Seminar CIII: in which I document the end of an era

Sorry about the gap; this term is burying me somewhat. Matters should improve in a fortnight. Meanwhile, I am so behind with seminar write-ups that I must reluctantly skip those about which I am qualified to say little, and this leaves me moving on, to my complete surprise I assure you, to ME.1 Because, in fact, the presentation to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London on 15th June this year was by your sometimes-humble correspondent, talking with the title “Managing power in the post-Carolingian era: rulers and ruled in frontier Catalonia, 880-1010″.

Jonathan Jarrett presenting his research at the Institut of Historical Research

The cunning and alert reader will notice a suspicious similarity between paper subtitle and the title of my book (which, I seem not to have said for a while, you can buy here), and that would be a fair cop. I was not quite presenting new research here, although there was some towards the end; if you happened to have and have read my book, have heard me at Leeds in 2010 and also read this blog post, I’m afraid you would have learnt nothing from this presentation except by linking it all up. I don’t think anyone there present fell into all those groups, however, so I hope it was diverting for them, and there were at least some pretty pictures. What the paper did, essentially, was to give the overall thesis of the book, with some cherry-picked examples, synthesize my conclusions there, and then as a kind of epilogue talk about my next major project, and the comparisons in the way that Borrell II and his contemporaries presented their power in their documents that I have been able to make as part of the early work on that project. As such, there might be some point for the person who hasn’t read my book, but is wondering if they should, in reading this paper first, and if it leaves you wanting more, well, it’s out there. For that reason, and also just out of vanity, I uploaded the text I wrote for this to Academia.edu here. I have no plans to do anything further with it, so I imagine it will stay there unless Academia.edu melts down or disappears. You should be aware that I didn’t have time to put notes on it, so all my claims are unreferenced, but most of them are in the book and the rest will shortly appear.2

Attendees of the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research

Alice Rio invites an audience member to make their point, if they dare (I kid, I kid...)

Vain though I undoubtedly am, however, I am not actually the point of this post. The era whose end I’m documenting is not, in fact, the Carolingian one in the lands of its most loyally disconnected supporters, but one in the history of the actual seminar. Again, long-term readers will know I have been going to this seminar a long time, and it’s a lot longer than the blog too, but it goes back far further than me; it was, I believe, started by none other than R. Allen Brown, and taken over subsequently by John Gillingham and then/also Jinty Nelson. In other words, its second set of convenors have now retired. (Susan Reynolds includes some of these details in her reminiscences here; like her, I have found this seminar a lifeline, albeit for different reasons given our respective statuses.) And in that time, it has almost always been held in the Ecclesiastical History Room of the Library of the Institute of Historical Research, in the Senate House of the University of London. This, by ancient precedent, allowed those attending to haul volumes of the Patrologia Latina (or occasionally even the Græca) off shelves to check references during discussion and on the other hand by equally ancient precedent prevented anyone else using the books in there during the seminar. The other ancient custom, which had to be explained with embarrassment to every new speaker, is that the audience did not applaud, a rule which I only very rarely saw broken.

Attendees of the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research

Professor Reynolds herself, centre of photo, among other worthies of the seminar

This has now all stopped. The Senate House is being extensively rebuilt internally, the entire IHR is being refurbished in a two-year project, and the Library has therefore been moved to the other side of Senate House. Once it reopens, the seminars and the books will be housed separately and basically it will all be different. Whatever that room is to be used for in future, it seems unlikely that it will ever again house this seminar (though the seminar itself continues meanwhile, in new accommodation). And for that reason, once I’d wound up, Jinty Nelson had the typically excellent idea of getting people to photograph the room, the gathering, the proceedings and the surroundings, so that it could be somehow recorded for posterity. And Jinty and Alice Rio, both of whom I can never disappoint, asked me to put it up on the blog, and so now I have. And when it moves off the front page I shall set it up as its own page and link it from my Seminars page in the top menu bar there, and so, I hope, it will be documented as long as I have the blog, which is something I have no plans to stop doing soon. If it lasts as long as the seminar has, though, that’ll be something…

Attendees of the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, Institute of Historical Research

Jinty herself, centre back, explaining; not sure what the others are looking at, probably a camera by this stage!


1. It was actually a surprise, because I had to look up the date I presented before I realised I was next. I thought I’d be writing up a conference at this point, which is instead next. The paper I’ve elided was Aleksandra McClain, “Commemoration, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern England”, presented to the Oxford Medieval History Seminar on 13th June 2011, which displayed great command of her material, was very clear and seemed likely to be right in stressing that Northumbria was no cultural backwater even in the thirteenth century but did hold to conservative forms of funereal display as part of a local complex of identity; I just have no basis on which to critique this at all or anything to add of my own, so I’m afraid I cruelly relegate it to this footnote.

2. References for the new stalkers and the search engines: J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010); idem, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout forthcoming).

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37 responses to “Seminar CIII: in which I document the end of an era

  1. You had me at “fortinight.”

  2. highlyeccentric

    That is a nice-lookin’ seminar room!

  3. Wednesdays will never be the same again.

  4. I like the idea of picking up the Patrologia Latina to check references during discussions – these days, what you usually get is people taking out their iPhones to look up stuff online, and I’m not sure that’s a change for the better…

  5. Unfortunate that the seminar has to be moved. Hopefully the new home can keep some of the intimacy which this location seems to have. Speaking from my personal perspective, if you could get them to move the existing tables, scratches and all, and chairs to the new location, it might help preserve some “feel.”

    Of course University folks tend not to put old, scratchy furnishing in new or renovated rooms. Unfortunate. There’s something to be said for furniture it would take a forklift to move.

  6. Crumbs, have you been to 103 seminars, at your youthful age?

    • A lot more than that! I’ve blogged 103, more or less, but I started the blog six years after I started going to these seminars and then others. I think my age may be less youthful than you imagine, I’m full half of seventy you know. This seminar has really been a lifeline though, and I have friends there who’ve kept me in touch and clever about things when I might not otherwise have been able to.

  7. highlyeccentric

    … WordPress really sucks at threaded comments.

    Someone SHOULD make Inigo Montoya a professor of something. His lectures would be priceless.

    • And dangerous! The threading is less WordPress and more this theme but I like this theme for everything apart from this. Nonetheless, I should probably investigate some alternatives, this is silly.

      • highlyeccentric

        It’s probably a really simple CSS fix. Not that I actually know any CSS, so that doesn’t help at all.

        I have the feeling Inigo Montoya’s lectures would be somewhat like those of Vrasidas Karalis: witty, encyclopaedic in their breadth of information, but somewhat disorganised, and when you look back at your notes later you realise you’ve covered them with “batty things my teacher said” and no actual facts.

        Things I learned from Vras (imagine this in an urbane voice, Greek accent, and great flamboyancy):
        – “The only purpose of blondes is to be prrrrrrostitutes” (said to a row of blond(e) persons in the front of the class. The clarifying fact, “in Byzantine art”, came later).
        – “It is the destiny of all castles to become rrrrrrestaurants.”
        – It is cause for celebration if your tie “clashes horrrrribly” with your shirt.

        • “It is the destiny of all castles to become rrrrrrestaurants.”

          Can I have this printed on a t-shirt? Please? I’d totally wear it at the next conference of the German Castle Research Society!

          • highlyeccentric

            I think Vras would find it hilarious if we put that on a t-shirt. But putting things on t-shirts is harder than it sounds, I think…

        • I just about know enough CSS to have a go—looking at the code makes it look as if there’s only two obvious parameters to try messing with—but hackable CSS is a paid upgrade round here…

          • Hmm, there seems to be only one other theme available for free that handles the header image and retains the sidebar stuff without effort, and doesn’t look ghastly. And that one does handle comments more gracefully. I think an experiment is called for.

            • highlyeccentric

              ‘Doesn’t look ghastly’ is an important consideration!

              IDK, you’ve had this theme for so long it would be quite alarming if suddenly you were a different one! But then, graceful comment threads. Dilemmas.

              • I’m certainly against changing the look of the site just for a change. But if I can retain the header and layout then there’s enough continuity. As I say, we shall experiment. I’ll schedule an announcement and tweak it then. Or else when the next `these comment threads look ridiculous’ moment occurs. And if it is not popular, I’ll revert. The other possibility is just to switch off threading, of course…

          • highlyeccentric

            Oh, is it? BAH. *glowers at stingy blog hosting sites*

  8. Now I really see why you needed to fix the threading. I can’t believe I missed a whole cascade of opportunities to quote from The Princess Bride in public…! I am still picking myself off the floor after “you slated my supervisor’s book in Speculum…” only for some reason that particular thread seems to have run out of ‘reply’ possibilities.

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