Tag Archives: publication

Name in Lights VI

[N. B. This post is a chunk of the sticky one above, cobbled into a separate one now that its due place in my backlog has been reached.]

So, in December 2012, a short piece of mine that I mentioned here a while back emerged, a reflective piece on blogging called “Views, Comments and Statistics: Gauging and Engaging the Audience of Medievalist Blogging”, which came out in Literature Compass of all places, something which becomes more comprehensible when you see that it is part of a whole special issue called E-medieval: Teaching, Research, and the Net, with numerous very familiar figures in it… It is, as ever, an honour to appear in such august company for the few who can get at the journal, which has included Brandon Hawk of Modern Medieval, where he long ago reviewed the issue, so if you can’t read the article, you can at least read that! (Full citation, though: Jonathan Jarrett, “Views, Comments and Statistics: Gauging and Engaging the Audience of Medievalist Blogging”, Literature Compass Vol. 9 Issue 12 (Oxford 2012), pp. 991-995, DOI: 10.1111/lic3.12016.)

Name in the Book Somewhere I

[This post cobbled from the sticky one above now that due sequence has been reached in the backlog.]

In November 2012, the first of two chickens that had been out of the hutch for a very long time finally came in to roost. This was a volume with which I have had a complicated relationship, Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages, edited by Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes and Adam Kosto (Cambridge 2013). If you dig far enough back in this blog you can find me talking about the Lay Archives Project, of which this volume is the fruit, because I did some database work for Matthew Innes, my then-supervisor, which was supposed to contribute to it. In the end it did not, and this is not the place to tell my side of that story, not least because there are others, but nonetheless, I put work towards this book, it now exists, it’s fantastically interesting if you want to know about how people used and thought about documents in the early Middle Ages (and I assume that if you’re reading this you probably do), and if you look carefully enough, you can find my name in it, and I thank them for that as well as for, you know, actually writing it!

Name in Lights VII & Print XII

Cover of Writing History in the Digital Age, ed. by Kristen Nawrotski & Jack Dougherty

Cover of Writing History in the Digital Age, ed. by Kristen Nawrotzki & Jack Dougherty

Some of the announcements I make here, despite backlog, deserve to be made while they’re still current. Such a one is this, though even it is a bit behind-hand: very shortly after my arrival in the new post described below, there emerged a volume edited by Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty called Writing History in the Digital Age. This volume has had an interesting history, because it’s very largely been written and edited in public view online here. They solicited some contributions, got given others, had a couple of dedicated reviewers go through them but also let the authors see each others’ work (for once! why is this not done more often, and why does it make so little difference normally when it is?) and accepted comments from the open web too. These were surprisingly useful, and I know because I’m in it, and as I’ve recounted before wound up as a result in a collaboration I had never expected with a co-author I may never meet. In any case: the results are out, and because it’s in the University of Michigan Press’s digitalculturebooks imprint that means you can read it for free on the web here. Oddly, the title page names no authors, so you would have to be told that my/our piece is near the bottom, entitled, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy”. This may be a direct link to that essay, which is an oddly difficult thing to do. I suppose they would like you to buy the print version, which I believe exists and of which I am hoping some day to receive one.1 In the meantime, though, as well as our piece I would especially recommend the several pieces on teaching with Wikipedia, something many of us may have thought of doing but fewer met the complications and teaching points involved in trying. The whole thing’s pretty good, though, and well worth some browsing time I think. I humbly recommend it to the readership…

Boring statistics: three drafts of my original version, still visible here, and three of the combined one but thrashed out in only two fairly frantic days in 2012; submission of final text to appearance, 1 year 8 months, not bad by the standards of the Academy alas. I still think it’s worth noting these things, because especially when you’re writing about the Internet, as I know all too well, content dates fast. I hope we’re still more or less of relevance, though.


1. Yes, there is still apparently a market for print works about the Internet. Have fun typing in those URLs… Full citation: Alex Sayf Cummings & Jonathan Jarrett, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy” in Writing History in the Digital Age, edd. Kristen Nawrotzki & Jack Dougherty, digitalculturebooks (Detroit 2013), pp. 246-258, doi:10.3998/dh.12230987.0001.001.

Name in Lights V

[This is cobbled down from the sticky post above so that, if I ever get this blog properly sorted out, the notice will be at the right place in the timestream. Sorry if you've read it already. On the other hand, maybe now your interest is sufficiently piqued to follow the link?]

Cover of Reinhard Härtel's Notarielle und kirchliche Urkunden in hohen und frühen Mittelalter

Cover of Reinhard Härtel’s Notarielle und kirchliche Urkunden in hohen und frühen Mittelalter

In June 2012, the world was `enriched’ by another of my reviews, of Reinhard Härtel’s Notarielle und kirchliche Urkunden im frühen und hohen Mittelalter (Wien 2011), which came out in The Medieval Review 12.06.21, and you can read that here. The book is useful but oddly-built; my review has, for better or worse, been described as a “Jarrett classic”. Have a look and see if you can determine what that person meant…

New masters, and other things not yet announced

So, OK, two evenings ago I sent the final proofs of Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters off to the publishers along with the index, and that was only the most urgent thing of about twenty I still have to do, but one of those is certainly to deliver the promised news that the last three posts haven’t contained. So, the quick way seems best: when the book comes out, my affiliation in it will be University of Birmingham, because it is they who have kindly taken me on as a Lecturer in Medieval History for the next little while. So that’s the big news: Jarrett finally leaves the Golden Triangle, and not before time. Everyone I’ve had dealings with in the department so far has been really nice and I’m looking forward to it, though just now I’m mainly looking forward to the move being over.

Aerial view of Edgbaston campus, Birmingham University

Aerial view of Edgbaston campus, Birmingham University

I will not conceal that for quite a lot of this year I’ve been fairly sure I was going to have to leave the profession at the end of this month, and indeed I’d started applying for non-academic jobs and had even been interviewed for one when this came up. Many of you who know me will have heard my various spiels about what seems to be happening here, but I will keep them out of this post. I have stub posts written about some of these issues, and given how backlogged I am, whether or not I reach them before I am back on the market is somewhat uncertain. (For that reason, I’m figuring that this post, which is actually current, should probably be left `sticky’ at the top while I fill in backlogged content beneath, so take a look below and see if what follows this post is familiar!)

Instead, I shall use this opportunity to get the other various bits of backlogged news that lurk in the queue up and current too, and those are all about publication. Apart from the, er, five book chapters I have even now in press, somehow, several lesser bits of my work have actually come out where you can see them during the backlogged period, and they are as follows.

Name in the book somewhere II

This was a rather larger chicken finally come home to roost, to wit Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013). There’s no secret here about the labour I’ve poured into this; it was in fact the thing I subsisted on after finishing the Lay Archives work, and it was mostly wrapped up and ready to go in 2006 when I got the full-time job at the Fitzwilliam that would, in the end, keep me going for four and a half years. When explaining to people some of the reasons why the volume still then took seven years to appear, I have taken to starting with, “Well, the two surviving authors…” Death, life-threatening illness, divorce, pregnancy, unannounced changes of contact details, unemployment and over-employment (especially this last) have all played their part in delaying the work of the various parties involved, even to the very last minute—a launch party had to be cancelled because of a sudden family illness, but unbeknownst to authors or editors the book was already on sale anyway—and I think the most amazing thing is that all parties involved have always been reasonable and pleasant to deal with, whatever the new problem was that had arisen. Anyway, it exists, and this is a great comfort to me, as not only do I actually have my name over two small parts of it (well, one small one and the Bibliography, which I think I contributed about a tenth of) but at some point or other in my role as copy-editor and then series editor I’ve probably changed or moved almost every word in it. It’s not my work, but it has been one of my labours, for sure.

Those curious about such matters will probably also want to know how things stand with the rest of the series, and to that I can say from the inside, with suitable caution, that volume 12, which covers Northern Italy and is by Andrea Saccocci, Michael Matzke and William Day Jr, is scheduled to be next and is in its final stages now, and that volume 10, on Scandinavia, by Jørgen Steen Jensen, has been making reliable and steady progress for years and will also soon be finished, we hope, after which it becomes a contest between Britain and the Low Countries to be next. What’s the timescale, you no doubt ask, and fair enough, but you understand that in 2006, there was no way, it was quite frankly impossible to conceive that MEC 6 was seven years away from publication. What could possibly go that far wrong? If I had not lived and worked through those seven years, I would now say: there is no way the next volume can be more than a year away. But I did, so I won’t, because if I do it probably can…

Name in Print XI

Then lastly, for now, in April 2013 I achieved a personal first by getting published in Spain, and indeed, in Castilian, though that last came as something of a surprise to me when I got my copy as my text was English when I sent it in… The item in question was again only a review, this time of Scale and Scale Change in the Early Middle Ages, edited by Julio Escalona and Andrew Reynolds, The Medieval Countryside 6 (Turnhout 2012), which was a hard thing to review, because I know and respect many of the people in it, not least Julio and Andrew themselves and also Wendy Davies, and yet I didn’t want to just wave it by without reflection. Parts of it are in fact important and very interesting, but… If you want to see how I balanced these imperatives, you can in theory find it in Historia Agraria Vol. 59 (Valencia 2013), pp. 193-197. I have no digital copy, or I’d upload it somewhere, but maybe I’ll just scan it. And with that, you know as much as I do about my available works, so let’s see what comes out next!

Seminars CXXXVIII-CXLI: busy in Oxford

The title is true of the present and the past, for I continue very busy even now that term has stopped. We will not speak of job applications, but even without that and purely domestic affairs, over the last week I have:

What I have not done is written blog, as you have noticed and may also now understand. So, let me change that by giving an unfairly rapid account of four Oxford seminars from last May, connected by nothing more than their location and my interest but perhaps also yours!

Scylla and Charybdis

On the 7th May 2012, the speaker at the Medieval History Seminar in Oxford was Dr Paul Oldfield, now of Manchester, and his title was: “A Bridge to Salvation or Entrance to the Underworld? Southern Italy and International Pilgrimage”. This picked up and played with the facts that as pilgrimage to the Holy Land grew more and more important from roughly 1000 onwards, Italy became equally crucial to it as a point of embarkation for those going by sea, which was most people going, but that this enlarged transient population also bred an alternative economy of banditry and ransoming. Pilgrimage was of course supposed to involve suffering, though maybe not quite like that, and this seems to have bred stories that also greatly exaggerated its natural dangers, especially concentrated around the very busy and notoriously tricky Straits of Messina but also, for example, Vesuvius (3 known eruptions 1000-1200) and Etna (probably rather more). Classical literature that plays with these places as gateways to the bowels of the Earth was well-known to the kind of people who would write about these things. The result was, argued Dr Oldfield, that one might wind up unexpectedly meeting one’s Maker en route (and dying on pilgrimage was reckoned a pretty good way to go, in terms of one’s likely destination) but some of the things that might kill you were gates to Hell, at least as they were talked about, making Southern Italy an uncertain and liminal zone that reflected the status, decontextualised, uprooted and vagrant, of those among whom these stories circulated. This was all good fun and of course anything involving Italy always has splendid pictures, here especially of the pilgrim-favoured church San Nicola di Bari, so here it is for you below.

Basilica of San Nicola di Bari

First-world problems

Next, on the 9th, Paul Harvey, emeritus of Durham I understand, came to the Medieval Social and Economic Seminar to talk to the title, “How to Manage Your Landed Estate in the Eleventh Century”. That sounded as if it should interest me, so along I went. Professor Harvey was looking for the kind of problems that manorial surveys indicate big English landowners were meeting before the end of the twelfth century, and observed several in them some considerable difficulty with actually defining demesne in terms of how its labour or revenues were organised differently from anywhere else. He wound up arguing that in England demesne land was really a late eleventh-century invention, and that the surveys’ expectations were all quite new. On the other hand, that doesn’t appear to have been a time of great change in land organisation or settlement nucleation, or so says Professor Harvey, and what might really have been happening is simply that the choice between direct extraction and leasing was made on the basis of what was convenient given the existing settlement patterns, but that the surveys themselves might be changing things by defining more closely who was responsible for what renders. In either case, using them as windows on earlier land use is probably dodgy! This mainly seemed to meet with people’s approval but it seemed to me that this must, if it’s happening, also be the point at which the Anglo-Saxon hide ceased to be a useful land-measure, as it was based on a standard yield. Land that could produce that yield was a hide; if yield went up, the hide got smaller. You can’t easily measure land like that, especially if you’re trying to change the obligations of a hide. When I raised this Ros Faith pointed out that Domesday Book uses plough-teams anyway, so I suppose it was kind of an obvious point, but I was glad to have thought it out anyway.

Buildings of opposition

The church and/or palace of Santa Maria del Naranco, Oviedo

The next week, speaker to the Medieval History Seminar was Isaac Sastre Diego, developing the work on which he’d presented earlier that year to the Medieval Archaeology Seminar. Here he took a group of Asturian monumental churches, Santa Maria del Naranco (above), San Miguel de Lillo, Santa Cristina de Lena and one or two others, that have distinct royal connections. The first and third have been called palaces, the former by modern historians and the latter in the seventeenth century when it’s first documented, but Isaac argued that they need to be seen as exclusive royal chapels in which perhaps the king himself was officiant, since the two `palaces’ both have altars in but no clear separation of space for the clergy. Isaac saw this as a deliberately new kind of display initiated by King Ramiro I (who is named in an inscription on the altar at Naranco) to deal with the similarly new monumentality of the rule of Emir ‘Abd al-Rahman II in Córdoba, perhaps also the Carolingians and most of all their probable candidate for the throne whom Ramiro had defeated, Nepotian (whom as we know would later be recorded as a lord of wizards). Isaac sees these sites as buildings of opposition, in which an explicit differentiation was made between the new r´gime and its competition both in the past and at the time. Discussion, especially with Rob Portass, brought out the extra dimension that at Oviedo, where the first two of these sites are, they would have been in explicit distinction to the cathedral and royal place of King Alfonso II, which were in the city while these still perch on the hills above. Chris Wickham suggested that San Vicenzo al Volturno might be seen as another such opposition building, which works for me. I had expected not to get much out of this seminar because of the earlier related one and in fact it was really thought-provoking, so I hope it gets published where I can easily find it.

Twelfth-century monastic xenophobia

Last in this batch, the same place a week later was graced by Professor Rod Thomson, with a paper called, “‘The Dane broke off his continuous drinking bouts, the Norwegian left his diet or raw fish’: William of Malmesbury on the Scandinavians”, which is hard to beat as is much of William’s work, which of course has mostly been edited by Professor Thomson. William was here talking about the Scandinavian response to the Crusades, where he gets unusually ethnographic, but as you see not necessarily without an agenda. As far as William was concerned these nations were still barbarian, and would be that way till they learnt civilisation, however orthodox and devout their Christian beliefs might be. This was a communicable disease, too, barbarians being more resistant to acculturation than those among whom they came to live! Most of the paper was however an exegesis of William’s method of using his sources, which was neither uncritical nor reverent but highly intelligent. There was even a suggestion that William might have had access to some saga material. This raised various intelligent questions, one obvious one being what he thought he was himself in ethnic terms, to which the answer seemed to be `the best of both English and Norman and thus neither’, and another being that of how far his sources and his audiences shaped his attitudes, which there wasn’t really time to resolve. It’s always impressive to hear someone who’s really lived inside a text without turning into an apologist speak about it, though, and Professor Thomson got points for this and also for being almost 100% unlike what I expected him to be like from his writing alone, all of which only goes to show that it’s not just the cover of a book one can’t judge by, both for William and his editor…

Right, that should do for this time; next time, much more than you probably want to read about mills, with footnotes sufficient for anyone who’s been wondering where they’ve been these last two posts! À bientôt!

Name in print IX & X

While I wait for information to reach me that will enable the next in our very delayed series of seminar reports, it’s about time I returned to the blog’s primary purpose, that being of course to publicise me and my work. 26th March—yes, I’m as badly behind with the personal stuff as the seminar reports—was a big day for publication-related milestones. I sent off the second submission version of what will now become Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, editors me and the inestimable Allan Scott McKinley; I received notice that Paul Freedman, no less, had reviewed my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010 in Catholic Historical Review,1 and then when I got to my pigeonhole in college I found this in it!

Cover of volume 1 issue 2 of The Mediæval Journal

This is issue 2 of volume 1 of St Andrews’s new medieval flagship, The Mediaeval Journal, and I’m pleased to say that the first twenty-one pages of it contain my “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III”, a revised and improved version of my 2010 paper from the Leeds International Medieval Congress.2 That allows me to do my usual count of statistics and say: 3 drafts total, of which only 2 for actual publication; Brepols, who publish TMJ, have excellent copy-editors in whose hands I’m pleased now to have Problems and Possibilities, though I still wish the third round of changes they asked for had actually been input but hey; and, all-importantly, time from first submission to publication, 18 months, which is just about a quarter below average, so I’m pleased with it—I think it’s a good article, too, but it was also easy to get through the process of publishing it.

First page of Jarrett, `Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimization on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III`

Larger version linked through

Cover of Brent H. Nelson & Melissa Terras (edd.), Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture

Then, of course, it’s been so long I’ve taken to mention that that meanwhile, still more has emerged from the pipeline, though this is a piece with a rather long history and my first ever piece of published co-writing. It originated in an international project that involved the Fitzwilliam Museum when I was still working there, and whose findings I was invited to take to a conference in Vienna in 2008 that I mentioned here, but so late that I couldn’t get into the conference proceedings, which were of the sort that get published simultaneously with the conference.3 Subsequently I saw a suitable-looking call for papers on the Heroic Age blog, thanks guys, and was lucky enough to have the paper accepted. Somewhere in there we all had to admit that what I was primarily doing here was writing up other people’s research in reasonably accessible English and so the people who’d done the actual work got their names added, they being Sebastian Zambanini, Reinhold Huber-Mörk and Achille Felicetti, of a number more who might have been named if they’d chosen, and the result, finally, is a chapter called “Coinage, Digitization and the World-Wide Web: numismatics and the COINS Project” in that above handsome blue-cloth volume, which is entitled Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture, New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and was heroically edited by Brent H. Nelson and Melissa Terras, who have been commendably good-humoured about a print process that has, well, taken long enough to make most digital work outdated.4 (Improvements to Google Image Search have certainly taken some of the zing out of ours, and the fact that the website on which all the project’s downloads were uploaded has now gone and its EU domain been camped by an insurance scammer is also something that time has wrought in defiance of what I actually cited, but what this means is of course that now this paper is about the only way you can find this stuff out…) Statistics here are: 5 drafts, I’m no longer sure how, and two sets of revisions, and time from first submission to publication, well, 3 years 8 months, no easy way to get round that. Still, it’s there, making my CV a weirder place, and it’s in the volume with some really exciting stuff, too, which it’s great to be included amongst. So, there we are, my name continues to be in print and there’s more a-coming, and by the time that emerges, maybe I’ll be announcing things on time again! Or, maybe not…


1. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (Woodbridge 2010), reviewed by Paul Freedman in Catholic Historical Review Vol. 98 (Washington DC 2010), pp. 93-94, DOI:10.1353/cat.2012.0074.

2. Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: Strategies of Legitimization on the Spanish March in the Reign of Lothar III” in The Mediæval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout 2012 for 2011), pp. 1-22, DOI:10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535.

3. Robert Sablatnig, James Hemsley, Paul Kammerer, Ernestine Zolda & Johann Stockinger (eds), Digital Cultural Heritage – Essential for Tourism. Proceedings of the 2nd EVA 2008 Vienna Conference, Vienna, August 25-28, 2008, books@ocg.at 238 (Vienna 2008).

4. Jonathan Jarrett, Sebastian Zambanini, Reinhold Huber-Mörk and Achille Felicetti, “Coinage, Digitization and the World-Wide Web: numismatics and the COINS Project” in Brent H. Nelson & Melissa Terras (edd.), Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture, New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Tempe: University of Arizona Press 2012), pp. 459-489. No, neither of the books about digitization are online, what would the point in that be, I don’t understand, world-wide what? etc….

Aside

At the end of 2010, though suddenly I had all the publications in the world, I was a bit worried that now there was nothing much left in the pipe and my CV would have a nasty gap for 2011. … Continue reading

“There are many roads to the great good we seek”

[Written partly offline on the bus between Oxford and Cambridge, 18/04/2012]

Over the last year, in the world of actual academia I seem to have written more about research methods than about the results of actual research, including two papers about blogging. I’m not sure what’s scarier, the fact that there is, eighteen years after my first introduction to the Internet, still a market for printed work about it,1 or that running a blog makes me a viable contributor to that literature. Nonetheless, there are two, one loosely based on the paper I gave in Siena now forthcoming in Literature Compass, and another piece with a more complicated genesis still under review.2 That genesis is interesting, in fact, as far as new media publishing goes (still, some might say, not very far): if accepted, it will be part of a ‘born-digital’ volume whose review process has up till now been done on the open web, at a site named for its prospective title, Writing History in the Digital Age. Here, various contributors, invited or responding to a CFP, were invited to post essays on more-or-less agreed topics (mine being blogging) and then several readers selected by the editors, as well as anyone else who wanted to, weighed in with comments. Feeling as if it was part of my role as a contributor, I actually read all of it, which is when this post became the stub that it’s taken me many months to fill out, but never mind that now; there’s some very interesting stuff in the volume and if you’re on this kind of new media humanities wavelength I do advise you to browse. Let me just finish talking about me first though, and then about one of those ‘nothing is ever new’ moments one sometimes gets that one of the essays there gave me.3


(Ultimately everyone is deriving from Chuck Berry anyway, right?)

My first go at a contribution for this volume was decidedly second-rate; I wasn’t sure that the editors knew what they wanted from me, and I wasn’t sure there was anything much of rigour or weight to be said about blogging as a historiographical enterprise anyway. Then I got asked to do the Literature Compass piece, which made me write at least a bit more seriously, and reading the other essays contributed to this volume generally forced me to buck my ideas up. Firstly, they introduced me to a welter of scholarship on digital humanities I had somehow managed to ignore, and secondly they showed me a number of contributions that were saying genuinely insightful things about the way we work and can work with these new tools in the æther. I decided I actually wanted in on this thing and therefore rewrote with a much better grounding in that scholarship and also an actual argument, and you can at time of writing see that version here; it’s kind of my current definitive statement on academic blogging in history, in as much as I don’t know what would have to happen for me to change my mind, well, apart from blog posts and readership figures officially counting towards academic promotion. (Tl;dr: they never will while peer review is still how we govern entry into the Academy.) What then happened was that the editors had more good stuff than would fit between the covers they were allowed to pitch for by their prospective press, and so winnowed thoroughly. What I had written crossed the tail-end of another contributor’s essay and so we were asked to make our two 5,000-word pieces, which disagreed over crucial issues, into one co-authored 4,000-word one. This request, you can imagine, I met with a certain amount of offline vituperation, as I felt I’d said what I wanted to say, and I might well have ignored it had not the other contributor, a gentleman or at least a scholar called Alex Sayf Cummings,4 who also hath a blog, got in touch and asked what I thought. Putting aside my spleen, I came up with a suggested best-of structure, he refined it, I built it out of the parts of what we’d written then we both refined, deleted, joined up and generally edited till we had something we were both happy with. It shouldn’t really have worked but I think it’s a better essay than mine alone was, and it at least doesn’t do him any disservice, I hope. (It’s here, at the moment, if you’re interested.) It’s been a weird way to work, and I don’t know if I’m ever likely to meet my now-co-author, but if it does come out I shall be quite pleased with it.

Alex Sayf Cummings faculty mugshot

Have you seen this man?

So that’s all been interesting, but it’s very far from being the only interesting thing in the volume, so do have a look. I was, however, especially struck by this bit from “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories: Reflections on 10,000 Digital Notecards” by Ansley T. Erickson:

It makes sense that historians would think about categories, as we encounter them in many ways in our work. As new graduate students, we learn to identify ourselves by sub-field – “I do history of gender,” or “I’m an Americanist.” And we are trained implicitly and explicitly to organize information and causal explanations into categories of analysis – race, class, gender, sexuality, politics, space, etc – when in fact these categories are never so neat and separate, whether in an individual’s life or in a historical moment. Then we research in archives that establish and reify their own categories – legal records divided by plaintiff or defendant, institutions that keep their records with an eye to confirming their power or reinforcing their independence. To make sense of a sometimes overwhelming volume of fact, all of which needs to be analyzed relationally, we rely on categories that we create as we work – like my database keywords.

This matter of categories connects to at least two fields of scholarship. Scholars of the history of knowledge like Peter Burke have examined the organizational schemes embodied in curricula, in libraries, in encyclopedias, and have shown us how these structures and taxonomies represent particular ways of seeing the world. Burke then shows that such schemes reify or naturalize those ways of seeing, helping to reproduce the view of the world from which they came. They also make some kinds of information more, or less, accessible.

Think, for example, of the encyclopedia. We are accustomed to its A to Z organization of topics, but this structure in fact represented a break away from previous reference formats that grouped subjects under a structure of classical disciplines. The alphabetized encyclopedia came about at a point when the previous disciplinary categories were no longer so stable as to be able to contain growing knowledge, and a new, more horizontal or less hierarchical model took their place, a model that allowed readers access to information by topic, outside of the hierarchies of a discipline. Burke points us to the importance of how we categorize information, where these categories come from, and how categorizations affect our access to and experience of information.

And there’s more here. Now, call me an old hippy if you will, but isn’t that quite like this?

Since Aristotle, man has organized his knowledge vertically in separate and unrelated groups — Science, Religion, Sex, Relaxation, Work etc. The main emphasis in his language, his system of storing knowledge, has been on the identification of objects rather than on the relationships between objects. He is now forced to use his tools of reasoning separately and for one situation at a time. Had man been able to see past this hypnotic way of thinking, to distrust it (as did Einstein), and to resystematize his knowledge so that it would all be related horizontally, he would now enjoy the perfect sanity which comes from being able to deal with his life in its entirety.

Now this latter perpetrates the Great Greek Myth and so on, but bear in mind the context: it’s a liner note from the first album by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, a Texas band with a chequered and short history who have some claim to the title of the USA’s first psychedelic band. It is, ineluctably, from 1967. But its relevance to re-envisioning the humanities might not be as surprising as it seems, given that this was a band whose lyrics were written by a would-be poet and whose signature acid manifesto, ‘Step Inside This House’, is actually a Coleridge filk, even if also that it is a general depressing tendency of listening to late sixties and early seventies rock that almost none of the social and political issues it’s about have ameliorated. But I’m figuring, all the same, that this is a reference point that isn’t going to make it into the academic literature any time soon, more’s the pity. Because it’s as the title says, in the words offered to the Roman Emperor Theodosius Valentinian II [edit: oops] by the senator Symmachus when the emperor proposed to close the last pagan temples, there are many roads to the great good we seek, and sometimes they seem to meet up.5 Still not convinced? First extract written by one Ansley Erickson; the Elevators’ singer, one Roky Erickson. I’m telling you man: once you look at it the right way it’s all connected


1. I’d have thought it was all said in Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: a Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/, but apparently technology develops!

2. It will hopefully be Jonathan Jarrett, “Views, Comments and Statistics: Gauging and Engaging the Audience of Medievalist Blogging” in Literature Compass (Oxford forthcoming).

3. For which I might now cite Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture (Cambridge MA 2006), about which I had no idea before getting involved in this.

4 He may well be a gentleman! But not having met him, I don’t want to presume; it’s not, after all, a title I feel I own either.

5. You’ll notice that this seems to more of a periphrasis than a translation, the version that the IMSB link gives (“One road alone does not suffice to so great a Mystery!”) being closer to canon. I’m not sure where I got this translation from; I’ve had it in my head since doing undergraduate work on paganism and Christianity in my second year, but I obviously didn’t find room for it in either of the pieces of coursework I did then because it’s not there. It seems likely to me that I’ve borrowed it either from Ramsay MacMullen, Paganism in the Roman Empire (New Haven 1981), Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians in the mediterranean world from the second century AD to the conversion of Constantine (London 1986, 2nd edn. 2006) or Jocelyn Hillgarth (transl.), Christianity and Paganism, 350-750. The conversion of Western Europe (Philadelphia 1986), the first and last of which I remember fondly but not with enough clarity to be sure…

Leeds 2011 Report 4 and final

[Written offline on the same trip to Birmingham as previous.]

The last day of Leeds was made extra-special for me, as had the last day of Kalamazoo been both this year and the last—it’s stopped being funny now and my have something to do with my decision not to present at either next year—by having to be up first thing in the morning after the dance to make sure my sessions ran OK, including, you know, my own paper. Basically the whole of the rest of Leeds for me was the Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic sessions and then missing booksellers with whom I’d reserved stuff, and finally goodbyes. So, the latter two need no discussion here and the former is quickly dealt with, thus!

1507. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: royal charters and royal representatives

Portrait of Charles the Bald in the so-called Vivian Bible

Portrait of Charles the Bald in the so-called Vivian Bible

  • Alaric Trousdale, “Some Thoughts on the Charters of King Eadred, 946-55″
  • Shigeto Kikuchi, “How High the King? Monarchical Representation in Carolingian Royal Charters”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Taking it to the March: Carolingian justice in 9th-century Girona”
  • Attendance was surprisingly good given the circumstances; even Alaric turned up eventually… But seriously folks: this was a pleasant mix of new and old because, well, you know, I was there at the start of these sessions and presented in every one of the six years they ran; Alaric was an early adopter; and Shigeto had only just met us all. Alaric showed indisputably that there is more that can be said about the politics of Eadred’s rule of England than what’s in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (though even there I think he shows up pretty well, consistently defeating all comers); Shigeto used both charters and art history to demonstrate that Carolingian kings or their clerks probably really did have a policy about what titles they used in describing their power in their documents, which was excellent—diplomatic and art history should meet more often—and then there was mine. I’ve already said I didn’t think much of mine: it was a game attempt to make something of a research question that didn’t come good, and I had to try and argue a trend from three instances of my chosen phenomenon (shifts in the representation of royal power at court hearings in Girona) because that was all there were. But hey, it made for a couple of good blog posts.

1607. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, II: members and margins

"Representation of the medieval social network with force directed algorithm", Boulet et al., "Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis", fig. 1

  • Julie Hofmann, “Women and Witnessing under the Carolingians: a reappraisal”
  • Arkady Hodge, “When is a Charter not a Charter? Documents in Non-Conventional Contexts in Early Medieval Europe”
  • Fabrice Rossi and Nathalie Villa-Vialaneix, “Exploration of a Large Database of Charters with Social Network Methods”
  • This session was, in all ways, a bit less traditional in its modes. Julie was raising difficult questions about the assumptions people have made about what women were and weren’t allowed to do, in terms of dealing with property and being generally legally active, and even beginning to answer them using her forthcoming database of the material from Carolingian-period Fulda. Then, you may have occasionally heard, especially if you work on Ireland, Scotland or Bavaria, of property transfers being written into Gospel books or similarly solemn but non-documentary contexts. But wait: Scotland… and Bavaria? And in fact more widely than that, which is what Arkady was showing: he argued strongly that when you have this many instances of a weird oddity, we probably have to stop thinking it’s odd, which will mean actually thinking about it! And lastly Fabrice, who was the one of this pair actually giving the paper (though weirdly I met Nathalie at the next conference I went to), made a complex system with lots of maths in it understandable to a lay audience and I think left them fairly excited that they could probably get something new out of their datasets, however large, using this kind of technology. This is not easy to do, and he did it well, even though he was speaking in his second language, so I was impressed. And, of course, that this paper even exists is ultimately down to this blog post, and it may the most academic impact this blog’s ever had (unless stories of students printing posts for study purposes are actually true, which would be worrying). So it closes a circle or two to have ended with it.

Because that was the end of the Problems and Possibilities sessions, and I think it genuinely is the end. We certainly aren’t running any next year, whoever `we’ would be, and I don’t think it’s needed. Though we’ve managed to rally every time, it’s often been a struggle to get speakers for these, but this year that was because a lot of people who might have been interested were already presenting in other related sessions. There were other sessions dedicated to being clever about charter evidence. It would be nice to think we’d started a trend—maybe we did, maybe we were just on one—but at the very least it is no longer up to us, and specifically me, to keep it trending. So, for now, Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic ran from 2006 to 2011, inclusive, and thankyou to all who helped it do so.

But it doesn’t end with the sessions, folks! The reason that blogging has been so sporadic of immediate late is actually exactly the opposite of that. After the peak year in 2007 when we had nine papers and a tremendous audience, my co-organiser Allan Scott McKinley observed, “If people want to hear this stuff we should really think about publishing it!” and he was of course right, as I have found he usually is. It has just taken us a while, for various reasons, to get round to it.1 But the other thing that happened at this Leeds was that we got given a deadline to come up with a book by our prospective publishers, and that deadline was December 31st. Yowch! It is of immense credit to our planned contributors that only one of the seventeen of them did not agree to try and meet this, and all but one have in fact managed it at time of writing despite immense odds against in several cases. I owe them each a considerable debt. I typed this on the way to and from meeting with Allan, now my co-editor as well, and as a result of that meeting I can say that I’m pretty sure this thing is going to happen, and that it will be pretty damn good. There’s two chapters here I already wish I could set for my students, they’re so helpful, and a bunch of other interesting things too. I won’t plug it in detail yet: firstly it has to go through full review still, and secondly it’s not yet clear exactly what the running order will be, but as well as the last two blog posts I wrote two thousand words of introduction today while perched on Allan’s sofa and this reaffirms in me the conviction I’ve had every time I pile this stuff up and look at it; this will be an exciting volume, which I think may be an unusual boast about something to do with charters. So look out for more as we have it. And that will have been the final upshot of my Leeds 2011 conference experience.


1. And I believe I still owe Kathleen Neal several drinks (or one big drink) for helping dispel one of those reasons without offence to anyone.