A conference across the sea

I am slightly torn with this entry, between doing it briefly without saying anything too controversial to what appears to be a newly-expanded readership, because many of you may be the people about whom I’d be writing, and between doing it justice. Since my attempts to keep my posts short never really work, I think I can guess which side will win…

Anyway, this post is about the Haskins Society Conference just gone, where I just went. You may not know what the Haskins Society for Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Angevin and Viking History is, but their full title there given (and punctuated as per UK English I notice, which is odd) and the explanation on their webpages may answer your question:

The Society was organized in May 1982, mostly at the instigation of graduate students from UCSB. Permission was gained from George Haskins of the University of Pennsylvania Law School to name the society in honor of his father, Charles Homer Haskins (1870-1937), a great force in the development of medieval studies in America, whose Renaissance of the Twelfth Century reshaped our conception of high medieval civilization and whose Norman Institutions contributed fundamentally to our understanding of medieval Normandy.

So there you have it, and as you can tell from the index to their journal, the work that gets presented to them is often of a pretty high order. Quite what I was doing there, given that I don’t deal in any of their immediate spheres of interest beyond a general one in kingship and nobility, is an interesting question, and we could get Aristotelian on it, but the efficient cause was that Matt Gabriele of Modern Medieval asked me to participate in a panel he was chairing, and this was the point at which I realised this whole blog idea might have been good for something after all, and I accepted without counting the cost.

I could just about afford it. The conference fee itself is not too bad, steeper than Leeds (which is pretty steep) but without Leeds’s budget-airline-like hidden charges. The accommodation however, even at a discount rate, was far beyond what was really needed. Leeds is too big to do anything much beyond student rooms, Haskins can squeeze into hotels, but hotels in Washington DC two days after the US public had elected someone whom many seem to hope will be Superman,1 were never going to be cheap, and the cost of the accommodation far exceeded the conference fee whereas Leeds is always the other way about. The food, also, was not exactly budget, though it was easy enough to stomp off somewhere and ensure, at least, that you only paid ten dollars for a huge and nutritious meal rather than twenty for a medium-sized gourmet one (though the hotel food itself was rather poor). The coffee is generally far better in the US than in the UK, at least. Anyway, I’m not going out much till pay-day, and I’m unlikely to go to Haskins again until I can make someone else pay for it, alas; it’s just not viable from the UK for me. Also, if first impressions are to mean much, it was raining when I arrived just as it had been in England when I left, and pretty much the first store-front I saw offered me this failure of intended expression:

"I do not think it means what you think it means"

'I do not think it means what you think it means'

But was it worth doing? Well, ultimately I guess we still have to find out, but I thought it was a very positive experience. It was fascinating to put faces to many names: I used to be able to guess people’s appearances from their writing a bit, but this went wrong in 2003 or so and now everyone I meet in the field comes as a surprise. On the other hand, the first person I recognised was an IHR regular and so were many others; it was very much, in that respect, like the party at which, to your delight, two previously separate groups of friends finally mix and all get on splendidly. In general it was a sociable and friendly conference, and Alan Thacker observed to me how noticeable it was that literature types and hard-history types had all found ground on which they could talk to each other productively. So I would say go if you’re likely to be interested, but only if you have somewhere cheap to stay (next year is at Boston College, which might be cheaper) and eat.

That leads onto the next question, are you likely to be interested? Well, let me give you the program, with one-sentence remarks that should hopefully keep me from alienating any new friends and contacts.

Friday, November 7

Featured speaker: the C. Warren Hollister Memorial Lecture

Paul Hyams, “Reconciling Brain and Backbone: is medieval history still defensible?”
An interesting and anecdotal plea for us to avoid avoiding the past’s analogies with the present, but instead to use them as a way to get the news out that people going through tough times can learn from the fact that other people went through similarly tough times before.

The Legend of Charlemagne and the Negotiation of Power

  • Jonathan Jarrett (who he?), “Legends in their own Lifetime? The late Carolingians and Catalonia”. Apparently the area that would become Catalonia remained attached to the idea of the Carolingians enough to occasionally obey them even up till 986, which is all very well, and (I thought) stylishly demonstrated, but why was this guy saying it here right after the keynote, eh?
  • Wendy Marie Hoofnagle, “A New Look at the New Forest: the rôle of Charlemagne in the Exercise of Royal Power”, arguing that William the Conqueror’s laws about the royal forests of England emulated Carolingian legislation like the Capitulare de villis
  • Anthony Adams, “The Memory of Karolus Magnus and the Question of Power and Privilege in Late Medieval England”, treating Charlemagne as the rather degenerate figure he becomes in later romances where the hero usually mocks him rather than respect him

Women and Lordship

  • Lois Huneycutt, “Adeliza of Louvain, Queen of England, Countess of Arundel, and the Flemish Connection”
  • Heather Tanner, “Cyphers or Lords? The inheriting countesses of Boulogne and Ponthieu (1173-1260)”
  • RaGena DeAragon, “Two Countesses of Leicester: Petronilla de Granmesnil and Loretta da Braose”
  • A very coherent session in which several high medieval noblewomen got their 15 minutes of fame, but I was most struck by the last paper which compared two successive countesses of the same honour who could hardly have been more different, one joining her husband in rebellion and the second spending most of her adult life as a widowed anchoress.

Historical Narrative and the Problem of Authorship

  • Thomas Bredehoft, “Wulfstan the Homilist and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, arguing that more annals than have previously been reckoned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle can be attributed to the pen of Archbishop Wulfstan of York, with knock-on implications for the history of the ‘D’ manuscript
  • Nicholas Paul, “Les livres, les gestes e les estoires: the authorship, function and proliferation of dynastic historical narratives in the twelfth century”, looking at the sudden and brief flurry of genealogical historiography among the nobility of the West in that period, special mention for being the second person that day to talk about the Catalan dynasty myth

Saturday November 12th

Men and Masculinities at the Courts of the Anglo-Norman Kings

  • Kirsten Fenton, “Men and Masculinities in William of Malmesbury’s Presentation of the Anglo-Norman Kings”
  • Simon Yarrow, “Men and Masculinities in the Writings of Orderic Vitalis”
  • William Aird, “‘The Wild Bull and the Old Sheep’: images of masculinity and conflict at the courts of William Rufus”
  • Again, a session so coherent that any of the speakers could probably have written both the others’ papers, but all leaning towards the idea of a conservative church literature decrying men of the latest fashion they found to be long-haired and sexually ambiguous so as to get the girls. For some reason this possibility confused some of the audience, who therefore we know do not work on goths…

Personal Names and Cultural Identity

  • Francesca Tinti, “Names, Miracles and Witnesses in early Anglo-Latin hagiographies” pointing out that Bede drops a lot of his sources from the Anonymous Life of Cuthbert when writing his own and substitutes his own chain of authorities, and discussing that’s effects
  • Regan Eby, “Personal Names and Identity in Eleventh-Century Brittany”, showing that families did not divide between French and Breton identities in the border zones of Brittany but in fact used both name-stocks for their children equally
  • Chris Lewis, “Cultural Identity and the Changing Personal Names of the English in the Twelfth Century”, arguing that English names persist a long time but that some Norman names become so common as to effectively be identifiers of English origins by this time

Featured Speaker

Mark Gardiner, “Can we quantify the area of assarted land in twelfth-century England?”, complicating the idea of land clearance by reminding us that uncleared land is often still under quite heavy use for grazing and forest pasture, which eventually clears land itself, as well as other solid observations.

Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Works of Bede

  • Alan Thacker, “Bede and his Martyrology, arguing that the venerable author was doing something different, a kind of collection of little-known saints, than what the prevailing trend of such writing wanted
  • Sally Shockro, “Bede and the Rewriting of Sanctity”, analysing the use of Biblical material between the Anonymous and Bede’s Lives of St Cuthbert and feeling Bede’s to be much cleverer
  • Lin Ferrand, “Atmospheric Phenomena in Bede’s De nature rerum“, checking Bede’s record of weather to show that he was not above modifying Isidore of Seville’s text when what went for Seville really didn’t at Jarrow, but that he didn’t always bother

New Perspectives on the Bayeux Tapestry

  • Elizabeth Pastan, “Questioning the role of Odo of Bayeux”, seeking to remove Bishop Odo from a position of compositional control to that of general patron, unbending many circular arguments
  • Stephen White, “Harold’s Oath on the Bayeaux Tapestry”, discussing the context of Harold’s oath in those other oaths between lords that we don’t call feudalism, and again deflating some rather distended assumptions about Odo’s and Bayeux’s involvement


Deborah Everhart led a workshop entitled, “A Workshop on Learner-Centred Medieval Studies Course Design”. This was useful to me in generating ideas for teaching but didn’t necessarily contain much that was new to those already in the classroom. Here it seems worth diverting to notice that there was in general a lot of talk about teaching, and a lot of comparison of strategies, situations and solutions. You wouldn’t get this at a UK conference, or at least I haven’t noticed it: in the UK teaching is seen as a danger to one’s RAE score first and foremost alas, and this is a fault of the RAE really, as quite a lot of us like teaching I think. The actual session was not as much use to me as it might have been, I guess, as my teaching training covered a lot of the same ideas, but if you see my notes:


… you can see that I was at least thinking as a result of it, even if not actually paying it much attention. And yes, they did give us notepaper, which would be one expense to cut, and yes, my longhand really is that bad. Anyway. To someone with more teaching experience I understand that the workshop was even less worthwhile, but Ms Everhart has a pitch to make of course and there was genuine good intent here as well.

Sunday November 8

The Thought and Practice of Religious Life

  • Bruce Venarde, “Robert of Arbrissel and the Mainstream”, in which the man who probably knows this mysterious preacher better than any living tried to explain that although his tactics were unorthodox, his general reformist and theological strategy was genuinely quite the opposite
  • Erin Jordan, “Monks, Nuns and Anniversary Masses: the importance of gender for thirteenth-century Cistercian abbeys in Northern France”, which showed to the speaker’s apparent surprise as much as our own that despite supposedly being less spiritually ‘effective’ because of the inordinability of women (something which was questioned in part in comments for the period before the twelfth century), Cistercian nunneries in her area and period attracted as many requests for commemorative masses as did their male equivalents
  • Maureen Walsh, “‘All Will Be Well’: universal salvation in the theology of Julian of Norwich”, an account of the resolution of confusion between Julian’s own Church-taught view that we’re all damned to Hell and the Word she received that we would all be ‘well’ and how she stayed inside orthodoxy while saying that the Church had it wrong

Now, at this point, I stepped out to try and get to the museum at Dumbarton Oaks rather than have spent my entire time in Washington at a conference venue. It looks like a lovely place to visit, and because it contains the other portion of Philip Grierson’s coin collection, I feel I have some small connection with it. Unfortunately, although I had a quick look at the Museum website to work out where it was, I didn’t read closely enough, and it was shut when I got there.

The <em>outside</em> of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum

The outside of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum

So I did some shopping, had a wander and came back for the concluding round table discussion, which to my delight involved someone talking about Randolph Starn’s idea of history as genealogy, meaning I was able to get my oar in as keen readers might expect. I was quite keen on making it clear to people that I could think in a discussion, and I may have let this get in the way of actually contributing much. I hope not though.

And then by the great kindness and automobile of Another Damned Medievalist, it was to the airport, and home eventually, as on the way there a few seats in various directions from the plane’s entire complement of squalling infants, but, such is life. It was enough like a very bad night’s sleep that I managed to balance out the jetlag quite quickly, but I am still trying to go to bed at three a. m. even now. Oh hang on, that’s normal. When do you think I write these things, after all? Evidently not when I’m awake… Still, that’s a report for you, and if I’ve mentioned you, hullo, it was interesting to meet you… I have come home with a renewed sense of confidence in my own work and ability, which I’m managing to retain despite life assailing it with criticisms and dying rock drummers, and that is worth quite a lot of money.

1. I should maybe make myself clear on this. I think the election of Mr Obama is a grand thing for the reputation of the USA, but from an outside perspective, this enlightened and probably very noble man is still going to push my government into buying a hugely expensive and completely unnecessary upgrade to our nuclear deterrent, now, isn’t he? So I’m not quite as invested in him as my readership may largely be, yet.


27 responses to “A conference across the sea

  1. Thanks! I couldn’t be there, but always appreciate reports on what people are working on.

  2. I really appreciate this, read it all. As for Obama, he’s going to be an American President, so there is only so much you can expect. Especially when it comes to foreign policy.

  3. Kalamazoo. Tickets to Chicago can be relatively less expensive, and then it’s about $45 more for the train. And if you must, you can stay in the dorms, for under $40 a night. Plus wine hours. Food can be affordable, too. If it makes you feel any better, I found the food in DC a bit spendy, too — but at least it was pretty good!

  4. Kalamazoo does become a stronger possibility now, I have to admit. After all, you implied free wine. And yes, the food was good, that struck me again and again. Which leaves me wondering how you find England food-wise?

  5. I’ll have to go to this next time as it’s in the neighbor as long as I can get away from the day job. Definitely try for Kalamazoo–you can heckle me in person that way! :-)

  6. I know so little about your material, Derek, that I’m sure I’d have nothing with which to heckle!

  7. The free wine at Kzoo is vile, but the conference and the company is great!

  8. Oh, do come to Boston next year (speaking as a native who no longer lives there). It’s a much better city than Washington can even pretend to be, and much better museums. And I’m pretty sure that lodging and food are not so expensive, except for the lobster, which is of course Maine lobster and therefore worth whatever price you are charged.

    Your comment about coffee may the understatement of the year. I’m not a great traveller, but I have yet to meet any European version of coffee that is anything near the level of even a bad Starbucks.

    But then the only good meal I had in the UK was a giant bowl of pea soup one evening in Cardiff (in a hotel dining room, no less: the Angel).

  9. The anthropologist in you will love the dance at the ‘Zoo. Yes, the wine is horrid, but it is free. Did anyone mention the free beer??? What about the 3000 + fellow travellers?

  10. The dance at Leeds is worrying enough. Some of the most surprising academics have an inner child who comes out for that.

    Kishnevi, I won’t use Starbucks over here since the last time I tried they gave my drink to the wrong person and then scalded me with the replacement. Yes, that was just happenstance, but the one junior person running a busy London shop with two trainees so that such things couldn’t easily be avoided, that was bad management and a position I’d have hated to be in. In a very mild way I’d like to see them go bust. Also, there are approximately a thousand better coffee shops than Starbucks in North-East London, but only Costa Coffee and AMT Espresso seem to teach their people how to make tea, which is important to me.

    My department cares about good coffee. This is one of the things that keeps me going in the working day.

  11. Hello again! I’ve on mind the idea of translating my all blog but I don’t have time enough for now. So, if you put a relevant link to the blog, feel free for translating a couple of posts, if you like. I’d help you in the final translation (my e-mail is jero.mendez@gmail.com).

    Be happy.

  12. Molt bé! Estaré en contacte.

  13. Yes, but there is often our friend from the IHR at the Kazoo dance!

    And yes, free wine and beer.

    Well, remember that I am often happy with beans on toast, and am perfectly happy with stuffed jacket potatoes in a pub. And I tend to eat mostly with the in-laws, where the food is superb, and mostly Thai.

    Having said that, and ignoring the exchange rate, which makes even a plate of noodles expensive, I think the only affordable and good meals I’ve had in England are in Asian or Mediterranean restaurants. I know there is excellent grub to be had, but it just seems so spendy (for me, meals like we had in DC, even, are a bit more than I want to spend, but I think I’d have to spend a bit more for the same in England?).

    OTOH, ready-made sandwiches in England are just fantastic, compared to in the US. Actual! veg and lettuce and prawn, etc. :-)

    In general, though, I love good, solid English food — roast dinners, basic meat and veg, excellent cheese, and entirely unhealthy meat pies? Yum! No mushy peas for me, though.

  14. Mushy peas, like gravy with chips, are a definite North/South divide food in England. I seem therefore to be in the Midlands somewhere, as I like the latter but not the former. Pub food in England has got a lot more expensive since the smoking ban, largely because pubs are ramping up the standards of their kitchens to try and make up lost revenue. Sometimes it’s very good but in those places it’s also often a good way to wait for an hour for your food, which is just no good.

    The best cheap food I’ve ever had in London has been Italian or Chinese, so I think you may have a point there.

  15. I know you hate it, as it’s a seedy student pub, but that’s one of the reasons I like The Rocket during the day. (At night, I can understand not going there). But the food is more than edible, and at student prices, plus it’s close to the BL. They have a fair range of foods, and there are even semi-healthy things on the menu.

  16. I don’t hate it because it’s a seedy student pub! You should see some of the places I do drink! But I think the food is only just edible, and the drinks are all wrong. It is at least relatively cheap. But I would always take the Euston Flyer over the Rocket. The food is more expensive, yes, but there’s about twice as much of it and it’s far better, plus the beer is drinkable. Not that one gets to put that to great use in the day; enough people sleeping in the BL already…

  17. Yep, you should have made time for Dumbarton Oaks. They do have stupid hours, though.

  18. Strangely, I’ve never been to the Euston Flyer, but prefer the Doric Arch to teh Rocket. But I’ve not had anything actually BAD at the Rocket (I stick to the mezze plate and the lamb burger, though…). I used to always just grab sandwiches at the little market next to the Flyer, but it’s closed, (un?)fortunately to make room for a Pret on the corner. Mostly, I make my lunch at home and bring it in!

  19. As do I here… The Doric Arches is excellent for beer but I’ve frequently found its food disappointing. That sort of makes sense, as it’s the same brewery as the Flyer but not the same managers. There must be sandwich shops up behind the BL but this is, still, an area in which one may not wish to find oneself in twilight. I’ve never had any whisper of trouble there (and there’s a couple of good pubs there too) but it had a bad reputation.

  20. I found your description of the conference very interesting and useful particularly in describing the couple of sessions that I skipped. Overall, it was a wonderful conference experience. I have to say that I found the program a bit disappointing this year though in comparison with previous years. Shame. Can’t wait for an excuse to visit Boston. The lunches were ridiculously expensive.

  21. Oh, hullo. I have not forgotten I’m supposed to be mailing you, just that the world is full of chaos among my nearest and dearest at the moment. This may not be why you were commenting of course, but the guilty conscience will out.

    If you’re not the same Linsey I now look a right muppet, of course.

  22. Nope. I’m the same one. I’m glad you haven’t forgotten me. Hope you nearest and dearest are all well. I look forward to emails. And the delay hasn’t done any harm as I am currently finishing a chapter. You’ll remember those days, I’m sure.

  23. Second draft of the book got finished off except for cuts last weekend. Remember those days? I am still living in them I tell you. You just naïvely anticipate a slackening of toil…

  24. Pingback: In Which the Cradle Catholics Give the Academics an Extremely Nonplused Look « Aliens in This World

  25. Jonathan,
    I just came across your blog on the Haskins last November, and appreciate your statement on my paper in the Women and Lordship session:
    “A very coherent session in which several high medieval noblewomen got their 15 minutes of fame, but I was most struck by the last paper which compared two successive countesses of the same honour who could hardly have been more different, one joining her husband in rebellion and the second spending most of her adult life as a widowed anchoress.” I’m glad my point was clear–the lives of women of the same status (in this case, countesses of Leicester) and overlapping in time (mother- and daughter-in-law) could differ significantly because of personality and circumstances. Thus my call for more research on individual women of the twelfth century in addition to research on gender matrices.

    Your paper pushed us back the furthest in time of all the papers given at the conference. I’d like to hear more about your research and what you might have thought about trans-Atlantic and trans-century insights you might have gleaned from the sessions and conversations at the conference.

    As for K’zoo vs. Leeds, I’ve always found K’zoo too large, too literary, too hot and humid, poorly timed (May, just before final exams) and too devoid of sessions on Anglo-Norman and Angevin history–which prompted my complaint to Tom Keefe and Vicki Chandler in 1982 when we were relaxing one evening at K’zoo. In the resulting conversation, Tom proposed a more focused conference loosely modeled on the Battle Conference in England. That became the germ of the idea that blossomed into the Haskins Society and Conference. I prefer Leeds to K’zoo, but have learned that many non-Americans prefer K’zoo.

    (Alas, Tom and Vicki are no longer with us, both victims of types of cancer in their 40s. I miss them greatly.)

  26. Many thanks for your input! Apropos of this conversation, one of the insights I suppose I could claim from this conference is that, when we have sources, we see that people in power in the Middle Ages had choices about how to behave. The early Middle Ages scholarship sometimes strips its subjects of agency, and I like to be able to produce parallel cases from later to instance the way that our people might have taken their own fates in their hands. But I’ve been saying stuff like this for a long time…

  27. Pingback: Leeds 2010 report I « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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