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.

Name in print IV: the new Early Medieval Europe has me in it twice

This is the first part of the important news I’ve not been getting round to posting, and this bit already broken at Medieval History Geek. In fact, had I not checked in out of curiosity, Curt’s notice that the new issue of Early Medieval Europe was online would have been the first I’d heard of it myself; their mail didn’t arrive till rather later. That’s how cutting-edge he is folks! You will hear it there first, at least sometimes. And now today my single author’s copy has arrived in the post, so it is genuinely ‘out there’.

So yus. We have here two instances of me in my negative scholarly mode, in the first place a paper I’ve mentioned here a fair few times as it developed or waited but which was started by my reaction to an earlier EME paper by Cullen Chandler, on a procedure of land settlement from our mutual corner of medieval Europe which had a unique name, aprisio.1 This seems to come from the same root as aprehendere, means something like ‘taking over’ and if you read the article you’ll see that I have doubts as to whether it ever bore the legal significance that it’s often been given. Here’s the abstract:

Important aspects of social history can sometimes be lost in legalisms. A long debate, recently continued in EME, has studied the right of aprisio claimed by those who took over wasteland on the frontier of the future Catalonia. This paper argues that previous treatments of the term have conflated many separate factors and misunderstood what aprisio actually was in practice. When studied at ground level it seems that, despite the role given to immigrant settlers by historians, landholders by aprisio need not have been newcomers, but locals using new rules for otherwise normal land clearances.

After I’ve cleared the previous scholarship on the word and the phenomenon out of the way to my satisfaction, I do therefore get onto some more constructive consideration of how frontier settlement might have worked and how the various models fit with the actual evidence of practice. I think that that is the paper’s actual importance, but you could be forgiven for reading it as mainly a hatchet job on the older work, and in that it is true, ’tis pity, that Cullen’s paper gets the most blows with the axe, not least because it’s closest of course. Medieval History Geek has given Cullen a kind of right of reply with a post about it and if you want to see how we argue, there are a few comments there showing it in action. Here I just want to say, I first wrote this in 2003. It’s been through various stages of refinement as I referenced more and more previous scholarship in it, incorporated feedback, eased the critique and added more alternative views, but it was still in the print queue three months before I first met Cullen. At that first meeting I warned him this was coming, because I didn’t want us to become friendly and then him find out the hard way I’d only finished throwing daggers at his back a few months previously. I’m afraid I stand by every word, and I think they’re good words and am happy to have them being read, but it’s still kind of regrettable it’s taken this long, not least because the new paper of his that this one shares the issue with demonstrates perfectly well that he is a scholar to be taken seriously and learnt from.2

It’s also regrettable to an extent that this comes out at the same time as my review of Kathleen Davis’s book Periodization and Sovereignty: how ideas of feudalism and secularization govern the politics of time (Philadelphia 2008). I have not been kind about this book, which I think is two article-length ideas, one of which was already out, blown up to book-length by massive and unhelpful repetition and free use of ‘the language that locks others out‘, and which had no business going to an early medievalist journal. So I was thorough, so that someone could hopefully tell if they needed to read it despite my dislike, but my writing is unavoidably negative here as well. These two things were begun four years apart and have emerged together only by coincidence, but the effect on me is that I now want to reassure people that I can write nice things about people’s scholarship, honest.3

Statistics: the article presented once in 2005; three drafts, one revision stage. Time from first submission to print: two years six months, slowed at least in part by strategical favouring of things that at the time I thought would come out sooner. I guess we probably could have shaved six months off that if I’d put it first. Also, unless their printers are somehow mistaken, it would apparently cost me £750.00 to have any offprints at all and I can’t have fewer than fifty, which is taking the mickey I think, as is their copyright agreement. On the other hand I will say this: there were almost no errors in proof at all, and that was a wonderful surprise, as indeed was the publication… As for the review, one draft one revision, time from first submission to print one year one month, and there were no proofs of this to check but it looks fine now.


1. Jonathan Jarrett, “Settling the King’s Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford forthcoming), pp. 320-342, provoked by Cullen J. Chandler, “Between court and counts: Carolingian Catalonia and the aprisio grant, 778-897″, ibid. 11 (2002), pp. 19-44.

2 Chandler, “Barcelona BC 569 and a Carolingian programme on the virtues”, ibid. 18 (2010), pp. 265-291.

3. I have been taken to task for being too self-deprecating about my publications here, and this is probably fair: after all, EME’s a top-rated journal and I am, I am really pleased to be in it again. But it is the devil of publishing in the humanities that things take so long to come out that they have become awkward by the time they emerge, and this is a particularly sharp example of that.

Leeds 2010 Report III

The amount of time I have for this is quite small, so this post may be subject to the law of diminishing returns as I try and compress a day at a busy conference into rather fewer lines than I have been doing up till now. On the other hand, I said that last time. So, Wednesday. I woke up extremely confused for non-academic reasons and eventually got myself together to head over to Weetwood for some really small-scale stuff.

1003. Landscape and Settlement in Early Medieval England: using the evidence of minor names

This session was mainly about getting down into not just place-names but field names to try and dig down into really old toponymy in various areas of England.

Map of field names circa 1601 in Old Marston, Oxfordshire

None of these field names, recorded c. 1601 in Old Marston, Oxfordshire, were harmed in the course of this session

  • Simon Draper, “Minor Names as Evidence for the Roman to Medieval Transition”, focussing on Wiltshire about which he has a book out, argued that it’s fairly easy to demonstrate Roman site survival into the Romano-British and Saxon periods, and among sites where this has been demonstrated those with names containing the elements ‘wic’ and ‘chester’ feature strongly, as we might expect, and thus encouraged us to look at them suspiciously. I raised awkward points about whether it would not in fact be unusual for an Anglo-Saxon site to be on virgin ground, given how densely the land was settled under the Romans, and Dr Draper conceded there was a point there, but his technique was still fairly demonstrably valid, as far as it went.
  • Susan Oosthuizen, “Early Medieval Land Use and its Wider Context”, was working on areas local to my current home, which made it especially interesting to me; she thought that areas of pastoral agriculture could be differentiated from those where arable farming had been carried out from the names for the fields that survived, and these names matched the geology and flood area of those lands quite well. So another proof of concept, but perhaps questionable how much it told us that wasn’t obvious; I suppose the point is that we can check things haven’t changed and that the landscape isn’t misleading like this.
  • Chris Lewis, “Field Names as Evidence for Dispersed Settlement: an example from East Sussex”, was why I was really there, because Chris is always interesting whether he’s working at tiny scale or national, largely because he is capable of both. Here he was also trying to prove a concept, which was what can we do with this sort of evidence in areas where there is almost no other, and picked an area of the South Downs about which this is the case to try it with, the villages of Medehurst and Heberden, the latter of which is the older name, meaning ‘Hygeburgh’s swine pasture’, but which appears to have been a dependent of the older which looks like a hundred meeting site even though it’s not attested till 1120. From this he teased out strings of history of dispersal and agglomeration of bits of settlements like a slightly tentative conjurer, all very hypothetical but certainly a valid demonstration of his exercise.

I quite like this stuff but it’s arguable that I don’t learn very much from it, I just like seeing the little picture drawn out by people who care. The big picture remains the one that offers the chance of making big connections, though, so after much-needed coffee I admitted necessity and went and rejoined the Texts and Identities sessions, which had now stopped talking about Modes of Identity and started talking about Louis the Pious, a subject on which they have been fruitful for many years now. Additionally, now the Hludowicus project have all got themselves t-shirts, identifying them with notable figures of the era in football-player style. I approve of this, mainly. I see that no-one has got Bernard of Septimania, which is tempting, but Mayke de Jong has the Judith shirt (of course) and that makes the ultimate Barcelona-based Carolingian bad boy an awkward choice. Anyway, I’m not part of the group, so let me talk about people who are.

1105. Texts and Identities, VIII: government, mobility, and communication in the Carolingian Empire under Louis the Pious (814-840), I

  • Stefan Esders, “Missi and Inquisition Procedure under Louis the Pious: a new style of government”. I should make clear here for web-searchers that this is not inquisition like Monty Python and Torquemada, this is inquisition in the sense of inquest: Stefan was talking about the representatives of the court, missi, who were sent out to settle cases by holding inquiries. Stefan saw these as the hands and ears of the general initiative of correctio that formed so much of Louis’s royal policy, although he stressed that they only dealt with cases where ‘public’, that is royal, property or persons were involved, not often enough realised I think; monasteries and churches were allowed to conduct their own such proceedings. There is a particular flurry of these enquiries in 829, though they had been running since the beginning of the reign and never clearing their own backlog of cases. His main point was the sheer disruption that all these suits, enquiries and threats to office-holders would have caused; it could not have aided the smooth running of the empire to question all its operators like this, and so Stefan asked what kind of crisis Louis and court thought they were in that it might actually be better to do this. Not for the first time, parallels between the way people are thinking about Louis the Pious and Æthelred the Unready were unavoidable for anyone who’d been at both this and my session, I think.
  • Martin Gravel, “From Theory to Practice: top-down governnance and long-distance communications in Louis the Pious’s ordinatio of 825″ added to this by tracing the manuscript context of the so-called Programmatic Capitulary and including the second half of it that isn’t very programmatic, usually separated, what are cc. 25-28 if you care about such things, seeing the whole thing as a set of instructions for the operation of the Empire’s system of long-distance reporting, pragmatic as well as programmatic. I thought this was perfectly convincing, though I don’t know the text half as well as some so other views would be interesting.
  • Philippe Depreux, “Videte ut nullam negligentiam habeatis: reception of the King’s missi, tractoria and the Carolingian sense of proportion for hospitality of travelling agents”, took this a stage closer to the ground by looking at how much the royal agents of this sort were allowed to demand by way of hospitality from the king’s subjects when about their business. He stressed that while such provisions go back to Marculf’s Formulary, and therefore this was a seventh-century mechanism, it was being used much more heavily by the Carolingians, and so Louis the Pious was engaged in an ongoing effort to restrict the opportunities within the rules for venality and thus for corruption.
  • Whether this all actually worked would be a project for another time of course: it was stressed in question that though we have a lot of orders for how this was supposed to be done we have very few documents showing it being carried out, though Mark Mersiowsky predictably knew of a few. I offered to explore the early Girona documents for this question for them next year but was rebuffed with polite confusion; I might still do it for Kalamazoo. Rosamond McKitterick made the last, excellent but somewhat acerbic point, that Charlemagne and Louis both wanted people to be able to reach them to complain of malpractice,1 but that the officials those people had to go through were not necessarily so keen, especially the ones in the local positions who were likely to wind up ‘corrected’.

Obverse of gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, Grierson Collection, PG.8162

Obverse of gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, Grierson Collection, PG.8162

This then continued after lunch, with a slightly less administrative and more ideological bent.

1205. Texts and Identities, IX: government, mobility, and communication in the Carolingian Empire under Louis the Pious (814-840), II

    Here we had hoped to see Steffen Patzold, who had been so thoroughly invoked two days previously, but though we must have said his name five times, he was still unable to attend so instead things went like this…

  • Jens Schneider, “Louis the Pious on the Road”, which was an old-fashioned attempt to map Louis’s itinerary. This has of course been done, and big problems since found with the technique because we are no longer half so sure that the charters that are issued in king’s names with places of issue on them necessarily indicate any presence of the king, even if the dates are to do with the grant rather than whatever occasion, maybe weeks later, that the document was actually drawn up. Jens elected at the outset to ignore these problems, and so I thought it wasn’t surprising that he found that charter issue locations didn’t look the same as the spread of recorded assembly locations. He wound up with a further methodological problem, in as much as we don’t know how far the king was able to set these locations or how far they were guided by events: I was minded of Jennifer Davis’s argument at Kalamazoo that most of Charlemagne’s so-called policy was a reaction to immediate and present crisis. So as you can probably tell I thought that any charter historian would find big problems with this and so it may not surprise the attentive reader that Mark Mersiowsky stood up in questions and basically tore the method to pieces, allowing as a saving throw the fact that the documents still allowed us to show a connection between king and subject. Stuart Airlie, who was moderating, said he was cancelling his subscription to Archiv für Diplomatik forthwith, which would be a pity if he meant it as I’m in the next one. Anyway…
  • Between these questions and that paper was a rather calmer one, Eric Goldberg, “Hludowicus venator“, which asked what we should take from the unusual attention that is paid to Louis the Pious’s hunting in the sources. It’s not that Charlemagne, who built a huge deer park around his palace and so on, was immune to the thrill of the case, but the chronicles and biographies that cover Louis’s reign do largely pay a lot of attention to his hunts. It has been suggested that this was a way to engage a military élite who were having to come to terms with the fact that there would be no more big conquests, a means of continuing to supply victory, albeit on a smaller scale. Eric balanced the sources that make so much of this with others that don’t (Nithard and Thegan for example) and suggested that though it was plainly only one strategy out of many for leading an imperial-style court lifestyle, it might well be one in which Louis was a greater success than his father.
  • Because we’d only had two papers, Dr Airlie as moderator gave us an improvised “Response” to fill some of the time, reminding us that the court authors and even the legislators of the Carolingian era were often aware of each other’s work, and that while Aachen might well not be the be-all and end-all of Carolingian power, as it sometimes seems, it is still a pretty big deal, a centre of tension and above all suspicion. (Dr Airlie’s vision of ninth-century politics is often darker than many others’.) However, he also said, people were not just passive consumers of Aachen: the audience who beheld it also thought about it and interpreted it to their needs, and they evidently did interpret it as the key centre even though perhaps, in realpolitikal terms, it wasn’t. This seems like a good point, though somehow cheating in a way I can’t pin down.

By the later afternoon, I was flagging. I’d been up too late the night before, it had been three fairly intense days, and caffeine was becoming vital. Also, the rain impeded use of the silver machine, which is the only way I can explain why I was late to the next session, which was a pity. It was this one.

1302. Medieval Monuments as Technologies of Remembrance, II

Bet Giorgis church, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Bet Giorgis church, Lalibela, Ethiopia

  • So I came in in the opening minutes of Niall Finneran, “Subterranean Memories: rock-cutting Ethiopian churches as commemorative practice”, which meant that although I got to enjoy the pictures, which were fabulous, I didn’t get the paradigm he was setting up that he then spent the part of the paper which I saw contesting. We were talking about churches actually carved from the living rock, hollowed out chunks of cliff or cave, so it was easy to have fabulous pictures. I got to hear about the Axumite culture, which carved its churches so carefully that they look like wood, and had subterranean tombs in their centres just like the pagan shrines they replaced, and the slower process in which the same change-over happened in rural areas, so that Axumite features were still being replicated a millennium later 400-500 miles way. This sounded pretty amazing and then I thought, wait, what about a religion that likes its places of worship with a long hall, let’s call it a nave, crossed by another one with a place for a choir beyond the cross… how far could that spread? But the proof of the continuity of ideas is still worth something, especially when some of these buildings are in such inaccessible places. Who’s the audience? Someone who can replicate it, apparently…
  • Second paper was Meggen Gondek, “Revealing the Pictish Stones: carving ritual, memories, actions and materials”, which was why I’d chosen this one: Dr Gondek’s stuff is always very engaging and deeply thought-out. I was very glad to hear her say that the Picts weren’t one group, as you might expect, and tried to encourage her towards saying that the stones were an élite means of self-identification in questions; she wouldn’t, but did admit that the stones define the region, at the same time saying wisely that their use might not be uniform. The most interesting part of the paper was where she outlined a small group of supposedly Pictish stones which are in fact reused prehistoric standing stones, Pictishly carved, spread over the whole Pictish symbol zone. Whether this was an adoption or an erasure of the previous heritage, given that these things are displaced and arguably disfigured, however, is a lot more tricky to say. If you thought you might say, pairs of these stones in which only one is recarved, like Nether Corskie below, might then still mess up your theory. She instead chose to argue that the process of carving may be the important thing, which we are left trying to read from its results as if they were the thing the act had been focussed on, when in fact it may not have been. You see what I mean when I say her work thinks deeply…
  • The two standing stones at Nether Corskie

    The two standing stones at Nether Corskie, one of which shows Pictish symbols still in the wet

  • Last up was Howard Williams, “Technologies and Transformations in Anglo-Saxon Architecture”, which was exactly the sort of theory-driven paper that might get certain blog acquaintances’ backs up were they not friends of the speaker, but which was focussing on temporary structures, buildings for example that went on top of funeral pyres, built only to be burnt, and in that to be compared to funeral boats or the pyres themselves. Again the focus was on process: we get to see a body, a burial, and the stuff that is buried with the body, and so that’s what we think is important, but we don’t get to see, as it might be, the three or four days that the elaborate room burial is left open to be viewed by visiting relatives; by the time it’s filled in, Williams argued, its purpose might well be over, so intuiting things about belief from its durable contents might be trickier than we’ve so far imagined. The other end of this scale, of course, is the re-use of much older structures, forts, burial mounds, and so on. All this has something to do with memory, but the nature of that memory may be very little like what we think it was; it certainly wouldn’t have to be actually remembered or in any way correct to have a working effect among its holders. The ultimate point of the paper as Professor Williams pitched it was to remember that architecture is built for many more reasons than just settlement, but what I was mainly left with was the urgent need to actually conceptualise the process of burial when dealing with graves. Burial’s always kind of been the archæological focus I don’t have, though, so others may have heard different parts of this rich paper more loudly.

Now this evening was the dance. I actually nearly didn’t go, so tired was I, but I recognised from long experience that giving into that urge is a sure-fire way to feel wretched and friendless so instead I went, drank enough beer to loosen my legs and gave it some. There were enough people who wouldn’t normally dance dancing that I didn’t feel I could really claim it wasn’t my thing, after all. But some mention needs to be made of Kathleen Neal, who if there were prizes being given for enthusiasm ought to have won one, I don’t think she stopped dancing all night and this was no small reason for my also doing such as I did. This is supposed to be a point in the proceedings when you can let your hair down (in my case quite literally) and have fun, after all, it has a cathartic function, and while it’s never going to let me lose it like something where they play the music I actually own would, it’s so much better to join in than to be snotty and aloof. I went back to my room long after I’d meant to leave, reasonably happy with the state of things and much more relaxed than I had been when I got up. Now this entry has been brought to you by Amon Düül II’s Phallus Dei and Country Joe McDonald and The Fish’s Electric Music for the Mind and Body, so don’t worry that I’m losing my élitism, but I can put it down for occasions such as this, and just as well really.


1. Would you like an example? Here’s a good example because of the extra complications about how people might not have wanted the plaintiffs to reach the emperor. One occasion in 839 sees Louis the Pious make a restitution to a trio of fellows whom the Abbot of Notre Dame de la Grasse brought all the way north and east to Frankfurt, modulo my concerns about the truth of such information, where they told the emperor a sorry tale of oppression by evil men, at what comes over as very great length. The thing that makes this especially interesting is that the three men, whose names were Gaudiocus, Jacob and Vivacius, were Jews, and moreover Jewish farmers or at least, rural landholders. Presumably they were also clients of the abbey of la Grasse or they wouldn’t have got that kind of representation, so although Louis or Louis’s scribe find some good Biblical cites for not being les nice to non-Christians than to Christians, there’s really no obvious way in which these men aren’t part of the usual network of patronage and landholding in their area. People are conscious there’s an ethnic, or at least a religious, difference, but with the right intermediary they get their hearing and the verdict is just what you’d expect, albeit with a lingering impression that Louis might have given them anything just to get the lead guy to shut up: his speech is reported for some time

I guess this is in E. Magnou-Nortier & A. M. Magnou (edd), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de la Grasse Tome I 779-1119, Collection des documents inédits sur l’histoire de France : section d’histoire médiévale et de philologie, Série in 8vo 24 (Paris 1996), but I know it from the rather older Claude Devic & Jean 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, aug. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & A. Molinier, ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. II (Toulouse 1875, repr. Osnabrück 1973), Preuves : chartes et documents, no. 97.

On boundaries

Aerial view of bocage in Normandy

Some modern Norman boundaries

A post by the inimitable Gesta at On Boundaries had me wanting to go, hey, hey look at my stuff in the way that I do, and that seemed best done over here.1 Specifically, among lots of other interesting things about the recent Norman Edge symposium, “Local boundaries and national frontiers of the Norman World”, that they’d just been to, they reported on a paper by Ewan Johnson, which seems to have been called “Land boundaries and cultural contact in Southern Italy”, and which talked about boundary clauses in charters. Aside from the matter of what language they’re in, which has fascinated people like Patrick Geary, there isn’t actually that much work ‘On Boundaries’ in this context that I’m aware of.2 Gesta will probably now set me a reading list, and fair enough, I need it. Before they can, however, I just want to say, I have thought about this for my material, and not come up with much. Let me tell you how it goes.

Almost all of the charter material I use concerns land, and it is usually concerned to delineate that land. There’s a small number of schema by which this is done, right across Catalonia. The one that’s commonest in my area is to describe it by compass points, thus, here, from a donation to the cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic from 930:3

Et afrontat ipsa vinea de parte orientis in strata qui pergit ubique, et de meridie in torrente, et de occiduo in vinea de nos donatores, et de circii similiter in vinea de nos donatores.

The which, translated roughly, goes:

And this vine is bounded from the eastern side on the street that goes to everywhere, and from the south on a torrent, and from the west on the vine of us the donors, and on the bit around similarly on the vine of us donors.

The first thing I get from these clauses is a sense of landscape, therefore. These people appear to be in the wilds: there is a castle nearby, we learn from elsewhere in the document, but there are no other people but them on these lands, and there’s only one road and it leads out. This could be misleading, of course; if they’re only giving one tiny corner of a larger estate they may still be small fish in a big pond who’ve just installed St Peter in their garden, in a way.4 It’s very rare for these documents to give lengths of the sides, so we don’t know how much vineyard was actually involved here. But it’s obviously not heavily subdivided landscape; in other areas you wind up with roads on every side, for example, whereas with some where the bounds are just forest or rock you get the idea that they’re your actual pioneers(-oh).5 So it’s not much like this, with its lots of plots:

Vines in the foothills of the Penedès, Catalonia

Vines in the foothills of the Penedès, Catalonia

On the other hand, it’s also obviously formulaic. Almost every charter in the cathedral archive is like this, but not every plot of land can have been square and arranged with its sides north-south-east-west. Sometimes, indeed, you get the same feature turning up on two (or even more) boundaries, indicating that topography didn’t fit the form, but the form is still adhered to, here at least.6

It’s the ‘here at least’ bit that interests me. That’s how it’s done at Vic; but, for example, in a sale to Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de les Abadesses of land in Vallfogona that leaps off the page of Catalunya Carolíngia IV.1 at me, we get this instead:7

… afrontat ipsa casa cum curte et orto de I parte in torrentem discurrentem et de alia parte in strada publica et de tercia parte in terra Reinulfo et de IIII parte afrontat in terra de te iamdicta emtrice.

Or:

… the selfsame house with courtyard and garden is bounded, on one side on the flowing torrent and from another side on the public street and from a third side on the land of Reinulf and from a fourth side on the land of you the already-said buyer.

It’s usually four sides at Sant Joan, too, but they’re not compass-linked, and when necessity drives they’ll go up to five or even six sides, and quite often drop to three.8 This looks as if it reveals more about the land, as well as illustrating that we’re in a more developed zone here: the public street is probably the Camí de Vallfogona which joins up the local area to the strata francisca from Narbonne to Zaragoza and beyond, and the nunnery’s just over the next ridge.9 In fact, if you look at this…

Aerial view of the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Aerial view of the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

… we’re about four or five miles off to the left, and that vague cluster of buildings just visible in the middle distance is where Abbess Emma had her pad. Now this too is another formula, though as I say they do seem to make it work harder here.10 The thing that intrigues me, as a charter scholar, is that they differ at all, because in other respects the documents are formulaically pretty close and so, indeed, is the whole March.11 But these two houses, which are not far from each other, have different institutional practices in the recording of boundaries. (The very few documents recorded in any detail from Santa Maria de Ripoll suggest that they also used this scheme.12) The only formulary we have from this area doesn’t even get as far as boundary clauses, it’s really only interested in how you start documents off.13 So I have no real idea how this stuff is being taught to the scribes except that it’s presumably in-house (and this is why I have, reluctantly, to persist with Michel Zimmermann’s book and obtain various others).14 But in case it also intrigues anyone else, even potentially Gesta or Ewan, I stick it out there.


1. At least, I couldn’t imitate them, and I’ve never heard of it being done…

2. For example, P. J. Geary, “Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-1100″ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 169-184. Now, if you like frustration, try pinning down some of the Languedoc references from that article. I found one, not where he says it is. Anyway.

3. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueolòlogica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. [hereafter CC4] 367.

4. I unpack that idea at greater length in J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming), pp. 122-125, and that is the first time I have ever been able to cite a page reference from this book that now has them, rooooaaaarrrrr!

5. For example, CC4 473, a sale of land in Montpeità whose bounds are given as: “… terra qui est a Monte Pectano afronta: de oriente in roca et de meridie in serra et de occiduo similiter de circi similiter in serra“. I figure it’s not lowland fields here.

6. For example, CC4 561, where the bounds are: “de parte orientis in vinea Auria, de meridie in terra Richila, de occiduo in terra Endaleco, de circi in vinea Auria vel suos eres“, which is one of quite a number of documents out in these once-pioneer areas where the principal landholders appear to be widowed mothers.

7. CC4 229.

8. If this really interests you, I give references and a few examples in J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 67-68.

9. I talk about Vallfogona and its social make-up, and indeed the Camí, in great detail in Rulers and Ruled, pp. 30-49 (roar again!), but if you can’t wait that long or want expertise on roads, the Camí is discussed by Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, “Camí de Vallfogona” in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès, ed. J. Vigué i Viñas (Barcelona 1987), pp. 449-450.

10. The other thing we see, occasionally, and especially where large properties are at issue it seems, is bounds that are continuous, as if they’d been walked out (which they may of course have been) such as CC4 513, where one property is bounded as follows: “de ipsa casa vel de ipso orto qui fuit de fratri meo Walafonso usque in ipsa strada que discurrit ante domum Sancti Andree apostoli usque in ipsa karreira“. The biggest of these is unquestionably E. Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 445, which sets it out for the whole bishopric of Osona. That goes on for a bit.

11. See J. Jarrett, “Uncertain Origins: Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia”, paper presented in session ‘Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: Formulas and Realities – Did Charters Reflect Real Life?’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 9 July 2007, hopefully to appear in the volume of essays we’re putting together from the sessions.

12. For example, CC4 603.

13. It is published as Michel Zimmermann (ed.), “Un formulaire du Xème siècle conservé à Ripoll” in Faventia Vol. 4 no. 2 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 25-86, online here. It is, in any case, from later than any of the documents I’m talking about here: see Jarrett, “Pathways of Power”, pp. 63-68.

14. Not least Peter Erhart, Karl Heidecker & Bernhard Zeller (edd.), Die Privaturkunden der Karolingerzeit (Zürich 2009), he says in paltry declaration of intent. (PDF flyer including contents here.)