Category Archives: Blogroll

Metablog XI: link clear-out

As is now normal, alas, I have to apologise for the gap in posting; there have been exam marks to finalise and then, heavens help me, I actually took some time off to do non-medieval things. But now I am back and I’m trying to work towards the point where I’m not just up to date with my own stuff but also with at least some other people’s. That’s still a long way off but as a first effort I have taken a long haul through the links in my sidebar, taking out those that no longer existed or are inactive, updating those that had moved and fixing some typos in what survived. Now, everything I’m linking to should be some kind of relevant and active.

There’s room in such an exercise for reflection, of course. It’s noticeable, for example, that most of what I had to prune was in the Resources section; I had to take out far fewer blogs even though my criteria for them are more stringent (viz., they have to have medieval content less than a quarter old on the front page). It seems that a one-person operation with commercial hosting is more practical to maintain than a static institutional website, who knew? Well, we all knew it probably, but it shouldn’t really be that way should it? Digital continuity is for some reason something the Academy can’t manage as well as WordPress. Then again, it may be the one-person thing. When it can be someone else’s fault if something isn’t done, it’s easier for everyone to ignore it maybe? Certainly, group blogs seemed to have survived less well than single-author ones, though obviously this is not real statistics given it’s a selective sample of a tiny size.

A conceptualisation of the blogosphere by analogy to the Earth's atmosphere

A conceptualisation of the blogosphere by analogy to the Earth’s atmosphere, located and explained at Perishable Press (linked through)

Then there’s nostalgia (which is, as we know, not what it used to be). It’s not just me that’s had trouble keeping up with updating; some of the most venerable medievalist blogs, the ones who were an encouragement to me that other people did this thing when I was starting and who have been written about as bloggers, are now silent or dormant. In some cases there were real, sometimes fairly awful reasons; in some cases like mine it’s just acute time shortage; but I guess that it’s also that for a lot of now-silent bloggers online interaction has moved, to Facebook or Twitter. I don’t use those (because as Stuart Airlie once insightfully told me, it’s all about control) but no less a figure than Geoffrey Chaucer shows how this can happen. It’s not that blogs are dead, despite worries to that effect for many years now. There are also several fairly new blogs on the roll, but they are more noticeably academic publicity operations and less anonymised relations of the life academic than was once the case. The medium continues, but it’s now being used for different things, indeed roughly the things I set out to use it for when I started, although I slipped towards the middle of that continuum fairly rapidly. I doubt I started the trend, I think it was the pressure for impact and relevance that did that, but it is still noticeable. There’s still masses to keep up with, of course, and as yet I can’t, but I do hope to again some day. Now, at least the list of what I can’t keep up with is up to date again…

Collecting from Cliopatria

Screenshot of the History News Network magazine website

Screenshot of the History News Network magazine website

Long-term readers may know that I used to be a contributor to a group blog at the Humanities News Network site, which was called Cliopatria. Cliopatria was kind of a lead singer and his backing band; Ralph Luker, the editor, did most of the posting and various other people chimed in every now and then, and from 2009 to the blog’s closure in 2012 I was one of those people. I always found Cliopatria a difficult audience to pitch for; I had been asked to contribute as a medievalist, but despite my efforts and those of the two East Asian studies people also contributing the bulk of both posting and commenting was modern-US-centric. I therefore wound up focusing my activity there either on things about scholarship on the Middle Ages I thought would interest other fields or, and here I had company, on the state of the Academy. Some of that material also appeared here, and I generally mentioned here when I’d got something up there, but I did try and make sure that I was writing distinctly for each blog.

Despite that, in general my posts went uncommented and in fact, it was then usual for me to get more comments and feedback here than anyone ever got on Cliopatria, so I posted there only rarely. Then, somewhere in 2011 I think, HNN had a redesign that changed their stylesheet and effectively wrecked anything that anyone had previously done with HTML tags; quotations ceased to be distinguishable from paragraph text, for example, and hyperlinked text appeared three point sizes smaller than that around it. Much of my existing content now looked stupid or wrong and it was hard to work in the new template; links inside the blog stopped working and posting, not just mine but everybody’s but Ralph’s, dropped right off. It struggled on a little longer and then Ralph finally closed the blog in early 2012. It remains readable, but I learn in writing this that Ralph himself died in August 2015, which I am saddened by. May he rest easily.

Since then, anyway, I’ve occasionally had reason to go back to my Cliopatria posts for something, and they are really hard to find. The site has been redesigned again since Cliopatria closed and things now look better, though not as good as they did before the first redesign; but the links to individual authors’ works have gone, as have all the comments, and its internal search is lousy. My name doesn’t appear over all my posts, and neither my own list of links or Google can bring back everything I wrote there. So for some time I’ve been meaning to put together a list of my posts, for my own reference as much as anything, and this is that list. In compiling it, I’ve discovered quite a number of things I had completely forgotten writing, and I fear that there may still be more I haven’t found. What I have, I’ve broken down by categories and arranged by date within them, and if you wanted to go and read any of them that would be lovely, though I’ve also indicated where they also appear here at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe because those are easier reading still. When it drops off the front page I’ll set this post up as its own page. In the meantime, this is what I did for Cliopatria.

Actual Research Posts

These were generally poorly-judged for Cliopatria and usually also appeared here. After a while I stopped doing them except out of guilt at having not posted for ages.

Medievalism in the Modern World

A long-term strand of my blogging, this, but all the more important where medievalists would not normally tread but modernists are still reading it. These are probably the posts I’m proudest of writing at Cliopatria, I think they were useful and good publicity for why having experts on this stuff is sometimes helpful.

The State of the Academy

I’m much less sure about these posts, as a rule. In particular, they mostly come from the point when the Conservative Party under David Cameron was just beginning to muck about with UK higher education funding; a lot of people were self-righteously angry and it was easy to get on that bandwagon without necessarily thinking too hard. After all, the government was directing baton charges against schoolchildren protesting about tuition fees; if you weren’t angry, you arguably weren’t paying attention. Also, though, for much of my time on Cliopatria I was at Oxford, which the more I look back on it (or read my leftover issues of The Oxford Magazine) looks like a bubble of small-c conservative privilege I wasn’t then fully able to see out of. The people writing in the Magazine clearly don’t represent their colleagues very widely—Oxford has not gone private, banned tourists from the Bodleian Library, legislated to remove authority from its own Council or cut back the university administration, or any of the other things for which they regularly campaigned, for a start—but Oxford also doesn’t represent the rest of UK HE very well, and I honestly just didn’t realise how true that was till I got out. So these posts come from an odd, and rather blinkered, place, and occasionally I got pulled up for that. Still, there are some good rants there and a few things I’d still stand by.


Entrevista a mi en Català

The seminar reports are catching up but reports on my other activity seem still to be mired in busy busy November 2014. At the very end of that month, I had the unusual honour of being interviewed for a Catalan history news website, a sort of recognition I’m very flattered to receive although I wish I could have given them a better photograph. Should you be interested, it’s here:

I should probably post the English, shouldn’t I? But I am writing this on a train to Birmingham to x-ray more coins and time and wi-fi are both scant, so I’ll wait to see if anyone wants it. Meanwhile, speaking of Birmingham, even while posting was sparse here I was still cropping up in other places on the Internet, not least the blog of the Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages, as follows:

And then lastly, though I will write properly about All That Glitters soon I promise, even as Cross Country Trains carry me towards the next session, here is a snapshot about one of those we already did:

I have never been so twitterfied! Anyway, with that I must get back to what I am doing now, but here at least is some record of what I have been doing that you didn’t have before!

If you didn’t like that CFP, why not try this one?

The frontiers thing not catching your imagination? Perhaps you’re thinking: “So divisive! I want to look at what brings people together. Why couldn’t our subjects just all have been friends?” Well, Amy Brown of the Université de Genève has something made for you:

Elusive affection: Proposed session for Leeds IMC 2015 July 6-9

Organisers: Amy Brown (Université de Genève, amisamileandme), Regan Eby (Boston College)
Call for Papers (two speakers sought)
Deadline for abstract submission: 20th September
Send abstracts to: (will be forwarded to Regan Eby from there)

What is affection? Can we reliably locate or describe the features of affection between medieval persons, real or fictional?

Love of God, romantic love, and love between monastic peers or loyal knights: these and other kinds of love are well attested across the range of medieval sources and periods, but historians of friendship recognise the difficulty of bridging the gap between felt affection and the literary tropes of love. Love might be spoken or written of in situations where the parties were unlikely to feel positively toward one another, such as in reconciliations and peace treaties. In other cases, sources might borrow from the scripts of romance, friendship at court, or family in order to characterise a peculiar relationship, such as an opposite-sex friendship. Some forms of affection might be indicated without reference to the vocabulary of love at all.

We invite medievalists from any period or discipline to propose a paper relating to the history of affection, unconventional affectionate bonds, or approaches to situations in which we have insufficient data for firm conclusions concerning the presence or absence of affection in lived experience. The abstract for Amy Brown’s paper (focusing on 14th c english romance) is below, and we would particularly like to complement this paper with evidence from other periods or other literary traditions.

Sir Lancelot in the Friend Zone: strategies for offering and limiting affection in the Stanzaic Morte Arthur

Amy Brown, Université de Genève

In erthe is nothing that shall me let
To be thy knight loud and still

This promise appears in the Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur not as a proposition to a beloved, but as Lancelot’s counter-offer in rejecting the Maid of Astolat’s romantic desires toward him. This text features a negotiation sequence, not found in other versions of the Astolat narrative, in which Lancelot and the Maid attempt to articulate the terms of a relationship which is both like and unlike that of romantic love.

This paper aims to do two things: firstly, to set out the history of the concept of affection (linguistically distinct from the 12th c) and its overlap with medieval ideas of love. Secondly, to read the Maid of Astolat segment of the Stanzaic Morte as an instance in which comparison and analogy with familiar relationship types is used to establish affection at the core of an unconventional bond, that of opposite-sex friendship.

Final note, especially since Amy intends to distribute this CFP to Swiss colleagues: proposals for papers in English preferred, but we enthusiastically endorse the idea of panelists (esp. early career researchers) unaccustomed to working in English. Amy can volunteer moral support and/or editing assistance if helpful, and we will aim to moderate questions with opportunity for clarifications and translations as needed.

(Hey Amy, with an interesting topic like this, you should totally have a blog amirite?)


An alternative manifesto for this blog

“If I could live in any decade, it would definitely be the 960s.”

Probably as thinking humans you all read The Onion already and saw this when it was new, or when Another Damned Medievalist also linked it (though I can’t now find where she did so), but it appeals on so many levels…

“… Everyone was in this vibrant period of transition between Byzantine autocracy and fealty to large landowners, just trying to discover themselves. For a brief moment you had this optimism that made you feel like you could just stick your thumb out, hop in a passing cart transporting waterfowl, and go. Didn’t even matter where—you’d just take it easy at the next fiefdom and figure it out. Who was going to tell you no? The king? Edgar the Peaceable was on the throne and he didn’t care. It was a simpler time…”

I mean, I’m probably more a fan of the 970s myself—so many exciting possibilities as Europe begins to have access to gold again, even if it comes with a side-order of Muslim military campaigns of terror in Spain and Southern France, Norman ones of opportunity in Southern Italy and Viking ones of conquest in England… But the arts were so much more ambitious!—but he’s totally right about the 980s. That can only seem like a good decade if you don’t remember it!


OK, it is clear that my existing routine for updating this blog is not working. I won’t go into the details of that, as my obsessive-compulsive-like symptoms don’t deserve that much publicity, but let us simply say that the slot … Continue reading

Leeds blogger meet-up (better late than never…)

Various things have kept me away from electronic media till today, more or less since I last wrote, but events march fast upon us and not the least of these is the 2012 International Medieval Congress, to which I shall be departing tomorrow (or, looking at the clock, today) and at which there has in recent years been a bloggers’ meet-up. I’m not sure we’re up to strength this year but since there will be at least five of us and possibly more Magistra has been canvassing behind the scenes and has settled upon the following time and place: the Stables pub at Weetwood Hall, on Monday evening, from 20:00. I and she will certainly be there, I perhaps from earlier, and if you are a blogger of any kind you would of course be very welcome to join us. (Please, bloggers and others, bear in mind that some who might attend do not necessarily want their real names and their blogs linked more widely, and we ask you to be suitably careful about that.)

Your humble author Jonathan Jarrett in gratuitous black tie

This was taken shortly after a lengthy formal dinner, and doesn’t it show?

Thus, although Magistra’s academic identity is not what you would call secret any more, she has not yet gone so far as to put her name and likeness directly on her blog, whereas mine is all over the web, I suppose I will probably be recognisable for something other than probably being the only male in the gathering, and so if you’re looking for us you can look for me. And I currently look like this, not usually so formally attired but just about as tired… Maybe see you there!

My writing in other places (or not)

I have some hopes of resuming reasonably regular posting some day soon, but that day is not today, sorry; there are two papers needing rewriting, one requiring no little reading, two reviews to write neither of whose books I’ve yet read, and a multitude of other things almost all of which are late, and although this term’s crop of students is not, proportionally, as disaster-struck as last term’s, their misfortunes are still taking a bit of managing. But, I have been doing the odd little bit of blogging elsewhere, and I also wanted to mention a couple of other things connected with my text appearing on the Internet, since some of you have been kind enough to mention them to me.

My writing where I wanted it

In the first place, over the course of February I have put two posts up on Cliopatria. I’ve been having some misgivings over my place there, as I am an extremely occasional and fairly irrelevant presence by some measures, but it does avail me a place to get political, and thus, if you be interested in that, you can find it in two posts, entitled respectively, “‘They Are Trying To Rob Us of Our Right To Communicate’” (which was not about the SOPA Bill in the USA, though perhaps it should have been, but the motivations behind UK Higher Education policy such as it has been manifest here), and “A historian’s place in (current) politics”, which is more or less as it says. The latter has an egregious malapropism in it that Judith Weingarten quickly spotted, but the site appears to have lost my login details so I can’t currently fix it.1 Find it while you can!

My writing where I didn’t want it

[Update: the threats and exposure now seem to have paid off and as far as I can see the author mentioned below has taken my stuff down. However, I leave the paragraph here for continuity.]

In less cheerful news, I discovered very rapidly on February 12th that someone had grabbed about thirty posts from this blog and put them up on one of their own, to which I shall not link. I discovered this because they didn’t remove any of my numerous pingbacks to this site, and thus I could find out that they have not used my name, and so as well as stupid things like adverts for my books he has got my musings about being unhappy in church services etc. (or just unhappy) up under no name but `admin’, which is extremely odd to see and makes me quite angry. I am, of course, nothing to do with this site and I gave no permission for anything of the kind. I have been in touch with the author (who wrote to me about one of their other blogs, advertising the one where they’d loaded up my content! Perhaps not the brightest thief in the class, this person) and demanded they take the stuff down, I have been in touch with the abuse address at their web-host, but since none of this has as yet resulted in any action by anyone else, I am now also in touch with the University of Oxford’s lawyers and we’ll see what they advise. But since people had mentioned it to me in private, I wanted to say that I knew, and furthermore, firstly that if you’re linking to anything being run by someone calling themselves Djalma Bright, I’d appreciate it if you unlinked them, and secondly that if you work on Arthuriana your stuff may also have been raided there and you should probably Google some of your work’s key phrases up to make sure. I presume that the idea is that they get some of my search traffic for their own material, but perhaps they haven’t yet started writing any of that…

It’s all complications I don’t want, anyway, but it has made me rethink my copyright policy and decide that while I may guard my text fiercely, I don’t really see any point in not releasing my images, as in, ones I took, into the public domain. Does anyone else have any views on that they’d like to share?

My writing not being where I want it

Lastly, as I return to reading other people’s blogs again periodically, I discover that Blogger has had another reinvention of its spam protection Captcha gear. Either I’m a far worse palæographer than I thought, or just as with the previous version, their OpenID support is crooked again. Either way, if you’re on Blogger and running either of the two latest Captcha set-ups, I can’t comment on your blog except as name/URL and you will understand how just now I am concerned about authentication! So it’s not that I don’t love your various writings, I just can’t say so, and you might want to see if anyone who’s not on Blogger actually can…

1. And since the site’s various technical issues (such as the visible spell-check that only shows up in live posts) were another reason why I was considering quitting, it’s quite fitting that, having decided to carry on, I now can’t because of them…

Have you seen this emperor?

Edit: two minor errors fixed, indicated with strikethrough

Let me ask you something that may reveal my ignorance. Or, it might reveal someone else’s, we’ll see. A while ago I saw the image below on the one Tumblr blog you’ll find in my sidebar, Medium Aevum. Now this is not an unfamiliar image to me, because it is the one used for the cover of Paul Edward Dutton’s excellent reader Carolingian Civilization in its second edition (and maybe its first, which I only ever saw in a library binding), and it ought not to be unfamiliar anyway, because it comes from the Sacramentary of Charles the Bald, so an actual piece of Carolingian book-painting (which is as you may well know about the only kind of Carolingian painting we really have).1 And that manuscript is now Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Lat. 1241 1141, which means that a certain amount of poking around Mandragore can get you the full thing digitised, because the web is wonderful like that.

Painting of an emperor between two popes, being crowned by God

Now my query here is with the identification given to the figures in this picture in the Medium Aevum post, and indeed elsewhere. (The owner of Medium Aevum has disabled comments there because of abuse, so I hope they won’t mind my using their page as an example. The place I actually borrowed the image from,’s Medieval History pages, makes the same statement though they do there at least notice some of the difficulties I’m about to point out.) There it is said to be Charlemagne, standing between Popes Gelasius I and Gregory the Great. That immediately gave me pause. Firstly I paused because, well, that guy just doesn’t look like a Carolingian: as has been said here before, there seems to have either been a strong resemblance between the males of the line or else a strong idea among artists about what they should look like, and it includes more jowls than that, also moustaches, and quite less late-Antique hair.2 This looks like a young Constantine to me, not that an artist in 870 would have known what that looked like. But then there’s the popes. Why those two? Why not Leo III and Hadrian, the one whom Charlemagne was actually crowned Emperor by and the one he actually got on with?3 Gelasius, as the man who told Emperor Anastasius that his power was ultimately lesser than the pope’s (or at least, his responsibility was), I can kind of see although why a king would want that in his Sacramentary is harder to imagine. Gregory I would make a kind of sense, too, just because of his fame and connection with Saint Benedict, though I think the Carolingian fascination with him was lesser than the Anglo-Saxon one, but it’s still only a kind of sense, and certainly he had no special connection with imperial power (quite the reverse, in fact, if you look at his career, which was pretty much all about how to manage disconnection from Empire).4 Gregory the Great does admittedly turn up on the next page of the manuscript, being inspired by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove in that way that he so often apparently was, and they do look similar, so it’s not impossible, but still a strange thing to put a coronation of Charlemagne. If that’s what it is… Because I see nothing on the page that so identifies it; it’s not even clear if the text in the panel beneath them is actually from this page, because if you seek it out in Mandragore you’ll see that one of the two sources has reversed the image, and I think the text may actually have imprinted from the previous or subsequent page: Mandragore shows it faded and backwards, and very little left of the text on the subsequent page’s equivalent panel.

Ivory carving of Pope Gregory the Great being inspired by the Holy Spirit, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Ivory carving of Pope Gregory the Great being inspired by the Holy Spirit, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

With suspicions thus up, I started with Dutton’s book, whose back cover identifies the portrait only as “The Crowning of a Christian King”. Hmmm, I thought, and betook me armed with the shelfmark usefully given there to Mandragore, as described, and they entitle the picture, “Allégorie : royauté de droit divin”.5 Yes, I thought, that’s more like what I had in mind, so where on earth has this come from? And there I draw a blank. Medium Aevum almost always gives a source, and it’s usually Wikipedia; so it was in this case. The file on Wikipedia is called “Karl 1 mit papst gelasius gregor1 sacramentar v karl d kahlen.jpg”, which is fairly unambiguous, and as so often with Wikipedia too, it gives a source for this, but as is also so often the case, that source is a dead link, a course web-page at the University of (Edit: North) Florida whose course or whose owner has obviously left the building. And there the trail goes cold, although from Wikipedia it has grown widely as you will see if you Google elements of the filename. (There is a further link on the Wikipedia page to the Bridgeman Art and Culture image library, but, well, I do not retrieve this image on any search I can be bothered to follow through with, and certainly not one for Charlemagne.)

Emperor Lothar I, illustration of a Tours Evangeliary now in the BN Paris

Now that's a Carolingian! To wit, Emperor Lothar I, illustration of a Tours Evangeliary now also in the BN Paris and also here taken from Wikipedia

So okay, there’s the question. Has anyone thought that this was a scene of the coronation of Charlemagne before, is this just out there in a book I perhaps should have read? If so, on what basis did that person make the identification of king and popes? And if not, how on earth has this idea got out there?

1. That is, P. E. Dutton (transl.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader (Ontario 1994), 2nd edn. Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures (Ontario 2004); for more on Carolingian-period painting my first resort would be George Henderson, “Emulation and Innovation in Carolingian Art” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), Carolingian Culture: emulation and innovation (Cambridge 1994), pp. 248-273.

2. From which statement we learn that apparently after seeing two Kalamazoo papers about late antique hairstyles I feel like an expert. Ignore me about the hair.

3. Dutton’s anthology indeed includes the tombstone inscription for Hadrian that Charlemagne had put up in San Pietro di Roma, Carolingian Civilization 2nd edn., c. 9.4, but you can also see it here.

4. My go-to book on Gregory, who was an interesting man, is Jeremy Jeffrey Richards’s Consul of God: the life and times of Gregory the Great (London 1980), though there are probably more recent things by now.

5. It’s seemingly not possible to give direct links to a Mandragore record, it’s all dynamic, but the first box in the search page has an index that lets you pretty much pull the thing up.

Leeds 2011 report two at last

Sorry! Publication deadlines, as you saw, then admissions interviews (about which I have seriously mixed feelings and may eventually write), then the wedding of a good friend and erstwhile medievalist, at which apart from, y’know, attending the marriage (hic præsens et testis fui!), I learnt a lot about Cassiodorus that will come in useful next term. And then, for various reasons, I’ve wanted to take a good deal of care with this post. But now here it is, my mandated Leeds report, part the two, covering the events of the 12th July 2011.

508. Beyond the Invasion Narrative: the Roman world and its neighbours in late Antiquity, III – Romans and barbarians

Since, as recounted two posts ago, I’d realised on turning up in this strand that not only did it have a set of titles long enough to be a monograph series by some German academy, but also that it was where the excitement was likely to be for its duration, I was back in the Mortain Link Room at nine in the morning to see more. That went as follows:

  • Alex Woolf, “From Civitas to Kingdom? Romanitas in the British provinces and beyond”.
  • Alex here raised with his customary sharpness of perception some important questions, not the least of which is what period were the “sub-Roman” British interested in imitating? The Roman buildings of Roman Britain were largely pre-third-century, for example. Does that mean that if someone was continuing to live like a fifth-century Romano-British noble, we would see him in his material leavings as British not Roman? Was public building and sculpture really the mark of Romanitas for these people, as it has been for some modern scholars? (Was it instead stone monumental inscriptions, basically only preserved from outwith the area of Roman government?) Alex also made the excellent point that the Old English wealh, usually translated as `foreigner’, was however not used of foreigners like the Vikings, the Gaels, Syrians, and so on, and that we might therefore do well to think of it as being linguistic, and applying to Romance-speakers only. How far Romance actually describes the language of lowland post-Roman Britain would be one of those questions where fewer people than usual would follow Alex’s arguments, I suspect, but the difference still wants an explanation.1 Lots to think about here.

  • James Fraser, “Thoughts on the Roman and Native Discoveries of Pictishness”
  • The ogam-inscribed symbol stone at Brands

    The ogam-inscribed symbol stone at Brands

    This paper came very close to my areas of British interest, as you will understand when I say that James started by critiquing the idea that the Picts were a single people for whom a material culture identity might be detected. In this sense, as he observed, the classic volume The Problem of the Picts has itself become the problem.2 Thereafter the paper became more of a historiographical survey of whom it is that the Picts’ identity has mattered to and how, but there were still some similarly live points, such as the observation that the word Brittones and its derivatives, originally Latin, appears to have been borrowed into the insular vernaculars only after a distinction had arisen between Britones and Picti; James can be found on record saying that probably the only difference between these groups was being inside or outside the frontier of the Roman Empire, which makes for linguistic difficulties as we’ve lately been seeing, but whether or not you buy that, he here has something that appears to need an explanation.3 James finally suggested that Pictishness was really a late construct used by state-building kings to meld a nation of disparate groups of peoples only lately differentiated from a generalised British identity, into a political unity opposed to English or Brittonic or indeed maybe Gaelic, stressing `barbarian’ cultural practices that were identifiable as such in Roman terms, like tattooing, like inscribing stones but not with Latin, and like deriving one’s origins from the Scythians, a reference that only makes sense in a Roman cultural complex.

    I found all this pretty powerful, as you might expect from things I’ve said in the past, and asked in questions whom he thought the agents of this new cultural formation might be; he blamed the Church, which I think makes some kind of sense if we can see the Church as a tool of kings in this area. Before that however the session had been completed by…

  • Fraser Hunter, “Breaking Down the Wall: Rome and North Britain in the late Roman period”
  • This was perhaps the least provocative paper of the three but that was not least because it was by far the best-evidenced, and left much less room for debate: Hunter showed simply that Roman luxury goods got beyond the wall into the lowland zone, and that after these goods stopped coming local cultural innovation attempted to make up the gap, which we kind of know, but that inside the walls a similar transition is happening from Roman soldier’s goods, money and gear to stuff that we would recognise as warband material. Rome, while it was active in the North of Britain, created haves and have-nots, but after it went only some of these people’s centres could keep some kind of supremacy going by continuing to import Romanitas. Thus, Dumbarton Rock and Edinburgh kept going, Birdoswald and others failed, and so the new political landscape was formed.

I don’t mind telling you that after this session was over my head was so full of thoughts that I obtained coffee, or at least the best available facsimile, and tried talking to Alex but had to excuse myself because I needed to try and write something down before everything I was thinking escaped; I couldn’t speak even to Alex in case it overwrote what I was struggling to articulate. After twenty-five minutes I had something like the plan of a paper, restating with extra nuance my thoughts about the regionality of the Pictish kingdom, and was able to put it away confident that some day I could write it (as indeed I subsequently have, though much of that first rush has then turned out to be unsustainable). That was the kind of session this had been for me, the kind that could not be fully contained in my head for the explosion of possibilities. “And I’m not even lying.”

608. Beyond the Invasion Narrative: the Roman world and its neighbours in late Antiquity, IV – new narratives in Hispania

Of course I don’t really work on Scotland any more, and if I ever finish that aforesaid paper it will likely be my goodbye to the research area. How convenient for me, then, that Professor Halsall’s excellent contributors also included a number of people interested in the Iberian peninsula!4? They were:

  • Iñaki Martín Viso, “Fragmentation and Thin Polities: dynamics of the post-Roman Duero plateau”
  • The Duero plateau had been an integrated part of Roman Hispania, not rich but with many villas, but the events of the fifth century turned it into a frontier zone between the Sueves and Visigoths, neither of whom really had much governmental presence there, and as such seems to have localised its identity, with seniores loci mentioned by John of Biclaro and perhaps local coinage being issued. Hillforts grew up, though none have yet been dug so the association is kind of hypothetical. The Visigothic kingdom, when it re-established itself here, seems to have done so not least by giving the local élites rights to tax or withdrawing them, but the lack of towns meant that it was never an integrated part of Toledo’s enterprise. This does not however mean, argued Professor Martín, that it was not part of the state, and he argued that we should recognise this as a kind of `soft hegemony’ that might let us think usefully about how the successor states worked in their own terms, with the kings getting the status that kept them in power and the regions getting the autonomy that stopped them from wanting away from kings. We’ve seen something like this idea expressed here before, I think, so I was right down with this.

  • Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo and Alfonso Vigil-Escalera, “The Elephant in the Room: new approaches to early medieval cemeteries in Spain”
  • Pretty much everything I know about burial in Visigothic Spain I read either in Guy Halsall’s Barbarian Migrations or at Historian on the Edge, so I was keen to hear more from two names I have on several reading lists but have never quite got round to reading.5 The two of them, represented by Dr Vigil-Escalera alone, argued that categories like `Roman’ and `barbarian’ won’t cover this kind of evidence, which has urban `barbarians’, rustic `Romans’ and all kinds of other cross-category burials to accommodate, and that the variation could be explained without recourse to foreign populations, even if those were there; the burial evidence in their eyes neither proves nor disproves immigration. The archaeology instead shows a restlessness that is to be expected from a peninsula in political and economic turmoil. Instead of the stereotypes, they detect in the burial evidence a militarised élite interred in lead coffins, a lower grade of burial with few or no grave goods, and nothing visible beneath. Where there are cemeteries that associate with a settlement, 60-95% of graves are furnished, the figure being lower the later the cemetery runs; by the eighth century (but not till then!) grave furnishing had completely stopped. Beyond these generalisations, however, variation in this mortuary landscape was at the community level, not the level of whole `peoples’, and certainly can’t be broken down as `Roman’ vs. `Germanic’. Therefore, they asked, why blame barbarians?

  • Guy Halsall, “Why Do We Need the Barbarians?”
  • In answer to that question came the last paper of the strand by Professor Halsall himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly for those who’ve heard him speak or read him on the Internet, this was the one that really started the war. [Edit: and, indeed, some changes have been made to these paragraphs by request of one of those involved.] The consequences, if not of this actual speech, at least of its subsequent display on the Internet, have been various, unpleasant and generally regrettable, and I don’t want any of them myself. However, I think that what Professor Halsall was doing, which was to demand attention to the way that terms like `barbarians’ and `immigrants’ have been and are now deployed in political discourse, in short, to think who might be listening when we deploy these terms and for what, is something that it’s necessary to discuss. There may be other ways to say what he was saying, though they might be less effective. After all, an old colleague of mine sometimes gloomily observed of his scholarly opponents, “Y’know, you can’t change these guys’ minds, you can only wait until they die,” and obviously that’s not going to do much for public feeling and policy right now, which is where the fight is needed.

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron expounding his party's `Big Society` ideology

    Dangerously empty bloviation

    But the issues must not be dropped! Since 2006 I have been on the web proclaiming somewhat casually that when history is used it is almost always misused; glib and untheorised though that was when I wrote it, there is a point there, and it behoves us to keep an eye on what our work may be used for. Some people are more conscious of this than others, as the recent furore over the way that the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK appears to have picked up and run with the Conservative party’s campaign slogan in the last UK national elections shows; but this consciousness is usually with the misusers, and we could do with the same awareness from people who aren’t deliberately selling themselves for political funding (although it should be noted that the AHRC have claimed that they weren’t, without responding in any way to pressure to actually alter their agenda). How then do we fight the misuse of history by those with political agendas? Professor Halsall argued in questions that we have to take the fight to popular sources of information, to publish opinion columns, to get on the Internet, to colonise Wikipedia and not to assume that people can’t handle our sophistication. These seem like worthwhile, if taxing, endeavours that would bring us benefit whatever our politics. If the humanities were any good at coordinating our defence this would already have been encouraged in every faculty across the land, as PR for the industry of academia itself, dammit; instead they have successfully set us against each other and this is the result. Party politics, whether left-wing (do we still have one of those?), centrist or comfortable Conservative’s, really don’t signify here: there is no UK political party interested in funding the humanities. But you’ve read me on this before and you’ll read me on it again, so no more here.

The whole strand had been extremely provocative, as you can tell, and events subsequently revealed that it had perhaps been too much so, but I also think that we need to awaken some kind of social awareness about the uses, misuses, impact and importance of history. Everyone in the field must surely agree that that importance currently needs all the acknowledging, emphasising and directing that it can get. The furore over this presentation has unfortunately hidden these issues, which deserved to continue under discussion and not to become so personal as to be swamped in antagonism and threats. I’ll have more to say about this here—probably not very insightful but one should not stay silent—but for the meantime I can only advise you to keep a close eye on Historian on the Edge, for reflection on the social and moral imperatives of our work, whether you agree with him or not. We’d all like to think our work was socially and morally important, I’m sure, so it seems natural to consider how that might work out, doesn’t it?

717. Between Palatium and Civitas: political and symbolic spaces throughout the Middle Ages

Anyway. That was the final session in Professor Halsall’s strand, and things calmed down somewhat after lunch. Since time is short and the backlog long I’m therefore going to tackle the rest of the day in briefer form. I crossed the campus now to Weetwood Hall and there heard these people speak:

  • Martin Gravel, “Built on Expectation and Remembrance: the visitation of kings as the symbolic recognition of palaces in Carolingian West Francia”
  • Aurélien le Coq, “Contestation, Networks, and Places of Power in Grenoble during the Gregorian Reform: Guigues of Albon’s trajectory”
  • Alexandra Beauchamp, “Royal Court and Capitals of the Crown of Aragon in the XIVth century”
  • Originally scheduled for this session had been Josianne Barbier, doyenne of the Frankish fisc, and given how much her work featured in my reading for that dead-stick Kalamazoo paper of a couple of years back, I’d been rather hoping to meet her. Alas it was not to be, but these papers were also interesting, for especially Martin’s, which wanted to look closer at what kings actually do with their palaces beyond turn up, issue charters (not always them of course) and leave. With a few documents of Charles the Bald and Louis the Stammerer he was able to do this, showing that certain palaces had certain functions and that they weren’t all equivalent. Obvious, perhaps, conceptually, but hard to prove! Martin did so. We subsequently proved to have an almost-inconvenient overlap of interests with regard to the later Carolingians and I’m looking forward to more of his work. Le Coq, meanwhile, I would like to give due honour for using the term “ecclesiamento” to describe the way that Grenoble came to be grouped around the bishop’s properties and interests in his period of study, and Beauchamp’s careful attempt to try and say something about how large the Aragonese court actually was, on a day-to-day basis, from an unpromising source base, was a near-perfect example of how to present a few key interesting things from what was clearly a much larger piece of work.

805. The Archaeology of Early Medieval Fortified Settlements in Different Regions of Europe

I try and go to as much of the relevant archaeological stuff at Leeds as possible, because there’s never very much and I want to encourage it, but also because it’s usually very interesting and full of information I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. This time I was also hoping to see and meet Marco Valenti, who is a name that crops up all over what had then been my recent reading, but in this I was disappointed. What we got was:

  • Neil Christie, “Burhs and Defence: assessing the military status of later Saxon burhs
  • Marco Valenti, “Early Medieval Fortified Settlements in Italy from the 6th to the 10th Centuries”
  • Hajnalka Herold, “Fortified Settlements of the 9th and 10th Centuries in Central Europe”
  • You will be observing that Valenti appears still to have been there, but in fact, his paper was read by Professor Christie, a compromise that was certainly better than no paper but didn’t enable the kind of debate it would have been good to have. In short, Christie himself gave the audience a quick introduction to the fortification programme rolled out by the kings of Wessex in their fight back against the Vikings, and asked how much actual use the fortifications, many of which have come to be towns now and may always have been meant to, were. Christie preferred to see them more as exercises in literally building community, while I might prefer to see them as exercises in power demonstration, like Offa’s Dyke; certainly, Asser seems to show us that the relevant communities didn’t necessarily feel it.6 The Valenti paper, next, concentrated on castles in Tuscany, for a long time supposedly part of a major set of social changes just before or in the eleventh century that we know well round here, but by the kind of survey Valenti has been able to demonstrably a much longer-term phenomenon, starting in the ninth century if not before. There has of course been very little digging of such sites but what has been dug has forced this kind of re-evaluation too (as previously reported here indeed). Lastly Hajnalka, whose work I’d met at Kalamazoo the previous year, reintroduced me and introduced everyone else to her extremely interesting élite settlement at Gars Thunau in Austria, which has in its history a ninth-century building programme that seems to be chronologically, but not otherwise, connected to a sea-change in the development of such sites over a wider area, all of which nonetheless show no archaeological connections with each other. There’s something big here which has yet to be identified, clearly; Dawn Hadley asked what and Hajnalka said that the presence of the Church needs to be looked at, but that it will only explain some sites. Nonetheless, paradigms like Martin Carver‘s of a reaction in stone to such new power groups might well help here.7

Now, after this was the blogger meet-up, which was quite odd in the way it worked out. I was late, I forget why but probably not for any good reason, and the Naked Philologist and Magistra were left to coordinate the initial stages without me even though neither knew each other. By the time I arrived, it was busy but not with people I knew, which was good but unexpected. I can now remember only two of these people, Livejournallers rather than deliberate academic bloggers both, so I won’t name them in case they don’t want their personal lives linked to, but it was a pleasure to meet them and others, and I seem to recall that the gathering went on for a long time. I know that by the time I got to the St Andrews reception they’d run out of wine, but I also remember that this had somehow happened far faster than they’d anticipated so it may still have been quite early. In any case, company remained good and chatter plentiful, as afterwards seemed to have been so for a great deal of the conference, and it had been a stirring day.

1. The classic discussion of the term `wealh‘ is M. Faull, “The semantic development of Old English wealh” in Leeds Studies in English Vol. 8 (Leeds 1975), pp. 20-37; Alex’s take on such matters can currently mostly be found in his “Apartheid and Economics in Anglo-Saxon England” in Nick Higham (ed.), Britons in Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge 2007), pp. 115-129, online here, last modified 18th October 2007 as of 10th December 2011, though for the linguistics he largely rests here on Peter Schrijver, “What Britons Spoke Around 400”, ibid. pp. 165-171.

2. Frederick T. Wainwright (ed.), The Problem of the Picts (Edinburgh 1955).

3. James Fraser, From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 785, New Edinburgh History of Scotland 1 (Edinburgh 2007), pp. 44-49.

4. I probably don’t need to explain the range of circumlocutions I use here to avoid the word `Spain’, or indeed that the paper titles do, but suffice to say that if this seems clumsy to you, the modern country’s name really doesn’t cover what we’re trying to include here.

5. G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks (Cambridge 2007), pp. 296-300 & 338-346, but I should add at least J. A. Quirós Castillo and A. Vigil-Escalera Guirado, “Networks of peasant villages between Toledo and Velegia Alabense, North-western Spain (V-X centuries)” in Archeologia Medievale Vol. 33 (Firenze 2006), pp. 79-130 and now Quirós, “Early medieval landscapes in north-west Spain: local powers and communities, fifth-tenth centuries” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 19 (Oxford 2011), pp. 285-311.

6. Asser, Life of King Alfred, transl. Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge in eidem (transl.), Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources (London 1983), cap. 91:

For by gently instructing, cajoling, urging, commanding, and (in the end, when his patience was exhausted) by sharply chastising those who were disobedient and by despising popular stupidity and stubbornness in every way, he carefully and cleverly exploited and converted his bishops and ealdormen and nobles, and his thegns most dear to him, and reeves as well… to his own will and to the general advantage of the whole realm. But if, during the course of these royal admonitions, the commands were not fulfilled because of the people’s laziness, or else (having been begun too late in a time of necessity) were not finished in time to be of use to those working on them (I am speaking here of fortifications commanded by the king which have not yet [c. 883] been begun, or else, having been begun late in the day, have not yet been brought to completion) and enemy forces burst in by land or by sea (or, as frequently happens, by both!) then those who had opposed the royal commands were humiliated in meaningless repentance by being reduced to virtual extinction.

This passage doesn’t make me like Asser or Alfred any better, actually.

7. As in for example M. Carver, Sutton Hoo: burial ground of kings (London 1998), esp. pp. 52-93.