Monthly Archives: November 2018

Introducing the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

I am buried in marking, so have to resort to stored content for this week, in the hope of more progress later in the week. This is a post that I’ve had stubbed for so long to complete, indeed, that I have just repeatedly forgotten that it should come next on quite numerous occasions. Now, however, its turn in the sun finally comes! For lo, it was in the year 2015, in the January of that year, while I was still residing in the settlement of Beormingaham, that word reached me of a new digital venture by two of my by-then-bosom colleagues, Dr Rebecca Darley (now of Birkbeck, University of London) and Dr Daniel Reynolds (still, but now establishedly, at Birmingham), called the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive.

Screen capture of the home page of the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

Screen capture of the home page of the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

If I have my memories right, and I seem to, this came about because while those two had been in charge of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts coin collection (in which of course they preceded me), they had found in the coin room several cardboard boxes of photographs and ephemera, which on inspection turned out to be nothing less than the photographic archive of the Byzantine excavations of Professor David Talbot Rice, eminent art historian and archaeologist at Edinburgh. Apparently his widow thought the Byzantine materials would be best homed with Birmingham’s famous Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies of which I once had the honour to be part. It was quite the little hoard, anyway, as most of his photographs had been taken before the Second World War, so he had, for example, pictures of Istanbul (where he’d dug the Great Palace of Constantinople) which showed it completely different to its current state, with things that are now long gone, built over, or otherwise inaccessible visible and inspected with an academic’s precision. And this being our modern digital age, the immediate thought of our bold curators was to get this stuff online.

Pages from David Talbot Rice's notebook from the excavations of the Myrelaeon in Istanbul in the 1920s, image Myrelaion 006 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

Pages from David Talbot Rice’s notebook from the excavations of the Myrelaion in Istanbul in the 1920s, image 386 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

Now, those who know these two will also realise that no plan of theirs ever stays small. After all, though this was a special one, there are a lot of academics with photo archives, and what happens to them usually? If we’re fortunate, they go to a museum collection which may or may not have time to catalogue and/or display them; if we’re not, they either wind up in someone’s attic (or a coin room) or they go to landfill or recycling. What if someone set up a digital archive that could guarantee upload and preservation of such things? And thus was the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive born.

Rihab, St George, Jordan: stone-lined tomb with accompanying grave cover (left and middle). Image 15704362483, Rihab, by Daniel Reynolds, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, Creative Commons 3.0

Rihab, St George, Jordan: stone-lined tomb with accompanying grave cover (left and middle). Image 15704362483, Rihab, by Daniel Reynolds, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, Creative Commons 3.0.

Buy-in was pretty rapid. Dan contributed his own photos straight away, and their (indeed, my) then-colleague Matthew Harpster gave a load of his, but these were born-digital and in some ways easy pickings. Rather more of a coup was to obtain the promise, then the delivery, of the photos of Birmingham’s founder Byzantinist and then-living legend, Anthony Bryer, who had also trodden or ridden many a road no longer recognisable. Work to upload those is ongoing, and other scholars’ archives have been promised. But this is work that can use your help! To be maximally useful, these images need tagging. That’s a fair labour in itself, and both Rebecca and Dan now have full-time high-demand jobs that don’t leave much spare effort for tinkering with photographs, but there’s also the basic problem that some of them are unrecognisable, or at least unfamiliar to anyone but the seriously expert. By way of an example: can you identify this church? Because as far as I know, we/they can’t, as yet…

A church somewhere in Trebizond, c.1920, image 002 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

A church somewhere in Trebizond, c.1920, image 002 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

So I, and Rebecca and Dan, invite you to have a look at the archive as it now stands and see what you can find. Please note their terms and conditions, and their careful statement of limitations, but also please note the possibilities, and if you think you can help, I’m sure that they’d love to hear from you!

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I got given money for studying frontiers

I would, of course, be catching up on my backlog quicker if I weren’t alternating posts from it with differently-backlogged notices of my various achievements. But what am I supposed to do, either stop achieving things or stop reporting on them? I’m running a blog, the choice against false modesty or even politely refraining from self-publicity was made a very long time ago now. So, here is another achievement post, and it will not be the last such, either. I hope you can cope!

A view from the platform of the Castell de Gurb, Osona, Catalonia

A view from the platform of the Castell de Gurb down the erstwhile frontier of the Riu Ter

All that said, we are still in the past here, and the relevant markers in the past are October 2016 and April 2017. As even fairly short-term readers here will know, since about 2012 I’ve been thinking that the next big thing I’d like to do research-wise, alongside my general refinement of the world’s understanding of tenth-century power and authority as seen from Catalonia, is to get people thinking about frontiers using medieval evidence. I’ve organised conference sessions about this and I’ve even started publishing on it, against some odds (long story, near-future post).1 But I have also been planning a bigger project to do this. It was one of the things I promised, as part of my numerous probation obligations at the University of Leeds, that I would apply for funding for, and the two markers are, therefore, when the bid went in and when I got notice that I had in fact received the money. None of that would have been possible without the support of the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (as it then was), to whom I owe considerable collective thanks for guiding me in my first ‘big’ bid (and to then-Director Professor Greg Radick for scaling it down to a more-likely-successful size from my original aspirations), but obviously the main people who are owed thanks here are the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, one of whose Small Research Grants paid for what followed. So this is where I express my gratitude to them all: thankyou folks, I think you chose wisely but I’m very glad you chose me.

Logo of the British Academy

A logo from my sponsor…

Now, the obvious question now is what did I do with the money, indeed what did we do, because this was a network project involving several other fine scholars of such matters. But actually, one of the answers to that was, “start another blog“, which was one of the reasons I was editing here rather infrequently during 2017, when this was all coming off. So, rather than write it all out again here, I will direct you to it on the project website (also my own work) if you’re interested, saying here only that it covers the genesis of the project, its historiographical and methodological bases, a workshop, some connected activity, a triumphant conference (there are pictures), a related conference run by someone else and some of our future plans. If frontiers are your thing, and you didn’t somehow hear about this at the time, you might want to have a look. And if for some reason you just like reading my writing about what I’ve been doing, well, there is another missing chapter of it over there for you. Thankyou, as ever, for the attention and feedback!


1. Jonathan Jarrett, “Before the Reconquista: frontier relations in medieval Iberia, 718–1031” in Javier Muñoz-Bassols, Laura Lonsdale and Manuel Delgado (edd.), The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies (London 2017), pp. 27–40.