New Thinking on the Medieval Frontier: Call for Papers, IMC 2015

Perhaps there is a certain ridiculousness in soliciting papers for the 2015 International Medieval Congress in Leeds on a blog that has only just managed to start reporting on the 2013 one. If it helps, I meant to try something like this last year but the supporting collaboration fell apart, so even this is backlogged… anyway. You will have seen from some of the recent posts here that I and others have been getting increasingly bothered by how we as medievalists don’t seem to have thought very hard about what frontiers are and do for quite a while: now I want to start showing that we can. Consequently, I’m organising sessions for next year about it and here’s the CFP:

New Thinking on the Medieval Frontier: Call for Papers

Medieval studies since the 1970s have seen many conferences and essay volumes on frontiers and borders, but medievalists’ answers to what these were or how they worked are still framed in anachronistic and outdated terms borrowed from obsolescing works on other periods. We deal in terms of zone versus line or open versus closed that fail to conjure or explain the complexity of a medieval borderland. In 2002 Ronnie Ellenblum wrote of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem:

“Every person knew what the border of his property was and what belonged to his neighbour. But such a property could have been divided between two or more rulers. The owner of the property knew to whom he was obliged to pay taxes and offer gifts on religious holidays, who would try him if he committed a heinous offence and who would try him if he committed a lesser offence. In the event of war, he usually knew where danger lay and on whose side he should be… But all these spheres did not necessarily overlap.”

What theory of the frontier does this not break? The inapplicability of modern categories here shows that medievalists are well-placed to raise and answer new questions about how to define a society and its limits. I invite you to lead this trend by offering a paper for sessions at the 2015 International Medieval Conference on any aspect or concept of the medieval frontier. Can we define frontiers? Can we characterise them or say how they could be identified? If not, what can we do about that? Participants will be encouraged to respond to others’ papers and engage in comparison, so submissions about shared rather than unique characteristics of societies will be most welcome. If interested, please contact Jonathan Jarrett at or with a prospective title and summary abstract.

12 responses to “New Thinking on the Medieval Frontier: Call for Papers, IMC 2015

  1. Not only has Hadrian’s Wall never been the Scotland-England border, it may never have been the Roman-Barbarian border either.

    What’s the latest thinking on this?

    • Well, it’s not my period guv, so my understanding is very second-hand. I think a good place to find out more would be the work of Fraser Hunter, who’s the last person I heard speak on this. If I have it right, though, the Wall and its forts are now seen as the back-end of a semi-Romanised frontier zone that extended for some way (an undefined way) north of it. Yet we still have medievalists citing Luttwak reckoning it a linear frontier, so as to show that the Romans had this concept and the medieval period did not! This is the kind of problem I mean.

  2. Thanks for the directions, JJ.

  3. Pingback: If you didn’t like that CFP, why not try this one? | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  4. Dear Jonathan,

    May I raise the unhelpful issue of whether Leeds is the best forum? It costs too much, and many of us dislike such intense activity, and such short papers and discussions. Since i can only consume a finite amount, whether beer or early medieval diplomatic, being in a pub where I have too much choice is not helpful. The Barber has space, and is as easy to get to as Leeds. The serious, rather than the peevish point is that in a world of too much productivity for anyone to master, wheels are being re-invented, and those unhappy with presenting papers at huge conferences and in a language they hope to be English, but which is all too often what linguists call ‘globish’ are at a disadvantage. Your wonderful blog keeps us aware of what is going on. But if you have advice about how we digest it, and quite how much damage the present systems of research funding are doing, (not least to people’s personal and academic life if they don’t know those who enjoy applying for absurdly large grants) i would find that as helpful as your reports on papers.

    And congratulations on the book, especially if you can get it reviewed in French and Austrian journals by people who still believe in the science of Diplomatic . Dead, I think, except in Toronto and Oxford, and for serious work in the Ecole des Chartes and in Vienna, (what happens in Spain or in Poland??) and unlikely to be funded as such any time soon, alas.

    • I see the force of most of these points, David, and some of them very sharply — I am even now trying to learn the trick of enjoying applying for large grants, for example, since they are the thing most absent from my CV. In the event of success, I shall naturally be talking about it here but since this blog functions partly as my advertising space, I have always just about shied clear of putting my numerous failures on it too. (There is after all already a different blog for that.) In Oxford I know of one person who believes in the science of diplomatic, but there are a couple of chairs in diplomatic and palaeography in Spain still (always twinned, as the university courses on them have been since the Franco era) I think, one in Zaragoza at least.

      As to the bigger issue, it is also one of publicity. Leeds is indeed not the ideal venue for what I would like to come out of this, which is a conference with responses built into the paper slots for explicit and more-or-less compulsory comparison of cases and a much more round-table-like format for the bulk of the discussions, followed by publication online and in print as a secondary offering, Punctum-style. But I am not such a person as can make that happen without getting people interested first (especially not at the Barber, where they would I think be mystified by the theme and its lack of connection with my day-job; wait and see, folks…). If I get a session or two up at Leeds and then there’s interest in doing more, then comes the conference I actually want to have. I hope…

  5. At the risk of rudly interrupting, Bonn and Munich also deserve mention as the two German universities which still have chairs in Diplomatik/historische Hilfswissenschaften.

    • Only two? Ouch. Obviously my shift away from running diplomatic sessions at Leeds is in tune with a wider Zeitgeist…

      • Well, Marburg lost theirs some time ago (despite the Lichtbildarchiv) and most of the rest are long-gone. Theo Kölzer discusses the situation in some detail at the start of his ‘Diplomatik und Urkundenpublikationen’, in Historische Hilfswissenschaften: Stand und Perspektiven der Forschung, ed. T. Diederich and J. Oepen (Cologne, 2005), pp. 7-34. It should be noted, however, that as in England there are notable charter specialists in medieval history chairs elshwere (Hans-Henning Kortüm and Wolfgang Huschner, for a start; Mark Mersiowsky too if he moves to Stuttgart).

        • That is both good and bad, of course; I think I would probably rather remove diplomatic from its little silo of specialism than maintain it only there. I have after all spent a long time insisting that charters are authored texts that can be treated as one would any other text with a narrow frame of reference! As for the Lichtbildarchiv, I have mixed feelings about that since I discovered that its images are now all online but only to purchase…

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