This was the longest day of my attendance at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds last year, not just because of it ending in the dance but because it was the only day of the conference where I went to four sessions before the evening. I guess that for some of you this will be more interesting reading than for others, so, varying the usual pattern, here’s a list of the sessions I went to and their speakers and papers, then a cut and you can follow it up if you like!
- Francesco Stella, “Database versus Encoding: which methods for which results?”
- Jean-Baptiste Camps, “Detecting Contaminations in a Textual Tradition: computer versus traditional methods”
- Alexey Lavrentev, “Interactions, corpus, apprentissages, répresentations”
- Oisin Plumb, “Go West Young Urguist: assessing the Pictish presence in Ireland”
- Tasha Gefreh, “Foul Iconography”
- Bethan Morris, “Reading the Stones: literacy, symbols, and monumentality in Pictland and beyond”
- Katharina Winckler, “Competing Bishops and Territories in the Eastern Alps”
- Jens Schneider, “Celtic Tradition and Frankish Narratives in 9th-Century Brittany”
- Claire Lamy, “Dealing with the Margins: the monks of Marmoutier and the classification of their possessions (11th c.)”
- Glenn McDorman, “Military Violence and Political Legitimacy in the Burgundian Civil War”
- Adrastos Omissi, “Hamstrung Horses? Timothy Barnes, Constantine’s Legendary Flight to his Father, and the Legitimacy of his procalamation as Emperor in 306”
- Michael Burrows, “Lower-Class Illegitimate Violence in the late Roman West”
1030. Digital Pleasures, IV: scholarly editions, data formats, data exploitation
1107. ‘Foul Hordes’: the migration of ideas and people in Pictland and beyond
1207. Peripheral Territories in Early Medieval Europe, 9th-11th Centuries
1310. Texts and Identities, IV: violence, legitimacy, and identity during the transformation of the Roman world
If any of that piques your interest, then read on! If not, hang about till next post and we’ll talk larger-scale Insular funerary sculpture instead.
This was one of those sessions where people turn up with projects they’ve done and explain why people should use them that I’m somewhat too familiar with from the digital humanities world. Professor Stella had a particularly rough run, presenting in a language he obviously wasn’t comfortable in and having to cut what seemed like half his paper on the fly to stay in time. Rather than a debate on the pros and cons of encoding versus databases in general, his paper explained why his own project, DigiMed: Filologia digitale dei testi mediolatini, had not gone for Text Encoding Initiative-style XML markup of their texts, and the simple answer was that it would have taken years. Though he also had some pointed asides about the different aims of digital and traditional philology, conformity to encoding standards versus conformity to the manuscripts, the basic take-away point here was that we don’t often have the time or resources to do things the way that would allow others to use our data in the ways they want, rather than those we imagined they might.
Dr Camps had a sharper point to make, that with digital editing if we are clever we can finally dispense with the traditional means of representing manuscript transmission in a stemma, with a single source and its descendants. The above, which is by no means correct or even the worst we could have, shows how this can sometimes just not be enough; with computerised texts, however, we can be a lot more accurate about how much one text resembles or owes to another. Nonetheless, he concluded that this didn’t in fact tell us any more about actual transmission than traditional methods did, which was something of a let-down. Lastly, Mr Lavrentev (whose paper was not in French, but about a project whose title is) told us about the database of French medieval texts on which he works. This has gone the heavy route of marked-up manuscripts, though in justice to Professor Stella’s point far fewer individual manuscripts than were involved in DigiMed, with side-by-side facsimile and it is, in point of fact, quite impressive. There was no more to the paper than a presentation of it but its URL is something I’m glad to have got. Nonetheless, this was an odd session from an outsider’s perspective, and an outsider I definitely was: all the papers overran and the little discussion that remained was Professor Stella quizzing everyone else about their methods and discussion of TEI tags. Also, I’m fairly sure I was the only British person in the room. Given that the digital humanities is an English-language field, this was bewildering to me, but nonetheless, in medieval studies and indeed the humanities in general it frequently seems that the English-speaking countries are not the primary contributors or even, as here, playing with the rest at all, a very different impression than that of the end of the previous day.
So, I got myself well out of that and went and made a nuisance of myself among people working on Scotland who weren’t expecting old cynics like myself to come and pick holes in their projects. (I didn’t actually do too much of this, I hope, but I had as you can tell left the previous session in a somewhat mean mood.) All three of the presenters were graduate students of James Fraser‘s in Edinburgh, anyway, so it would have been somewhat unfair. Mr Plumb had chosen the somewhat unexpected topic of people migrating to Ireland from Scotland, against the tide as his doctoral project title has it, and had picked three cases out of the Irish Annals whose stemma I attempted above, all churchmen and all, unexpectedly, apparently passing through the north-eastern area of Caithness, which doesn’t seem as if it should be any kind of bridging area between the two islands! Miss Gefreh was trying to spot links between the mysterious Picts and other European cultures through shared iconography, and had picked serpents, but whereas we might expect any Christian people to be fairly down on snakes, particularly one whose Christianity came (partly) from an island whence a saint was held to have banished all snakes, actually the iconography is quite mixed: in Ireland snakes in sculpture can as often be protective as threatening. I therefore mentioned the snakes on the earliest Anglo-Saxon pennies, which I and others have found similarly hard to profile, but Dr Anna Gannon, who was there, thought these were always positive.
Lastly Miss Morris pondered the age-old question of what the Pictish symbol stones were actually for, a dangerous thing to do with me in the audience, but she navigated the straits well, pointing out that at the very least a significant portion of them, more than are not, are associated with funerary contexts but if so were obviously not usual in burial; a majority of them are near settlements (but how near is important?) and 75% can be argued to have been on later parish boundaries (but which way round is the causation there, when you have such obvious landmarks planted in the ground?) She wound up in more or less the same place that I have in trying to mesh all these different significances, that the stones seem to be an élite manifestation creating a shared communal memory in the seventh and eighth centuries, but she saw it as using a shared idiom to protect territory whereas I tend to see it as a membership badge for the Pictish polity, and someone I didn’t know said in questions that this also happens in Ireland. Miss Morris will likely get her ideas into print first, however! In questions, however, others saw problems with the idea of the stones as containing any very restricted kind of symbology. Victoria Whitworth stressed how many humbler sorts of object also use these symbols: the only reason this looks élite from that point of view is that carving big stones takes time, but there is also, I think, the very strong similarity between instances to explain. I suppose that the positive thing here is that although the discipline has been wrestling with this question for generations, taking all the data together and looking at it as a system with peculiarities is still getting us slowly closer to a consensus than art historical approaches ever did.
Dr Winckler gave one of the more impressive papers I’d seen at the conference in terms of marshalling a lot of difficult material clearly so as to lay out for us a history of early medieval competition for the control of the Church and missionary activity in the undefined area we now think of as Carinthia. In the course of the early Middle Ages this now-Austrian area could be counted as part of Italy, as Bavarian, as Avar and as Slav territory and in the last configuration it found itself subject to several missionary attempts that are reported (from the point of view of the archbishops of Salzburg) in the famously difficult Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum.1 That text only tells one side of the story, however, and that very late and confusingly, whereas the kind of mapping of properties and dependencies that Dr Winckler has been doing shows an earlier mission spread from a much less famous house at Innichen, as well as a continuing if ephemeral presence from the Italian (and for some of this time, Byzantine) metropolitan see at Aquileia, whose competition with Salzburg is better documented, and a not insignificant push from the Bavarian monastery of Freising also, with the end result that Salzburg and Freising wound up duking it out at court for who controlled little Innichen and its properties in ‘their’ mission zones. This was, I think, the most detail I’ve seen anyone put into these territories’ early history and it just goes to show what you can do with charters, that’s all I can say.
Professor Schneider, meanwhile, was self-confessedly out of his area this far west but still had plenty to say about how, in the absence of very much writing from actual early medieval Brittany, its history has been populated either with pan-Celtic carry-over from Wales and Cornwall or by accepting the barbarising rhetoric of the sources from the Frankish court that sought to suppress its persistently resistant local identity. He suggested that since the area was thoroughly Romanised and then more or less left that way while the rest of Gaul went to pieces in the fifth century, probably what we ought to expect is a strongly continuous culture that is neither Welsh nor Frankish but, well, Breton or Armorican or whatever, and that this is in fact how we should be reading the dense evidence of local community organisation from Redon.2 Lastly Miss Lamy took us back to Anjou (those of us who had already been there this conference, anyway) and, using the properties of the house of Marmoutier there, tried to figure out the filing system evident, but obscure, in the dorsal markings of its 836 surviving original documents. It seems to have been based not around dioceses or counties but the less-well-defined units known as pagi, but at the edges of them the scribes were evidently uncertain what was in and what was out. Miss Lamy used this to construct a kind of twelfth-century frontier for Marmoutier’s property, between the known and organised and the ‘outside’. I asked if there was any lower-level organisation visible in the archive, wondering if that would bring clarity, and apparently this isn’t clear but what is is that the monks knew the archive well enough to cross-reference in it, so they obviously had some kind of inventory of their own documents and could find them. I love this stuff, and wish we had more to go on, because what we have so far makes everywhere’s practices look different…
1310. Texts and Identities, IV: violence, legitimacy, and identity during the transformation of the Roman world
Lastly, I finally dropped in on Texts and Identities. I remember when you could easily spend basically the whole conference in Texts and Identities sessions, and for an early medievalist it could be hard to find reasons not to; now, here it was only starting on the third day, how times have changed. Nonetheless, familiar themes and old research agendas immediately emerged. Mr McDorman argued that for all that our Frankish sources, justifying the later conquest of the area, make the kings of Burgundy look like barbaric fratricides, what we can see of King Gundobad’s activity against wrongdoers, including his brother Godegisl after his Frankish-backed coup, looks as much if not more like the proper course of a Roman magistrate. We have to see this from the equally late Marius of Avrenches, of course, working from a lost source, but there’s a point there to be considered at least. Mr Omissi took us through a debate over whether the future Emperor Constantine I was in Britain with his father Emperor Constantius I as early as 305, as argued by Timothy Barnes, in which case he was presumably being groomed as successor, or if rather most sources are correct in having him make a desperate run to York in 306 when news of his father’s death reached him, in which case his rise to power was a very successful coup. Mr Omissi defended the latter position, arguing that sources saying otherwise are laying a quickly-advisable emphasis on hereditary rule that had, nonetheless, had little to do with Constantine’s actual succession.3 Lastly, local doctoral student Michael Burrows looked at mob violence in Book VII of Gregory of Tours’s Histories and concluded that Gregory wasn’t sure what he thought about it but at least didn’t see it as a class threat. The terminology of class here got a lot of wrangling in questions, and no-one, including Mr Burrows, was quite happy with its implications but we all found it difficult to find ways of talking about social hierarchy without overlapping with it. We are Marxed men! Or something…
And that wound things up: after that there was dinner and the dance, which despite the change of venue was reassuringly unaltered in either style or quality! But I don’t actually remember too much about it and this has gone on long enough already. So, next, funerary sculpture as promised then the final day and wrap-up. I’ll just note in closing that if you want an entirely different write-up of this day of Leeds 2013, Magistra and I seem to have gone to none of the same sessions so her post on this crosses with mine not at all. Two for the price of one folks! Catch you tomorrow.
1. Herwig Wolfram (ed.), Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum: das Weissbuch der Salzburger Kirche über die erfolgreiche Mission in Karantanien und Pannonien (Wien 1979); see also idem, Salzburg, Bayern, Österreich: die Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum und die Quellen ihrer Zeit, Mitteilungen des Instituts Österreichs für Geschichtsforschung Ergänzungsband 31 (Wien 1995).
2. Explored brilliantly, of course, in Wendy Davies, Small Worlds: the village community in early medieval Brittany (London 1988), as I’m sure Professor Schneider must have said.
3. Seeing as Mr Omissi’s title referred to a book, I suppose we’d better cite it! Timothy D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge MA 1984).