[This was originally posted on 26th January 2014 and stuck to the front page, but now I’ve reached the point in my backlog where it would originally have fallen, I’m releasing it to float free in the stream where future readers might expect it. Don’t laugh, chronology is important to historians…]
Even though this too is after the fact, it definitely deserves to be announced before I crunch through the relevant backlog. You first heard about it in September 2011, writing it in time for the deadline provoked me even to blank verse in December 2011, I actually told you what it was later that month; in March 2012 it was signalled that the revisions had been sent off; by the time we were dealing with proofs I was well into blog slough; but since October 2013 the world has been richer by a rather snazzy blue volume with my name on it, along with my co-editor Allan Scott McKinley’s, and this volume is called Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters. It is the eventual publication of some of the highlights of the Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic sessions that Allan, myself and Martin Ryan ran at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds between 2006 and 2011, and it is rather good if I do say so myself.
If you are wealthy, you can buy it as a good old-fashioned stack of bound pieces of paper between board covers here, or you can if you choose buy it in electronic segments here. Each chapter has its own bibliography so they stand alone quite nicely, though obviously, since we wrote them with sight of each other’s copy and often actually hearing each others’ thoughts at Leeds, and because as editors Allan and I knocked authors’ heads together virtually when they were addressing the same concerns, they stand better together. And who are these highly-esteemed authors, you may ask? And I answer with a list of contents as follows:
- Jonathan Jarrett, “Introduction: problems and possibilities of early medieval charters”
Written by me to an agenda thrashed out between myself, Allan, Martin in the early stages and Professor Pauline Stafford, one of the series editors, in the later ones, this tries to sum up where we currently are in early medieval charter studies and what this book is doing in them that’s new. I give you an extract below because I’m pleased with it both as prose and as publicity.
- Martin Ryan, “‘Charters in Plenty, if Only They Were Good for Anything’: the problem of bookland and folkland in pre-Viking England”
Martin here tackles one of the most tangled problems in Anglo-Saxon history with clarity and balance; at the end he hasn’t solved it but it’s much much clearer what the problem actually is, and I was setting this to students as soon as it was physically possible for them to get it. Martin also deserves praise for turning in a damn-near-perfect text. Neither Allan nor I could think of anything to change in it.
- Allan Scott McKinley, “Strategies of Alienating Land to the Church in Eighth-Century Alsace”
The charters of early Wissembourg have been mined by many a historian looking for party alignments in the great struggle between noble families for domination of the palaces of the Frankish kings that would eventually end in the triumph of the family who would become the Carolingians. Allan, with characteristic panache, shows that this is probably wrong since the Wissembourg donors’ activities make more sense in local, family contexts. He also wins the contest for longest footnote in the book.
- Erik Niblaeus, “Cistercian Charters and the Import of a Political Culture into Medieval Sweden”
Erik joined in the sessions with the brief of showing something of how a society that was new to charter use picked up and incorporated them into its political operations, and he does so with great clarity whilst also finding time to give a few nationalist myths a reasonable roughing-up on the way. I learnt a lot from this one.
- Charles West, “Meaning and Context: Moringus the lay scribe and charter formulation in late Carolingian Burgundy”
Charles carries out a classic micro-study here, getting from ‘why does one village in tenth-century Burgundy have a layman writing its charters?’ to ‘why and how are documents changing across Europe in the run-up to the year 1000?’, and makes some very sharp suggestions about how the two join up. He also got his favourite charter onto the cover, so read this to find out why it’s important!
- Jonathan Jarrett, “Comparing the Earliest Documentary Culture in Carolingian Catalonia”
I think this is actually my most rigorous piece of work ever. It has tables and pie-charts (though on those see below the cut), it uses numbers, it has a big dataset and lots of electronic analysis. What it shows, I think, is that the Carolingians didn’t change the way that documents were written when they took over Catalonia, but that the local bishops probably did in order to come up with something definitively local that was then spread through cathedral-based training and local placement of local priests. That might seem a lot to believe but that’s why I had to do it properly! Editor’s privilege: this is by far the longest chapter in the volume, but I think it’s important. Of course, I would…
- Arkady Hodge, “When is Charter Not a Charter? Documents in Non-Conventional Contexts in Early Medieval Europe”
Arkady definitely wins the prize for widest scope here: this chapter runs from Ireland to the Crimea via Canterbury and Bavaria, and what it finds in all these places is charters recorded in Gospel Books or other such contexts. He wisely asks: if this supposedly unusual preservation is so widespread, perhaps it’s… usual?
- Antonio Sennis, “Destroying Documents in the Early Middle Ages”
This one we were lucky to be able to include, a paper from before our sessions ran for which Antonio had not found a home. In it he asks why people would even destroy documents, and concludes that there are lots of reasons and far from all of them fraudulent or tactical, but all of which merit thinking about.
- Charles Insley, “Looking for Charters that Aren’t There: lost Anglo-Saxon charters and archival footprints”
Coming out of his work for the publication of the Anglo-Saxon charters of Exeter, Charles is faced with a lot of what diplomatists call deperdita, lost documents that are however attested in other documents, and does some very clever work to make something of the patterns of what does and doesn’t exist in his material. This one also probably has the most jokes of any of the papers, though Arkady is also in contention.
- Shigeto Kikuchi, “Representations of Monarchical ‘Highness’ in Carolingian Royal Charters”
If you’ve seen the texts of many early medieval royal charters you’ll have observed that the kings are no less splendid in their titles than our remaining European monarchs are now: majesty, highness, sublimeness, and so on scatter their documents. Shigeto however spots habits in these uses that seem to actually tie up to deliberate strategies of presentation and differentiation between the various Carolingian rulers, which not only may help to spot when something is off about a text but also gives us a potential window on the actual kings’ decisions on how to present themselves.
- Morn Capper, “Titles and Troubles: conceptions of Mercian royal authority in eighth- and ninth-century charters”
Contrariwise, in a thoroughly contextualised assessment of the titles used for Mercian rulers in their diplomas during the period when Mercia was both a political force and issued charters, Morn shows that what we have here is not necessarily the kings’ choices of self-presentation, but, maybe more interestingly, the recipients’ or their scribes’, and it’s very revealing.
- Elina Screen, “Lothar I in Italy, 834–40: charters and authority”
- Alaric Trousdale, “The Charter Evidence for the Reign of King Edmund (939–46)
Despite their different centuries and countries of interest, these two papers are doing very similar things, which is one very familiar to me from Catalonia: looking at an area and time where there is almost no wider political narrative material available to historians and reconstructing events and power politics from the charter evidence, and both come up with new ideas about what was going on at their chosen monarchs’ courts at their chosen times as a result.
- Julie Hofmann, “Changes in Patronage at Fulda: a re-evaluation”
Julie here presents probably the most tech.-heavy paper, but it gives her extra chops: she goes about what would be an analysis of who gives what where quite similar to Allan’s except that having a database of the voluminous material from Fulda lets her seek precise answers to important questions like that necessary classic, “what are the women doing?” This not only offers some answers to that question but also explores the difficulties in gendering this kind of evidence and what it gets one to do so.
I don’t think there’s a chapter here that isn’t important in its field, and there are several that I’m proud to think may be important over several. Most importantly, any one of them can probably tell you something extra about your own field. As I put it in the closing paragraph of the introduction:
“The eclectic selection of papers is therefore part of the point: all of these studies can inform, and have informed, several or all of the others. This justifies the hope that readers of this volume will come to it because of something they need to read for their own purposes, but discover before putting it back on the shelf that there are other things that interest them which will also help them think over their material and its uses. We also hope, therefore, that even if some of the possibilities we present cause problems, the problems will also be possibilities.”
There’s also some less optimistic things I want to say about this book. The first and most significant of these is that of the thirteen contributors, only four are in established academic posts. Four aren’t in academic posts at all, and the rest of us are all on contracts that will run out, without much idea of what happens next. Of even those, three wrote their first versions of these chapters while employed outside the Academy or not employed at all, states to which we may yet return and from which this volume will not keep us. I think we’ve all done good work here and I’m really pleased to have been able to give those of us in such circumstances a signal boost. It’s to the credit of the peer review process that our various professional circumstances have not barred us from publication, and that our contributions are recognised as worthwhile, but on the other hand, there’s still something wrong if such as we are the lifeblood of scholarship. An organism of whose lifeblood this much is exterior can hardly be said to be in best of health…
It was also a bit of a bind bringing the thing to press. The deadlines were repeatedly very tight, partly but not entirely because of the need to get it between covers in time for the UK’s Research Excellence Framework deadline (which of course we did, meaning that our work is basically irrelevant to most of our career progressions in a way that it would not have been three months later). I spent New Year’s Eve 2011 pulling together a final submission text, and then New Year’s Eve 2012 finalising the first proofs. Between those points, the publishers changed the style-sheet, and although they generously tried to fix up our new bibliographies for us, this was not a total success, not least because whoever did it had not met Spanish and Catalan surnames before so every one of those wound up with the wrong name first. The second proofs came during term-time and turned out not to incorporate most of the changes we’d asked for in the first proofs. This was also the first point at which the graphics were incorporated, and that added extra problems. In the end, it was all resolved more or less OK, and I certainly can’t fault the publishers’ goodwill and dogged carrying through of our numerous requests at that stage; they had given us a horrible task with a tight deadline and I’m afraid we gave one back to them. (Nor, as far as we can determine, was the mess-up with the first-stage proofs Brepols’s fault.) All the same, the fact that there were so many pre-existent problems to check over seems to have meant that I didn’t notice new ones as I should have done and this had especially horrible effect with the charts in my chapter.
I originally did these in Excel and captioned them in Word, and of course the publishers redrew them and I was pretty pleased with the sharpness of the result. Graph 2 is bang on, absolute numbers not percentages (those already being graphically apparent) and keyed to the captions. I should have looked more closely at the rest, though. I did spot that 4 & 5 had somehow lost their keying to captions and now only gave the numbers of documents, but decided that the first one made it obvious how the charts were to be read so it wasn’t worth risking the delay that redrawing would involve. I should have looked closer. It’s most obvious with Graph 3. Had you noticed? Five captions, six segments. And correspondingly, Graph 4 has five segments and six captions. Graph 5 is OK except for the lack of keying. But they swapped Graphs 3 & 4 and I didn’t realise. Well, OK, not terribly creditable, as it makes it very hard for anyone who would actually like to check my maths to do so. But on the other hand, this is where having a blog can really help out. Somewhat like the page of errata that pre-digital works might still include when the volume went to press, because resetting it at that stage would be far too expensive, one can publish corrections! Thus, below, please find graphs 2, 3, 4 and 5 as they were sent in and meant to be, and if you do need to follow up or use my argument in that chapter, hopefully they will make it possible for you.
Finally, the now-canonical grim statistics. The introduction went through two drafts only, but my actual chapter was first written up in 2007, and consequently has a longer history, with nine drafts total, including a near-complete rewrite after I showed an early version without the maths in to Wendy Davies and Graham Barrett and they didn’t believe what I was trying to prove, thus forcing me to actually crunch the numbers and consequently spot several important factors. It owes a great deal to Allan not taking my word that anything needed to be as complex in expression as I was making it, too. Both texts, however, were submitted in final versions at the same time, and between then and actual publication was twenty-two months. As I say, I don’t know at all how people higher up in the profession manage to get things out in a year or less. We bust our backs making these deadlines… but it’s done and it’s (mostly) good.