What to remember from the 2018 International Medieval Congress?

Although I feel that it probably is a sign that I am catching up on my blogged past, I have to admit that I face the fact that the next thing in my blog pile is the International Medieval Congress of three-and-a-half years ago with a certain unwillingness. I mean, I’ve spent much of the last two years either trying to stay off or being told I can’t go onto the campus where it happened, for a start, so there is definitely a sense that this is deep past which doesn’t have so much to do with time as experience. But I’ve done all the rest and the format for them seems pretty well worked out now, and so I will give it a go.

Postcard advertisement for the International Medieval Congress 2018

Postcard advertisement from the IMC website

This was, I am reminded as I fish the programme off the shelf, the 25th International Medieval Congress, and the programme is the fattest of all the ones on that shelf. I can’t actually work out how many sessions there were: it says that there were 392 sessions on the conference theme of Memory, 9 keynote lectures and 394 further sessions, plus 4 lectures, so I think it’s 799, but firstly I’m not sure if that was everything and secondly, that was the programme as initially published, not the result of all the subsequent changes you find in the also-thick booklet of changes when you register. And in any case, however many sessions there are, you still can’t go to more than 17 because that’s how many slots there are in the programme, which is massively parallel, and most delegates won’t manage that because of their feeble needs for food and sleep or because of wisely placing socialising with people you otherwise never see over more direct forms of academic engagement. I do like, however, how this means that it’s probably mathematically possible for more paths through the Congress to exist than there are attendees, since there were this year 2,545 attendees and, if my GCSE maths does not fail me, 1 x 53 x 1 x 54 x 54 x 13 = 2,009,124 possible combinations of sessions just on the Monday not including any of the receptions. How would we know if it got too big? Anyway, this just means that what I have done the last few times, just listing my own path and then offering a few remarks where things still stand out for me, seems like the best approach still, because I can’t give an impression of 2 million plus possible other Congress experiences in one blog post, now can I? So mine is below the cut, day by day with brief commentary on each day to lighten the data dump. As ever, I’m happy to try and answer questions about the papers if people have them, but I will try and stay short unless you do. Here we go!

Monday 2nd July 2018

1. Keynote Lectures 2018

102. Papers in Honour of Debby Banham, I: Anglo-Saxon Agriculture – Women, Royalty and Food”

  • Alex Woolf, “Women’s Work and Sheep Walks: Economy and Ecology in the Age of Ine”
  • Martha Bayless, “Women, Bread and the Supernatural”
  • Rosamond Faith, “Feeding Lords and Kings: feorm in Anglo-Saxon England

217. Change and Continuity in 10th-Century Western Europe, I: the Resources of Central Authorities, the Identities of Local Leaders

  • Robert Portass, “Rulers and Resources in 10th-Century Iberia”
  • Magdalena Betti, “Teofilatto or Teodora? Women’s Role in the Construction of Identity and Power of Roman Families”
  • Igor Santos Salazar, “‘Omnia disponebat ut soliti sunt modo Romani facere’: Fiscal Lands, Private Wealth and the Archbishop of Ravenna, 750-850”

418. Annual Early Medieval Europe Lecture

    Paul Fouracre, “Lights, Power and the Moral Economy of Early Medieval Europe”

I don’t usually go to the keynotes just because they are first thing on a Monday morning, but on this occasion Mary Carruthers is so famous for her work on memory that I thought I would be missing a trick not to hear her speak.1 As it was, she mainly built the lecture around Saint Augustine’s ideas of how memory worked, which were surprisingly modern in some ways but I have to admit, I do wonder how people come to enjoy reading him. Dance, meanwhile, chose to emphasise just how much is not known or agreed about the Old Norse influence on English that followed the Viking settlements of the 9th to 11th centuries, which he bravely connected to the theme at the last minute by suggesting that while words did not act as memory etymology might be an act of memory. OK! So I went on from there to some soothing stuff about tax and agricultural economy, mostly focused around the food-rents preserved in the Laws of King Ine of Wessex (ruled 688 to 726), which was very interesting though as I write it up now I realise that, never mind the pandemic, this was also before the crisis of Anglo-Saxonism and I wonder what any of these papers would have said if delivered in 2021.2 Tax then remained a theme, but the third session was noticeable mainly for the coherence of the discussion, which was basically a five-or-six-way wrangle over private wealth in al-Andalus and how much of it the state could appropriate. This was focused on some fairly throwaway remarks in Rob Portass’s paper and no-one was expecting him to have answers, but everyone was quite keen to test what answers there might be, and it was mainly politeness on the part of people who realised that neither of Drs Betti or Santos were getting any time in the light that let poor Rob off the stand. And Paul’s lecture was, as he said at the outset, about how we came to keep a light burning in churches, a thing that is basically an early medieval creation but also one about which he now has a book, so I’ll say no more on that here.3

Tuesday 3rd July 2018

546. Traces of Memory in the Western Mediterranean, I: Landscape and Underground Memory

  • Marta Sancho i Planas, “The Underground Memory: 25 Years of Medieval Archaeological Research in Catalan Pyrenees”
  • Maria Soler Sala, “Textual, Archaeological, and Territorial Sources for the Study of Spiritual Landscape Memory”
  • Xavier Costa Badia, “Landscapes as a Source: Using Territory to Study the Early Medieval Monasteries in the Catalan Counties”

645. Remembering Travels: Travelling in Memories, II

  • Ionuţ-Valentin Cucu, “Looking for Tradition: Zoroastrian Travellers between Iran and India”
  • Vladimir Liščak, “The Alan Christian Nobles at the Court of Great Khans”
  • Jana Valtrová, “Remembering Franciscan Martyrs in Europe and Asia”

728. Remembering and Misremembering the Islamic World, I

  • Andrew Marsham, “The Umayyads in the Kitab al-Aghani
  • Fozia Bora, “Mukhtaṣar in the Long View: Abridgement as Archival Practice”
  • Ghali Adī, “Early Hijazi Governors, Stewards and Scholars: Personal History Set in Stone”

828. Remembering and Misremembering the Islamic World, II

  • Josep Suñé, “Was the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba as Strong as the Arab Chroniclers Claimed?”
  • Aurora González Artigao, “Remembering an Andalusi Dynasty: the Banu Hud’s Memory from the Maghreb to the Mashreq”
  • Ann Christys, “Ibn Khaldūn Misremembers the Umayyad Dynasty in al-Andalus”

On inspection, I find that I thought there was material for a blog post each from Marta Sancho’s and Josep Suñé’s papers, and Xavier Costa’s was basically a précis of a doctoral thesis which I would later wind up examining (and of which he has also since published a reasonable précis which you can read for yourself), and am therefore also going to be writing about separately, so that does leave me talking round some gaps.4 Obviously it was great to see Catalonia representing itself, but better still to see one, lone, honourable Castilian archaeologist actually there to listen, as usually both groups are left to talk to themselves. In the following session, I was somewhat startled to find that apparently sources go on talking about that misunderstood steppe people, the Alans, well into the fourteenth century, and find them in the ranks of the Mongol armies, when I think of them as migrants to the West a near-millennium before, but so it seems to be, and not just because Ossetia would now like to claim them as its people’s ancient progenitors.5 In the following session, my colleague Fozia was very interesting about a genre that is supposedly abridgement of important works, but which could actually generate new works just as long as the originals in filtering and glossing their materials; she saw this as a species of archival self-replacement, and I need to think more with it. Mr Adī was engaged in a one-man effort to document inscriptions of early Umayyad officials, and I was left wondering as I have before why it is that the right person not employed by a university can do so much more alone than most university research projects do together. Lastly, I was very glad to find out that Ann Christys was also prepared to go on record as saying that Ibn Khaldūn’s details are often wrong, as more people will believe her than believe me; but since people apparently said it of him at the time, perhaps the most interesting part of that paper was Ann’s analysis of why he has become so revered a fount of authority (which was basically, we agree with him). As to Sancho and Suñé, you will hear more in weeks to come!

Wednesday 4th July 2018

1018. Transformations of Power: Sessions in Honour of Paul Fouracre, II – the Power of Saints

  • Ed Roberts, “Hagiography and Memory: the Vita Rigoberti in late Carolingian Context”
  • Julia M. H. Smith, “The Material Inheritance of St. Martin in the Early Middle Ages”
  • Catherine Cubitt, “St Wilfrid, Archbishop Theodore, and the Council of London”

1118. Transformations of Power: Sessions in Honour of Paul Fouracre, III – Communication, Consensus and Exchange

  • Danuta Shanzer, “Tangled Transactions in Desiderius of Cahors”
  • Wendy Davies, “Revisiting Breton Disputes”
  • Ian Wood, “Consensus in Merovingian Politics: An Assessment of the Validity of the Concept of Consensus for Understanding 7th-Century Francia”

1235. Proprietary Memories: notitiae-inventories in Early Medieval Iberia, I

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Why Make an Inventory (in 10th-Century Catalonia)?”
  • Guillermo Tomas Faci, “The Functions of an 11th-Century Inventory of Tithes from the Central Pyrenees”
  • Andre Evangelista Marques, “When Lists are Claims: Using Inventories in and outside Court in 9th‒11th-Century Portugal”

1335. Proprietary Memories: notitiae-inventories in Early Medieval Iberia, II

  • José Carlos Sánchez-Pardo and Marcos Fernández Ferreiro, “Property Inventories from an Archaeological Perspective: the monastic landscape of Samos (NW Spain), 8th‒11th Centuries”
  • Álvaro Carvajal Castro, “And the Traces of Absent Inventories: the use of notitiae in León and Galicia (9th‒11th c.)”
  • Jesús Lorenzo Jiménez, “«Sub censario iugo»: the census and inventories in the first decades of al-Andalus (c. 711‒754)”

1435. Proprietary Memories: notitiae-inventories in Early Medieval Iberia, III – A Round Table Discussion

So this was a busy day and no mistake, and I hesitate to say very much about the latter half of it even though I was in it, just because we are in the throes of publishing it all and I don’t want to put people on the spot for their first thoughts when we’ve all had several more conversations about our papers and matters arising since then. I will say that it was very nice to be involved in a three-session strand with the chance of publication and not have had to organise it (or do the editing…), and that my choice of the Lost and Found for post-session dinner and drinks turned out to be good enough that I would recommend it. Otherwise, I will say only that the answer to the question I posed myself turned out to be, more or less: because you thought it was the legal and proper thing to do in certain kinds of distress, but still, your idea seems not to have been too widely shared. Staying with the morning, therefore, I notice that Ed saw in tenth-century hagiography a point when it became OK to start talking about having Merovingian roots again, something which the Carolingian era had discouraged, but for which of course information quality was by now not all that great; and that Katy was suggesting, among other things, that the business of the Council of London, which brought the exile Bishop of York, Wilfrid, back into some kind of co-existence with the wider Church, was so urgent because of the actions of Cædwalla of Wessex, who had taken over three other kingdoms in the previous few years and left Wilfrid more or less free to arrange the Church in two of them so that he was now being bishop to nearly a third of the country despite Canterbury’s best attempts to regulate him. That made sense to me. But really, most of the day was being part of an exciting new thing and realising that I could still somehow pretend to be one of the young scholars who were out to change everything in their fields. (I did mention there were drinks, didn’t I? That must be where this delusion was coming from…)

Thursday 5th July 2018

However, there were not too many drinks, because I was back in for the graveyard shift the next day, the morning afer the dance, and responding too, so that I had to have my brain in, and not least because I was responding to no-one less than Cullen Chandler! But I’m getting out of format, let me state the data…

1537. Memory, Community, and Authority in Medieval Iberia: from peripheries to cities

  • Cullen Chandler, “Catalonia as a Carolingian Frontier”
  • Paulo Pacha, “Memory, Territory, and Unity: Ecclesiastical Geography and the Integration Process in the Visigothic Kingdom of Toledo”
  • Leonor Zozaya-Montes, “Rights and Memory to Run a City: Coimbra’s Council Archive in Late Medieval Times. News about an Early Archive and the Role of Oral Memory & Written (and Archives) Documents”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Response”

1604. Religious Praxis and Pastoral Care in Early Medieval Iberia, I: Liturgy

  • Purificación Ubric, “The Best Faith: Showing Christian Superiority through Liturgy in Fifth-Century Hispania”
  • Molly Lester, “Effective Experience: Religious Orthodoxy, Ritual Performance, and Contacting the Divine in 7th-Century Iberia”
  • Jeffrey Bowman, “Space, Cult, and Community in Early Medieval Iberia”

1717. Shaping the Past after the Carolingian Empire, III: Material Culture and Rulership

  • Rory Naismith, “The Transformation of the European Monetary Economy in the 10th and 11th Centuries”
  • Sarah Greer, “Embodying the Past: Remembering the Merovingians at their Burial sites in the 10th and 11th Centuries”
  • Simon MacLean, “Pasts and Presents in the Lothar Crystal”

This seems to have been the IMC’s occasional strategy of putting big hitters on the last day so that people will hang around, and as usual, it didn’t work in numerical terms but the few people in the last session were the ones who really cared about it: as well as the speakers, my notes show that we had David Bachrach, Julia Barrow, Julie Hofmann and Alex Woolf as well as someone I didn’t know, and that’s a lot of medievalist battery power for a small room when you add the speakers in as well, never mind your nearly-humble scribe. Mind you, having already had to come up with a response to three good papers which were, nonetheless, united really only by a geographical space and that fairly loosely, your scribe was happy mostly to sit back by then. I’d had to get the green biro out to think and everything.

Jonathan Jarrett's nites from session 1604 of the 2018 International Medieval Congress

As we have discussed here before, I take a lot of notes

Looking back, I can’t see how this doesn’t mean I was swapping between two pens to make notes as people spoke, which I’m sure is normal and rational behaviour. I also had forgotten by now that Jeffrey Bowman was speaking about the consecration acts of Catalonia, the records of the ceremonies for readying a church for liturgical operation, and I wish I had remembered, because not long ago I was examining a thesis about that too, this seems to be one of my things these days. Meanwhile Rory seems to have been setting up to revise Peter Spufford’s book on money in high medieval Europe, and I have to say, I can’t think who would do that better, and it was interesting to hear Sarah Greer echoing Ed Roberts’s earlier point about the tenth century being when it became OK to look back to the Merovingians again; I think this was parallel evolution of an academic moment, and it is interesting how those can happen, representing our own shifts in what’s sensible and possible to think, happening before us if we choose to notice.6

I also note, having written all this up, just how much time I spent and was able to spend in sessions about early medieval Iberia this Congress. I used to have quite stiff quotas for trying to keep up with my spread of interests, but then there used then only to be three or four early medieval Iberian sessions to choose from over the whole Congress; this time it was easy enough to find three even beyond the four I was involved in. I did get my obligatory British, Islamic, numismatic, archaeological and just-never-heard-of-it stuff in as well, though no Byzantine stuff, it seems, but I wonder how many actual Spanish (or Catalan) conferences run seven sessions on early medieval Iberia? The IMC was at this point becoming so big that it could sustain multiple sub-conferences within itself, and for this year I was fine with that, as I had a good time and learnt a lot (even if I’ve said hardly anything about it, I realise). But with close on three thousand words, maybe I should stop anyway and let you the readers ask anything you feel needs asking!

I have more photos for next post, but because I realise that not everyone comes here just for my holiday snaps, I will alternate them with the two posts arising from this one and then some other more intellectual content. So, if you don’t like a post, there’ll be a different kind of one along next!


1. The famous bit of it is Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 70, 2nd ed. (Cambridge 2008).

2. This is a developing field, obviously, and to endorse any one view is to risk offending its opponents, but I did find this recent piece something like a step forward at least: Fran Allfrey, “Ethnonationalism and medievalism: reading affective ‘Anglo-Saxonism’ today with the discovery of Sutton Hoo” in postmedieval, early view (2021), DOI: 10.1057/s41280-021-00209-9.

3. Paul Fouracre, Eternal light and earthly concerns: Belief and the shaping of medieval society (Manchester 2021).

4. Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisajes monásticos: el monacato altomedieval en los condados catalanes (siglos IX-X). Tese de Doutoramento em História apresentada à Universidade de Barcelona (Espanha), Julho de 2019. Orientação das Professoras Blanca Garí e Maria Soler-Sala” in Medievalista no. 28 (Lisboa 2020), pp. 419–434, online here.

5. For better or worse, when I think of the Alans I think mainly of Bernard S. Bachrach, A History of the Alans in the West, Minnesota Monographs in the Humanities 7 (Minneapolis MN 1973), and since then I’m aware of Irina A. Arzhantseva, “The Alans: Neighbours of the Khazars in the Caucasus” in Peter B. Golden, Haggai Ben-Shammai & András Róna-Tas (edd.), The World of the Khazars: new perspectives, Handbook of Oriental Studies Section 8: Uralic and Central Asian Studies 17 (Leiden 2007), pp. 59–73, on Academia.edu here, but I would never have imagined that the Alan story could be stretched to the time of the Mongols.

6. The book Rory would be replacing is Peter Spufford, Money and its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1988), which was and is a masterwork but which thirty-five subsequent years of finds and work do put in need of modification.

2 responses to “What to remember from the 2018 International Medieval Congress?

  1. Pingback: Digging normality in the 11th-century Pyrenees | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  2. Pingback: Al-Mansur’s failure to conquer the north of Iberia | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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