On Wednesday the I. H. R. got a surprisingly startling visit from Elizabeth Zadora-Rio of the Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques, and she got several of us worried. She was looking at parish networks, but by taking an extremely longue durée and noting how little seemed to change till the end of the Ancien Régime, she was able to introduce a variety of quite unsettling models for how parishes, and by extension most forms of medieval territory, might be assigned, defined or described. By the end of the paper, those of us who were happy to do so were moving towards a conception of territory almost entirely without linear borders, except at points of confrontation that had forced some definition, and I was wondering about mapping medieval power not in zones but with spider-webs of radiating lines from centre to lesser centre. This fits quite well with my way of looking at power as links between persons, and I’ve drawn diagrams of social phenomena in similar ways, but for some reason I hadn’t thought of doing the geographical layout like that.
I expect this will make itself felt in teaching, because however unsatisfying it is to people who like modern maps and borders, it is much much easier to deal with medieval evidence this way than that way. I’m still not one hundred per cent convinced that that is necessarily because that’s how medieval people thought about space (agh, mentalités once again) but there’s no point trying to fill in the gaps of sources to draw maps when we can do it more sensibly another way.