Category Archives: Institutions

Seminar CLXIV: how a seventh-century ship was built, and then abandoned

You may remember, a long time ago, before this blog even, when the powers-that-be in the modern city of Istanbul decided it was time to expand the metro system of the city, started digging and almost immediately found themselves trying to put a tunnel through what was evidently an ancient harbour at Yenikapı? That much, at least, had been sort of expected—the Theodosian harbour of Constantinople was known to be in that location and in any case you can’t really dig into the ground in an old Roman capital city and not strike heritage—so they had archæological intervention ready, but what was not anticipated was the scale of the find. They got thirty-seven vessels out of it in the end, and that took teams of diggers working six days a week right through from 2004 till 2013, with at peak 660 people on site a day, while the bus station and live train tracks that also pass through there continued in operation. It’s one of the more incredible feats of archæology in our times, and one of those 660 people was quite often Dr Rebecca Ingram, who on 14th November 2014 was in Birmingham to tell the General Seminar of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies about it, under the title of “Making it Last: the construction and repair of a 7th-century ship from Constantinople’s Theodosian harbour”.

Survey and measurement of a ship in the Yenikapı harbour excavations, Istanbul

The speaker and her eventual co-author showing nautical archæology at its most glamorous; note the waders…

The harbour itself was the work of Emperor Theodosius I and opened in the 390s AD, but had begun silting up at the western edge as early as the seventh century, and by the twelfth was unusable to any but shallow craft. New docks were still being built in the fifteenth century, that despite, but by 1544 (now of course under Ottoman rule) it was finally abandoned and given over to gardens and housing. The area now sits a block back from the sea, but nonetheless even the fraction that was dug turned out to contain all those ships still, wrecked, sunk or abandoned at various times in that 1200-year history. Of the thirty-seven wrecks, which included six military galleys as well as a range of merchantmen from the fifth to eleventh centuries, eight were selected for detailed study and conservation, and Rebecca was able to speak to us as that work drew near its conclusion and the first ships were being written up.

Shipwreck Yenikapı YK14 under conservation in Istanbul in 2007

Yenikapı shipwreck no. 14 under a soothing regimen of salt spray during conservation in 2007. Note the dock pilings next to which she sank. Other ships had new docks sunk through them, so much a feature of the bottom had they become.

Rebecca had been especially concentrated on the vessel now known as YK11, an eleven-metre commercial vessel built in Turkish pine probably at the beginning of the seventh century, and apparently abandoned on the silt in the western end of the harbour some time soon after the middle of that century. In that relatively short lifespan the ship had seen a lot of use; she had been repaired so much that some of her repairs had repairs, and at one point the whole inside had been rebuilt though the hull was apparently never properly overhauled. The ship was partly built from second-hand timber and thus shows every sign of having been built and run on the cheap and finally—though I don’t think the archæology showed why—having become irreparable. Maybe she just went aground and was too much trouble to refloat…

Yenikapı shipwreck YK11 under slow reconstruction at Istanbul in 2008

Yenikapı YK11 under slow reconstruction with aid of a total station in June 2008

Although Rebecca’s work was mainly focused on the details of the construction, which is beautifully preserved and seems to represent a turning point from shell-building, where the strength is in the hull, to skeleton building, where the strength is in the framework and the hull is just skinning, our questions tended to be that kind of speculation: where would a fairly lightweight ship with an eight-ton cargo capacity have been and gone and what would she have carried? (There was no sign of cargo in the remains.) Would she, for example, have helped supply the city during the Arab sieges through which she must have survived? And when she was abandoned, why was she? Little to none of this could be answered from the archaeology, of course, but Matthew Harpster, also a sometime veteran of the dig, noted the particular concentration of wrecks in the harbour from around the early eleventh century and wondered what disastrous event might have struck. Rebecca said that all attested events of that sort were too late, but this is what you get from taking your stuff out to the public; someone was able to supply a reference to a tidal wave at Constantinople at some point before 1058 from a letter of Jaroslav the Wise. I had heard of this for the first time then and there, but now I am able to offer it as a source for those who like skimming narrative sources for extreme weather events!1 But I am also much more knowledgeable about ship-building and shipping in the Eastern Mediterranean than I was before. And if you would like to be so also, then you may like to follow up the first publications of Rebecca’s team, which have now made it to print.2 I’m here to help!

1. Or at least, I would be if I could find any mention of that letter to cite. It’s not apparently mentioned in Nora K. Chadwick, The Beginnings of Russian History: an enquiry into sources (Cambridge 1949), so I wonder if what the commentator meant was something in the Russian Primary Chronicle? But I can see nothing there beyond a reference in the notes to an earthquake at Constantinople in the late tenth century reported by Leo the Deacon, so no, I’m at a loss, sorry.

2. Witness Cemal Pulak, Rebecca Ingram & Michael Jones, “The Shipwrecks at Yenikapı: recent research in Byzantine shipbuilding” in Deborah N. Carlson, Justin Leidwanger & Sarah M. Kampbell (edd.), Maritime Studies in the Wake of the Byzantine Shipwreck at Yassiada, Turkey (College Station TX 2015), pp. 102-115; Pulak, Ingram & Jones, “Eight Byzantine Shipwrecks from the Theodosian Harbour Excavations at Yenikapı in Istanbul, Turkey: an introduction” in International Journal of Nautical Archaeology Vol. 44 (Portsmouth 2015), pp. 39-73.

Seminar CLXIII: doctors in one place, lords in many

Since 1984 (I understand) there has been a peripatetic seminar series shared between the medievalists of the universities of Chester, Keele, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan Universities (presumably not all of those initially), which is now known as the M6 North-West Medieval Seminar, because of the six participant medieval departments and also the arterial road that links the north-west of Britain to its neighbouring regions. The papers often look really interesting, but from Cambridge or Oxford I could never have got back from it before the transport ran out for the night, and it wasn’t till 12th November 2014, when the seminar swung down to its southernmost point at Keele, that I could even attempt it from Birmingham. Even then it was a bit of an adventure, with a forty-minute bus ride through the dark from the nearest station and so on. There was a certain amount of surprise to see me! But I did, at last, make it to the M6 Seminar, and the blog backlog now crunches round to reporting on it. There were two papers, and they were “Medical Practitioners before Medical Schools: the evidence from Salernitan charters, ss. VIII-XI”, by Luca Larpi, and “Lords of the North Sea: comparative approaches to the aristocracies of the tenth and eleventh centuries” by Anthony Mansfield.

Medieval illustration of doctors attending a patient

As the below will make clear, having three doctors in attendance at once like this was probably out of reach for the early Middle Ages as far as we can document it. Speaking of documentation, I wish I knew where the University of Aberdeen got this image but their site isn’t saying so all I can do is link…

Luca is the lead researcher in a project I’d been hearing about for years by this time, trying to amass what information we have about the existence of professional doctors in the early Middle Ages by going through charters looking for them. This is my kind of work, but I’d already had to tell them long ago that I knew of none from Catalan materials prior to 1030. This is not surprising, though; even now, the database (which is online) contains the gleanings of 17,000 documents, and in those 17,000 documents they found 178 references to 109 medici, so their hit rate is either side of 1%, and most of it is from Italy and more than anywhere else from the monastery of Cava di Terreni, where 1787 pre-eleventh-century documents gave them 45 references to 22 doctors.1 That’s not really enough to process statistically, although Luca opined that most of the people we can see hang out with the kind of people that suggest they were high-status indiviudals, and more empirically 16 of the 22 were ecclesiastics. But the particular concentration in this archive is interesting, because it covers Salerno, which would (I had to find out later, so basic a fact was it for Luca) later come to boast a major medical school famous throughout Europe.2

Medieval illustration of the Scuola Medica di Salerno, from a manuscript of the Canons of Avicenna

And here is a medieval image of that school! “ScuolaMedicaMiniatura“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

So, does this mean the school was sort of there before it was a school, and if so, why? Characterising the sample led us down very quickly to individuals: only one Jew; an ecclesiastical kindred providing three of whom one, Bishop Pietro of Salerno, was son of the first, the Abbot of San Massimo; and a number of people associated with the harbour church of Santa Maria de Domno. From 989 that organisation shared pastoral care of the city with the cathedral and ran a hospital, for which purpose it at three points in the eleventh century retained doctors as part of its community, on terms that meant they couldn’t leave for more than two years and had to perform mass regularly when present (but not necessarily, apparently, treat people). Duke Gisulf of Salerno also retained a Sicilian doctor for the city in the 1060s. So there was a lot of medical traffic here, although Luca thought that the school only came into being on the back of the translation of Arabic scientific texts. But that ‘lot’ is still relative: at times, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, we can say that Salerno boasted two professional doctors, perhaps because of an ephemerally-attested drug trade. I can’t help remembering one charter of Obarra I blogged about once where two magistri witness, utterly without context and never appearing again. Two or three such charters mentioning medici at, say, Trier or Clermont (and at the latter it could happen, since unpublished charters survive there) and this picture would change quite sharply. Such is the thin sample we sometimes have…

Early modern pen drawing of the Chateau de Guines

Early modern pen drawing of the Chateau de Guines

Mr Mansfield’s paper, which came from his ongoing doctoral research, was more dogmatic, demanding that we try to stop seeing regional aristocracies as loyal, grudging or rebellious with respect to the centre and instead view their political choices in the context of their regions. The regions he picked for this were Essex in England, Guines in Flanders and Trøndelag in Norway, all of which areas he noted were delimited by water although as he was forced to admit in questions, some of those waters were pretty easy to cross; in one case one could jump it, though my notes annoyingly don’t name it. In all these places, argued Mr Mansfield, our texts show us the existence of a regional identity which must always have been those places’ lords’ first concern, because without support within the region they could do nothing, whether helpful to the centralising court or not. Much of the thinking here emerged in questions, and I imagine thateven by now the project is much further on, but for early work it was demandingly theorised and I suppose that many of the questions came from a feeling that evidence would probably bend the theory once there was enough of it in play.

Castell de Cabrera, Santa María de Corcó, by Ricardo Ballo

The obligatory Catalan counter-example, the Castell de Cabrera in Santa María de Corcó, Osona, where an outsider lineage very happily ruled an area with no clear identity beyond its name, though that’s not to say there wasn’t one. Photo by Ricardo Ballo.

For me, of course, the key question is how lords such as these are induced to take part in the enterprise of the centre, so it’s not that I don’t think they were there, quite the reverse; I’m not sure, however, that coercive lordship was getting enough consideration at the regional, rather than the supraregional level, to match with what I see in Catalonia where the local independents still don’t show much sign of participating in a wider community of their region.3 Nonetheless, it made me think, and as you can tell still is doing. And the gathering contained many people I’d otherwise only see once a year at conferences if that, so it was good to be there for many reasons and I got back all right. Whether I can make it again, even from Leeds, we shall see, but it should in theory now be easier! That hasn’t stopped me missing all this term’s papers, but I intend on being here a while, so watch out…

1. The publication of the charters of Cava is an ongoing effort with a long and painful history. There is Michele Morcaldi, Mauro Schianni & Silvano Di Stephano (edd.), Codex Diplomaticus Cavensis (Napoli & Milano, 1873-1970), 10 vols, but I gather that this is only about two-thirds of what there is and that work on the remainder since 1970 has met many difficulties.

2. This does, admittedly, from a literature search look like something that is mainly known by those writing in Italian. An introduction for others might be Paul Oskar Kristeller, “The school of Salerno: its development and its contribution to the history of learning” in his Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, Storia e letteratura: Raccolta di studi e testi 54, 166, 178 & 193 (Roma, 1956-1996) 4 vols, III pp. 495-551.

3. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 144-148.

Publishers, copyright and the prevention of research-led teaching: a thought experiment

Being a year behind with the blog means, naturally, that things linked to the academic year come round again as I get as far as blogging about them, and in this instance the spur is making reading digitally available for students, which has propelled me into ranting again about how daft the way we publish is. I have one particular point in mind, so I will try and keep the post on target, but I’m not promising that other things that make me cross won’t turn up in footnotes. So, this is a post about how we make our research available to students for teaching purposes.

When I started teaching in 2003 the digital thing was quite new. I was the first user in that department of some new software they had of the sort that would come to be called a Virtual Learning Environment, a clunky slow thing called Sentient Discover that still worked better than Blackboard five years later (though as I’m now working with it again, I have to admit that Blackboard has come a long way since I first met it). At that point, though, there was neither file-space nor hardware available within such an environment to digitise materials from hard copy; Oxford simply aimed to provide sufficient hard copies, and so digitising actual readings is something I only really started to do at Birmingham. This post started off as a thought when I came to be doing it again the next year, to supply students on a big survey course with access to materials that a hundred-plus people would need in the same week.1

Copyright symbol

Obviously there are copyright implications about scanning stuff and sticking it online, even behind a firewall. It struck me while thinking this post out that academics’ somewhat offhand relationship to copyright is in some ways only to be expected; we almost never get paid from sales of what we write, we usually don’t in fact own copyright in it, that being either granted to a publisher and, if we’re lucky, licensed back to us, or else held by our employers.2 Consequently copyright, intended to protect the livelihood of authors, is actually of no direct monetary benefit to us, whereas it is very often in the way of our reading or accessing other information which we need to work. This is of course why there is an Open Access movement and Creative Commons licensing and various other alternatives set up by those who believe information should be free, but the fact of the matter is that lots of it ain’t. And so copyright applies to these materials, and the law in the UK is pretty clear: assuming that it’s not an exception (published outside the EU or out of copyright) you can photocopy up to five per cent of a volume or one single article or chapter, whichever is the larger, once only, for your own use (and you may not circulate that or pass it on to someone else), and you can scan the same amount of something and place it in a private digital repository as long as the managers of that repository are tallying it and making appropriate royalty payments to the Copyright Licensing Agency. I believe the rules in the USA are similar, but I’m not a lawyer and even this much may be wrong. Anyway, we now reach the thought experiment.

Often, in interviews, I have been asked how my research enhances my teaching, how I incorporate my research into my teaching, and so on, and research-led teaching is a phrase that has become almost hackneyed in the UK in the last decade or so. I have got a lot better at answering this kind of question over the years but it was always a problem for me, because I work on Spain, which is not very interesting to the average UK student, and most of my source materials are in non-Classical Latin and not available in translation. So it struck me early on that one excellent answer to that question would be, “I use this volume of translated documents that I myself have published for exactly this purpose!” And suddenly last year I realised that because of the way we publish, that is in fact not an excellent answer at all.

Consider. Let’s say that I convince some press that charters are, in fact, where medieval studies is at, and that if they publish a volume of charters translated by me it will be hoovered up by university teachers everywhere who want to use something that isn’t chronicles or literature and therefore by default the readings of the élite. So I translate the documents, they are published, my university duly buys a copy or few, and I want to set it for a course. Let us say that that course recruits fifteen students, and that I am not either willing or allowed to require that the students buy a copy each, no matter how much good it would do my royalties money (if we assume that the press I managed to persuade was such a one as pays them). I still have to make required readings available digitally, however. How much of this, my own work, can I therefore set to my students? Why, no more than five per cent, of course!

So, by publishing that material, I actually lock most of it away from the use for which I intended it. There are only two ways round this that I can see. One is to publish with a press that will publish it as an e-book and license that in terms that allow lots of people to access it at once. These are not in fact common license terms, precisely because they are constructed so as to minimise the number of books you need to buy; it shouldn’t surprise us when companies like Routledge sell e-books with licenses that mean that only one person in a university can use them at once, they are in the business of selling books!3 The other, of course, and by far the simplest and the most use to the world at large, is just to put the stuff on the open web, but this is a path with no reward in terms of professional recognition, for reasons both sound and stupid; it wouldn’t have to pass peer review, on the one hand, so is hard to rate, and on the other some people still don’t think databases count as real publication. Such a volume is something I actually want to publish, but it absolutely does my head in that somehow things have got to the point where if I picked the wrong press, actually publishing it is about the worst thing I could do in terms of making that material accessible to students…

1. FIRST RANT. Last year I was, of course, curating coins, so this teaching I did as contract staff for the Department of History. I don’t want to single Birmingham out here, because as far as I know their system for paying temporary teaching staff, often postgraduates, is usual, which is to say that it’s the system I’ve been paid with everywhere else I’ve done it or, in fact, better. The pay is by the hour, paid for contact time and an additional hour of preparation time for every classroom hour. That prep time, of course, is meant also to cover all the other work of teaching, which is to say marking, delivering feedback, answering e-mails and attending meetings with other staff, so in effect it all disappears. There is also a structural assumption that you know enough to teach a subject which is often explicitly not enacted. By this I mean that if you are new to a topic and have also got to do the reading, or even just refresh yourself about something you last read ten years ago, that hour is very quickly gone, with no other class prep done at all, but obviously it is expected that you will in fact learn enough to teach that hour anyway. So, maybe you’re more efficient than me, but I find that even now a classroom hour on a course that’s new to me takes me between two and three hours to prepare, and then there’s all the admin., so really one is getting paid at something like a third or a quarter of the rate per hours worked that one is in fact offered, all of which brings it very close to and even below minimum wage. Of course, universities largely couldn’t afford to deliver seminar teaching any other way, which is a system problem for which I don’t blame their staff, though I do blame staff who don’t recognise these economics. But therefore, when you are course leader for such a course, with five or six people being paid like that teaching for you, don’t expect them to do your photocopying or digitisation for you as well. You’re the one being paid a full-time wage: do what you’re paid for. I intend to stand by these words now that I am in fact the one being paid, of course, but it really does annoy me when people leading such courses don’t consider what their TAs actually get paid for.

2. The second rant would be about people who don’t realise they’ve signed away these rights and then protest about how unfair it is when the people to whom they’ve signed them stop them making free with what are no longer their own writings. Read your contracts.

3. I instance Routledge because these were indeed the terms under which they had licensed Dorothy Whitelock (ed./transl.), English Historical Documents volume I: c. 500-1042, 2nd edn. (London 1979), to Oxford when I taught there.

Seminar CLXII: scribal dialects explored digitally

Some of the sticky posts are unstuck and the seminar report backlog is back under a year again, this all seems like progress. For lo, we now reach Armistice Day 2014, on which day Birmingham’s Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages had its Seminar addressed by Birmingham’s own Wendy Scase, with the title “The Simeon Manuscript and its Scribes”.

London, British Library Additional MS 22283, here showing the lower part of fo. 142v

End and beginning of two of the texts in the Simeon Manuscript, otherwise known as London, British Library Additional MS 22283, here showing the lower part of fo. 142v

This was the early part of an enquiry that had begun with a different manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. poet a.1, otherwise known as the Vernon Manuscript, of which you can find details here. This is a huge, 700-page and 22 kilo, compilation of Middle English literature, totalling 370 texts including things familiar from many an English syllabus like The Prik of Conscience, The Ancrene Riwle and Piers Plowman as well as, obviously, quite a lot more, and lavishly decorated to boot. But it is not alone: the Simeon manuscript is, or rather was since apparently many of its illustrations have gone and it’s probably only about fifty per cent present now, another one like it, not quite as lavishly decorated but not far off and sharing one (we thought, till this paper) of the same scribes. (Its details are here.) Both of these manuscripts seem, from what can be said about palæography and provenance as well as about scribal language, to be West Midlands productions and so of what you might call local concern.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. poet. a.1, fo. 265r

A page of the Vernon Manuscript in the Bodleian’s online exhibition about it, to wit fo. 265r

But scribal dialect was where Professor Scase had got interested, because it raises many kinds of question about copying. If a text is not in local dialect, but the scribe speaks it, does he translate, adapt or ignore the pressures of his own normal language? If it is in local dialect, do they usually translate out of it into something more like a standardised written English? How local is local anyway? Do we have several written Englishes with their own local variation? Do individual scribes change their ways of writing over their careers, and if so towards or away from the local vernacular? And most immediately for Professor Scase, what happens when several scribes collaborate: are they distinguishable by dialect even where they might not be by script?

London, British Library, Additional MS 22283, fo. 130v

The start of another text in the Simeon Manuscript, complete with fancy initials, this time at fo. 130v

The answer to this last, at least, would seem to be yes. It is, I learned, now possible to plot these things to an implausible level of precision using two big databases online, the Linguistic Atlas of Early Mediaeval English and the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English, which among other things did allow Professor Scase to justify her suspicion that the hand known as Scribe A in this manuscript, which is also present in the Vernon one, was in fact two people, only one of whom wrote with dialectical symptoms, which we can sometimes be sure he was introducing because of being able to identify the exemplar from which he and the other scribe were copying. But his dialect is more pronounced in the Vernon Manuscript, some spellings from which he doesn’t repeat in the Simeon (‘w3uch’ for ‘which’, for example), so what’s going on? Either he had driven this habit out between the two, which their apparent closeness of date makes unlikely, or as Professor Scase suggested, he was aiming not so much for an outside standard of language as consistency within the manuscript. And there will probably—may by now already—be other such details that emerge as the study progresses. I, as long-term readers will probably know, really love these little windows into how someone centuries ago went about a complex task that detailed manuscript work can give you. These two are fairly lovely manuscripts, in terms of pure colour and artifice, but it’s great to be able to see through them to the sweat and thought that went into their making.

Seminar CLXI: two medievalist myth-makers

As you may have noticed, things have calmed down enough that I am beginning to have time to blog again, but I am nonetheless currently a year and two days behind still. I’m not apologising, so much as explaining that I still have a certain amount of Birmingham stuff to report on that still seems worthwhile, and the first of them is last year’s Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages Public Lecture, which was given by Dr Carl Phelpstead with the title, “Geoffrey of Monmouth and J. R. R. Tolkien: myth-making and national identity in the twelfth and twentieth centuries”.

Cover of Lewis Thorpe's translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae

Cover of Lewis Thorpe’s translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae

Covers of the first edition of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

Covers of the first edition of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

You may well look at that and wonder where the comparison could lie between these two figures, I mean, apart from being internationally-famous writers of fantasy literature that was translated into many languages who were born outside England but finished up with jobs in Oxford obviously.1 And indeed I steal that hook straight from Dr Phelpstead’s lecture but there is, he was arguing, more to the comparison even than that, in that they were both at some level out to create a new national myth that was like, but not ultimately based in, history. The comparison only goes so far in this direction, of course, since as far as we clearly understand what Geoffrey of Monmouth was up to it was to reinsert Britonnic heroes and the past of his Welsh nation into the longer history of the kingdom that was now England, and he seems to have done this cleverly enough to be liked and read in equal measure by those who identified against the English and those like King Henry II who wanted it to be clear how the perhaps-separate histories of the British and English nations were now united, indissolubly, under one obedience, namely to him.2 Tolkien, on the other hand, was apparently dubious about the meaning of Britain as a construct, identified fairly firmly as English and when pushed as Mercian, and reportedly told his son in a letter that if he was anything he was Hwiccian, a marginal identity par excellence but not one with a great deal of meaning attached outside Anglo-Saxonist circles perhaps.3 In this light, it is notable (said Dr Phelpstead, but it seems to be right to me) that except when there is a war afoot, admittedly for most of the Lord of the Rings cycle, the various races of Middle Earth normally leave each other alone and certainly have no shared or overruling government.

Obviously, we have a lot more material from which to gauge Tolkien’s intentions than we do for Geoffrey’s, and the most interesting thing about this lecture for me was those snippets of the author before The Lord of the Rings became the thing for which he was mostly known, indeed before it existed. These suggest that what he was after to provide a missing English epic, something to make up for the fact that England (definitely England) has no sagas, no equivalent to the Kalevala and so on. Like those, it would not need to be historical, but it would need to be in keeping, and for Tolkien at least, express what he called, “a certain truth” about the nation whose culture he aimed thus to supplement. For Dr Phelpstead this was also a point of junction between the two authors: Geoffrey’s ‘certain truth’ was that the history of the island was really that of its older inhabitants, for Tolkien it was more about the quality of heroism and determination in the cause of peace, but the aim to put across a deeper message in their stories was there. Of course, Tolkien knew Geoffrey’s work but precisely because of its British agenda it wouldn’t serve as a basis for his own. In the event, of course, neither did England, and in fact neither did Britain for Geoffrey; both epics escape national confines fairly dramatically and transcend into something that appealed to readers of a great many more nationalities than the target ones, in ways neither author could easily have foreseen.

Pages from an illuminated edition of Tolkien's Silmarilion

Of course, of course someone has done this, this being a hand-illuminated edition of Tolkien’s Silmarilion. There is an interview with the artist, Benjamin Harff, here.

I’m not sure, going back over this, that the comparison here actually yields new insights about either Geoffrey or Tolkien; I learnt a lot about Tolkien and something about Geoffrey from this paper, but more separately than together. The curmudgeon in me wants to cite Chris Wickham’s demand that historical comparison must have a meaningful object to be worth doing, but a public lecture can perhaps be allowed to be entertainment for the brain rather than world-changing insight, and of course I’m not a literature scholar and every now and then I get reminded that things are different over that fence.4 The important thing about this lecture was therefore probably that I enjoyed it and learnt things, and it tided well for the seminar programme ahead.

1. It has subsequently become clear to me that I have, for the last few years, been proceeding around Tolkien’s career itinerary in the wrong order: he grew up in Birmingham, studied and got his first job in Oxford, went from there to a Readership at Leeds and then returned to Oxford as a professor. I’m now slightly worried lest I have to balance all this out by dying in South Africa, where he was born.

2. In so far as I didn’t learn all this from the Internet and seminar papers by John Gillingham, I think that I have it from David Dumville, “An early text of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and the circulation of some Latin histories in twelfth-century Normandy” in Arthurian Literature Vol. 4 (Cambridge 1985), pp. 1-36, repr. with addenda in Dumville, Histories and Pseudo-Histories of the Insular Middle Ages, Collected Studies 316 (Aldershot 1990), XIV, and Nicholas Higham, “Historical Narratives as Cultural Politics: Rome, ‘British-ness’ and ‘English-ness'” in idem (ed.), Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies 7 (Woodbridge 2007), pp. 68-79. But mainly John and the Internet are to blame.

.3. Tolkien’s letters are partly published as Humphrey Carpenter & Christopher Tolkien (edd.), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien: a selection (London 1981), whence this kind of information was largely drawn.

4. But it would be curmudgeonly, so I won’t.

This post was written with the aid of Moon Healing Activation by Das Ludicroix, and jolly effective it was too.


Parting Shots: two Michaels and a Leo

This gallery contains 6 photos.

For once I don’t feel the need to apologise for the lapse in posting here: moving house (including buying a house), starting a new job, learning my way around a new university and city, attending many many meetings, doing the … Continue reading


Vicarious Byzantinist travel photos

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Reducing the backlog anothe tiny slice, two days after the seminar described in the previous post I was at the first General Seminar of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies in Birmingham for autumn 2014. This venerable … Continue reading