ve really enjoyed it, I’ve been involved in some really cool stuff and they’ve been very good to me. I should also recognise a similar ready hospitality from Clare College, whose offer to renew my position as College Research Associate there for next year I have had regretfully to decline, because that’s also been fun. So I shall go with both joy and sorrow from One Place to the Other Place, and you will continue to hear from me here as I’ve had a pleasing amount of enthusiasm about the blog from some future colleagues so I guess it’s OK.

And That’s About It for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

On the other hand, it’s probably just as well I go now. My post at the Fitzwilliam is funded by an organisation called Renaissance East of England, and that is part of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, the body that coordinates funding and support of most of the auxiliary institutions of the humanities in the UK and generally does most of the serious judgement and encouragement of preservation of heritage here for the government. And the government have decided to chop it, to save money. The lesser strata will remain, but the coordinating body is going to go. My post currently has six months on the clock (and will shortly be advertised, indeed) but whether there will be any more is very hard to say. I’m told we have a good case for renewal, but we’ve also been told that half the posts thus funded are likely to be cut. No-one knows for sure, of course, because they’re still making this stuff up in Whitehall. Forgive me if I suspect that, though there will be more money in the system for the removal of a tier of bureaucracy, somehow less will actually get spent on people doing work. So, sadly, this is a good time to get out. When your employment prospects are such that you are more secure in humanities academia, well, that’s not a good sign now is it?

The Clerical Cosmos

The keen-eyed may have seen, meanwhile, that I am going to practise being an academic in Oxford ahead of time by presenting one of my bishops at a one-day conference organised by the Faculty of History and the Oxford Centre for Medieval History called “The Clerical Cosmos: ecclesiastical power, culture, and society, c. 900 to c. 1075″, and you will see some fairly usual suspects on the bill there. I have almost the entire Catalunya Carolíngia out on loan from the Cambridge UL while I can still get away with that—I suspect that my own copies of these volumes are going to be early presents to myself in Oxford—and will endeavour not to let the side down despite everything else that’s on, but I imagine it will be worth a look for things as well as my paper if you’re interested and able to be in the vicinity.

Bearded in My Den

Lastly, those who do go there may be surprised by my appearance. Over the course of this blog’s existence this has varied a fair amount, but it’s been pretty steady for the last couple of years, to the extent that at work I could be called on for photos with titles like “Beards of the Coin Room”:

Jonathan Jarrett, Ted Buttrey and Vladimir Nastich in the McClean Room, Coins & Medals, Fitzwilliam Museum

Myself, Professor Ted Buttrey and Professor Vladimir Nastich in the McClean Room, Coins & Medals; a halloo of joyful recognition to anyone who knows what the t-shirt is

You may guess by the past tense that matters have changed. I had been fed up with the beard for a while, I fiddled with it, nobody I wanted to like the way I looked liked it, it has gone. I did toy briefly with the idea of retaining just the moustache…

An arrangement of facial hair that was not passed fit for public use

I have no caption for this: I invite you to provide one

… but quite frankly, ‘lecturer’ is not the profession I think of when I see a moustache like that, and I don’t think I have time to retrain. And, dammit, I still didn’t look like Terry-Thomas and the Naked Philologist’s moustache was still better than mine and she didn’t even have to grow it. So in the end I have reverted to what I am more comfortable with and you will now find me arranged thusly:

Back to the clean shave

Why Dr Jarrett! Without your beard, you're... er... cheerful?

So there you are: you are now fully forewarned and something like up to date. See you next week!

Cambridge to Siena and back part two: the actual conference

The Università per Stranieri in Siena is just opposite the station, a little way out of town proper. This had the rather strange advantage that I could walk in with my bags and register, more or less straight off the train. I almost immediately ran into Eileen Joy too, which added to the feeling that I’d walked into a weird parallel-universe version of the Academy. The New Chaucer Society are to be congratulated on the quality of their freebies and the friendliness of the staff, and also on the quality of the nibbles and the coffee, though the latter did keep running out. It being, you know, a university in Italy, I don’t believe they can have been unprepared for how much Italian coffee conferring academics can drink, I think it was just parsimony somewhere which was a pity. Otherwise, though, initial impressions good.

Università per Stranieri

Università per Stranieri, Siena

Unfortunately I now tried to be clever. I decided that I didn’t really stand to get much out of the keynote, but that I could use that time finding my hotel, getting a much-needed shower and then popping back down for sessions that looked more likely to interest me. Sounds cunning doesn’t it? But friends, it is hot in Italy around midday in July. By the time I found the hotel, with only one wrong turn but a long one, caused by a road with both its ends on the same roundabout (see reflections on Siena’s geography elsewhere for context to this sort of confusion), I was very much more in need of a shower than I had been. And I was too early for check-in, which opened at the same time as the sessions I wished to return to, so they wouldn’t let me in. The guy on the desk could have been less helpful, but only by refusing to speak English. So I had to climb back down the hill in the full afternoon sun, with all the same bags I’d schlepped up there. And of course I’d had really very little sleep, so this came hard and I sweated the more. I arrived back at the conference with white bands across my shirt where the bag straps had rubbed my sweat dry and very much less than presentable. So bad did I look and feel that I dived into the loos to try and sponge down a bit, both me and the evil-smelling shirt, and found that of the two men’s loos one had a working dryer and one had working taps, if by working you mean they ran for two seconds if you held your hands just right beneath them. It was not easy to look like a scholar or indeed smell like one in these circumstances. I later discovered in fact that more or less everyone was feeling like this, because the room containing the keynote had had no functioning air conditioning, but I still think I looked more obviously freaky than most because of the sweat-stains, which I could only partially wash out with the resources to hand, so I spent most of the day shamefacedly keeping safe distances from people and trying not to stink, which probably didn’t help me make friends.1 As you may imagine, my good impression of the Università per Stranieri’s facilities had now sunk rather.

Università per Stranieri

All very fine till the air conditioning fails

But, I was indubitably at at least part of the 17th Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society, on the 17th July 2010, my notes tell me so. So, the papers!

45. Animal Theories and Methodologies

I chose this one because it looked like the best opportunity I’d ever get to collect a set of legends, Bruce Holsinger and Carolyn Dinshaw being names I’ve seen in many a place, spoken with awe or envy often, but until now names only. So this was something of an education.

  • Bruce Holsinger, “Membrane Æsthetics”. This was a cunning conceit, which Professor Holsinger set up with the idea of extracting DNA from manuscript parchment. We know this can be done, of course, albeit not yet with useful results, and he mentioned most of the projects doing it (though not Michael Drout‘s, to which I took the liberty of alerting him afterwards). Then he set about describing one that he was purportedly involved in but had had to abort when it transpired that, as he revealed in deadpan Hammer horror style, “the parchment… is human!”

    Christ in Majesty in the Codex Amiatinus

    Christ in Majesty from the Codex Amiatinus, ink and dyes on sheepskin

    This was of course a spoof, but the idea was presumably to get us reflecting on the sheer amount of death involved in medieval manuscript culture. Yes, it probably took 500 sheep to make the Codex Amiatinus (I pulled that figure out of the air, but of that order I believe), we take this too easily—500 sheep man, that’s how many families’ entire herds? How many individual throats cut and bled out? More than the monks could eat, we can be fairly sure. Yes, OK, we do forget this too easily. (Though it bothers us far more than the people of the time, presumably.) And of course the idea was—I supposed, he merely said, “was I doing that?” when it was suggested—to reinstil the appropriate horror to the source material.

    Skulls in the burial pit at Ridgeway, Dorset

    Skulls of dead Vikings unearthed at the Ridgeway, Dorset


    Now, this bothered me, but it took me a while to work out why, fully. My notes indicate some frustration: I find “[cf. eating]” signalling my recognition that this is in some ways just the vegetarianism debate again: in what ways and for what purpose is it acceptable for humans to kill animals? But more annoyingly yet, it finally came to me, look, there are actually a whole bunch of people out there whose subject material is actually human remains, they’re called archæologists. And they, especially in Prof. Holsinger’s country of employment what with NAGPRA, face these dilemmas that he had jokingly raised, for real all the time and it’s not funny. So I thought in the end that by trying to make animal work more serious he wound up diminishing those who work on the human in a direct way, and thus opening questions he hadn’t really given any space to at the cost of the point he actually seemed to be making.

    Can it be a bad paper that makes one think so, you might ask? And should I really be annoyed, therefore? Am I actually failing to demote the human from its state of privilege and thus fundamentally out of step with the session’s ethic? Or was he just floating something about which taste and interdisciplinarity might both have counselled wider frames of reference? I leave that to you to decide.

  • Sara Schotland, “Talking Bird/Gentle Heart: bonding between women and across species in the Squire’s Tale“, argued that the bird in the Squire’s Tale that consoles the heroine needs to be read as dually female and animal, and not together; it’s almost Christological. She also suggested that Chaucer here let women express themselves through painting, thus giving them access to authorship. This is tangled stuff for someone like me still wrangling with intentionality and authorship, so I’ll move on.
  • Petrarch's preserved cat

    Petrarch's allegd cat


    Sarah Stanbury, “Derrida’s Cat”, working off Derrida and setting out of how the category of animal is one that has historically licensed and still licenses genocide (though see of course the vegetarianism debate referenced above) and yet seems to end, in this respect, at the doorstep over which the pet may cross, and then took this into the Miller’s Tale where a cat is allowed to pass into the scholar’s otherwise private space thus enabling the narrative. Sadly, the third and only surviving, physically at least, cat mentioned, Petrarch’s, is likely to be a fake. I liked this paper, it was both sparklingly clever and had a point that even one so non-literary as me could grasp.
  • Lastly, Carolyn Dinshaw, “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, scoring easy points with the audience with the title alone, then went deep into the iconography of the Green Man, a figure who turns up repeatedly in medieval church architecture and appears to have subcutaneous foliage. My notes may be simplest:
    This flouts boundary between human and plant, organism and environment, deconstructing whole world by dissolving absolute separation of our categories: “nothing exists independently”. Subcutaneous foliage! Under-things under things… A horror of interdependency betrays our incompleteness and provokes fright/fight reaction. We should stop being part of something bigger and work on intimacy, which is queer and terrible.

    She has the gift for this stuff, does Professor Dinshaw and it was easy to see why she’s become so legendary.

    Green Man at Llangwm Church, Monmouthshire

    Green Man at Llangwm Church, Monmouthshire; loads more linked through

  • So that was a good one to end with, and there were lots of questions, not least from Karl Steel and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, about animals and materiality respectively, and Mary Kate Hurley suggesting that animals’ wishes (like the cat that wants to go out) ought to lead us to question our self-determination. Mary, blog more will you? Cheers. (These people get mentioned because I knew them by name; there were other fine questions asked too, especially about parchment production by people who knew their stuff, but I can’t name them alas.) All lively and clever, anyway, even if far out of any field where I could say who was saying new things and who wasn’t. Sadly, I didn’t quit there.

51. Latin and its Rivals, 2: Chronicles in the Age of Chaucer

I chose this because it looked like the most hardcore historical thing on offer and I figured it would be nice to get back to an area where I could evaluate a bit more rather than being dazzled by big smiles, human and non-human warmth and bait-and-switch rhetoric. I was quite wrong.

  • George B. Stow, “The Author of the Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum
  • Sylvia Federico Bates, “Walsingham’s Dictys in Chaucer’s Troilyus and Crisede
  • Andrew Prescott, “Thomas Walsingham and the Peasant’s Revolt”
  • James G. Clark, “The Audience of the Monastic Chronicler in late Medieval England”
  • Neither Bates nor Prescott had actually been able to get there, and their papers were therefore read for them. Not a good start, but actually those were the better two, short (despite not being in control of the text) and punchy; I enjoyed the Prescott paper so much that I wound up fruitlessly engaging the guy who’d given it about it afterwards, to little avail as of course it wasn’t his work. Stow overran by ten minutes and I personally tuned out when he revealed that he was summarising a paper in EHR.2 And Clark, I don’t know how much he overran by because I was the second person to walk out, I gather he went on right till the end of the session and nobody stopped him. It wasn’t uninteresting, even, being as he was suggesting that chronicles were actually getting out of their houses and being read, for example, at universities, but some of the audience might have liked to discuss at least a bit…

Anyway, there it was. Realising that I still wouldn’t be able to get to the hotel I made another slightly more successful attempt to wash and brush up and dry out—I must have been doing something right as I was told I resembled Johnny Depp by a lady I shan’t name and shame; before I had the beard I only ever got compared to Hugh Grant—and headed for dinner. Dinner, at a place called the Enoteca Italiana, was gorgeous, I mean sumptuous, I could see immediately why the conference fee had been so high and suddenly I didn’t mind. They served excellent wine and rather good food (albeit with almost no vegetables…) to a gathering of maybe a hundred and twenty people without let or hindrance and we all left very merry. Also, I found myself accidentally sitting at the same table as Derek Pearsall, for one, someone I knew vaguely from London with whom I turned out to have a lot in common for two, and last but not least Dr Virago, who is awesome (as indeed I had been told, but it’s always nice to find one’s friends are right). A wander through the streets afterwards with various of the party and some less recordable discussion was a welcome tonic too, and when I did, eventually, get into my room at the hotel, and shower at LAST, I was able to sleep sound and satisfied.

I have no notes on what happened the next morning, which is hardly surprising because it was US (as in, we have seen the enemy and he is…)

60. Blogging, Virtual Communities, and Medieval Studies

  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Blogging Past, Present and Askew
  • Carl S. Pyrdum III, who is ‘kind of a big deal’, “Blogging on the Margins: Got Medieval, Medieval Blogging, and Mainstream Readership”
  • Stephanie Trigg, “How do you find the time? Work, pleasure, time and blogging”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “An Englishman’s blog is his castle: names, freedom and control in medievalist blogging”
  • David Lawton, “Response”
  • I thought we were pretty awesome personally, as were our various learned commentators, blogarific and otherwise, but it’s weird how little any of us have blogged about it. My paper’s here, with the Powerpoint presentation here, for what it’s worth; I don’t see myself doing anything further with it, but I should warn you that it’s nothing like as humane as Jeffrey’s or as deep as Stephanie’s, and features 100% fewer robot Chaucers than Carl’s. Mainly what we learn from this panel, I think, is that it’s a very bad idea to let me near the controls of a computer with a live Internet connection that’s hooked up to a projector. The urge to improvise illustrations for other people’s remarks is very very strong.

Now after that I went to find lunch with Eileen Joy and Karl and Mary and a range of other people less blogular but equally good company, and it was nice, and then thanks to Eileen’s great kindness in letting me drop stuff in their flat for a short while, I was able to actually do some touristing. And that will come post after next, but first, I am long overdue with a range of important newses and they will come next.


1. But would embracing the stench have helped more, that’s the question isn’t it. I like to think mine was the path of a gentleman.

2. “The Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum: Some Revisionist Perspectives” in English Historical Review Vol. 119 (Oxford 2004), pp. 667-681, if that’s of interest.

Carnivalesque

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and anyone who prefers not to align themselves with such categories, welcome! Welcome one and all to the August 2010 edition of Carnivalesque, every thinkin’ antiquarian’s choice of historical blog carnival, today with its ancient and medieval showin’. Yer host finds hisself somewhat in the Victorian mode as he sets about the confection of this display of learnin’, so fetch yerself some seats and prepare for stories of Discovery! strange Curiosities! lively Controversies! and Instances of Scholarly Resource and Sagacity! the like of which ye’ve never seen before, or at least, so I shall claim. And pride of place—wait a minute there, madam, please—pride of place goes to the two of you who submitted posts for the carnival, you can sit at the front in this pair of carven thrones I brought back from Niger on me grand tour, dontcherknow. And indeed, before I start, let me congratulate one of ‘em doubly by sayin’, I’m never sure whether or not to include prehistoric matter in Carnivalesque, but on this occasion Judith Weingarten has saved me the bother by hostin’ the renowned Anthropology Carnival, Four Stone Hearth, over at Zenobia: Empress of the East, and by Jove, there’s a fair deal of medieval and ancient stuff there too, I declare, so if after the extravaganza below you find yerself unsated, get thee thither I tell you! So then!

Discovery!

George Scott in Burma

George Scott, explorer, administrator, photographer and introducer of football to Burma, who is completely unrelated to this blog but who will be the unofficial voice of this post all the same

Startin’, as a proper Victorian explorer should, in the bowels of a pyramid in the Nile Delta, what are these strange words inscribed at the end of an apparently dead-ended tunnel? Heather Pringle at the Last Word on Nothing quite literally has the inside information.

Back in old Albion, however, everything has been comin’ up Roman, be it literally thousands of silver coins in Frome as described here at Antiquarian’s Attic, or what may be the old home of the unfortunate fella who is best known to history as Emperor Pertinax (reigned 193 to, er, 193), described via Archaeology in Europe.1

Oddly, however, the medieval discovery of the month, in yer humble host’s still more humble imagination, comes not from Europe at all but from that lot over the water who gave us Benjamin Franklin and the Dukes of Hazzard, and who also, it would seem, preserve microfilms of otherwise-lost medieval Bibles, almost unbeknownst even to themselves. Whoever tells you there are no more medieval sources to be discovered, I tell you sir, that cad is a charlatan and a bounder, and furthermore wrong to boot. That somewhat controversial couple at Medievalists.net are still the only ones with the story, here.

Curiosities!

International exhibition watercolour by Joseph Nash

Watercolour of the International Exhibition, London 1862, by Joseph Nash

Now, let’s turn our minds to the divertin’ and unusual. Back to the Romans again. You may never have wondered how on earth those cunning fellows went about keeping the legions on the Rhine fed, but Gabriele Campbell has, and characteristically has pictures of the boats used to do it, over at the Lost Fort. Then, if you prefer your history to be about the ladies as much or more than the gentlemen, you may wish to give an eye to to a rather surprisin’ instance of a Sassanian royal lady trying to be both: Queen Bōrān, King of Kings, whose story is told by Judith Weingarten once again at Zenobia: Empress of the East! Next, no medieval carnival is complete without those dastardly yet colourful Vikings. After all, they were responsible for the end of Pictland dontcherknow, or at least so Tim Clarkson argues at Senchus. But what on earth were they up to with these strange stones in their graves? Melissa Snell, About.com Guide to Medieval History, has some answers.

Now, it is said that politics makes strange bedfellows, but sometimes it’s dangerous even to leave the bed: the lately-rebloggified Richard Scott Nokes at the Unlocked Wordhoard has some surprises from the great unwritten book of Muslim political strategies that may make us all look askance at our family members, as long as our family happens to be a powerful one in twelfth-century Syria anyway. Which is, of course, not to say that politics was exactly safe at the same sort of time in the West, as the Headsman at Executed Today illustrates with a post on the dangers of speaking your mind during the Hundred Years War. Then, more peaceful but far less effective, a poignant tale of failed diplomacy when the nearly-last Byzantine Emperor visited the England of Henry IV is told by Tom Sawford at Byzantine Blog. Finally in this section, possibly early modern really but far too curious for a Victorian explorer not to pick up and take home on dubious terms, had you ever wondered what Henry VIII’s religion was like before England went Protestant? A recent acquisition by the British Library makes his younger piety look look positively medieval, and is described by that controversial couple again, this time at Early Modern England.

Controversies!

Uncle Wattleberry bounding and plunging, from the Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

Antipodean scholarly disagreement circa 1918

Now, it is the nature of scholarship for men and women of strong opinions to demur from one another. Sometimes this is the product of earnest and well-founded differences of view, and sometimes, we fear, it is a battle of those who know somethin’ about a subject versus those who care to know nothin’ about it but wish to speak out anyway. Without specifyin’ which is which, may I humbly draw your attention to the worthy writings of the followin':

Halfpenny token of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, late eighteenth century; Fitzwilliam Museum CM.TR.1442-R, part of the Trinity College Collection

Halfpenny token of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, late eighteenth century; Fitzwilliam Museum CM.TR.1442-R, part of the Trinity College Collection

On some matters of controversy, however, it doesn’t behove an Englishman to comment, still less one posing temporarily as a Victorian imperialist: we refer of course to the decision, bitterly protested in certain quarters, by the Medieval Academy of America not to move their annual meeting from Arizona despite its recent anti-immigration bills. On this a great deal has been written and I would refer you especially to posts in the following places:

Enough to make a chap glad to be living in the past, were the past only any less troubled of course, which I think we can safely say, given much of the above, it wasn’t. However, the task of discerning its nature becomes ever easier, or do I mean more complex, thanks to endeavours like those we shall now unfold!

Instances of Resource and Sagacity!

The Mariner in How the Whale Got His Throat, by Rudyard Kipling, as the protagonists meet

A fellow of famously-infinite resource and sagacity, about to meet a spot of bother

We note, for example, the availability of a new database of Ancient Greek epigraphic epigrams, greeted sardonically by Roger Pearse at his eponymous weblog (with a tip of the solar topee to Muhlberger’s World History).

Likewise sardonic is the take of relative newcomer but prolific bloggist Dr Beachcombing on recent research into the causes of death at Pompeii. Obvious, a chap might think, what with that volcano next door, but it is surprising how few medicos have stood around volcanic eruptions checking on how people die and so the Pompeii finds are actually advancing pathology. Is this mere quackery? Read Dr B and discern!

Similarly ingenious efforts with the dead have allowed some scientist wallahs in Bristol to determine the identity of a body in a royal Englishwoman’s grave in Magdeburg Cathedral, and Michelle of Heavenfield reckons up the score.

All this scholarship does us little good if no-one is readin’, of course, and so we can all be grateful for the blog of the so-called Medieval History Geek, who often seems to do nothin’ but! Here he begins to digest the most recent issue of Early Medieval Europe and ponders the question of how many great ladies of Carolingian Europe might have been able to read and write.

Almost lastly, it always does us good to reflect on how we go about our scholarship, and I might therefore point the finger of note at m’colleague Magistra et Mater, who has been wondering whether the current vogue for crowd-sourcing is ever likely to help the strugglin’ medievalist, and at Bavardess, who has been thrown bodily into a field of which she knew little, the oral history of her countrymen, and found some peculiar parallels of methodology; both of these are reflective but worthwhile readin’.

And finally, though our work is largely private, the real success is to get the government behind your work of course. The question is, who puts the government behind you? One answer is the United Nations, and very recently they have announced this year’s additions to the list of World Heritage sites, as well as some deletions, sad to tell; Dis Manibus has the full run-down at Votum Solvit, including not a little ancient and medieval both, and a whole range of places to consider for the next grand tour, though this time I must take those dem’ marbles out of my baggage before I pass through Customs, what?3 So, I hope you’ve had a diverting read, and you can find out where the next edition, modern style, will be at the usual address. And with that it only remains to say, pip pip!


1. I realise that though Archaeology in Europe is immensely useful, it is only repeating others’ content, but this blog has an old affection for Emperor Pertinax and I couldn’t let it go unsatisfied.

2. And, as you may have seen, the proposed mosque is not the silliest or most redundant thing anyone’s been proposing to build in the area… (h/t to Edge of the American West).

3. Didn’t bring any chalk, either, so I couldn’t get a game in any case.

Cambridge to Siena and back, part one

There was also that other conference I wanted to report on… I plan to mainly do this as photoblogging and travelogue, since I made it to so little of the actual conference; that will get a post in the middle, and the third post will be photos of Siena and Florence, but this one is about the journey.

Doors to a building on the Rue du Temple des Filles, Paris

Doors to a building on the Rue du Temple des Filles, Paris

There were some medieval things on this journey, but not many, and these aren’t one. Continue reading

CFP: Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic

So okay, I’m back from Leeds and have been for more than a month obviously, and people are asking me (no, they really are) if there will be a Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic there session next year, as there has been for would-you-believe five years now. Now, people, I beg indulgence of you. I am currently trying to finish a paper and the index for the book, three other books at work though those at least aren’t mine, to assemble the next Carnivalesque, to look for a new dwelling and various other things connected with that, I am massively behind with e-mail and in no way someone who should be allowed to try and organise a conference session. So, yes there will be a session and yes obviously I am organising, I just have no idea how I’m going to manage it. At least the deadline is next month not this one… Oh well! Without further ado, here is a Call for Papers, the which please feel free to circulate, repost and pass on to your charter-studying friends and contacts if such you have. Thankyou!

Arxiu de l'Abadia de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, volum de pergamins dels segles X-XI, fol. 35

Arxiu de l'Abadia de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, volum de pergamins dels segles X-XI, fol. 35

Call for Papers: Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic

We invite contributions to a proposed strand at the 2011 International Medieval Congress, to be held at the University of Leeds 11-14 July, entitled “Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic”. This successful strand will be entering its sixth year of continuous sessions and is open to all working on charter evidence with a view towards wider historical questions. We especially welcome paper proposals that will query the source material itself, its production and preservation, as well as those that use charters to tackle early medieval historical questions more usually addressed from other evidence; we also have a long-standing interest in new technology for the analysis of charter material. If you work with charter material from the early Middle Ages, generously defined, and have innovative approaches, unfamiliar issues or intriguing complexities, or just a critical story to tell, and you can form them into a twenty-minute paper, we would like to hear from you. Please contact Dr Jonathan Jarrett in the first instance, either in comments to this post on his blog (http://wp.me/p2z5o-1jk) or by e-mail using the address on this page.

At the time of writing I think we already have four people signed up, so add yourself and let’s see if we can beat the previous record of three sessions…

Leeds 2010 Report IV and final

Time to wind this up. I really ought to get up to date with my conference blogging before attending my next one, after all. So, I woke in relatively good order on the Thursday of Leeds and, once caffeinated and breakfasted headed out to the final two sessions. Given my interests there was only one choice for the first one.

1505. Texts and Identities, XI: the Carolingian Empire in crisis?—Impacts of Political Crises on Regional and Local Levels as Reflected in Charter Material

You see? It’s basically my whole track-the-big-events-through-the-little-ones approach written into a session title. I have to do this, of course, because there are no big narratives from my area,1 but it’s not so often done in the areas where we have lots of chronicles and annals. And who better than this team to take it on, armed with the unparalleled St Gall archive?

    Supposedly the oldest charter in the St Gallen archive

    Supposedly the oldest charter in the St Gallen archive

  • Karl Heidecker, “Crisis or Business as Usual?: political crises as reflected in the charters of St Gall”, opened the theme up, by asking if we can see reflections of the numerous crises of the Carolingian Empire, which St Gall, in its borderline position between West and East Francia and some crucial Alpine passes, usually knew about in some detail, in increased transactions and donations as recorded in the abbey’s documents? Stressing that having the original documents actually gives you a whole set of new dating problems when you realise that the multiple dating systems usually don’t agree, Karl produced a histogram that showed royal donations peaking in 816-20, 840-50, the end of Louis the German’s reign and generally under Charles the Fat (who began, let’s not forget, as King of Alemannia, so St Gall was sort of local to him). The non-royal charters (I don’t like the term ‘private charter’, I don’t think it marks a useful difference here) meanwhile peak 816-820, 826-830, crash until 837, again [840 ]till 850, peak again in the 870s and then fall off under Charles the Fat. That looks pretty consistent, overall, and you could of course correlate this with general political events quite nicely, but trouble is that, at first at least, as charter preservation drops the presence in what survives of non-monastic scribes writing them rises, more or less in proportion. So the crisis is far from general: it’s just trends at the abbey that show up like this, and they could of course have many causes. Karl suggested that blips rather than trends might be what we should be looking at here, in which case the real trouble at St Gall seems to be in the 850s. But really, I think that this test shows that we need to ask different questions of this sample. And hardly had I thought this when…
  • … Bernhard Zeller stepped up to present, “Who is the Boss?: representations of royal authority in the private charters of St Gall – or, revisiting Fichtenau’s ‘politische Datierung'”. Here he looked at the political reigns by which St Gall’s charters were dated, an approach of obvious interest to me, and showed very similar results in terms of it being as much scribal choice as policy whom to date by.2 The 817 ordinatio imperii, for example, is not reflected in the charters, they continue to date by Louis the Pious, but when in 829 the infant Charles the Bald was made King of Alemannia, two scribes chose to use this fact in dating, although not consistently. Louis the German’s title and presence changes in these clauses depending on his status with regard to his father, often opposed. Heinrich Fichtenau had seen this scribal opinion as a division between ‘nationalists’ and ‘imperialists’ in the scriptorium, but Bernhard thought this too simplistic in the face of the considerable variation. He also suggested that, since we are still basically doing Fichtenau’s work here (and in my part of the world too, at least I am) with much better exposure to the data, he wouldn’t have minded being proved wrong too much…
  • Many of the papers I’d attended, as you may have noticed, had already had informal responses from Mark Merswiowsky, but in this case it was actually on the programme. He reminded us that for the period before 911, St Gall has ten times as many original documents preserved as the rest of Eastern Francia and Germany put together. With the copies that we do have from elsewhere, however, similar sorts of number-crunching as Karl had done can also be done, and this shows various things: Thegan was not kidding when he recorded that Louis the Pious tried to confirm all of Charlemagne’s charters at the beginning of his reign, there really are a lot of confirmations 814-816; grants are thickest in the 820s, Lothar is most generous during the Brüderkrieg, Louis the German makes many grants in West Francia during the 870s… But of course since, and Mark does keep making this point but people keep failing to get it, these documents are requested, not ordained, this doesn’t tell us about royal policy direct but about people’s response to the kings, which is something they can’t reliably affect.3
  • But it’s complicated. Morn Capper asked a seemingly innocent question about the mixed-up dating systems in the originals, asking whether there could be multiple occasions being recognised in the varying clauses. This made my ears prick up because one of the things I think I have shown, quietly, is that sometimes charters are drawn up over a period of some time.4 But Karl said he thought not, because [although some documents with dates at beginning and end might be dating both transaction and writing, ]the [final ]dating of the charter would usually be the last bit of the process; and Bernhard said he thought not, as the dates were usually coming from the dorsal notes that were the first thing recorded. You see the problem there? And these guys have been working together for years. Karl was also willing to offer an answer to another crucial question (this time from Wendy Davies), how much don’t we have? What proportion of the charter survival has been lost? Karl said that Peter Erhart has counted the number of references to documents in the documents, and figures that we have about one third of what is mentioned thus; that’s as good an idea as we can reach, but as Rosamond McKitterick pointed out, the variation from archive to archive is huge and St Gall, with its already-exceptional preservation, probably doesn’t tell us much about other places.

So as you can tell that got people talking and thinking, and while I realise that charters are not everyone’s idea of excitement, I will continue to work here to show that the individual ones are often interesting while the collection of these data is very often significant, for a wider range of people than the perspectives of a single historian indeed, and this session was a welcome chance to listen to other people who also see this.

Then, after coffee, it was a different kind of specialism, but I didn’t actually get coffee because I was picking up books instead, and was consequently slightly late for…

1612. Bishops before GPS: English bishops on the move, c. 700-c. 1300

    Stained-glass portrait of Bishop Wilfrid of York, at East Hoathly Parish Church

    Stained-glass portrait of Bishop Wilfrid of York, voted English bishop least likely to travel without retinue 669-678 inclusive (I jest)

  • Thomas Pickles, “Episcopal Logistics: clerical retinues, hospitality, and travel, c. 600-c. 800″ was trying to figure out how many people Anglo-Saxon bishops usually travelled with and how difficult this would be to arrange. The figures of course basically aren’t there, so he started with King Henry I, who usually trailed round 100+ attendants and 50-odd supporting hunters and so, plus 200+ barons with their own households of, say, 35 people each; Anglo-Saxon royals were probably only doing a third of this (I’m not sure where that assumption came from), meaning a royal household of 50-odd and by happy coincidence, for the reign of King Alfred we can name at most some 30-40 thegns at any one time…5 On the other hand the Yeavering theatre probably seated more like 300, so some occasions were obviously different. How were they all fed? Here he did what we should all do more, and asked someone who knows about such things: he took the food-rents specified in the Laws of Ine to a hotelier friend of his and asked how many people he could feed with that render. 250, was the answer, so supporting a royal court on a food render starts to seem realistic in that period at least. The question then becomes do you consume the food on the spot, meaning that the court’s movements are restricted by the availability of food and where they haven’t already eaten, or do you move it to the court, with consequent costs in feeding the men and horses needed to do so?6 Bishops of course have to visit all parts of their diocese, in theory, so in theory that question is decided for them, but even bishops sometimes have to be somewhere else or in one place for a while. And how do you go outside the kingdom? How far will the king support you? And so on. Thomas raised most of this sort of question and suggested answers for almost all while stressing that most were only guesses. I have a lot of notes on this paper, and I came in late, yet I don’t think he over-ran, so I congratulate him on packing so much in so accessibly, a trick I’d like to learn…
  • Julia Barrow, “Somewhere to Stop for the Night: way-stations on English episcopal itineraries, c. 700-c. .1300″ then asked exactly where these bishops went, when we can tell, and how that could have been provisioned. In particular, she noted, after a while most church councils are in London, so that high medieval bishops will often tend to have a string of small properties on the route from their see to the capital whose purpose is basically to give them a bed for the night when they have to do that journey. Where there was no property, arrangements are made with local shrines or monasteries; renting lodgings was the last resort, not least because being accessible could involve important people like bishops in unexpected hospitality that would raise such costs considerably. It is perhaps for this reason that the properties they owned en route were usually a little way off the road… As with Thomas’s hotel budgeting, there was here a faint perfume of anachronism as we looked at these questions through some very contemporary perspectives about what places are nice and feasible and for what, but I usually think that this is a danger worth risking in exchange for seeing our historical actors as human beings like ourselves facing similar annoying dilemmas. Apart from anything else, history’s much less interesting when you can’t project yourself into it like this.
  • Lastly, Philippa Hoskin presented “At Home or Abroad: English episcopal itineraries as a measure of 13th-century pastoral concern”, which largely focussed on one guy, Bishop Roger de Meulan of Coventry, who was soundly told off by letter by Archbishop Neville of York for failing to adequately tour his diocese and oversee the standard of clerical office in it. Dr Hoskin showed that Archbishop Neville had picked just the right, or wrong depending on which figure you empathised with more, time to criticise as Bishop Roger’s itinerary had shrunk dramatically for the previous year or so; Neville says he realises Roger’s ill, but other arrangements should have been made to stop this affecting things so dramatically. By plotting itineraries for Bishop Roger’s career, therefore, she was able to tell us something fairly direct about his available time and energy levels during what were quite advanced years; he tried to measure up under his metropolitan’s criticism, presumably once recovered, for a few years, but then had to admit he wasn’t up to it and did start relying more on his subordinates and staying in one place more and more. So a human story here, which left us mostly sharing Dr Hoskin’s feeling that Archbishop Neville was being rather unfair, a quality in which he seems to have specialised…
  • The questions also raised the issues of bishops’ family property, which obviously must have factored in and left those not out of the top-drawer rather less able to do their diocesan work easily, and Katy Cubitt reminded us that in contemporary terms a bishop who failed to do right service to his congregation, thus endangering their souls, could expect to be punished for their sins as well as his in the hereafter, all things that must have sat in the minds of these peoples as they did or didn’t get on horses, into litters or up on their feet to head out to their people.

So, having thus been hearing about people crossing Yorkshire, it was time to do so myself. Apart from a faint worry that the Silver Machine’s rear wheel would buckle under sheer weight of books, the journey back was more or less trouble-free, and happily by the time I’d run out of will to read I found a Cambridge friend of mine waiting at Stevenage, with whom to gossip as we rode back to our alma mater. So the conference trip remained sociable to the last and I was fairly cheerful as I got home, unpacked ate and and then got stuff out to pack again for the next conference trip the next day, before setting about sleeping the sleep of someone who isn’t seeing enough of his bed just currently.


1. Honest: see Thomas N. Bisson, “Unheroed Pasts: history and commemoration in South Frankland before the Albigensian Crusade” in Speculum Vol. 65 (Cambridge 1990), pp. 281-308, for musings on why this might be and a list of what little there is.

2. For the same technique applied to the Catalan sample circa 987, when political allegiance is obviously a bit of a question, see Jean Dufour, “Obédience respective des carolingiens et des capétiens (fin Xe siècle-début XIe siècle)” in Xavier Barral i Altet, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Anscarí M. Mundó, Jospe María Salrach & Michel Zimmermann (edd.), Catalunya i França Meridional a l’Entorn de l’Any Mil / La Catalogne et la France méridionale autour de l’an mil. Colloque International D. N. R. S./Generalitat de Catalunya « Hugues Capet 987-1987. La France de l’An Mil », Barcelona 2 – 5 juliol 1987, Col·lecció «Actes de Congresos» núm. 2 (Barcelona 1991), pp. 21-24, though he does pick and choose his charters somewhat and the real situation was often more confusing even than he chooses to show.

3. A point made by him some time ago, and largely ignored it seems perhaps because it’s awkward, in M. Mersiowky, “Towards a Reappraisal of Carolingian Sovereign Charters” in Karl Heidecker (ed.), Charters and the Use of the Written Word in Medieval Society, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 5 (Turnhout 2000), pp. 15-25.

4. Best at J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming), pp. 37-38.

5. Here citing David Pratt, The Political Thought of King Alfred the Great, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 67 (Cambridge 2007).

6. Here citing Albin Gautier, “Hospitality in pre-Viking Anglo-Saxon England” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 17 (Oxford 2009), pp. 23-44.