So, Tuesday of Leeds then. I am going to try, though we all know how well this usually works, to keep this shorter than the previous one. I seem to remember that I didn’t sleep very well the Monday night for some reason, but having some years ago discovered that the best way to enjoy Leeds was not to drink as much as I had been doing up till that point (because it was all free, folks),1 I was still on time for breakfast, where the queues weren’t as bad as last year, but still bad enough to make me wonder how on earth this campus copes when it’s got 1,500 students in it instead of 650 medievalists. Thus fortified, I stepped out and my day’s learnings were as follows.
- Clifford Sofield, “Ritual in Context: patterns of interpretation of ‘placed’ deposits in Anglo-Saxon settlements”, discussed material found out of context in sites of between the fifth and eighth centuries in England, by which he meant, for example, animal bones in foundation trenches, and so on. He had done some fairly heavy graphing of this stuff and found correlations, for example that 122 of his 130 placed deposits of all kinds were from sunken-featured buildings, and usually in the fill from when the structures were demolished. He suggested that this practice marked the end of a building’s ‘life-cycle’. That was interesting all right, and he had other such ideas, but I still would have liked percentages as well as raw figures throughout. How many of the structures he had checked up on were sunken-featured buildings in the first place? Is 122 out of 130 in proportion or not? And so on.
- Vicky Crewe, “Appropriating the Past: the ‘ritual’ nature of monument reuse in Anglo-Saxon settlements”, tangled with a number of common misperceptions, such as that Anglo-Saxon settlement avoided older burial mounds, whereas pre-kingdoms sites often built on top of the things; that ‘ritual’ practices are unusual rather than every-day, and that fifth- and sixth-century English settlement was egalitarian; it may indeed have been but that’s not how they buried their dead, that’s clearly hierarchical. I would like to know more about the Ph. D. this stuff is presumably part of.
- Sally Crawford, “Women’s Ritual Spaces in Early Anglo-Saxon Settlements”, for me the winner of the session because of the presenter’s complete comfort with the presentation scenario; she must be an excellent teacher. She was focussing on a tiny area, loom-weights found in the well-known settlement of West Stow, and looking at where they had actually been in buildings; from this she deduced that these were not artefacts related to an individual but to a community and that weaving was therefore a village practice there, not a household one, continuing on the same site through a succession of temporary workshops. This tiny focus thus brought to life people using their living space together in a way that the two prior papers, not less important but more schematic, hadn’t been able to, and there were lots of questions because people felt they had more to contribute I think.
This one had been a highlight of my planned itinerary, because in the original program Luis Agustín García Moreno had been going to talk about the end of the Gothic language in Spain, and since he is a grand old man of the field I was looking forward to seeing him speak. That said, even in his absence the session was still fascinating. I love listening to linguistics, though I find it awfully dull to read, so this is a good way to make sure I’m faintly aware of lingustic agendas in my stuff. I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t deterred, either; the small room was so full that people like Rosamond McKitterick were sitting on the floor for shortage of seats! These were the papers.
- David Stifter, “Facts and Factors Concerning the Fate of Gaulish in Late Antiquity”, discussed a pair of ceramic fragments which are not widely recognised to have what may be the latest examples of written Gaulish on them, from a workshop producing commercial stuff in great numbers celebrating Roman victories; apparently in the reign of Hadrian there was still a market for inscribing a design showing the defeated King Decebalus of Dacia in Gaulish. If so, the survival of the language did not in any way prevent an identification with the Empire.
- Roger Wright, “Late and Vulgar Latin in early Muslim Spain: the African connection”, demonstrated with Roger’s usual wealth of reference that the Latin spoken in early Muslim Spain (which, as we’ve discussed here before apropos of a paper of Richard Hitchcock’s that I was surprised not to hear mentioned, would have been substantially the language of the incoming armies, who simply couldn’t have largely learnt Arabic in the time available) was very heavily influenced by African Latin. This involved the nice irony of Isidore of Seville having ticked the Africans of his day off for Latin symptoms that are now characteristic of Castilian Spanish, most obviously betacism (substituting ‘b’ for ‘v’ and vice versa). I liked this one, because it took the less controversial bits of Professor Hitchcock’s paper (which may well have been using Roger’s earlier work) and made them mean something independent.
- Wolfgang Haubrichs, “Language and Travel in the Early Middle Ages: text and context in the Old High German Pariser Gespräche“, was largely an introduction for those of us who didn’t know them to the selfsame Gespräche. These are a set of useful phrases that appear to have been collected to help someone familiar with fairly Romance Latin cope with the minutiae of managing an estate where Old High German was spoken, and so they deal with the various ways servants can misconduct themselves (sex, food and failing to go to Mass, most largely) and how people identified themselves (by lord, by household, by patria; not, interestingly, by language, though presumably that would already be obvious). I hope the interest of this is obvious, but in case not, let me stress that this text helps prove that the unsavoury French expression “le cul d’un chien dans ton nez” has a very long history (OHG “Undes ars in tine naso”, if that helps). Professor Haubrichs suggested that this text might have arisen out of the close connections between the abbeys of Ferrières and Prüm in the 860s, so that’s how old that phrase might be.
Then there was lunch and I think it was at this point that I first got bitten by the books, having worked out that actually I could afford to buy from Brepols this year. This is a dangerous realisation. Still reeling, I took refuge in diplomatic…
- Mark Mersiowsky, “The Discerning Eye of the Forger: medieval forgeries as material objects”, saw Professor Mersiowsky, who is now concluding an absolutely huge project on the original charters of early medieval Europe (yes, all of it, he’s seen them all or close to), distinguishing some charters which are meant to actually look like what they are purporting to be, with its flaws, from those that are meant to look like the right sort of thing (I wasn’t sure, and neither were some questioners, that this distinction held up), and a third class where documents of other sorts were the models, such as the way that some forgeries update their model to the current local style so that it looks more like what people recognise as a charter and not some crazy royal thing from centuries past that no-one’s seen before (as demonstrated by the pictures above and below this section, if you like). There wasn’t really time to explore all the ways people used the documents they fabricated in the period but Professor Mersiowsky made it clear that he has a lot to give on this and many related subjects.
- Claire Lamy, “The Notitiae of Marmoutiers and their Continuations: preparation, shaping, practices (1050-1150)” covered a coherent group of documents from Dominique Barthélemy’s favourite abbey that leave a lot of space on the parchment, far more than was needed for the witness lists or validations that they sometimes never got. Sometimes the space left was so much that another transaction would be put into it, but by and large they weren’t trying to save parchment; the practice remained mostly inexplicable at the end of the paper.
- Sébastien Barret, “Forms and Shapes: ‘private deeds’ in Cluny (10th-11th centuries)”, should have been a paper that had me champing at the bit given some of the stuff I’ve said here and indeed at Leeds, but he was less concerned with the documents’ contents than their forms, fair enough given the session title, and the interesting thing is that those forms are very plural; Cluny don’t seem to have been working with a clear idea of what a charter needs to look like to be valid in this period. This in turns leads to many different ways of authenticating, and Barret argued that validity is primarily social, which fits with other things we have been told to think about Cluny’s documents.2 This is something I need to think about, because I’ve argued repeatedly that external form of a charter is not what people usually care about so much as what it says; but in my area, there is very much a clear idea of what one looks like, for all that.
I confess that I had been keeping away from Texts and Identities thus far, not out of strategy as sometimes in the past but simply because many of the paper titles looked like postmodern junk. (And you know, I’m more tolerant of that than I used to be, but really.) This one however I chanced because Stuart Airlie was responding and one’s Leeds is not complete without seeing him perform at least once. The actual papers to which he responded outshone their session title, too, and were as follows.
- Marianne Pollheimer, “Grammars: preaching communities – of sheep and men in the 9th century”, was an extended commentary on a metaphor of Hraban Maur‘s dividing humanity into the sheep and the wolves and asking just what he thought was good about sheep anyway and where the shepherd fits into it all; most obviously he is the preacher, guiding and protecting the flock, but how far up did that metaphor work? Bishops and kings naturally featured, and the whole thing turned into a question of how Hraban or someone reading him would have compared this idea to his world at large.
- Helmut Reimitz, “Compilation and Convergence: the transformation of the ethnic repertory in Carolingian Europe”, was perhaps a little familiar but this time covered more peoples and more sources; it was worth hearing again to be reminded how important ‘the people of the Franks’ were to Charlemagne’s self-presentation, at least as seen in the Annales regni francorum in its earliest version, and how shortlived that unified ethnic self-perception turned out to be.
There were then questions, in which Professor Reimitz got a chance to explain how Frankishness could be class-based, religious, judicial or simply ethnic and how in each of these categories a given person might think of themselves as something else, even though Frankish in whichever was most immediately relevant for the source.
Once the initial flurry was done Dr Airlie stepped up to take turns with Ian Wood in summarising and responding to the whole subthread, most of which of course I’d missed: Dr Airlie emphasised that the field has changed a lot in twenty years, that the big questions are now irrelevant and subtleties are in, that we are now Elvis Costello not Ozzy Osbourne (to which I say, speak for yourself mate, I’m Hawkwind).3 Professor Wood in turn pointed out how rooted in the war, and not mentioning it, the historiography they were celebrating the retirement of had been, and how ethnicity had been so hijacked between 1914-45 that it had ceased to be a topic anyone could look at. He could have gone further with this, in fact, as one of the problems I think people who work on historical DNA have got is that they appear to be resurrecting ideas of race that we had managed, politically, more or less to bury in the welter of scholarship, that indeed Professor Reimitz had just exemplified, showing how fluid ethnicity was in the early Middle Ages. The DNA guys look dangerously to some people, I think, as if they want descent to explain everything, and it’s partly because of that, though also partly because of how much easier to follow it is, that strontium isotope analysis is becoming so much more important.
Dr Airlie also argued for the rethinking of Rome and the abandonment of the term ‘Byzantine’, although since he was using it again next day he may only have been flying a kite with the latter. Wood’s closing point was that we are now looking at all kinds of texts, which is great, but that we consequently forget that really, the overridingly most important, most reproduced and most read in the early Middle Ages was the Bible, which is largely missing from traditional scholarship where it should be centred. As Airlie then responded, the most important identity for anyone in this period who owned it was still ‘Christian’. (I would probably contend for ‘patronus‘, ‘paterfamilias‘ or indeed ‘man’ myself, but you know, if that had been important people would have written it down more, right? Right?)
Anyway, that was that for the day, and then I think it was this evening that Another Damned Medievalist insisted on buying me dinner for various reasons, for which I must thank her, and we sat outside the Stables pub getting spattered on by the weather until a table inside became free and then a convivial gathering formed. Things got a lot more confusing once I’d made it back to Bodington, but that’s not your problem and it wasn’t really a problem for me either. The night ended in good spirits and the next day will follow in due course.
1. I should say, I don’t think this is increasing maturity, I put it down entirely to the ceasing of the Utrecht Medieval Studies department’s receptions and my consequent lack of Jenever intake.
2. Here thinking most obviously of Barbara Rosenwein’s classic, To be the Neighbor of St Peter: the social meaning of Cluny’s property, 909-1049 (Ithaca 1989).
3. “Turns out, I am…“