Tag Archives: databases

Seminars CXXXI & CXXXII: searching the margins of Anglo-Norman England

I’m sorry, did I say ‘the next week‘? Apparently I meant ‘the next month’. Wow, that’s never happened to the blog before, I do apologise. I have, for what it’s worth, been trying to secure the short-term future of my sanity and balance by actually seeing some bands, the medium-term future of history at my college by marking admissions tests and the long-term future of your humble blogger by offering myself as employee to people, and of course if anything comes of that you will hear in due course. But in the meantime, this is the only evening at home I shall have for a while even now so I should put some blog up, and that blog should be seminar reports. Given how immensely behind I am with these, I will skip one that I’ve no useful expertise with, Robert Hoyland speaking to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at London’s Institute of Historical Research on 7th March 2012 to the title, “Theophilus of Edessa and the Historiography of the 7th-8th-Century Near East”—sorry, Byzantinists and early Islamists—because although it had certain detective elements to it as Professor Hoyland was on the trail of a lost source, I knew almost none of the names involved and don’t read any of the languages and I have no means of evaluating how significant what he was saying was. Cool stemma diagram though! If you’re eager to know more I can revisit it, but otherwise I’ll move on to stuff I do have opinions about, those being my erstwhile colleague Emma Cavell, addressing the Late Medieval Seminar at the I. H. R. on the 9th March with the title, “Did Women Cause The Fall of Native Wales?” and Stephen Baxter, Chris Lewis and Duncan Probert addressing the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar there on the 14th March with the title, “Profile of a Doomed Élite: the structure of English landed society in 1066″.

View of Clun Castle

Clun Castle: capital of intrigue circa 1281!

Emma’s area of expertise is the March of Wales in the time of the Norman kings of England, and the Marcher lords who made their fortunes there, and even more specifically, the women in the Marcher lords’ families.1 What she had for us on this occasion was that, while becoming yet more expert on these people, she’d come across a number of letters to such women, Maud de Braose wife of Roger Mortimer (the first one) particularly, from local lords on the other side of the frontier, and what these letters were reporting was nothing less than military intelligence about the composition and motions of the army of Prince Llewellyn of Wales. This comes from a time in 1281 when Roger was out on campaign on that frontier because Llewellyn had just fortified it. Maud, meanwhile, was at Clun Castle and apparently running the command post, this information presumably going back out to Roger and the lords getting information back and so on. Unlike my period, we only have the letters in here, whereas I’m more used to having letters out, but nonetheless there she was at the centre of a fifth-column spy ring and she wasn’t the only one; Howys leStrange (good name madam!) is apparently reported commanding the defence of Welshpool when Llewellyn attacked, and the text that tells us this also tells us that while she was doing that she took care to hide all the documents in the castle. Yeah, I’ll bet! That is a relatively rare mention of such activity in the chronicles of the time, but the letters make it clear that there is more to tell. Emma has been working this up since, including details of a juicy family conspiracy between these groups, and I believe it’s now in some kind of print process, so you may be able to find out more soon!

Now, I thought this was pretty exciting myself, spies, spymistresses, treacherous compacts made on battlefields between mutually-cautious relatives and the last-but-one flash of Welsh independence briefly burning bright in the pan, but Emma got quite a grilling from Judith Bennett, no less, about the role her title had given the women and whether it was fair, and whether this evidence told us anything the Paston Letters don’t, and various others likewise sang up saying such behaviour wasn’t unusual in their area. I’ve had these questions (the ‘it’s not unusual’ sort) myself and I’m never sure what they’re supposed to achieve other than perhaps to imply that the questioner’s area of expertise is somehow more developed than the speaker’s.2 Well, great, but the paper isn’t about that area, so, can we talk about what was actually said perhaps? Anyway, you will see from my description that I thought it was good stuff and maybe you also think it sounds like that too.

The manuscript of Greater Domesday

The manuscript of Greater Domesday

Then the next week I was back in the same building to hear about a different native population being subjugated by the Norman yoke (MAYBE), slightly earlier, as Stephen Baxter and his team told us about the first results from the Profile of a Doomed Elite project that he is running at King’s College London. What they are trying to do is to properly, scientifically, electronically and most of all accurately count, identify, locate and describe the landholders of England in 1066 and work out what had happened to them in 1086 via the magic window of Domesday Book. This has, of course, been attempted before, but never so thoroughly, and in work that Stephen described as “riddled with mistakes” and “methodologically flawed”.3 There is a lot to do here, and it’s not easy: starting estimates are 27,000 pieces of property assigned to 1200 different personal names, only a very few of whom have titles and very many of whom might therefore be people with the same names. I am very familiar with that problem, as of course are they from the PASE Domesday project that Stephen also ran, and the digital solutions they were working out here were consequently of a lot of interest to me.4 They involve combining maps and tables of data, frequencies of names, their predecessors on the estates, their wealth and using all this stuff to arrive, not at solid identifications, but at confidence measures for possible identifications. I like this a lot because it avoids the two common problems with prosopographical databases where identification is uncertain, of either the database format forcing the user to decide where someone belongs before they have the full picture of the database completed, thus not actually allowing that database to help with the identification, or else that format not giving a way of assessing or making links at all, so that the identification always has to be done real-time by eye, and therefore not necessarily with consistency.5 Better still, it does not resolve this problem by having the computer do black-box identifications whose basis isn’t flexible. When our data is as variable as the Domesday data, pretending that we won’t sometimes get garbage out when we put it in is just unrealistic. This solution lets one measure how garbagey each result is, and as Stephen explained it’s solid enough to start doing statistics with, because adequate statistical methods can factor in things like confidence and make them part of the measurements. This should allow them to ask questions like: how long is the tail of small free independent English landholders left after the big guys whom we know lose out? how much of English wealth is actually peasant-held? How does the Church compare, how do women do compared to men? (A preliminary take at that last from 1066 suggests, apparently, that ninety per cent of lay wealth then was held by men and half the rest by Queen Edith! Lucky her?)

After Stephen had talked us through that in taut and dynamic style, Duncan and Chris filled in some texture. Duncan talked about the greater accuracy of micro-studies in this method because of small landholders pretty certainly not holding anywhere else so we see all their stuff; but most of a nation’s worth of micro-studies and a big enough computer of course equals one very detailed macro-study, so it will all add up. Chris, on the other hand, focused on the big identifiable people, not least Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury, who now emerges as the third largest landholder in England tempus rex Eadwardi (I presume after Earl Harold and the king?), and actually least, weirdly, Harold’s sister Gunnhild, although she was a professed nun apparently living on her own estates; nonetheless, they were only 30 hides, which makes her the smallest landholder the team can place in a secure family connection. Chris also showed us Danes settled in Wessex (described as such), mixed-name families, northern king’s thegns taking service with Norman earls and many other possibilities. I’m sure some of these have been spotted before, probably largely by Ann Williams, but of course they’re going to catch all that are reasonably catchable through this project and there seems no question that that will give them new things to say about how Normans became Anglo-Normans, how English dealt with or were dealt with by Normans and how that varied from place to place. There were questions, all the same, including a marvellously Heisenbergian one by Susan Reynolds pointing out that since the king’s commissioners themselves didn’t know the answers they were soliciting from the jurors at the inquests that made up the Domesday data, the enquiry was itself presumably changing the data; but, there wasn’t anything that the team didn’t have some means of testing for and trapping via the statistical analyses. It can’t be rock-solid accurate, of course, it just can’t, because of factors like Susan’s but also because of the variable data quality and so on, and also of course because of the large chunks of England not included in Domesday Book, but it might be as close as we can get…


1. For example the widows, as studied in Emma Cavell, “Aristocratic widows and the medieval Welsh frontier: The Shropshire evidence” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 17 (Cambridge 2007), pp. 57-82.

2. One would like, generously, to suppose that it was to offer scope for Tom Jones filks, but if so no-one grasped that nettle.

3. I guess that by this was implied Robin Fleming’s Kings and Lords in Conquest England (Cambridge 1991), not least because esteemed commentator Levi warned us some time ago that Stephen makes criticisms of this work in his The Earls of Mercia: Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 2007) but I don’t know if Stephen would also have meant Ann Williams’s The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge 1995).

4. Cf. Chris Lewis, “Joining the Dots: a methodology for identifying the English in Domesday Book” in Katherine Keats-Rohan (ed.), Family Trees and the Roots of Politics. The prosopography of Britain and France from the tenth to the twelfth century (Woodbridge 1997), pp. 69-87; Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), p. 19.

5. I have actually spoken in public about this, at the Digital Diplomatics conference in Naples that I blogged some time ago, and my paper there, “Poor Tools to Think With: the human space in digital diplomatics” is, I believe, still under review for possible publication at this time, though it’s possible that it’s in press and no-one’s told me. Now I’ve said this, proofs will probably arrive in my INBOX just as I head out of town this week…

Gold and fool’s gold strained from the web

Ordinarily I do links-posts when I have little other content to post, and I save up links against that day so that I’m sure I shall have something interesting to show you all. The way this goes wrong, of course, is the current situation where I have forty-odd posts that I hope will be interesting existing in some state, and also a whole bunch of saved-up links getting increasingly out of date. So, let me clear some decks with some commented things for you to look at and then resume more autocthonous programming.

Digital Treasure

  • Page 185 of the Cartulaire Générale de CíteauxFirst and foremost in this, periodically an update arrives in my INBOX from the Chartae Burgundiae Medii Ævi project of which I’ve made mention here before, the guys who finally indexed the Cluny charters for the greater good of the world. Though they have fewer big goals now their progress is still considerable and ongoing, and more and more stuff is coming online. For me the most exciting thing in the recent batches is the cartularies of Dijon and Pérrecy, now online as facsimiles both of the manuscripts and of the edition, but for many others, I’m guessing that the star attraction will be the General Cartulary of Cîteaux, and indeed its other cartularies too. All of this, as far as I can see, is also included in the searchable database that was the starting point of the whole project. Really, one just wishes Burgundy had been bigger (though of course `one’ is not the first to do that…)
  • Newly-cleaned sword pommel from the Staffordshire HoardMore locally, although it’s almost old news now, conservation efforts on the Staffordshire Hoard are still continuing and new information about it keeps becoming available. One of the good things about that project is how keen they have been to keep the non-academic population in on the loop, and in this day and age of course that involves social media. An example of this, featuring some pictures that were new when I stored the link, and are still shiny, can be found here along with the input of one of this blog’s more important supporting characters, on whose work more soon.

Physical treasure: notable finds

  • Saxon woman cow buried at Anglo-Saxon Oakington cemeteryObviously we can’t have a Staffordshire hoard every year, it’s not like we’re in Gotland or something, but this was pretty good anyway, a burial from the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Oakington in which the remains found were an apparently-wealthy woman and a cow, a weird anti-pairing to the warrior-and-horse combo with which we’re more familiar from Sutton Hoo and Lakenheath. Worth a look even if bodies aren’t your thing; as for me, I have to build this lady into a lecture now…
  • Monastery of BenedkitbeuernThen, across the Channel, and in fact really quite a lot further, about as far as possible really. But we start across the Channel, at the monastery of Benediktbeuern, where in the fifteenth century a rather fancy Bible was made, in four volumes. This we know because it is now in Auckland, New Zealand, where recently investigations have revealed at least eight strips from a much older Bible, from the time of Charlemagne (whom the story calls “the French and German emperor” – better than choosing just one I suppose?), that were reused as binding material. The survival of ancient manuscript material as linings and joints for newer ones is not unusual, but the distance of travel involved here rather is; as the Waikato University researcher who found them is quoted as saying, “these little pieces of manuscript have travelled further than any other piece of Carolingian manuscript as far as we know”. Slightly amazing!
  • Portrait denarius of Charlemagne as Emperor (812x814)Nonetheless, in some ways more amazing is another find from the era of Charlemagne, although this, a portrait denarius of Charlemagne from an unidentified mint and dating from the short space of his reign in which he was acknowledged as Emperor by his counterpart in Constantinople (812-814), is a find made a long time ago; it’s amazing because in March it sold for 160,000 euros, making it one of the highest-price medieval coins ever sold.1 (The estimate had been a mere 30,000…) We all know, of course, that very little if anything is worth more than Charlemagne but evidence of this is usually harder to quantify!
  • I got the first of these from Antiquarian’s Attic and the latter two from News for Medievalists, so hats duly tipped to them.

Finds more controversial

Site of the prehistoric temple at Ranheim, NorwayThere were two stories I wanted to comment on in this kind of category, but I don’t think I’m quite up to doing more with this one, which isn’t medieval in the slightest, than to say, can you imagine how this knowledge would have been used 150 years ago? We have, after all, seen on this blog the kinds of fight that can break out over who was where first… So, more interesting and relevant perhaps is news of the discovery of a pagan temple site at Ranheim in Norway, with a sequence of dates running from a fire pit in the lowest layer whose charcoal radio-carbonned to the fourth or fifth centuries BCE and a last-used date of 895×990 AD, after which the building was apparently carefully dismantled, pulled down and levelled, thus explaining the remarkable preservation. Now, this is an amazing site if that’s all correct, but the story has been presented in a very odd way. Admittedly, I have sourced this information from a site called Free Thought Nation (by way of Archaeology in Europe), so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it is down on Christianity, but it’s the way it’s down, which it supports with alleged quotes from the excavator, that surprises me: they read the site as having been dismantled and levelled to hide it from the forces of Christianization at loose in Norway at the time, probably prior to the faithful emigrating to more tolerant pastures like Iceland. Why, though, should we not suppose that the temple was taken down as part of Christianization? Because it’s not violent enough, or something? More probably, I suppose, because it was not subsequently re-used for a Christian site of worship, implying that no population needing one remained, but it’s still a bit odd, as is the effort the article goes into to establish that this religion, whatever it was, predated Christianity, but does not demonstrate any settlement nearby. So okay, pre-Christian religion, yes! How does that help? and whom?

Links involving me

More humbly and mundanely, there are two things I could point you at that reflect on my various endeavours, though only one of these involves Vikings I’m afraid.

  • The one that doesn’t is that I lately updated my personal academic webpages, so if you want to be up-to-date with my publications list (on which more here too before long), to see which of my various projects I’m admitting to working on currently or simply to get the latest on my hair, they’re here. Now I just have to get all my institutional ones similar…
  • Dunnyneil Island, Strangford Lough, Ireland, from the airAnd secondly, and more excitingly, back in May I got an e-mail from someone at BBC Ireland asking for comment on the excavations at Dunnyneil Island in Strangford Lough. This is only the second time I’ve been asked to be a media mouth, and the first time I didn’t realise how tight the timescale was and so missed out; this time I answered mail with unparalleled alacrity and as much help as I could be. I was, however, fully expecting this to be cut about, abbreviated and misused and I was completely wrong: quite a lot of what I wrote is now part of this story by Laura Burns, and all the quotes from me, modulo typos, are actually what I sent her. I’m rather pleased with it, and I wish all medievalist journalism was as good. You may like to have a look.

And finally…

Also, for those with problems with Oxford (including simply not being here), there’s this, which the Naked Philologist sent me and which I offer without comment…


1. In this dating I follow the view of Simon Coupland, and before him Philip Grierson, that Charlemagne only began to issue these coins once recognised as emperor by the eastern one (see S. Coupland, “Charlemagne’s Coinage: ideology and economy” in Joanna Story (ed.), Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester 2005), pp. 211-229, repr. in Coupland, Carolingian Coinage and the Vikings: studies on power and trade in the 9th century, Variorum Collected Studies 847 (Aldershot 2006), I, but the auction house in question, Künker’s, have used a more cautious/less precise date.

Leeds 2011 report 3: Catalans, coins, churches and computers

[Edit: hideously mixed-up footnotes now all match up and exist and so on.]

Looking back at it, it does seem rather as if the 2011 International Medieval Congress was fairly intense for your humble blogger. Having been called to the warpath the previous day and then entirely surrounded by people with Livejournals, the third day of the conference, Wednesday 13th July, also provoked me in various directions. I’ll try not to relive too much of the drama, not least because I intend a separate post for one of the episodes, but this is roughly how the day went.

1014. Concepts and Levels of Wealth and Poverty in Medieval Catalonia

It is unusual for Catalan scholars to turn up in England, where Spain is usually represented only by Castilians, and I had read work by two of the speakers in this session and also its organiser, so I was determined to show my face. In fact the group had already discovered my book and thus my existence, so it was all quite well-timed and it seemed like a jolly happy meeting. There were also of course some papers and those went like this:

  • Pere Benito Monclús, “Famines and Poverty in XIIth-XIIIth-century Catalonia”, looking closely at who spent their wealth on feeding the poor in time of famine when the usual Church safety net was stretched too far, concluding that it was the public power last of all.
  • Francesc Rodríguez Bernal, “Rich Nobility and Poor Nobility in Medieval Catalonia, 10th-12th Centuries”, stressing how little we have actually found out about quite a chunk of the medieval Catalan nobility, and how varied it is; this was not really news to me as such, but it was actually really nice to hear someone talking about my research area as if it mattered all the same.
  • Sandrine Victor, “Salaries and Standards of Living in Catalonia according to the example of Girona at the 15th century”, was doing careful quantitative studies of the demographic distribution of wealth, and had a lot to say about labourers and their accommodation (almost always rented, unlike their masters’ owned houses) in the late medieval city.

The last of these papers was perhaps the only one that was presenting new work as such, work in progress even, whereas Senyors Benito and Rodríguez had both elected to give papers that were kind of introductions to their topic for specialists from other fields. There were quite a lot of these papers at Leeds this year, it seemed to me, and though I would rather see more developed or developing work, I understood why they did; they wouldn’t have known there would be anyone who knew the area there and I’m hardly a whole audience anyway. It was impressive how many languages the questions were in, though: English, French, Castilian and Catalan (one question in German, too, that had to be translated), and the conversation afterwards was, well, extremely informative. But we’ll get to that next post.

1121. Making the World Go Round: coinage, currency, credit, recycling, and finance in medieval Europe, II

I got into this session late somehow, probably because of hunting really bad coffee with Catalans and then realising I needed to be across the campus next, but what I caught was interesting.

  • Gareth Williams, “Was the Last Anglo-Saxon King of England a Queen? A Possible Posthumous Coinage in the Name of Harold II”
  • What was going on here, as far as I could divine after my late entry, was that there seems to have been a very short-lived issue of coins in the name of King Harold II from the royal nunnery of Wilton, almost all known from one hoard that also contains 1067-68 coins of William the Conqueror. Gareth suggested that the responsible party might be Queen Edith, Edward the Confessor’s widow, Harold’s brother, who owned the nunnery, and who didn’t submit to William straight away; that seems to make sense of what we’d otherwise have to assume was counterfeiting so that was pretty cool.1

  • Tom J. T. Williams, “Coins in Context: minting in the borough of Wallingford”
  • This was an interesting combination with the archaeological attention that Neil Christie had given Wallingford the previous day, though possibly only really interesting to numismatists; it did however include the fact that we can use Domesday Book to plot where one of Wallingford’s moneyers, Swærtlinc, actually lived in 1086, and he’d struck for Harold II as well so some English at least did come through, even if at a low level.2 One of the questions raised (by Morn Capper) was whether moneyers were too important to remove or too humble, and we still don’t know, but Mr Williams is I believe aiming to try and answer this for the later period as Rory Naismith tried to answer it for the earlier one, so we shall see I guess!3

  • Henry Fairbairn, “The Value and Metrology of Salt in the late 11th Century”
  • As you know I think the salt trade’s important—I must have read something once4—but I don’t really know how important so this was worth hearing. The units involved in salt-measuring are a bit obscure but by working up from tolls, we came out with figures of approximately 150 g of salt per penny in a world where a pig is 8 pence and a sheep 2 and a half. That makes salt less of a bulk product and more of a luxury than one might have thought and it must have been hard to get very much of it if you were a peasant. So that’s not nothing.

1202. ‘Reading’ the Romanesque Façade

I had wanted to go to this session partly just to see beautiful things and get my Team Romanesque badge metaphorically stamped, but also because Micky Abel whom I met a long time back was supposed to be presenting. In fact, though, she was unable to be there and then I got distracted by books, and so I missed much of the first paper. I have hardly any notes, but it was gorgeous to look at, because it was about the Conques tympanum and we know how that goes, right?

Typanum of the church of Sainte-Foy de Conques

Typanum of the church of Sainte-Foy de Conques, from Wikimedia Commons

  • Kirk Ambrose, “Attunement to the Damned at Conques”, thus argued that the passivity of the victims on the Hell side of the tympanum was actually supposed to frighten the viewer, and
  • Amanda Dotseth, “Framing Humility at San Quirce de Burgos”, took us through a complex system of sculptural ornament that seems to have been dismantled and put back in a different order at some point in its history, but which also may have encoded the monks of the relevant church into the artwork
San Quirce de Burgos, including its intriguing portal

San Quirce de Burgos, including its intriguing portal

1301. Digital Anglo-Saxons: charters, people, and script

This was essentially a session advertising the work of the Department of Digital Humanities of King’s College London, still the Centre for Computing in the Humanities when the conference program was printed. The DDH is one of KCL’s expansion zones, and there’s a lot to advertise, so it was something of a shame that Paul Spence, one of the speakers, had been unable to show, not least because that was the charters one. Instead, however, his paper was kind of combined with one of the others. Thus, we got:

  • John Bradley, “Anglo-Saxon People: PASE II – doing prosopography in the digital age”
  • This put the expanded version of the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, which now (as you may recall) contains all the people in Domesday Book too, into a wider context and emphasised how they had gone for a structure dictated by information, not by sources or persons, which he called a `factoid’ model. This seems like a really useful way to think about treating this kind of data, actually, and I was impressed with the flexibility it seems to have permitted them. Of course, I’d never then actually attempted to make serious use of PASE and having done so for this post now I’m slightly less sure how much use it is to me…5

  • Peter Stokes, “Computing for Anglo-Saxon Palaeography, Manuscript Studies and Diplomatic”
  • Dr Stokes’s paper was about ASCluster, the umbrella project that tries to manage all the data that the DDH handle in their various Anglo-Saxonist endeavours together. Since they don’t all focus on the same sorts of data, trying to create a way of making them all connect is actually really tricky. You would think that pulling a personal name out of their charters database and also PASE and getting all the information together should be simple enough but the databases weren’t designed together and they aren’t searched in the same way, and so on. I could feel his pain; I remember these kinds of dilemma all too well. By the sound of it they have some challenges still to defeat, though the ability and lateral thinking on the team demonstrated by these two presentations would encourage one to think that they will in fact defeat them.

You can tell perhaps that I had mixed feelings about the efforts here. This is not just that I doubt that the money they’re likely to sink into this integration of their projects is going to see a return in terms of use; it’s already possible to search these things separately and compare the results oneself, after all. That isn’t actually their problem: they made a case for doing it, got the support and are setting about it, fine. Lack of use is a problem that a lot of this sort of project is suffering and we will hear more about this in future reports. No, my cynicism came from a much simpler source, which is that I had never at this point nor at many points subsequently managed to get their exciting-looking database of the Anglo-Saxon charters, ASChart, the one that I do have a use for, to work. Once I knew of it, I quickly found that the site would never load, from wherever I tried it, home, office, JANET or commercial internet, never. And I tried it many times, in the months after this session, every time I happened to have reason to check on this post whence I’d linked it in fact; nada. They must have known it didn’t work, because it can’t have been serving any pages, and yet it kept being advertised as a completed project, while actually the only recourse was Sean Miller’s scratch pro bono equivalent. This kind of thing annoys me. The result of an unsuccessful attempt to replicate an already-existing resource should not be that your team gets showered with more money and converted into a full department, especially in a time and at an institution where huge cuts had only a little while before been projected across the whole of the humanities. I don’t want them all fired, of course, quod absit but I would like the system to reward and therefore encourage fulfilment of the things that the money was awarded for. But no-one in power checks up and so there’s no consequence, bar slight embarrassment, if those things don’t work, and the system doesn’t actually incentivise them to improve the situation.

Screen capture of ASChart project homepage

Screen capture of ASChart project homepage

I was all set up for this rant when I got round to writing this post, therefore, and so it comes as something of an anti-climax to have to say, er, now that I check, it seems to be fixed. But it does, so I do. If the DDH team are reading, therefore, I’d better say thankyou for putting the effort, the bigger server or whatever in that has made this resource finally available, not least because as far as I can see there was little that required you to do so. So, it’s up, and even if the charters after 900, i. e. most of them, are not yet there and the links through to PASE crash in a sea of Tomcat errors, nonetheless it is better—in fact the Tomcat errors have gone away even while I’ve had this post in draft and those links now work!—and I suppose therefore that we may hope for better still. There are now diplomatic indices, linked from marked-up XML texts, which bodes extremely well for the future when the whole corpus is loaded and is something that I would love, especially just now, to have for the Catalan material (albeit that there is something like six times as much of that and no-one has databased any of it except Joan Vilaseca). This also means that when they get the post-900 material up, the whole thing will actually deliver something that Sean’s site doesn’t already do, though his free-text search is still unique and could be used for some of the same things. Well, anyway, we have two online Anglo-Saxon charter databases now, and yes, I have said before that I wish funding bodies would JFGI when they get an application for such a project, in case it already exists, but these two both have their points and I am running out of reasons to be cross with the DDH so perhaps I’ll try and stop?

ASCharters site screen capture

ASCharters site screen capture

Anyway. That was the last session of the day, and then there was dinner and then finally the dance, which was absolutely tremendous fun even if I did miss `Blue Monday’ but about which little can usefully be said here that hasn’t been said already. So with that I’ll wrap this up and move on to the more Catalano-centric post promised at the beginning there.


1. We know an unusual amount about Edith, which is coordinated and analysed in Pauline Stafford’s Queen Emma and Queen Edith: queenship and women’s power in eleventh-century England (Cambridge 1997).

2. I’m not quite sure I’ve got this right, because try as I might I can’t get him out of PASE—ironically given the above!—but he comes out of a search of the Fitzwilliam’s Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds no problem, and PASE have that data (I know, I gave it them) so he ought to show up. In fact only three people from Wallingford come out of PASE Domesday at all. I must not be using it right. That can’t be broken as well, surely?6 And even EMC doesn’t show any coins for him from Harold’s reign. I can only guess that the British Museum collections must have some unpublished examples; this could certainly be true.

3. Now available in the shiny new R. Naismith, Money and power in Anglo-Saxon England: the southern English kingdoms, 757-865, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th series 80 (Cambridge 2011).

4. In fact, what I must have read is John Maddicott’s “Trade, Industry and the Wealth of King Alfred” in Past and Present No. 123 (Oxford 1989), pp. 3-51 (to which cf. the following debate, Ross Balzaretti, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred”, ibid. No. 135 (Oxford 1992), pp. 142-150, Janet Nelson, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred”, ibid. pp. 151-163 and John Maddicott, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred: a reply”, ibid. pp. 164-188), since that’s what I have notes on, but what I probably should have read is Maddicott’s “London and Droitwich, c. 650-750: trade, industry and the rise of Mercia” in Anglo-Saxon England Vol. 34 (Cambridge 2005), pp. 7-58.

5. See n. 2 above.

6. Afterthought: PASE’s About page says it excludes `incomers’, and this is a Norse name.7 Can that be what’s happened here, that the Danish-named moneyer isn’t being included as English? Because, er, that seems analytically questionable to me…

7. Also, if the DDH team are reading, the About PASE link from the Domesday search interface page goes to the Reference page, not the About page as it does from other screens.

Finally, Kalamazoo 2011 can be told, Part I

Yes, I know, it’s September and I’m dealing with things that happened in May, it bodes badly, but I’m doing the best I can and since there were complaints from venerable parts of the blogosphere that people weren’t doing Kalamazoo write-ups any more I don’t want to let the side of obsessive completism down. So, a few scant days after the last paper I reported on I was, courtesy of the British Academy, in the USA for the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, yet, already. I can’t hope, at this remove, even with my notes, to give a very comprehensive summary of what I saw and did, but then I hardly have time so that’s probably OK. I’ll talk about papers for the first three posts and then say something more general after the shorter paper sum-up from the fourth day.

Goldsworth Valley Complex, University of West Michigan

Goldsworth Valley Complex, University of West Michigan

Coming in from Detroit was an easy journey, albeit expensive due to an empty but mendacious change-machine, but it badly mucked things up when I forgot, on arrival in Kalamazoo short of sleep, that I had changed time-zone again. The result was that for the first few hours on Thursday I was running an hour later than everyone else, meaning that I missed breakfast and a meeting and arrived late into…

Session 39. Generational Difference and Medieval Masculinity, I: fathers and sons in the early Middle Ages

This was a shame as it meant I missed most of Paul Kershaw‘s “Louis the Pious, Attila the Hun and the Problem of Filial Honour”, which was quite a lot of what I’d gone to see. My very short notes remind me that he was cunningly reading the Hildebrandslied and the Waltharius against each other for how fathers and sons react to each other in those texts and that it sounded as if it would all have been fun to hear. Oh well, my own silly fault. The other papers were:

  • Mary Dockray-Miller, “Glory and Bastards: Godwin, Tostig, Skuli, and Ketel”, which talked about using foster-families on the North Sea world of the eleventh century as an alternative sort of status to less-than-shining origins of birth, either because that birth kindred was still on its way up or, in the case of Earl Tostig of Northumbria‘s sons, very much on its way down
  • and Allen J. Frantzen, “Fathers, Sons, and Masculinity in the Anglo-Saxon World”. This was an erudite and eloquent but also very political paper, in which Professor Frantzen argued that feminist scholarship had, well, emasculated study of masculinity by constraining it into categories from the battle of the sexes rather than what was actually going on at the time we study, which was a combination of both extremes. I thought that the aim here, to combat or at least recognise assumptions both in our sources and in ourselves that male = power and female = weakness, was laudable, but it was a difficult paper to listen to because of hearing it as a feminist maybe would as well as as a scholar should. I also thought that the Romans should have got a bigger part in defining masculinity since the whole rationality-and-moderation topos, here instanced from Ælfric, surely goes back to them, which raises questions about our assumptions about the sources… but it was one of the richer and more stimulating twenty minutes I’ve spent sitting listening, all the same. He actually has a web-page up, apparently in preparation for the session, which sets his fellow participants reading; you may find this interesting…

So, OK, I must write less about the rest, but this will be tricky as I then stumbled on my subject area, sort of, in:

Session 75. Negotiating Monasticism in the Early Middle Ages, I: claustrum and sæculum

Virtual reconstruction of the Abbey of Lorsch c. 1150 by Robert Mehl

Virtual reconstruction of the Abbey of Lorsch c. 1150 by Robert Mehl

This was the first of a set of sessions arranged by, among others, the very excellent Albrecht Diem, and it was tempting to treat them as one can treat Texts and Identities at Leeds and just sit in familiar territory for as long as the strand ran. I didn’t, but I saw these papers, which were:

  • Hendrik Dey, “Before the Cloister: monasteries and the ‘topography of power’ in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages”, an account of the arrangement of processional spaces in late Roman cities and early medieval monasteries, finding numerous interesting parallels in the more elaborate (Carolingian) cases like Lorsch, where the monks seem to have done a lot of walking.
  • Hans Hummer, “Family Continuity and Christian Monasticism in late Antique Gaul” was a complex paper questioning work that has seen either family or lordship as the basic structures of early medieval society by showing monasticism as both or neither, determined to escape such structures but made to serve family or political agendas all the same. This also made the point that an early medieval monastery about which we know is, by and large, exceptional; how many passing references have your documents got to communities that we just can’t identify? I know mine has lots, and Hans’s too apparently.
  • Valerie Ramseyer, “Cave Monasteries in Early Medieval Southern Italy and Sicily: centers of isolation or population?” was an eye-opening paper, not least because of the scenery in the presentation, about monasteries, and in fact whole villages, built in cave networks in Southern Italy. A few of these places still function or function again as restaurants or curiosities but the paper argued that they were never, as they have been pitched when they’ve been studied at all, mere refuges or somehow a subaltern choice of habitation but elaborate, and often luxurious dwellings; the ideological assumptions and the elusiveness have left them under-studied, argued Professor Ramseyer, and I was certainly persuaded.
Byzantine-era cave settlement in Canalotto, Sicily

Byzantine-era cave settlement in Canalotto, Sicily

That had all been such fun that I stuck with the thread for:

Session 122. Negotiating Monasticism in the Early Middle Ages, II: status and knowledge

This session had been somewhat demolished, as one speaker (sadly a friend of mine—there was a lot of this this year) had puilled out and the rest reorganised to make a reasonable programme. This actually made the session more interesting than I’d expected, and we got:

  • Matheus Coutinha Figuinha, “Martin of Tours’s Monasticism and the Aristocracy”, which argued, simply and effectively, that Sulpicius Severus, biographer of Saint Martin, was basically making up the nobility of the first monks at Marmoutier in that biography, because he cared a good deal more about such things than Martin apparently did.
  • Julian Hendrix, “Defining Monastic Identity: the Rule of St Benedict and Carolingian Monasticism”, looked at the different ways various commentators used the Regula Benedicti in the Carolingian age and therefore questioned whether complete Benedictinisation was ever the aim. This has been a bit of theme in this scholarly neck of the woods, lately, as further demonstrated by…
  • Albrecht Diem, “Negotiating the Past: reform and conflict in early meieval monasticism”, which pointed out how legendary St Benedict had become by the Carolingian age, that Gregory the Great did not apparently know that Benedict had written a Rule, and that in fact the first person known to associate Benedict of Nursia with the Rule we now claim to be his was Bede; even in the ninth century, in fact, it was feasible for Hygeburc to claim that her subject, St Willibald, had introduced the Benedictine Rule at Benedict’s supposedly own Monte Cassino. Albrecht has been a Benedictosceptic for a while and I’ve heard him say parts of this before but this was a fairly devastating assault.
  • Something I also want to remember from this session is Julian Hendrix saying in question that monastic rules tend to travel together in manuscripts, and adding, “They’re cenobitic in tendency, I guess”, which is the kind of throwaway I wish I came up with more often. It should also probably be observed that of late Albrecht has been putting all kinds of resources about monasticism, bibliographies, databases, lists of bookmarks, online, and that these are all quite useful things to know about if you’re in the field.

By this stage I think I was more or less caught up on the time zones but a drink was very welcome. I have since lost such information as I had recorded about whom I met when—kids, always have backups—so I won’t try and recapture that, but I probably ought to thank Michael Fletcher straight off as he was invaluable throughout the Congress as a willing driver, orchestrator and drinking companion and I’d have had much less fun without his help. So, that covers the first day in some sort of fashion, next there will be yet another post about a Catalan stone with a funerary inscription on it then I’ll return to the report.

Uniting the uniters: electronic resource corpora and competition

I am now back from Kalamazoo in safety, but very very short of sleep, so if this makes no sense I apologise and may redact later. I will write about Kalamazoo eventually, but the short version would be that it was great. I wanted to clear some more backlog, though, and I had to do something fairly simple because on the morning of the day I flew back overnight, I had to stay awake until David Ganz had finished delivering his second Lowe Lecture in Palæography, which I went to. So, here’s a thing. A little while ago News for Medievalists did their characteristic content-scrape of an article from a site called Science News Western Australia, which reports on a new initiative being run by the Australian Research Council Network for Early European Research.

Basically, they wanted to build a ‘medieval manuscript commons’ on the web. (I use the past tense because, what you would not realise from News for Medievalists’ 2011 version, this was being reported on in 2009, and the aforenamed Network ceased to be funded in late 2010. So this initiative actually never came to pass and never will, but that actually doesn’t hurt either my point or, it would seem, News for Medievalists’s ethic of business.) The responsible party, one Dr Toby Burrows, had just completed a project to digitise and webify information about medieval manuscripts in Australian collections, a thing called Europa Inventa that does exist and which you can look at, and was reported as explaining:

“What we’re proposing will use semantic web technologies to link up all the information about medieval manuscripts on the many databases and web sites around the world.

“It will be a meta-framework which sits over the top of all the existing data, but is not intended to replace that data,” he says of the service which is likely to be hosted in Europe and be free.

UWA is funding Dr Burrows’ research with a UWA Collaborative Research Award of $8000.

So, I imagine that he was fairly happy even if the project never actually completed. Now, this project might sound a bit vampiric, basically being paid to siphon traffic to your site on the basis of others’ content (much like Medievalists.net, in fact) but I think we can agree it would be useful to have a global repository of this kind of information. It’s almost surprising no-one’s thought of it before, isn’t it? And yes, you’ve guessed no doubt, of course they have and we’ve reported on it here before, Columbia University’s Digital Scriptorium. It seems clear that the Commons one would have rendered the Scriptorium redundant, or vice versa; the aim is the same and they would have competed, however useful either might have been.

Columbia, University of Missouri, Ellis Library, Special Collections, Fragmenta Manuscripta 003, recto

Columbia, University of Missouri, Ellis Library, Special Collections, Fragmenta Manuscripta 003, recto, highlight of the collection when I visited the website for this post

My point is that we really only need one global service of this kind, and in fact that if there are two then both of them directly attack each other’s raison d’être. And yet we see this repeatedly not just here but in other fields too, and usually funded as here on the alleged basis that no such service exists. For example, you may remember that a long time ago I worked on such a project at the Fitzwilliam Museum about just how we would go about uniting disparate databases of coin information for sharing across the web.1 This was the first wave of semantic web stuff and looked quite powerful, though money to take it further than proof-of-concept has not, I believe, been forthcoming. But very shortly afterwards I was contacted by someone else who’d had the same idea and wanted to do it slightly differently but also, naturally enough, wanted to make use of data that others had already catalogued. That gap is still there, so presumably there’s room for a third of these databases but as we’ve just seen, the fact that something already exists to do one of these jobs doesn’t necessarily preclude others arising, all trying to be the one ring to bind them all. It feels as if the web, with its amazing searchability, on which these endeavours are all intended to sail, ought to prevent this happening; if not earlier, the funding bodies all ought to be capable of operating a FWSE and finding the older projects themselves and then at least asking, “Is this really new?” But since we’ve reported here before on people getting vast awards to allow them basically to reinvent hyperlinking, I suppose I’m not surprised this doesn’t work.

Screenshot of the COINS-MT software created by the COINS Project

Screenshot of the COINS-MT software created by the COINS Project

Less cynically, though, these endeavours can’t be as useful as their founders and funders presumably did all recognise they could be as long as they have competition. I realise that’s not very free-market but these are supposed to be public services, not profit-makers, and so they won’t follow capitalist rules. We really wanted, on the COINS Project, to set it up so that anyone who’d digitised a numismatic collection could dump that data into the central repository we didn’t get to set up and someone, with a bare minimum of crunching code, could suck it in in fields people could find things with consistently. This, like Monasterium.net or other such repositories, required people to be willing to do that. A small digitisation project probably will, but these big umbrella projects presumably can’t or they lose their `market space’. And I’m just not sure this actually helps us, in the long run. Perhaps the answer is just to wait for semantic web stuff to advance far enough that our home computers will be able to identify correct mapping of such data automatically. And meanwhile, as Magistra pointed out a while back in a different context, someone who has such information that they really want to be out there has got to pass it to everyone who’s subsequently going to work on it. But until funding is all international (and until funding committees can do a websearch, perhaps) this separation of endeavours is going to continue to be a problem I fear.


1. Any minute now the paper talking about this project as a whole will be out as Jonathan Jarrett, Achille Felicetti, Reinhold Hüber-Mork and Sebastian Zambanini, “Coinage, Digitization and the World-Wide Web: numismatics and the COINS Project” in Brent Nelson & Melissa Terras (edd.), Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture, New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Tempe forthcoming), pp. 000-00. Any minute.

Seminar XCIII: in the tracks of the Celtic Tiger

So, where have I got to now? According to my notes, this blog’s content is now up to the 7th March 2011. Not exactly impressive given the date today but let’s carry on, because on that day Dr Aidan O’Sullivan of University College Dublin was presenting to the Oxford Medieval Archaeology Seminar with the title “Early Medieval Dwellings and Settlement in Ireland: perspectives from archaeology, history and palaeoecology”, and quite apart from the fact that words with four consecutive vowels in are quite fun in themselves, the paper was also really interesting. The basic situation in which archæology in Ireland finds itself at the moment is that up to the economic collapse of 2007, in the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger‘ years, it was an incredible growth field, driven by massive road construction projects (not least the infamous one that never quite wiped out Tara) that piled up incredible amounts of new data, of which however there was very little time to publish any. Now that the profession in Ireland is approximately a fifth of the size it was then, and there’s almost no money left, those who are still in jobs like Dr O’Sullivan are trying to get that data out there, and now even as then his means of doing so is a project called EMAP (Early Medieval Archaeology Project) which is putting it all on the web for free. This is, he said with calculated irony, the only archæological project in Ireland still receiving state funding. It includes a database of 2208 sites, dug anywhen between 1930 and 2004, several published gazetters, 241 detailed site reports and a bibliography of 5,500 items, plus a general synthesis.1 The bibliography and the project reports are all up for free download, as are those of their publications so available, and they even have a blog, which I gather is all the rage these days! So there’s that, just for starters; they are colouring in the grey literature, if you like.

Front-page image of EMAP's website showing a reconstruction of the monastic site at Clonmacnoise

Front-page image of EMAP's website showing a reconstruction of the monastic site at Clonmacnoise

However, Dr O’Sullivan hadn’t just come to advertise; he briskly got that out of the way first and then tried to give us a balanced synthesis of how archæological thought in Ireland has changed as a result of all this new data coming on-stream, and since very few other people can have read all this data yet, not least since much of it was commercial project reports rather than anything more widely available, this was more or less straight from the horse’s mouth. It messes with quite a few generalisations about Irish settlement and life in the early Middle Ages, too. For example, it is something of a topos that early medieval Irish settlement was all enclosed, be it in a ringfort or a dún, in so far as there’s a difference between the two; but now we have an awful lot of sites that are not enclosed, far from a majority (you may recall that there are fifty thousand known or assumed ringfort sites in Ireland!) but still enough to count. More categorisation is obviously needed, so it seems worth pointing out that some of these supposed ringforts were actually empty when dug; that is, they were not settlement sites. The major work on these sites proposes a distinction of status between double-walled (bivallate) ones and single-walled ones, and places the known ones in a network of relations based on this, but this has come under fire from Dr O’Sullivan since, increasingly, radio-carbon information shows that not all sites in such networks were occupied at the same time, or even close to it, and so at least the earliest ones cannot be related to the others.2 Those that do exist for a long time—and some sites were in continuous use from sixth to eleventh centuries and beyond—tend to have been very much modified over the course of their existence, so they probably had several rôles over that time. There is, however, a shift towards building rectangular forts after 800, at the edge of their enclosures unlike the central circular ones of 500-800, and the univallate ones begin to disappear over the ninth century in a matching fashion.

Earthworks on the Hill of Tara seen from the air (contingent bivallate form)

Earthworks on the Hill of Tara seen from the air (contingent bivallate form)

Some of the forts that were rebuilt have been found to have deliberately-incorporated prehistoric material buried under their new floors, which presumably had an apotropaic rôle; Dr O’Sullivan wisely said, “Don’t call it pagan, call it ‘customary’”…. This kind of reference to the past was part of the everyday assemblages of tools and utensils that have also been recovered in perfectly normal places and ways. It also shows up in burial of people, where despite the fact of Ireland’s indubitable conversion to Christianity in the early Middle Ages family cemeteries run right through the period in continuous operation from fifth century to twelfth, in some cases; Dr O’Sullivan suggested that people were buried with their land, or their family, and that this didn’t change because of the change of religion; a comment made by someone I didn’t know at the end pointed out that burial of ancestors was one kind of claim that one could mount to landed property in Irish law, which fits with that. Dr O’Sullivan also mentioned a small but significant number of late graves that contained iron-working deposits, which if he could explain them, I have no notes on it. But one of the good things about this paper was Dr O’Sullivan’s willingness to give space to other explanations than his own or to admit that there wasn’t yet one; he was extremely even-handed.

Skeleton being unearthed at early medieval site at Moneygall, County Offaly

After all, it's been a while since we had any dead bodies on the blog. This one was being unearthed at Moneygall, County Offaly, making it a potential ancestor of Barack Obama *so we are told* (see link)

We are also often told to accept that Ireland, where no money was in use, basically paid for everything and counted anything of importance in cattle. The archæology does indeed show a lot of cattle, but also, even from as early as the fifth century, a lot of arable farming too, even in the fields actually around Tara for example, so this needs to be in our picture of the average Irish farmstead too. By the tenth century cattle was actually a lot less important in the deposits than it had been and mills are more and more commonly found from the same time or even earlier.3

A Kerry cow (historic breed)

A Kerry cow, which is a historic breed though I don't know if it's historic enough. Certainly this one is contemporary!

There is also about the idea that the only things in early medieval Ireland that you could call towns were Church sites, with developed craft production and specialisation, markets, and so on. Now the Church is actually under-represented in this new data, because typically people don’t put roads through church sites. From what we know, however, this complexity is certainly the case for some sites, like Clonmacnoise (pictured above) which shows a street plan and so on, but some, even those where we know craft production was going on like Clonfert which was famous as a bell foundry, were largely empty enclosures. Not every monastery was therefore a town or town-like site; this is important as it means that those that were must be considered the exception not the rule. It is true, though, that even at the end of the period, nucleated settlement had basically yet to arise: no villages yet, and certainly nothing like a town as we’d recognise it elsewhere.4 There were a very few exceptions to this, the famous Viking cities of Dublin and Limerick primarily, and the east side of the country was dragged into their economic gravitation to an extent, but the west remained much as it had been much earlier, and would do till the thirteenth century. It’s obviously not, as Kenneth Jackson once called this period, “a window on the Iron Age”, given that there was a lot of change in the eighth and ninth centuries (and had probably been quite a lot in the third as well), but the lack of being bothered with the big changes of the period that other areas take for granted is worth pondering all the same. As with much else that was said here!5

Aerial view of the monastic site at Clonmacnoise as it now stands

I've used it once, I'll use it again: aerial view of the monastic site at Clonmacnoise as it now stands


1. That synthesis to be Aidan O’Sullivan, Finbar McCormick, T. Kerr and L. Harney, Early Medieval Ireland: Archaeological Excavations 1930-2004 (Dublin forthcoming). If you want stuff that’s already out there, the project report that that will be based on is online here.

2. That synthesis being Matthew Stout, The Irish Ringfort (Dublin 2000), with which, shall we say, Dr O’Sullivan respectfully but merrily disagreed. You may find his take in “Early medieval houses in Ireland: social identity and dwelling spaces” in Peritia Vol. 20 (Dublin 2008), pp. 225-256, and even if not (I haven’t checked, I admit), it’ll be interesting. N. B. Oxford readers this is currently on the new periodicals racks in the Bodleian Upper Reserve. Now whose fault is it that we’re two years behind?

3. Here you can see the work of Dr O’Sullivan’s colleague Finbar McCormack, “The decline of the cow: agricultural and settlement change in early medieval Ireland”, ibid. pp. 210-225. I shall expect to see you all at the rack on Monday.

4. See, for example, Ann Hamlin, “The archaeology of the early Irish churches in the eighth century” in Peritia Vol. 4 (Dublin 1985), pp. 279-299 and Wendy Davies, “Economic change in Early Medieval Ireland: the case for growth” in L’Irlanda e gli Irlandesi nell’alto medioevo, Settimane de Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 57 (Spoleto 2010), pp. 111-134, neither of which have particular dogs in the fight but give good accounts of it.

5. If you are hungry for more, Dr O’Sullivan has lately published a related paper with one T. Nicholl, “Early medieval settlement enclosures in Ireland: dwellings, daily life and social identity” in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Vol. 111C (Dublin 2010), pp. 59-90. The Jackson reference is to Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson, The Oldest Irish Tradition: a window on the Iron Age (Cambridge 1964, repr. Llanerch 1999 & Cambridge 2011). I feel slightly ashamed that my alma mater are still willing to find a market for this but am fortified by Professor Jackson’s truly immortal middle name.

In due gratitude to the Bavarian State Library…

Logo of Recensio.net

Ordinarily, when someone mails me to ask me to put something they do on my blog—which does happen—I delete that thing on sight. This is partly dislike of spam, and much more likely it is a self-protecting assumption that if it’s of interest to me I can find it out by myself. Obviously that is frequently wrong, and this is one such case. It is also the case that I very frequently make use of the suitor’s resources and have posted about them here before, so this one I will let through. Jonathan, what are you talking about, goes up the exasperated cry no doubt. Well, the afore-mentioned Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, who have brought us a wealth of digitised medieval texts in their original parchment and ink forms and who also, you know, host the digital Monumenta Germania Historica, have put a new site up called Recensio.net that aims to:

create a Europe-wide, multi-language platform for reviews of historical literature

with a highly searchable OPAC-based interface mediating (open) access to several major journals’ reviews, as well as encouraging user-generated content in response to materials submitted to the site for ‘presentation’. This is interesting, because they are deliberately eroding the difference between what they call “»classical«” reviews (I suspect they may want to defriend that particular faux ami) and, well, internet reviews like those on Amazon or the greater united blogosphere. Various bloggers, including literature scholars and archæologists and, I suppose, I, have pondered how we might take academic work to the Internet for instant response, critique and a more genuinely democratic peer review. Well, here is someone providing a gateway that will not sit in ghetto where only the same people will read it but where the scholarly work that is being generated anyway will rub shoulders with the wider contributing public’s thoughts. I don’t think this can be a bad thing, and presumably neither do the German Historical Institute Paris (DHIP), the Institute for European History (IEG) Mainz or the German Research Foundation (DFG), who are funding it or doing it too. Already a search for items covering the European Middle Ages brings back nearly 300 items, and though really quite a lot are in the Slavic languages and thus closed to me, there is other interesting stuff there too and you may not have my particular linguistic or chronological blind spots—there is much much more there that is not medieval. Why not have a look? If you’re like me, you owe these guys a few minutes for all those they’ve saved you…

Take note(s) II: re-examining Sant Pere de Casserres

I feel that I ought to say something about the unlikely PR mess that the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council has got itself into, but I’m not going to, for three reasons, in fact four. Firstly, it is very unclear just what the heck is going on there; secondly, others have already writ what can be writ better, not least Gesta and that famously Edgy Historian, Guy Halsall, and you can follow the links there (which, as here, have usually come from JPG, who clearly has a future as a news analyst at somewhere like Reuters if the Vikings ever run out). Thirdly, and most cowardly of me, the current director of the AHRC is deeply implicated in whatever it is, and is also about to become my boss in some distant sense, so I don’t feel that analysing her current actions and research on the open web will do me any long-term favours. And the fourth reason, the afterthought, is the one I should always remember, the Bede Principle: “it may not yet be known what should be written of these things, until they have reached their end”.1 So instead I’m going to write about my current research, even though the same could be said of that, and the ways in which I do it.

Monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, Osona, Catalunya

Monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, Osona, Catalunya

Those of you who know my work will realise it involves quite a lot of charters. For my thesis I read, I think, about 3,500 charters in printed editions, though rather fewer in the original. Aware of that latter weakness, when I made the first trip to Catalonia recorded on this blog, I sought out the parchments of Sant Pere de Casserres, which is interesting for what I do because it is a monastery that was founded by a vicecomital family where a castle that had belonged to the counts had stood, and which then became a major lord in its own right, in other words it is textbook privatisation of fiscal power but happening to an area with a church and its community in it making records, and no-one has done much on this place, which moreover still stands.2 There were other exciting aspects, such as the fact that it seems to have been closely entwined with a mother church down the river, also in a defunct castle, which never ceased to have some kind of rights there as far as I can tell, and that the clerics of these two places hardly turn up anywhere else; and the fact that when it was dug early in the century, a palæochristian altar slab covered in graffiti names came up, which has been all but ignored by the subsequent literature on the monastery, which I cannot understand.3 So I wanted to see if the names on the slab were in the charters, and those of you who heard me speak at Leeds in 2009 will know that I think some of them are.4

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) 3

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) 3: the problem charter!

That was already nearly two years ago, though, and you could be forgiven for wondering why this isn’t already submitted somewhere. Well, firstly I found out that the original surviving documents I’d looked at and the others, only preserved as copies, that I’d read in print, were not the only ones, that there were in fact about a hundred more of those copies for my period alone.5 That, as you can imagine, made a potential difference because extra evidence unhinges careless generalisations. So I found out where they were, which was in a big book in Vic, and plotted getting out there only to find, shortly afterwards, that the unstoppable force of the Fundació Noguera’s Diplomataris series had rolled over Casserres and that all its documents were now in print, and yea, even free to the web.6 So my unique selling point and first work with unpublished documents was lost, but on the other hand I didn’t have to spend a week in an archive in Vic checking my findings. So I downloaded it, found with a very quick check that the editor had not spotted the things I’d spotted about one of the documents, decided I still had a paper and set to reading it, and that’s where this post really starts. (Yes, sorry, it’s me.)

Sample of my longhand charter notes

Obviously a functional method that a graphologist would regard with equanimity

As we know I take lots of notes. When reading a few thousand charters that makes for a lot of note-taking, and all this information has to be handled. My technique for this has developed in all the wrong ways, which is to say I did not sit down and think it out and then do it the right way from the get-go, I worked with the very limited technology I had and did stupid things with it which I then bodged later. But it starts with notes, longhand abstracts of each charter mentioning things that are interesting (story kernels, as Lovecraft would have called them, or just stuff like a mill in an odd place, payment in gold not silver, bounds that don’t meet, and so on) and who’s involved, enough to come back to should I need to but not so much that I might just as well photocopy the thing or type it out. In these, some things are one-off marvels, and you get to hear about those quite often, but the real work comes in seeing people, places or things that crop up again and again, enough that we can say something safe about who they are and what they were interested in (“land”). So the notes have asterisks, for all these things that are interesting, in the margins, and lines joining recurrences up or arrows and signes de renvoi to other occurrences, and so on. (You see what this looks like above.) To actually do very much with this, however, I then have to type stuff up, firstly so that it’s electronically searchable and secondly to join up different sets of notes. If I had done this right from the start, I would I think have used a Wiki-structure database, page per charter, page per person, page per place and for each of them an entry recording where they turn up or what other entries link here. Some day when I have enough money for a research assistant this will happen. (Meanwhile, Joan Vilaseca is doing it the hard way and will within a few short years actually have the database I ought to have started with! I am continually amazed by this man’s work.) But as I started, I had no database software at all, so I typed each edition’s notes up as Word files and stuck them full of embedded links, the idea being that that way when data changed in one file it would be cascaded to all the others. Yeah, not quite. I mean, it works to a certain extent, but there is so much messy overlap, documents in several different editions, that it’s never perfect and even where it is, finding a new occurrence of a person or place tends to mean that they need updating in every file where they occur. These files are several megabytes each, they take a long time to update, they eat memory, it’s not good. But it’s what I have. So here’s a chunk, you can see what sort of information I’m recording.

53 = Cat. Car. IV 1868: is a regestum of a donation of land in Savassona with some truly impressively garbled names, a neighbour Gundolfínia and a scribe Aliborn chief among them; the land is being given by a woman to her daughter, interestingly.
54, 55, 60, 73, 76, 78, 90 & 116, perhaps among others, all feature the priest Miró, one of Casserres’s hardest-working canons and visible at the church both before and after its conversion to monastery. He is never a monk, in 73 has heirs though they aren’t identified, and buys property in own right in 78; yet his connection with this supposedly Benedictine monastery is inescapable.
54 & 78 both feature land at la Guàrdiola de Roda.
54, 78 & 140 all feature land on the strata francisca, or so the regesta that preserve this information seem to mean.
54 is a sale to the priest Miró of what seems to be most of a settlement, albeit only two pieces of land and a vine, given its bounds on others rather than people’s properties; nicely positioned on the strata francisca and its own road (presumably to Roda?); sold for only 16 solidi.
55, 56, 62, 64, 67, 80 & 114 all feature a Casserres and Roda landholder by the name of Vives, almost always as neighbour (he witnesses 56, where he is also a neighbour—but then we have so few witnesses recorded—and donates in 114).

Now this is not rigorous, because its principal data capture tool is my brain, which makes mistakes. I knew this, so I was quite keen on adding databases to the mix as soon as I could. A piece of contract work for Professor Wendy Davies, all hail, left me with a good design that I customised for my own use.7 But this was within the last two years of my thesis, both part-time, and I didn’t have time or the will to type up all the charters I’d used for the project into it. Instead, I used it solely for the final chapter, the chunk on Count-Marquis Borrell II of whom you must by now all be bored (although I’m not, be warned). I typed up all documents in which he was mentioned, as atomised names and dates and so on in their appropriate fields. Running various complicated queries over that sample produced names I hadn’t noticed were recurring, whom I then went and looked for in my notes, moving thus from comitally-connected documents to regionally-connected ones, and for how that works out, you can see the book.8 And when new projects came up, I added more sections, and those you can also find lurking behind other parts of the book.9

Screenshot from my Catalan comital charters database

Screenshot from my Catalan comital charters database

When I got to the Casserres charters, though, it was plain I wouldn’t have time to do it the old way, and it was also questionable whether I needed to, since I had the PDF on the computer, already searchable. It was also clear that they would have to be databased, all of them, which raised the question of what possible function longhand notes would have in the project. I was very reluctant not to make any, because atomising a document for data entry is not the same as actually reading it and I was afraid I would miss the stories that make these documents so interesting. But the Casserres ones are mainly preserved as abstracts anyway, so few stories, just bewildering obscurity, and in any case as I say there was no time. So I just data-entered the lot, all 145, three a day and more when there was time. (I’m told by an ex-girlfriend that normal people don’t get up and do academic data entry before they’ve breakfasted or dressed. But for what value of normal?10) But that’s only half the work, because you still have to get the data out and usable. That would be another piece of writing, which I think I’ve just promised to do in Italy in September so I’ll omit it here but suffice it to say, I took each charter entry in turn, I ran queries for recurrences on every name in there, and where there were some I typed them up in one of my old-fashioned files, in fact that very one I excerpt above. And then I printed it, so that there were some notes of a kind after all, which somehow makes me feel better. All the same: if this is a sane way to work, I’m a Dutchman, he says resorting to eighteenth-century ethnic slurs, sorry. (Large parts of my ancestry are fairly uncertain, in fact, but there’s no reason to suppose etc.) The fact that it just about seems to produce the results is perhaps the only compensation, and that other than recording the data better I can’t think of a quicker or more rigorous one. What do you think, if any of you made it this far?

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

(Of course all this is not, of itself, a new problem: check the first sentence of this article and see if it doesn’t make you cringe with complicity. Then read on. Hat tip to Ralph Luker at Cliopatria.)


1. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum, V.23: “quid de his scribi debeat, quemve habiturum sint finem singula, necdum sciri valeat”, my translation.

2. Okay, there is in fact a reasonable amount of work on the place, which could probably all be found referenced in three of the four latest bits, those being: A. Pladevall i Font, J.-A. Adell i Gisbert, X. Barral i Altet, E. Bracons i Clapes, M. Gustà i Martorell, M. Hoja Cejudo, M. Gracià Salvà i Picó, A. Roig i Delofeu, E. Carbonell i Esteller, J. Vigué i Viñas & R. Rosell i Gibert, “Sant Pere de Casserres” in Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica II: Osona I, ed. Vigué (Barcelona 1984), pp. 354-391, updated by J. Pujades i Cavalleria, C. Subiranas i Fàbregas, Pladevall & Adell, “Sant Pere de Casserres” in Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica XXVII: visió de sintesí, restauracions i noves troballes, bibliografía, índexs generals, ed. M. L. Ramos Martínez (Barcelona 1998), pp. 201-206, and the third Teresa Soldevila i García, Sant Pere de Casserres: història i llegenda, l’entorn 35 (Vic 1998), which is much the closest to my kind of social analysis. There is also, however, Pladevall, Sant Pere de Casserres o la Presència de Cluny en Catalunya (Barcelona 2004), which I am hoping to get hold of at last in the next few days; it’s not widely held even in Spain. With a bit of luck I still have a paper.

3. It’s been extensively written about by itself, in for example P. de Palol, “Las mesas de altar paleocristianas en la Tarraconense” in Ampurias Vol. 19-20 (Empúries 1957-1958), pp. 81-102 at p. 87; S. Alavedra, Les ares d’altar de Sant Pere de Terrassa-Ègara (Terrassa 1979), II pp. 71-74; and in Pladevall et al., “Sant Pere de Casserres”, p. 384. I owe the first two references to Mark Handley, who’s been hugely helpful helping me track this thing through the literature on stones. It is however not mentioned at all in Soldevila’s book and the Pladevall et al. article discusses it only separately.

4. J. Jarrett, “How To Take Over An Archive: Sant Pere de Casserres and its Community”, paper presented in session ‘Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: Pushing the Boundaries‘, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 14th July 2009.

5. Somewhat amazingly, the relevant book, a 1736 manuscript copy of a list of renders and properties made for a fifteenth-century prior of the house, was found in a Tarragona bookseller’s in the 1980s; it is now in the Arxiu Comarcal d’Osona, and Soldevila was thus able to base her book firmly upon it.

6. Irene Llop (ed.), Col·lecció Diplomàtica de Sant Pere de Casserres, Diplomataris 44 (Barcelona 2009).

7. There was an expert whose identity I never discovered in that project somewhere, but since the variant design I came up with delivered the same results quicker for a megabyte less coded back-end, I’m calling it mine.

8. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 140-166.

9. That on Malla and that on l’Esquerda were new work, for which I added all the relevant charters I could find to the database to produce ibid., pp. 73-99.

10. I should perhaps make clear, though, that we were long broken up when she saw me doing this.

Word from Sean Miller: announcing ascharters.net

Grant of King Edgar to his thegn Igeramn, 963, preserved at Christ Church Canterbury, Sawyer 717

Grant of King Edgar to his thegn Igeramn, 963, preserved at Christ Church Canterbury, Sawyer 717

Many of you will know the name Sean Miller. When I worked at the Fitzwilliam Museum still, occasionally we would get mail for him or people trying to reach him, because his name occurred on our site because he coded the Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds that now records about 9,500 single finds and another 45,000 or so in museum collections via the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles. It’s needed only the most occasional maintenance since he left the Museum more than a decade ago. From there, he went on to charters, as a right-thinking person of course should, and in between a few other things put the whole corpus of Anglo-Saxon charters online in searchable electronic form. You know, as you do. Or at least, as he did. I talk this up because I don’t think his work is adequately recognised, really, and he left the profession for one with money in it that people were prepared to give him some time ago.

Now, if you know that much, you may also know that the site where Sean mounted all the Anglo-Saxon charters has been ill of late. Parts of it still work but the search had broken. Indeed, we got people asking us at the Museum if it would be fixed. I couldn’t answer those people then but now I can: I had the pleasure of catching up with Sean at a book launch party just before I left Cambridge and now he has mailed me to say that the new site is up and running at Anglo-Saxon Charters. It works, as far as my quick tests show. Considering he gets nothing for this, I think that’s pretty decent of him. So there you are: update your bookmarks and sing Dr Miller’s praises!

Serious work is involved in such a website

I believe there are a few people reading this blog who actually work on medieval Catalonia, though I’m always surprised (and pleased!) to discover that it’s any use to someone who actually knows the field. One such person however has put up this site, Cathalaunia: la Catalunya abans de Catalunya, and it may be of some use to the rest of you. It is, ineluctably, still under construction, but given the author’s intentions that’s not surprising: it will be years in the making. Already present, though, are massive and well-larded bibliographies for the prehistoric, Iberian and Roman, Visigothic and early/high medieval periods, the last especially being full of stuff I didn’t know and linked to online copies I didn’t know existed in several cases. There is also a section on Judaism and one for Varia that I expect will branch once it builds up a bit. There are even full-text transcriptions of some sources, and here of course there could be a lot more; I gather that the maintainer is trying to negotiate the release of data from some of the big publication projects, but since what there is is fully indexed, there would still be a lot of work to do. It’s a pretty serious endeavour and you may want to have a look. You may even want to mail the maintainer and ask if you can help. It is already useful, but with more people involved it could be hugely so…