Two things just to show I haven’t left the blogosphere under a sudden deluge of essays.
Firstly, after some last-minute furore, I have now submitted for consideration by the panel of the International Medieval Congress the three three-paper session proposals that I hope will make up the coming year’s “Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic” strand, and it’s looking good. It’s very nice to have that safely squared away and into someone else’s to-do list.
Secondly, though you may already know this, Julia Smith’s Europe After Rome is really good. It thoroughly deserves the praise that’s been heaped upon it, because it manages to cover and continually stress the diversity of medieval European life, while at the same time structuring it in such a way as to provide unified themes through which it is possible to actually approach the period and area as a whole. I can see why it was so hard for her to write.
One thing though: you really need to know the political history first, because you won’t find it here. This is in fact a bit of a problem with medieval history textbooks in general, and one about which I’ve often felt myself slightly on my own (I realise that’s an absolute but this is written in haste, forgive me). I really found having a core narrative somewhere to read and refer to was a help when I was a student, and I still find that students like one now, however impressionistic and experiential the prevailing wind in the scholarship (and therefore the teaching) currently be. And this is why, despite the number of historians whom I’ve met who damn it as old-fashioned, or even write books to try and replace it, Roger Collins’s Early Medieval Europe 300-1000 is still in print: there’s almost nowhere to send your students of this period for that sense of what happened where when. Or is there? Anyone else teaching this period find something else adequate or better? Or am I being similarly old-fashioned by thinking it necessary at all?