Tag Archives: funding

Leeds 2011 report two at last

Sorry! Publication deadlines, as you saw, then admissions interviews (about which I have seriously mixed feelings and may eventually write), then the wedding of a good friend and erstwhile medievalist, at which apart from, y’know, attending the marriage (hic præsens et testis fui!), I learnt a lot about Cassiodorus that will come in useful next term. And then, for various reasons, I’ve wanted to take a good deal of care with this post. But now here it is, my mandated Leeds report, part the two, covering the events of the 12th July 2011.

508. Beyond the Invasion Narrative: the Roman world and its neighbours in late Antiquity, III – Romans and barbarians

Since, as recounted two posts ago, I’d realised on turning up in this strand that not only did it have a set of titles long enough to be a monograph series by some German academy, but also that it was where the excitement was likely to be for its duration, I was back in the Mortain Link Room at nine in the morning to see more. That went as follows:

  • Alex Woolf, “From Civitas to Kingdom? Romanitas in the British provinces and beyond”.
  • Alex here raised with his customary sharpness of perception some important questions, not the least of which is what period were the “sub-Roman” British interested in imitating? The Roman buildings of Roman Britain were largely pre-third-century, for example. Does that mean that if someone was continuing to live like a fifth-century Romano-British noble, we would see him in his material leavings as British not Roman? Was public building and sculpture really the mark of Romanitas for these people, as it has been for some modern scholars? (Was it instead stone monumental inscriptions, basically only preserved from outwith the area of Roman government?) Alex also made the excellent point that the Old English wealh, usually translated as `foreigner’, was however not used of foreigners like the Vikings, the Gaels, Syrians, and so on, and that we might therefore do well to think of it as being linguistic, and applying to Romance-speakers only. How far Romance actually describes the language of lowland post-Roman Britain would be one of those questions where fewer people than usual would follow Alex’s arguments, I suspect, but the difference still wants an explanation.1 Lots to think about here.

  • James Fraser, “Thoughts on the Roman and Native Discoveries of Pictishness”
  • The ogam-inscribed symbol stone at Brands

    The ogam-inscribed symbol stone at Brands

    This paper came very close to my areas of British interest, as you will understand when I say that James started by critiquing the idea that the Picts were a single people for whom a material culture identity might be detected. In this sense, as he observed, the classic volume The Problem of the Picts has itself become the problem.2 Thereafter the paper became more of a historiographical survey of whom it is that the Picts’ identity has mattered to and how, but there were still some similarly live points, such as the observation that the word Brittones and its derivatives, originally Latin, appears to have been borrowed into the insular vernaculars only after a distinction had arisen between Britones and Picti; James can be found on record saying that probably the only difference between these groups was being inside or outside the frontier of the Roman Empire, which makes for linguistic difficulties as we’ve lately been seeing, but whether or not you buy that, he here has something that appears to need an explanation.3 James finally suggested that Pictishness was really a late construct used by state-building kings to meld a nation of disparate groups of peoples only lately differentiated from a generalised British identity, into a political unity opposed to English or Brittonic or indeed maybe Gaelic, stressing `barbarian’ cultural practices that were identifiable as such in Roman terms, like tattooing, like inscribing stones but not with Latin, and like deriving one’s origins from the Scythians, a reference that only makes sense in a Roman cultural complex.

    I found all this pretty powerful, as you might expect from things I’ve said in the past, and asked in questions whom he thought the agents of this new cultural formation might be; he blamed the Church, which I think makes some kind of sense if we can see the Church as a tool of kings in this area. Before that however the session had been completed by…

  • Fraser Hunter, “Breaking Down the Wall: Rome and North Britain in the late Roman period”
  • This was perhaps the least provocative paper of the three but that was not least because it was by far the best-evidenced, and left much less room for debate: Hunter showed simply that Roman luxury goods got beyond the wall into the lowland zone, and that after these goods stopped coming local cultural innovation attempted to make up the gap, which we kind of know, but that inside the walls a similar transition is happening from Roman soldier’s goods, money and gear to stuff that we would recognise as warband material. Rome, while it was active in the North of Britain, created haves and have-nots, but after it went only some of these people’s centres could keep some kind of supremacy going by continuing to import Romanitas. Thus, Dumbarton Rock and Edinburgh kept going, Birdoswald and others failed, and so the new political landscape was formed.

I don’t mind telling you that after this session was over my head was so full of thoughts that I obtained coffee, or at least the best available facsimile, and tried talking to Alex but had to excuse myself because I needed to try and write something down before everything I was thinking escaped; I couldn’t speak even to Alex in case it overwrote what I was struggling to articulate. After twenty-five minutes I had something like the plan of a paper, restating with extra nuance my thoughts about the regionality of the Pictish kingdom, and was able to put it away confident that some day I could write it (as indeed I subsequently have, though much of that first rush has then turned out to be unsustainable). That was the kind of session this had been for me, the kind that could not be fully contained in my head for the explosion of possibilities. “And I’m not even lying.”

608. Beyond the Invasion Narrative: the Roman world and its neighbours in late Antiquity, IV – new narratives in Hispania

Of course I don’t really work on Scotland any more, and if I ever finish that aforesaid paper it will likely be my goodbye to the research area. How convenient for me, then, that Professor Halsall’s excellent contributors also included a number of people interested in the Iberian peninsula!4? They were:

  • Iñaki Martín Viso, “Fragmentation and Thin Polities: dynamics of the post-Roman Duero plateau”
  • The Duero plateau had been an integrated part of Roman Hispania, not rich but with many villas, but the events of the fifth century turned it into a frontier zone between the Sueves and Visigoths, neither of whom really had much governmental presence there, and as such seems to have localised its identity, with seniores loci mentioned by John of Biclaro and perhaps local coinage being issued. Hillforts grew up, though none have yet been dug so the association is kind of hypothetical. The Visigothic kingdom, when it re-established itself here, seems to have done so not least by giving the local élites rights to tax or withdrawing them, but the lack of towns meant that it was never an integrated part of Toledo’s enterprise. This does not however mean, argued Professor Martín, that it was not part of the state, and he argued that we should recognise this as a kind of `soft hegemony’ that might let us think usefully about how the successor states worked in their own terms, with the kings getting the status that kept them in power and the regions getting the autonomy that stopped them from wanting away from kings. We’ve seen something like this idea expressed here before, I think, so I was right down with this.

  • Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo and Alfonso Vigil-Escalera, “The Elephant in the Room: new approaches to early medieval cemeteries in Spain”
  • Pretty much everything I know about burial in Visigothic Spain I read either in Guy Halsall’s Barbarian Migrations or at Historian on the Edge, so I was keen to hear more from two names I have on several reading lists but have never quite got round to reading.5 The two of them, represented by Dr Vigil-Escalera alone, argued that categories like `Roman’ and `barbarian’ won’t cover this kind of evidence, which has urban `barbarians’, rustic `Romans’ and all kinds of other cross-category burials to accommodate, and that the variation could be explained without recourse to foreign populations, even if those were there; the burial evidence in their eyes neither proves nor disproves immigration. The archaeology instead shows a restlessness that is to be expected from a peninsula in political and economic turmoil. Instead of the stereotypes, they detect in the burial evidence a militarised élite interred in lead coffins, a lower grade of burial with few or no grave goods, and nothing visible beneath. Where there are cemeteries that associate with a settlement, 60-95% of graves are furnished, the figure being lower the later the cemetery runs; by the eighth century (but not till then!) grave furnishing had completely stopped. Beyond these generalisations, however, variation in this mortuary landscape was at the community level, not the level of whole `peoples’, and certainly can’t be broken down as `Roman’ vs. `Germanic’. Therefore, they asked, why blame barbarians?

  • Guy Halsall, “Why Do We Need the Barbarians?”
  • In answer to that question came the last paper of the strand by Professor Halsall himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly for those who’ve heard him speak or read him on the Internet, this was the one that really started the war. [Edit: and, indeed, some changes have been made to these paragraphs by request of one of those involved.] The consequences, if not of this actual speech, at least of its subsequent display on the Internet, have been various, unpleasant and generally regrettable, and I don’t want any of them myself. However, I think that what Professor Halsall was doing, which was to demand attention to the way that terms like `barbarians’ and `immigrants’ have been and are now deployed in political discourse, in short, to think who might be listening when we deploy these terms and for what, is something that it’s necessary to discuss. There may be other ways to say what he was saying, though they might be less effective. After all, an old colleague of mine sometimes gloomily observed of his scholarly opponents, “Y’know, you can’t change these guys’ minds, you can only wait until they die,” and obviously that’s not going to do much for public feeling and policy right now, which is where the fight is needed.

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron expounding his party's `Big Society` ideology

    Dangerously empty bloviation

    But the issues must not be dropped! Since 2006 I have been on the web proclaiming somewhat casually that when history is used it is almost always misused; glib and untheorised though that was when I wrote it, there is a point there, and it behoves us to keep an eye on what our work may be used for. Some people are more conscious of this than others, as the recent furore over the way that the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK appears to have picked up and run with the Conservative party’s campaign slogan in the last UK national elections shows; but this consciousness is usually with the misusers, and we could do with the same awareness from people who aren’t deliberately selling themselves for political funding (although it should be noted that the AHRC have claimed that they weren’t, without responding in any way to pressure to actually alter their agenda). How then do we fight the misuse of history by those with political agendas? Professor Halsall argued in questions that we have to take the fight to popular sources of information, to publish opinion columns, to get on the Internet, to colonise Wikipedia and not to assume that people can’t handle our sophistication. These seem like worthwhile, if taxing, endeavours that would bring us benefit whatever our politics. If the humanities were any good at coordinating our defence this would already have been encouraged in every faculty across the land, as PR for the industry of academia itself, dammit; instead they have successfully set us against each other and this is the result. Party politics, whether left-wing (do we still have one of those?), centrist or comfortable Conservative’s, really don’t signify here: there is no UK political party interested in funding the humanities. But you’ve read me on this before and you’ll read me on it again, so no more here.

The whole strand had been extremely provocative, as you can tell, and events subsequently revealed that it had perhaps been too much so, but I also think that we need to awaken some kind of social awareness about the uses, misuses, impact and importance of history. Everyone in the field must surely agree that that importance currently needs all the acknowledging, emphasising and directing that it can get. The furore over this presentation has unfortunately hidden these issues, which deserved to continue under discussion and not to become so personal as to be swamped in antagonism and threats. I’ll have more to say about this here—probably not very insightful but one should not stay silent—but for the meantime I can only advise you to keep a close eye on Historian on the Edge, for reflection on the social and moral imperatives of our work, whether you agree with him or not. We’d all like to think our work was socially and morally important, I’m sure, so it seems natural to consider how that might work out, doesn’t it?

717. Between Palatium and Civitas: political and symbolic spaces throughout the Middle Ages

Anyway. That was the final session in Professor Halsall’s strand, and things calmed down somewhat after lunch. Since time is short and the backlog long I’m therefore going to tackle the rest of the day in briefer form. I crossed the campus now to Weetwood Hall and there heard these people speak:

  • Martin Gravel, “Built on Expectation and Remembrance: the visitation of kings as the symbolic recognition of palaces in Carolingian West Francia”
  • Aurélien le Coq, “Contestation, Networks, and Places of Power in Grenoble during the Gregorian Reform: Guigues of Albon’s trajectory”
  • Alexandra Beauchamp, “Royal Court and Capitals of the Crown of Aragon in the XIVth century”
  • Originally scheduled for this session had been Josianne Barbier, doyenne of the Frankish fisc, and given how much her work featured in my reading for that dead-stick Kalamazoo paper of a couple of years back, I’d been rather hoping to meet her. Alas it was not to be, but these papers were also interesting, for especially Martin’s, which wanted to look closer at what kings actually do with their palaces beyond turn up, issue charters (not always them of course) and leave. With a few documents of Charles the Bald and Louis the Stammerer he was able to do this, showing that certain palaces had certain functions and that they weren’t all equivalent. Obvious, perhaps, conceptually, but hard to prove! Martin did so. We subsequently proved to have an almost-inconvenient overlap of interests with regard to the later Carolingians and I’m looking forward to more of his work. Le Coq, meanwhile, I would like to give due honour for using the term “ecclesiamento” to describe the way that Grenoble came to be grouped around the bishop’s properties and interests in his period of study, and Beauchamp’s careful attempt to try and say something about how large the Aragonese court actually was, on a day-to-day basis, from an unpromising source base, was a near-perfect example of how to present a few key interesting things from what was clearly a much larger piece of work.

805. The Archaeology of Early Medieval Fortified Settlements in Different Regions of Europe

I try and go to as much of the relevant archaeological stuff at Leeds as possible, because there’s never very much and I want to encourage it, but also because it’s usually very interesting and full of information I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. This time I was also hoping to see and meet Marco Valenti, who is a name that crops up all over what had then been my recent reading, but in this I was disappointed. What we got was:

  • Neil Christie, “Burhs and Defence: assessing the military status of later Saxon burhs
  • Marco Valenti, “Early Medieval Fortified Settlements in Italy from the 6th to the 10th Centuries”
  • Hajnalka Herold, “Fortified Settlements of the 9th and 10th Centuries in Central Europe”
  • You will be observing that Valenti appears still to have been there, but in fact, his paper was read by Professor Christie, a compromise that was certainly better than no paper but didn’t enable the kind of debate it would have been good to have. In short, Christie himself gave the audience a quick introduction to the fortification programme rolled out by the kings of Wessex in their fight back against the Vikings, and asked how much actual use the fortifications, many of which have come to be towns now and may always have been meant to, were. Christie preferred to see them more as exercises in literally building community, while I might prefer to see them as exercises in power demonstration, like Offa’s Dyke; certainly, Asser seems to show us that the relevant communities didn’t necessarily feel it.6 The Valenti paper, next, concentrated on castles in Tuscany, for a long time supposedly part of a major set of social changes just before or in the eleventh century that we know well round here, but by the kind of survey Valenti has been able to demonstrably a much longer-term phenomenon, starting in the ninth century if not before. There has of course been very little digging of such sites but what has been dug has forced this kind of re-evaluation too (as previously reported here indeed). Lastly Hajnalka, whose work I’d met at Kalamazoo the previous year, reintroduced me and introduced everyone else to her extremely interesting élite settlement at Gars Thunau in Austria, which has in its history a ninth-century building programme that seems to be chronologically, but not otherwise, connected to a sea-change in the development of such sites over a wider area, all of which nonetheless show no archaeological connections with each other. There’s something big here which has yet to be identified, clearly; Dawn Hadley asked what and Hajnalka said that the presence of the Church needs to be looked at, but that it will only explain some sites. Nonetheless, paradigms like Martin Carver‘s of a reaction in stone to such new power groups might well help here.7

Now, after this was the blogger meet-up, which was quite odd in the way it worked out. I was late, I forget why but probably not for any good reason, and the Naked Philologist and Magistra were left to coordinate the initial stages without me even though neither knew each other. By the time I arrived, it was busy but not with people I knew, which was good but unexpected. I can now remember only two of these people, Livejournallers rather than deliberate academic bloggers both, so I won’t name them in case they don’t want their personal lives linked to, but it was a pleasure to meet them and others, and I seem to recall that the gathering went on for a long time. I know that by the time I got to the St Andrews reception they’d run out of wine, but I also remember that this had somehow happened far faster than they’d anticipated so it may still have been quite early. In any case, company remained good and chatter plentiful, as afterwards seemed to have been so for a great deal of the conference, and it had been a stirring day.

1. The classic discussion of the term `wealh‘ is M. Faull, “The semantic development of Old English wealh” in Leeds Studies in English Vol. 8 (Leeds 1975), pp. 20-37; Alex’s take on such matters can currently mostly be found in his “Apartheid and Economics in Anglo-Saxon England” in Nick Higham (ed.), Britons in Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge 2007), pp. 115-129, online here, last modified 18th October 2007 as of 10th December 2011, though for the linguistics he largely rests here on Peter Schrijver, “What Britons Spoke Around 400″, ibid. pp. 165-171.

2. Frederick T. Wainwright (ed.), The Problem of the Picts (Edinburgh 1955).

3. James Fraser, From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 785, New Edinburgh History of Scotland 1 (Edinburgh 2007), pp. 44-49.

4. I probably don’t need to explain the range of circumlocutions I use here to avoid the word `Spain’, or indeed that the paper titles do, but suffice to say that if this seems clumsy to you, the modern country’s name really doesn’t cover what we’re trying to include here.

5. G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks (Cambridge 2007), pp. 296-300 & 338-346, but I should add at least J. A. Quirós Castillo and A. Vigil-Escalera Guirado, “Networks of peasant villages between Toledo and Velegia Alabense, North-western Spain (V-X centuries)” in Archeologia Medievale Vol. 33 (Firenze 2006), pp. 79-130 and now Quirós, “Early medieval landscapes in north-west Spain: local powers and communities, fifth-tenth centuries” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 19 (Oxford 2011), pp. 285-311.

6. Asser, Life of King Alfred, transl. Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge in eidem (transl.), Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources (London 1983), cap. 91:

For by gently instructing, cajoling, urging, commanding, and (in the end, when his patience was exhausted) by sharply chastising those who were disobedient and by despising popular stupidity and stubbornness in every way, he carefully and cleverly exploited and converted his bishops and ealdormen and nobles, and his thegns most dear to him, and reeves as well… to his own will and to the general advantage of the whole realm. But if, during the course of these royal admonitions, the commands were not fulfilled because of the people’s laziness, or else (having been begun too late in a time of necessity) were not finished in time to be of use to those working on them (I am speaking here of fortifications commanded by the king which have not yet [c. 883] been begun, or else, having been begun late in the day, have not yet been brought to completion) and enemy forces burst in by land or by sea (or, as frequently happens, by both!) then those who had opposed the royal commands were humiliated in meaningless repentance by being reduced to virtual extinction.

This passage doesn’t make me like Asser or Alfred any better, actually.

7. As in for example M. Carver, Sutton Hoo: burial ground of kings (London 1998), esp. pp. 52-93.

Blogger meetup, new Cliopatria piece

Leeds International Medieval Congress masthead

I am running things about as close to the line as they can go currently and have no time to organise or write a number of things that I would like to. One thing that must be written is that there needs to be organised the Leeds blogger meet-up, since there seem to be rather a lot of us attending, some from very far away, and it would be a real shame if nothing was done to celebrate this. As the two people who usually wind up proposing this, Magistra and I have conferred and decided that it suits us best—and if we’re organising I think that is allowed to be one of our priorities, don’t you? so glad—to gather bloggers, blog-friendlies and commentators at the Stables pub on the Tuesday evening, say from six till eight, at which point I imagine several of us will want to go and visit the St Andrews reception. So there it is, now you know and we shall hope to see fellow practitioners of this, er, well, practice, there.

[Edit: dagnabbit, bother and drat, it would probably be a good idea to include some identifying information. My academic website has a picture of me on it that is current, which you can see full-size here. There are no known photographs of Magistra, but as she suggests, I'll probably be making more noise so you'll see me first anyway.]

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

The other thing that needed to be written, or at least reported, is a very small part in the current move of no confidence by English universities against the government’s higher education policies (or rather, their ever-changing suggestions of what a policy might look like that justified the funding cuts they’ve already made), a part already reported in brief by Historian on the Edge. I since wrote about it at Cliopatria and you might like to read it. Meanwhile, see you on the other side of Leeds!

A request for your signatures, or, after the protests, a petition

It doesn’t take a lot to make me angry at the moment. Most people in higher education in England have got good reason to be angry, as the UK government has decided to cut its subsidy of university teaching there by nearly halfeighty per cent, starting in the next financial year. This will, ineluctably, mean the further raising of tuition fees on new students, a massive consequent rise in the cost of higher education and its consequent restriction to those who can pay to a much greater extent than at present. If you believe in meritocracy, equal access, a level playing field and so on, there is no way not to be angry about this. If you believe that higher education contributes something to a person, and that academic research and teaching are worth something, this is an attack on that belief, a belief which is clearly not shared by the powerful part of the current government. So if you’re not angry, you’re just not paying attention. [Edit: my numbers were wrong in the first take of this, optimistic even: see the round-up of facts and commentary by JPG in the comments.] It’s not just me it’s been making angry, either. On the Internet we find fellow medievalist blogger Gesta reaching new heights of outrage and no less a figure than Professor Guy Halsall not just writing on the Internet, but actually going to protests himself. He seems to have been lucky, however, because the protests where students have been charged by police on horseback and where schoolchildren have been penned up outdoors in sub-zero temperatures and clubbed if they try to escape, were not the ones he was at, though it is still from him that I learn of them. Let it not be said that the police are the only ones bringing violence to these situations, but they are also the ones being paid to keep order and maintain the law, yet they are also notoriously invulnerable to prosecution if they go too far, as the eventual lack of outcome against the murderer of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests of 2009 only too well shows.

The London protests obviously got the most coverage, because the UK press basically lives in London and so does the government and both operate under the illusion that London is the only place important things happen. You can see from the above, however, and other videos too, that even Cambridge was up in some kind of arms, and a fairly sustained campaign of occupations and protests was managed there for a week or so. I am so impressed with this. I used to be mildly politically active in Cambridge, I went on a couple of protests and indeed helped to organise one (badly): getting any more than forty people together for anything political was just impossible then. Clearly, one of the things that New Labour and now the Coalition have done is radicalised the student body, or possibly removed its sense of any other option. To me, the idea of police beating down student protesters in Cambridge with clubs, rather than simply laughing at them from a careful distance as they did to us, is completely alien: I am amazed that things can have reached this pitch.

You will readily see from this that the students were in some cases fairly obnoxious, and it isn’t really the police about whom they’re supposed to be protesting. They are, of course, supposed to be allowed to protest, although the Criminal Justice Act makes it difficult, and the occupation of Senate House was, though trespass, not criminal, so that the police were not at first sure of their right to take action. The suspicion of damage, however, and most of all the humorous, but unwise, removal of the police officers’ helmets, rapidly altered that position. I’m pleased to see that Cambridge’s MP, of whom I used to be a colleague and whom I’ve known since before he was either of those things, who may even indeed have been on that protest I helped organise way back when, has condemned the violence of both parties, separately, and has pressed the government to investigate the police’s conduct here and in London. Anyway. I’ve nothing but admiration for the students who go in order to be heard, rather than to start fights, which seems to be almost all of them. We need people who set out to try and change things, after all, because the assumption that we can change nothing is exactly that on which this government, like the last one, trades. But a protest is as nothing if it doesn’t get into the papers and onto the Internet, you know? “Pics, or it didn’t happen.” So it bothers me that the protests in Oxford hardly got a notice.

The Oxford protest was rather eerie, in fact, for me at least, because we had been speculating at dinner in college the previous night what form a rumoured occupation might take, and drawing on my ‘radical’ background no doubt, I said something like: “Well, if they’re stupid and want to hurt the university, they’ll have to attack the administration, which is not going to get any notice. But if what they want to do is get press coverage, then they’ll have to do something in the centre and they’ll have to attack somewhere people have heard of, which basically means the Bodleian or the Radcliffe Camera, doesn’t it?” And, er, lo and behold, there you are…

But, though there was some coverage in the Oxford Mail, I’ve been able to find no evidence that any national paper came up to cover this, an occupation that went on for two days with reinforcements arriving by night, and which, I learnt yesterday, was broken with exemplary police tactics using a large roll of carpet. True story. But it deserved better press: there was no serious violence, no damage, and though it is, granted, a little counterproductive perhaps occupying the undergraduate portion of the Bodleian (for this is what the Camera now holds, the University’s teaching library), it certainly should have got the press. Presumably if they’d been idiots and started a fight it would have done, though you’ll see from the above that the difference here was mainly the police commendably not rising to provocation. I fear that this is why people do deliberately resort to violence, because at the moment doing anything less means one is silenced.

But, there is something else we can do. It may not be much, and it may not be effective, but it is at least funny and clever, and that’s no small thing. A valued colleague has directed me to this, and asked if I would put it on the blog. And so I will. It is a petition asking the current government, degree-holders almost to a man and a very few woman, to cough up the cash that they would have to have paid for their degree if they had taken them under the same rules that they are now setting. I mean: only fair, right? At least Nick Clegg, who has in the past shown signs of a sense of humour if not a conscience, ought to dig in his pockets for this one. Pass it on, do. (And as you do, note the name of the petitioner. If that’s not medievalism in action, I don’t know what is.)

(Cross-posted at Cliopatria.)

Big News I & II (& III, IV… )

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


Contract of employment offered by Oxford University

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

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

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

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

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

The Clerical Cosmos

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

Bearded in My Den

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the clean shave

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

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

The KCL situation

Several people have asked me to write something about the situation at King’s College London. And indeed, it may seem strange that I haven’t so far joined in what has become one of the most widespread campaigns I have seen in my short span as a medievalist blogger. The cause of this alarm and outrage is that KCL is proposing to axe, among other staff to whom we’ll come in a moment, the English-speaking world’s only Chair of Palæography, that is, the study of ancient writing, the discipline which underlies any work done with manuscripts from a time before typescript (and after, where Gothic Black Letter is concerned, I might add). It is pretty important. Without training in palæography the original sources of this period basically become inaccessible, and work on OCR of such texts and so on has only increased this importance in recent years. And the incumbent Professor, David Ganz, has been a stalwart in the rôle as it was envisioned, giving advice to all and sundry (including me), whether they were at KCL or not, involving himself in new media projects and digital technology and also, publishing like a mad thing. By any normal UK academic assessment, based on research output and even this new and nebulous quality ‘impact’, David should be a shoo-in. But KCL are not assessing on this basis: they are severely short of income, and are assessing on the basis of the revenue the post brings in, in terms of research students, grants and class sizes. And in those terms, David’s post is one of many under serious threat.

King's College London from within

King's College London from within

The first thing that has spelled me from writing, apart from incredible busyness, is that I didn’t think I had anything to add to the immense coverage already out there. (I’ve tried to collect this at the end: so far I know of seventeen posts but I expect there are more.) There is a Facebook group; there is an online petition. Many letters have been written (and I made sure mine was in the post before publishing this). What am I going to add to all that? Secondly, it’s a bit awkward, because not only is David a friend and confidant (to whom indeed I currently owe a pint), there are other people I know well under threat in this situation, and it may be that not all of them can be saved. It’s also awkward because I used to work, briefly, at KCL’s Department of History, who were really nice to me, and so if I critique their decisions I am turning ungratefully on a former employer. (In what follows I am clinging to the idea that though the Department of History hired me, the decisions at issue here have all been taken at a much higher level. I hope History Department members and indeed future employers will bear that in mind if they read this.)

But the situation is very bad, and I can maybe reach places that don’t usually hear about such things, at least, such things in the medieval sphere, but where, alas, matters like this are sadly familiar. I’m not going to try and explain how important palæography is: others have done that already and better than I will, not least Mary Beard who commands a far wider audience. The subject is, after all, important enough that it is taught in many other places and although I respect his work immensely and have been keen to enlist his help when I have needed it, I was never a student of Professor Ganz’s. This is, in part, the problem he faces: the way he has filled this post very much fits the original vision in which it was created, as a help to the classicists, medievalists and even early modernists worldwide. His own students are a tiny fraction of his impact, but they are the only fraction that KCL now wishes to measure. It’s only KCL’s changing the rules like this that could ever have led to the suggestion that his post is of marginal importance. So, what’s behind the KCL rule change is what I’m talking about here.

A C7th list of rents from St Martin de Tours, Schoyen Collection, MS 570

Here, by way of illustration, is a manuscript that you probably can't read without help

The huge effort on the Internet is already reaching the stage of self-congratulation, which is dangerous: we haven’t achieved anything yet. More cynical voices are arguing that Facebook is all very well, and as David himself has observed it would be rather nice if the newest technology of communication came to the rescue of one of the oldest, but really what the people in charge will be watching is old-fashioned letters. One of the first things I wanted to find out, indeed, was who the people in charge were, to ask how come palæography had been selected first, what the timetable was for the other posts under threat and who’d decided who went first, who chooses who stays and whether (call me a cynic) there are any administrative job cuts planned. I rang the Head of Division in KCL Human Resources who deals with Humanities repeatedly over three working days, but never got through to more than her answering machine. However, the pressure of questions that I assume KCL have also been receiving from others has paid off in some way, because they have put the original internal document about the process online, and in order to make sure it stays that way I have grabbed a copy and it is up here. And from this we get some of the answers and realise that, oh lor’, it’s far worse than we thought. Continue reading

Finding funding got slightly easier

I get asked, you know, about how to get funding for graduate research. This gives me attacks of conscience because I was turned down for it far more times than I was granted it, but I did get some in my time and occasionally still stab at getting more. Anyway, for those in the UK, it appears that this is these days marginally easier than it used to be. My Masters research was partly funded by a group called the Ian Karten Charitable Trust. They didn’t pay much of my maintenance but the fact that I’d raised some money myself and then also got some support from somewhere made it more convincing for other groups to contribute to fill the gaps, and so I was always grateful to them for unlocking the gates. How did I find out about them? Well, there used to be two big fat volumes that most if not all public libraries in the UK (or at least England) would have, The Directory of Grant-Making Trusts and a related one whose title I can’t remember. They listed basically everyone with charitable status who was in the business of making charitable grants for projects of almost any kind. About one per cent were relevant or possible, but that left one with, say, thirty potential sources of funding, and if one came up, well, that might be enough.

Trying to put this in an e-mail for someone who’d asked me this (an old friend whom I owe a lot) left me Googling for this and now I find that The Directory of Social Change have a whole load of the process, including the old Directory, online here. Now I have not tried finding much in it, and what I have fed it without the subscription it requires (it also wants cookies) reveals no funding possibilities, but, all the same, there it is, and it may help you. (I also find this while searching for other things, less likely-looking but maybe still worth giving.)

Culture crunch: more casualties

Charter of sale by Miró and Ego of land at Espinosa, 1031, Berkeley, Bancroft Library, UCB 120:01

Charter of sale by Miró and Ego of land at Espinosa, 1031, Berkeley, Bancroft Library, UCB 120:01

Oh dear. Do you, by any chance, use the Digital Scriptorium at Columbia University? I haven’t, really, because not very many of my target manuscripts are in the USA, and the ones that are, the Gili Collection at Harvard, aren’t contained in this resource. I don’t know why not as the relevant library, the Houghton, is part of the venture. There is, anyway, within the DS one Catalan land charter, pictured above, but it’s from 1031 and I have long enforced a cut-off date in my work of 1030 because that’s a full generation after the point I really want to stop and the material is just unhandleable by one person because of its volume thereafter. So I myself don’t make good use of this resource, but it has an exemplary search function and I can imagine it being very useful to people not so chauvinistically early or Iberian as myself. Anyway, I am told that its funding is not to be renewed, so at some point fairly soon that hotlinked image is going to disappear because the website will go. I find this a bit shocking – how much money does it take to keep a website up, even if it’s not being updated? but apparently this is what’s threatened.

So far I’ve felt fairly safe from the recession, but despite being three thousand miles from me and centuries too late, it’s a bit too close to [Alt] [Home]…

That Espinosa charter has set me off on a curiosity now. There are two places called Espinosa, and there’s nothing I can see in that charter to indicate which is concerned. One is close to Sant Joan de les Abadesses, but largely outside their purview so I don’t know it well (it’s mentioned in I think one of their early charters as site of one of several estates in a donation). The other’s really interesting, though, and I would be fascinated to see that anyone has something from there close to my period. Even in 1031 it was pretty much just inside the edge of ‘Christian civilisation ™’: it’s in Tarragona (Vallespinosa on that map, because the actual village is basically three streets now and the valley nearby is what gets marked), which is so frontier that, apart from tenth-century episodes no-one but me cares about because they didn’t last, it wasn’t reconquered till the twelfth century. It’s actually over the edge. This doesn’t however mean that it was out of touch: one of the oldest documents in the comital archive of Barcelona is a sale from 887 to none other than Count Guifré the Hairy of land out there (and it is the distant one, because the document specifies a county, albeit that it’s Manresa), land that I cannot really imagine how he could exploit, it being so far from his other domains. But that part of the world was real no-man’s land back then and if the people out there wanted to wander up to Barcelona to deal with the count, then they just did. Who cares about this supposed frontier? So if this charter was from there that would be fascinating. But given the great detail it goes into about dues from the lands, numbers of wethers and so on, I suspect it’s from somewhere that had been under lordship a bit longer than that. ANYWAY. This sort of thing is obviously why its home shouldn’t disappear, isn’t it…

UK museum use survey: is the money they give us making no difference?

I realise that museums are only medievally-relevant by coincidence, but in turn I expect you understand why I take an interest in the ‘industry’ that provides my daily bread, and so won’t mind too much if I advertise briefly a rather worrying little factoid that’s emerged from University College London, where Dr Susanne Keene has been carrying out research, using user surveys and staff surveys at around 200 museums across the UK. They’ve been analysing visitor numbers, what is being done to raise visitor numbers and how effective it’s being. This survey only covers stored collections, that is items not on public display, but since that’s basically the principle on which my department operates, partly because coins can only be displayed one side up and mainly because researchers tend to need lots of the same sort of thing whereas we tend to display a range, this concerns me directly.

The McClean Room, Department of Coins & Medals, in use for study

The McClean Room, Department of Coins & Medals, Fitzwilliam Museum, where I work, in use for study

The report is 84 pages long, and although an awful lot of that is headings and illustrations I still haven’t gone through it in detail. If we spent the time that it would take to read the bumph that comes out of the Museums and Libraries Association on so doing, we wouldn’t have enough left to do the work for which they fund us, is my candid opinion, followed by questions I’d like to ask about the time they take generating it and what else they could do with that, but leave that aside. This was someone’s project, and that someone, since she is now a consultant, presumably got paid, but all the same she has some experience and the findings are interesting and apparently rigorous, in as much as she’s checked her findings with alternative tests on the data and so on. Now, my interest in all this is whether my job is secure, which has been uncertain ever since the organisation that provides most of my funding, via an intermediary organisation set up to show that we’re using it wisely, went into a reorganisation chrysalis in the middle of the year, with no real idea of what would emerge. So someone with this kind of data is in a position to either reassure or worry me.

Screen capture of a record from the Fitzwilliam Museum's OPAC catalogue

Screen capture of a record from the Fitzwilliam Museum's OPAC catalogue

Vexingly, she has both good news and bad news. The good news is predictable: the public want more of museums’ collections to be listed online so that they can find out what there is that they’re not seeing! Huzzah, that’s basically what my job is, I’m safe! Except. The bad news she has is that putting more stuff online does not in fact significantly increase visitor numbers. Lots of museums put an increase in visitor numbers down to such factors, and visitors surveyed also said that online resources made them more likely to come to the museums. The actual numbers however don’t support either case: attendance is up everywhere (though since 80% of the museums involved were looking at figures of less than 100 visitors accessing the collections a year, this may not be very significant) and it’s not significantly correlated with online records or their increase. Much more worryingly, neither is it correlated with museums holding grants to increase their access, i. e. exactly the sort of money that funds my job. Of course putting stuff online may mean that people can avoid actually having to come and see it, and to match this survey we’d need another one analysing changes in web traffic, but the initial impression one gets from this survey is that all the money (such as it has been) that the UK government is pouring into the heritage sector is producing no more (or even less!) results than doing absolutely nothing would have done… I do hope that isn’t the impression the government gets! And meanwhile, come on public, what goes on?

The report is Suzanne Keene, Collections for people: museums’ stored collections as a public resource (London 2008), online here. The images used in this post are from a forthcoming pamphlet, Jonathan Jarrett, Coins in Collections: care and use (Cambridge forthcoming) and are copyright the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, even in these grotty low-colour versions that are all I have to hand.