Monthly Archives: December 2006

Creative anachronism

CM.RI.1638-R reverse

“193 A. D. Emperor Pertinax’s unconventional dress at the wicket soon led to his being dropped from the Roman international cricket team.”

Public appearances

I’ve just sent mail to Alan Thacker confirming 7 February 2007 as the date for my paper at the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar next term. I’ve no idea if anyone reading this might wish to go (in fact I have no idea if anyone is reading this full stop, just yet) but the IHR is welcoming and the discussion should be good. The paper will be the one I was reading Don Claudio for (and still am indeed). The sidebar is updated with full working title and link to the above page, which should be refreshed with new schedule fairly soon.

In other news further off, I’ve also learnt that the people organising Leeds IMC 2007 have accepted the triple session proposal that Allan Scott McKinley, Martin Ryan and I put forward, which is our first step towards taking over the whole IMC. We’ll be taking up three-quarters of the first day, and I have to free up some time to write the paper, which will be original research and requires quite a lot of digging round in charter formularies, in an effort to find out whence Catalonia got its documentary styles and thus say something about its takeover by the Franks. Title currently “Uncertain Origins: comparing the earliest documentary culture in Carolingian Catalonia”, but it may not stay like this as so far I have only the beginnings of it.

It should be good, all the same, and a deal more solid than my last year’s Leeds paper, so I thought there was no harm in mentioning it.

Don Claudio

Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz as President of the Republic of Spain in Exile

The work to revise the paper that I’m currently working on, which contrasts evidence for popular, er, expressions of ethnicity from personal names supplied by charters from early tenth-century León with those to which students are more used based on the late-ninth century chronicles of Asturias, has led me inexorably to actually having to get to grips with some of the voluminous work of Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz. I had in some sense been avoiding this: when I first began work on Spain it was very much in an area where his convictions (about depopulation and repopulation) were being thrown out by scholars such as (especially) Eduardo Manzano Moreno, and so it was possible to manage without digging into it very far. Also, and partly because of his own polemic style I guess, those refuting him were not above pointing out his rather, er, unfashionably 1930s-style political views, which also made him someone I didn’t want to have to deal with yet. But mainly it was the sheer volume of output that was offputting: observe that the bibliography I linked to above has 23 different monographs in it, and though probably half of them are reprints of papers and older material, multiply overlapping and making each other part-way redundant in a way that the music re-release industry would be proud of, the others aren’t. Various aspects of his thinking seem to reoccur in different versions through all these works, however, and I now realise that the breadth of citation from his work by his followers is at least partly down to those followers selecting the particular presentation of one of his theses which best suits their particular point.

This makes him much easier to cite and agree with than to refute. Pretty much anything you want him to have said is out there somewhere, in an arrogant and brash summary of the conclusions of some previous work which actually puts a very distinct spin on that work’s contents. Things that were established as strong possibilities he appears to have considered proven if left unchallenged (or not challenged well enough) for long enough, like a kind of historiographical version of the 30-Year Rule. So whatever you want him to have said, he probably did put into print at one point or another during his fifty-year exile from the documents on which he based his work.

When you come to want to refute it, however, you go back to the original studies on which the brash assertions rely, and run into trouble. There, the conclusions are advanced more carefully, with a great deal of phrases like “muy probable”, “sin embargo” and “no es probada”. But the setting out of evidence behind them is painstaking to the point of pedantry, and almost entirely inarguable. His view, except in the case of assertions about racial characteristics perhaps, is always supported, and all you can do is suggest variant interpretations. Worse, you find that the points you wanted to make against his statements were actually anticipated and given a nod of consideration in this work, so that if you want to be fair in attribution you now have to cite Don Claudio in detail to support your own contentions that argue against him in general.

I am therefore learning respect for the man and his work, which was approximately the last thing I anticipated when I picked it up. More fool me perhaps: one doesn’t become an institution of a nation’s learning without knowing a thing or two. At the same time, it’s very difficult to get anything past him, and he’s been dead twenty-three years and venerably repetitive for many previous. Apart from the forty-year exile there must be worse careers to have had.

Medieval European Coinage 6

One of the various things I have in my hands at the Fitzwilliam Museum is the copy-editing and final preparation of the volume of Philip Grierson’s Medieval European Coinage series covering the Iberian peninsula, which is being written for us by Miquel Crusafont i Sabater and Anna Balaguer. This may threaten us with it being completely ignored by non-Catalans but it seemed a wise choice to Philip, and he knew his stuff.

I mention this merely because tomorrow the last thing I can do with it until the final corrections come back from Miquel and Anna will be done, so if by some freak of a chance your teeth have been gnashing for lack of a substantial textbook in English on Iberian numismatics, I’m sorry but it’s not (currently) my fault.

“So many books, so little time”

I recently wandered through the first part of an article (well: it was in a volume with other pieces, so even though it’s close on four hundred pages I guess it must still be an article, yes?) from 1994 by Carlos de Ayala Martínez (“Relaciones de propiedad y estructura económica de reino de León: los marcos de producción agraria y el trabajo campesino (850-1230)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media VI, Fuentes y Estudios de Historia Leonesa 53 (León 1994), pp. 135-410, since you ask). I only read the first section, a mere hundred and twenty pages, because it wasn’t actually that I got the volume out of the library for, but it seemed too relevant to pass by and you know, I’m here to learn. In fact it was a useful breakdown sorting rural settlement and production relations (Marxism lite) into analytical categories based on the documents’ own semantics, and it will doubtless make a useful thing to cite, but that, as Arlo Guthrie said, “isn’t what I came to tell you about”.

He cites a vast number of rural history monographs. I don’t survey literature from other areas as often as I should, but it seems to me a particular characteristic of Spanish historiography that these things proliferate so. An initial and perhaps uncharitable assumption is that most of these are doctoral theses reset for publication, each on the author’s own little area which he or she knows better than anyone else and anywhere else. And often a senior academic, the supervisor perhaps, also turns up as involved: José Angel García de Cortazar y Ruiz de Aguirre in particular is a name who crops up again and again (it is a name that’s hard to miss). But I know from other reading that often it is just monograph after monograph from the same pen: in Catalonia Jordi Bolòs i Masclans is another proliferator, Regesta Imperii may only have two monographs for him but I know of at least two more. He has a slight advantage in being an actual digging archaeologist as well as a charter historian, so he publishes a lot of site reports. (In how many ways is that a lesson to English academia? I count at least two.) But there really is just a lot of this tiny-scale high-volume stuff in Spain.

Now of course one has to select. Even if I could get hold of it all I can’t read it all, and while every example of a place’s development is potentially useful as comparison to the ones I work on, some of this stuff will be effectively redundant. A lot of it will contribute very little to the discipline except to keep its author afloat, which is exactly the sort of writing that Barbero and Vigil complained about in 1978, still happening.

The answer of course is to take reviews and review articles by medievalists whose opinions you respect as guidance, but even they cite many many of these studies. And after all they have students too.

I think the question that really niggles at me is simply, how does so much of this stuff find publication? In Catalonia it would be local history societies proudly promoting their academic son, but in Castile it seems to find its way into major series with no problem. Where does all this medievalism money come from, and why just here?

Mainly it makes me despair of keeping up, but that happens pretty much every day anyway. I should be able to free up more research time fairly soon anyway, so hopefully these worries will ease then.


A few tweaks to theme and sidebar and now I think I’ll stop messing about with the look of this site and actually start using it.

The Blogroll section has me gently perplexed. I know of other medievalists out there keeping blogs, a few, but they are mainly life journals, whereas I intend to keep life out of this one, at least my own. Whether I should be linking to others not doing the same thing is not something I’ve decided yet.

However, the main point of this entry was to say: enough with the meta content! It is time to, as they say, get medieval.

Yes, I did just cruelly split that infinitive. You’ll see worse before I’m through.