This is a very contrived title intended to cover the facts that the next two seminars I have to report on were both given by people from Oxford, but whereas the theme of diaspora with the first one, which was Lesley Abrams presenting to the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on the 8th June 2011, was explicit both in an Oxford academic being away from the Dreaming
City Spires and also in actually being about diaspora, the latter, Patrick Wadden presenting to the Medieval Church and Culture seminar in Oxford, was just about Vikings abroad. Both interesting papers however as I shall now report!
Lesley’s title was “Migration, Diaspora, and Identity in the Viking Age”, and it posed a question that we’re also wont to set in exams round here but to which, all the same, we don’t really have an answer, to wit, once the various Scandinavian populations had settled in the various parts of the world that they did in the ninth to eleventh centuries (say), was there anything remaining that identified them together, if so what, and how long did it last? She defended the use of the term `diaspora’ despite its political loading, but argued for a cultural identity preserved at courts most of all and trickling down in greater or lesser degree to the localities connected to those courts. This took some fairly subtle argumentation and my notes are pretty dense, but I made special emphasis marks in the margin (as I do) where she suggested that towns were the obvious fora for the transmission of a cultural repertoire and that that repertoire was both portable and purchasable, that is, you can buy your way into a Scandinavian identification. (This fitted quite snugly with what Jane Kershaw had argued in the same room a few months before, of course.) Into this also came the great disparity of origins among the warband apparently executed on the Ridgeway, along with the filed teeth of one of the skeletons, a particularly painful piece of display, so many seminars were linking up here for me. Also discussed, indeed, was how much the links fed back to the homelands, and how far they were directly connected themselves, just one of many dispersed networks that were webbed over the various lands where Scandinavians were or had gone: politics, family, marriage, trade, exploration, raiding and war, as well as Christian missions of course, a myriad of individuals making choices in which we try to discern trends. Art styles especially criss-crossed this, and though the use of such styles don’t tell us much about the movements of peoples or the origins of the wearers, it does tell us that élite fashion moved fast and that for a while these places and styles were fiendishly à la mode. I do begin to wonder if modern fashion isn’t even a working analogy; I know little enough about it but I am conscious that with many of the same designers exhibiting in New York City, London, Paris and wherever else, while no-one would say there is no local style in those places nonetheless we can speak of haute couture with some justification as a single cultural layer. And perhaps nearly as money-hungry!
Of all the papers I’ve been to at the IHR, which is a few, I think I have more notes from the discussion after this one than any other. This is in part because I find this stuff deeply interesting but also because Alan Thacker, David Bates, Barbara Yorke, John Gillingham, Stephen Baxter, Ryan Lavelle, Gareth Williams, Andrew Reynolds and various others too can obviously say quite a lot about these things when in the same place. When Lesley publishes this work, it’s almost going to be a shame that the discussion here won’t be published with it, but it was one of those seminars where you can feel the ideas being hammered out on the forge, real constructive criticism and contributions of information knocking the metal into something with tempered and genuine strength. It also left me with a new regard for Lesley’s cool head in dealing with this barrage and the depth to which she’s thought this stuff out. It will make a terrific and sensitive publication.
Patrick’s paper on the 14th June 2011 was a quieter affair, and less wide-ranging but still full of interest; his title was “Ireland and the Normans c. 1000: the evidence from Dudo of St-Quentin’s History of the Normans“, and he was looking for links between Normandy and Ireland ‘before the Normans’, in the words of a major textbook on the Emerald Isle.1 Dudo’s History is an immensely problematic source, with legend and fact both misreported, but as Patrick observed we still have to use him and it is a fact that some of his stories of Normandy do contain Irishmen, so that at the very least we know he knew the place existed. In fact we can say a bit more than that, as Patrick went on to show, but the question is how much can we substantiate? Patrick argued that at least we should allow that he is careful about ethnonyms, because he was in fact doing ethnogenesis, writing history for a new ‘people’ (in whatever sense the Normans were a people at that point). Dudo separates Hibernenses and Scoti for example, and it’s probably not just out of ignorance. What it is, however, remains to be worked out… The connections could be found in the other direction, too, Patrick pointed out, as St Ouen, Norman saint par excellence, was being culted in Dublin by a point somewhere in Bishop Dúnán I’s lifetime, 1028-1074. There’s more to do here, but when you’re dealing with sources that tell you things like, “The Men of the Isles fought with the Men of the Isles” and give no more details, it may take a while to do…
1. Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Ireland before the Normans (Dublin 1972, 2nd edn. forthcoming).