On the third day of the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, I appear to have followed almost exactly the same trajectory through sessions as the Medieval History Geek,1 and of course he wrote it up long hence, so you could just read about them at his. Because time is short and space is infinite but this doesn’t mean I should fill all of it, however, I’ll basically just list the papers and give comments where I have anything different to say to what he did, and therefore you may want to read (or re-read) his post first as that will, you know, actually tell you what they were about.
Session 398. Early Medieval History
- Benjamin Wheaton, “Reasons for Byzantine Support of Gundovald through 584 CE”. What I liked about this paper, which is also common to a lot of late antique history, was that although from the title you’d expect it to be very specific – one year, two polities – of course the reasons for that Byzantine support enmeshed most of the other kingdoms of Europe and what they were doing and one wound up with, not the scheming Byzantine emperor pulling strings all across our map that one sometimes gets from the more `classic’ literature but a picture of Emperor Maurice I receiving the latest unpredictable news from Spain, from Burgundy, from Neustria, wherever, taking stock of it all and rolling out a new plan to try and stay ahead of as much as he knew about developments as best he could. This seems more realistic and more useful as a comparator than the kind of gilded Byzantium-was-always-more-clever paradigm I’ve met in some work.
- Luigi Andrea Berto, “In Search of the First Venetians: some notes and proposals for a prosopography of early medieval Venice”. I’ve had a kind of bitter interest in the origins of Venice ever since being set an assignment on it that I couldn’t do during my Master’s. The paper here was however more about the sort of problems that one gets trying to database any early medieval dataset than any specific new findings, I thought, and my notes were therefore brief because I’ve met those before.
- Sebastian Rossignol, “New Perspectives on the Origins of Towns in Early Medieval Central Europe”. This was that slightly dubious thing, a conference paper that is basically cut down from a paper already in publication. This of course means that any feedback the presenter gets cannot profit them at all, so I find it an odd choice to make. I felt, anyway, that although the problems with deciding what is and isn’t a town were well expressed and explained here, they are also something that several people had a decent go at dealing with before I was born, so that it sounded as if Dr Rossignol had laboriously reinvented the wheel.2 Talking to him afterwards I discovered that he did know the Continental side of this literature, but whether it was useful for him to explain it all to us again I am still not sure.
Then lunch and a return to battle, or at least, opposition, with:
Session 455. Early Medieval Europe I
- Walter Goffart, “An Experimental Introduction to Christianity for Today’s Students of Medieval History”. This, which has been gone into in detail by the Medieval History Geek so do have a look there, was another rather odd thing, since it was a pedogogical paper not a research one, unusual in this context. Also, because he is now free of undergraduate teaching, Professor Goffart was able to be fairly uninterested in suggestions about how he might modify it, because he himself would not need it. This made for a rather odd back-and-forth in questions where he basically implied that interpretation was our problem not his, leaving me with the impression that Holy Writ had just been handed down.
- Glenn McDorman, “Diplomacy in the Post-Imperial West and the Gallic War of 507-510”. I was not convinced by the central contention of this, which was statedly that there was an agreed set of rules for conducting royal politics in the sixth century and that we can prove it—as with any system based on norms, I want some consideration of the incentives and disincentives not to play and of how the norms are communicated before I am ready to believe—but I thought it did have some value as an analysis of the way that King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths conducted his foreign relations, which might be described roughly as, “everything possible to avoid war but then go in with overwhelming force and without hesitation”. In that light, this paper was about the tipping point between these two states and that way I found it quite enlightening.
- Jonathan J. Arnold, “Theodoric’s Invincible Mustache”. I absolutely loved this paper, not just because it managed to sneak some genuine historical import about unchecked assumptions by historians, fluidity of early medieval ethnicity and so on, past us but because it made really good use of a slideshow and graphics and was thoroughly entertaining. Dr Arnold is a presenter to seek out. How many people have you seen give a paper in which they said, “OK: get ready to have your mind blown” and then not delivered anything exciting? Not this time, and he had an extra slide ready to anticipate the most obvious question; I give him maximum points for preparation and style that Congress.
I think that the coffee in the more modern part of the West Michigan campus come Congress time is a little too hard to reach. The spaces between sessions are generous, but this year as last year I would be talking to people after sessions, go to seek out coffee, get slightly lost, and either only just get the vital caffeine or actually have to give up and run back. Thus, somehow, the sessions I was most likely to be late for this year appeared to be the ones where I didn’t have to change rooms. I seem to have a full set of notes on this next one so I assume that I wasn’t late; however, my notes seem sufficiently grouchy that I suspect I didn’t get the coffee. I apologise in advance to the speakers in this panel, therefore, for what may be a less generous appraisal than they deserved.
Session 511. Early Medieval Europe II
- Jennifer Davis, “Charlemagne and Tassilo in 794: a final encounter”, arguing that Charlemagne’s final display of the deposed Duke Tassilo of Bavaria at court was more a display of power and confidence than a response to any real threat from him or his old duchy.3
- Courtney Booker, “The fama ambigua of Ebbo, Bishop of Reims and Hildesheim”, arguing that we should consider Ebbo‘s choices and decisions when trying to weigh up his involvement in the deposition of his old master and patron, Emperor Louis the Pious, more than has been done. I would be inclined to agree and found the interpretations persuasive but I thought it was odd that, in a paper that urged us to hear Ebbo’s voice, none of his actual writings got quoted. I’m sure they will be in the print version.
- Phyllis Jestice, “Constructing a Queen: Adelheid’s Great Escape and the Ottonian Image”. This was another great presentation, full of humour and irony but without ever letting go of the subject, the way that this somewhat unlucky but prestigious Queen of Italy and then Germany was presented and, well, used, by those who attacked her, captured her, married her or wrote about her (the first three groups sometimes being the same people). Even her history was worth claiming, it seems, and Professor Jestice certainly made it worth hearing about.
And then, I believe, the dance, and I also believe that I had failed to make any sensible plans for dinner and that Michael Fletcher, again, obligingly drove us out to town to get something as part of a general mess of collapsing plans that had been made somewhere around the beginning of the mead tasting and fallen apart by the end, can’t imagine why. I do remember that somewhere in that press of mead-bibbers I met, at last, the inimitable and now-unlinkable Jennifer Lynn Jordan, which was of course a delight, but mainly I have to thank Michael for making sure I got fed at the expense of his time and gasoline. By that generosity I was set up for the dance, which was loads of fun even if this time I didn’t have as much freedom (or indeed cause—no Sex Pistols this time) to let my hair down and fling it around as I had last year, because of presenting the next day. Michael and I did clear a reasonable area around us when we undertook to give `Bohemian Rhapsody’ the full Wayne’s World treatment towards close of play, however.4 I was there at the end, but not for long after, and then it was sleep before the last day of the whole shebang.
1. This nomenclature feels awkward, since I have met him and know his name and I don’t think he’s even keeping it secret; but I learnt netiquette in the old days and one of the tenets of the old school was and probably is, “you use the name that someone gives you, because identity on the Internet is meant to be different if someone wants it to be and anyway to do otherwise is kind of like calling someone a liar about their name”. Lacking instruction to the contrary, I’ll stand by that.
2. Edith Ennen, Frühgeschichte der europäischen Stadt (Bonn 1953) non vidi, cit. Martin Biddle, “Towns” in David M. Wilson (ed.), The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England (London 1976), pp. 99-150 at p. 100 n. 4, that Biddle chapter being the basic starting point for this whole deal even now I reckon.
3. Cf. Stuart Airlie, “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s mastery of Bavaria” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 93-119.
4. Except that we did not pause to recover someone from another party because we were all the party already.