Tag Archives: Alexander Ralston

Leeds report 2 (Tuesday 14th July)

This was a bad day for my alarm to fail, but happily nerves had me awake in plenty of time anyway. I didn’t have a lot of choice about which of the first two sessions of the morning to go, you see, as I was running some. I think they went pretty well, now, but I wasn’t sure of that at all at the time, and since one of my speakers was completely out of contact between agreeing to do the paper and turning up ten minutes beforehand I think a certain amount of fraught should be forgiven me. Anyway, those sessions were:

502. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: Pushing the Boundaries

Altar slab from the pre-monastic church of Sant Pere de Casserres

Altar slab from the pre-monastic church of Sant Pere de Casserres

  • Georg Vogeler, “Possibilities of Digital Analysis of Medieval Charter corpora
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “How To Take Over An Archive: Sant Pere de Casserres and its Community”
  • Erik Niblaeus, “Cistercian Charters and the Import of a Political Culture into Medieval Sweden”
  • In which Georg told us all to get our documents onto the web and showed us what became possible if this were only done; in which I for the first time modified my paper title and distracted people with pretty pictures to cover the holes in the argument, a trick I learnt from Roger Collins; and in which Erik gave a very sane and interesting paper on something he isn’t really terribly concerned about, leaving us to wonder how powerfully he must have analysed the stuff with which he is.

I wasn’t sure whether coffee would help with the nerves, but finding my last speaker did, and so then we rolled on to…

602. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, II: Genesis, Production, Preservation and Study

  • Julie A. Hofmann, “Changes in Patronage in Carolingian Fulda: a re-evaluation”
  • Wendy Davies, “Local Priests in Northern Spain in the 10th Century”
  • Alexander Ralston, “The Preservation of Dispute Records in the Medieval Cartulary”1
  • In which Julie alerted us all to the fact that databases don’t really tell you much about groups who are most of their population (such as, for us, men) and suggested smaller questions that would attack the same problems; in which Wendy kept us all interested for twenty minutes with one formula; and in which Alex asked whether our interest in dispute records is really proportional to their importance at the time.

And then I could breathe easily, and more importantly eat lunch and thus damp my adrenaline. I ought, here, to thank all my speakers for making it run so easily and for coping so well with the few problems that there were. If you want an outsider’s critique of the sessions, then the estimable Magistra et Mater has written one. But for me, the bit I had to stay engaged for was now over and I could let other people engage me instead. Now ordinarily it is easy for an early medievalist at Leeds to spend their entire time in the huge ever-growing strand that rules from the centre of the Early Middle Ages, Texts and Identities, which now has its first book out.2 Last year I nearly did; this year it was a rarity, but I first touched base with it for this one…

706. Texts and Identities VI: Louis the Pious and the Crisis of the Carolingian Empire

  • Mayke de Jong, “Charters, Capitularies, and the so-called Crisis of Louis’s Reign”
  • Prof. de Jong has unfortunately had dealings with the wrong sort of diplomatist, charter specialists who don’t want to do history but want to reinforce what they were taught at school with new sources. She offered alternatives.

  • Courtney M. Booker, “Histrionic History, Demanding Drama: theatrical hermeneutics in the Carolingian era”
  • Illumination from the Andria of Terence, a comedy, in Roma, Biblioteca Vaticana MS lat. 3868, fol. 4v, copied c. 820

    Illumination from the Andria of Terence, a comedy, in Roma, Biblioteca Vaticana MS lat. 3868, fol. 4v, copied c. 820

    Apparently Vitalis the mime doesn’t belong in the Carolingian era but Radbertus could get enough drama to write dramatic narrative anyway. Pass it on!

  • Rutger Daniel Kramer, “Stuck in the Middle? Benedict of Aniane and monastic networks in narratives and charters”
  • There’s been an argument since about 1990 that Louis the Pious gave up on his monastic reform policy after the death of Benedict of Aniane because Benedict was really driving it, and Louis;3 here we got the older argument, that Louis was driving Benedict, and some evidence of how he worked, but the big question about why it stopped remained unanswered, for me at least, as the questions disintegrated into a civil but loud argument between Mayke and Stuart Airlie (of whom we have not heard the last) about whether or not 833 was a political disaster for the Carolingian Empire.

And so to tea. Finally, refreshed, it was back to T&I for a rather rarer thing than a session on Louis…

806. Texts and Identities, VII: the formation of an Emperor – Lothar I

  • Elina Screen, “Models for an Emperor: the influence of Lothar’s early career (795-840)”
  • Maria Schäpers, “The Middle Kingdom between 843 and 855: some reflections on the effectiveness and motives of Lothar’s reign”
  • Marianne Pollheimer, “Spiritual Power for an Emperor: Lothar I and the use of Biblical texts”
  • The problem for understanding Lothar I is that except in one poem by a supporter he is the man the sources about the breakup of the Carolingian Empire love to blame. Reconciling this with the evident ability and energy with which he ran his kingdoms, the loyalty of his core supporters and his developed interest in theology has therefore presented some problems, and all these papers wrestled with them in different ways: Elina explored what his royal training might have done for him, Maria’s reminded us that his ability with his own kingdoms didn’t stop him stabbing his brothers’ in the borders, and Marianne suggested that he saw Biblical scholarship as a way to try and create or at least understand the relationship with God which he seems to have deeply felt governed his success. It was interesting, but there’s so much more to do here. I for one am looking forward to Elina’s book.

Then, there was dinner. This was the one day I’d booked dinner in hall, in case the sessions had people clamouring to join in next year: suffice to say that this was not the case, but that the food was better than last year. Then, I attempted to fit a quart into a pint pot by trying to find time for this…

902. Complexity Science and the Humanities: an opportunity to networks – Round Table discussion

    This fell into two parts, the first on social decision modelling and the second on social networks. The whole session was an admirable attempt by scientists to show us what their methods could do and ask us for data and cases to play with. It was also organised by a right comedian and I wished I could have attended it all. I would have been more interested in the latter part but had, nonetheless, to leave before it—Magistra, who was there, has been able to tell us more. What I did get, however, was:

  • Serge Galam, “Modelling the heterogeneous spread of religions”
  • This was probably more interesting as an exercise in mathematics than as a demonstration of anything except how frighteningly weak the models policy-makers use for decision-making are—but, regrettably, we knew that already. However, whatever complexification we could think of Dr Galam was ready to try and add, and it was hard not to believe that if it was built up enough at the end of it one would have a reasonable model. The question was whether it would become chaotic before we got there, which has the worrying corrollary that in that case society is probably also chaotic, in mathematical terms. In that case, kids, I tell you there is something going on that humanity cannot explain with maths because this does not look, this world in which we live, like a chaotic system to me, it looks like many different systems running at once and often producing their designed outcomes. It usually goes wrong very slowly for something that’s chaotic. What’s up with that? I think we are trying to analyse the wrong thing. Maybe there’s no general field theory but many general fields. Dammit. We need more funding! And that was, of course, roughly the point of the session…

  • Edit: Stefan Thurner, “Laboratory for measuring evolution of socio-economical structure in an anti-medieval massive online game”
  • This was of course the portion that I missed, but the purpose of this edit is to advertise that you can now read about it care of Magistra et Mater, and very interesting it sounds as if it was too drat it. I shall have to contact the guy.

However, with some trepidation, I had to leave to try and find bloggers. This too didn’t happen as completely as it might have. I got found by In the Medieval Middle in all its considerable force, and Another Damned Medievalist kept there from being blood (no, OK, I admit it, we sparred but did not fight, they’re actually all really good people, and I understand all of their approaches a lot better for being able to hear them in their own voices now, this being IMM rather than ADM whom I already knew is good people), and for a while there was also Magistra et Mater, but others did not find us. This was at least in part because Magistra and I had completely failed to decide on a single meet-up venue and so this may have confused matters; some have apologised, Gesta was caught by exactly the same kind of session planning tail I’d escaped, and others will remain enigmatic and anonymous, but I had fun anyway. So much so that I missed the Early Medieval Europe reception and hardly cared! (It’s always so hot, anyway…) This day’s Leeds experience was much better than the previous one, though my mood proved mercurial as night fell and I was glad that sleep followed it quickly.


1. Now, class, I’m sorry to see that someone has added in the margin of my notes on this paper the message “♥ Eileen Joy”. I can assure the person who did this that it is neither big nor clever. Miscreants!

2. Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Christina Pössel & Philip Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages (Vienna 2006).

3. The watershed here being the volume of essays put together as Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), which is the volume T&I should really be setting up to replace or so I reckon; they have all the necessary material and expertise.

Leeds report II

Now that I’ve sunk back into the medieval blogosphere I gather that I was at the wrong sessions at Leeds, as I have come back entirely unable to snicker about medieval underpants. It bothers me already how many legs this story has found: Carl Pyrdum seems to have collected most of them at Got Medieval but Richard Nokes adds much-needed unreal perspective at the Unlocked Wordhoard. (He goes on to give this blog a plug that has something like quintupled its apparent readership, for which I owe him due thanks!) All the same, although as Matthew Gabriele comments on Carl’s post, it’s nice to see medieval hygiene making it onto the web rather than the lack of it, the story does crazily miss the point of what Dr Mostert will have been saying. I should leap to his defence, but for two things. Firstly, Carl has done so already and likely far better than I would. Secondly, but for Dr Mostert’s taste and discretion, my and my collaborators’ session at Leeds last year would have been called “Who Gives a Sod (and Why?)”, a joke only funny to charter historians, so I find it vindictively amusing that he is now all over the Hypermation Intersoupway for talking about underwear.

International Medieval Congress masthead

Actually, although I don’t think I would have gone to that session anyway, I have to confess to not branching out as much as maybe I should have done this Leeds. I seem to have mainly spent it in Texts and Identities, which is a guaranteed relevant slot for any Carolingianist but I would have liked to see more archaeology and northern British stuff. Regrettably most of the archaeologists I wanted to hear from pulled out—a lot of people pulled out, in fact— and the best-looking British session clashed with one of our strand, so loyalty kept me away, allied with the hope that Alaric, the moderator, will be able to send me copies of the papers. So what did I do? Well, here goes.

  • First and foremost the keynote by Chris Wickham and Marc Boone; it’s always worth hearing Chris speak and this was a lot better than last year’s keynote
  • then our three sessions, `us’ in this instance being myself, Allan Scott McKinley and Martin Ryan, the original Three Musketeers of the New Diplomatic (as we wish to be entitled on the sign by the pyre on which they burn our many books when it all goes Fahrenheit 451), and this summer’s special guest stars, in no particular order Dr Elina Screen, Mr Alaric Trousdale, Professor Nicholas Brooks, Mr Alexander Ralston, Dr Alice Rio and Dr Charles West, several of whom have already changed bases so click those links while they’re hot
  • book-buying, dinner, drinking and ranting with Morn Capper, who was my boon companion for much of the Congress
  • the next morning a session being run by the first of those Alarics named above (at medieval congresses you get plural Alarics, it’s great), which contained stuff about Anglo-Saxon witches, Valkyries and a sterling performance by Martha Bayless who took the stand with no visual aids, proclaimed in a steady and ironic monotone that she used all paper that she herself was the visual aid, and while barely moving or varying her speech all paper still had us all captivated—I want her speaking coach
  • the second Texts & Identities session
  • a quick bus trip into Headingley to buy some food actually worth eating for dinner
  • the following Texts & Identities one because of an old supervisor and two always-inspiring speakers too, except that this year one of them wasn’t because I could hardly hear him, and Rosamond McKitterick got accused of being subversive by Jinty Nelson
  • yet another T&I session, which I was attending in the hope of picking up work on bishops but from which the speaker most relevant to that had pulled out alas
  • more book-buying and self-catered dinner followed by a small wealth of receptions, even winding up in the Early Medieval Europe one by mistake—I had meant to go, you understand, but had got the idea that it was the next day, and so was slightly disconcerted to find it happening round me—then an attempt at an early night spoilt by new books
  • the next morning’s first T&I as well, because Bernhard Zeller‘s evidence always fascinates me and I wanted to poach him for next year’s session
  • the revived T&I Time Archives thread, mainly to see if it was as much hot air as last year which I’m thankful to say it wasn’t, instead being very interesting but almost unrelated to its session title
  • still more book-buying
  • more of the Time Archives because of a friend presenting and another fascinating character
  • a T&I session on the papacy for very similar reasons
  • another dinner, then a picnic held by Rosamond, at which I met several interesting people, and then the dance, at which I may, may have danced a bit but only under acute peer pressure and mighty personal resolves; also accusations of scandal, absence of same and apparently secret societies
  • somehow messing up my alarm that night so as next morning to all but miss my housemate’s paper in the penultimate T&I session
  • going to two interesting papers in a (non-T&I!) session out of which unfortunately the speaker most relevant to my work had pulled without my knowing
  • and finally off home, after one piece of networking at a publishing stall that inevitably led to a last book being bought

So I was fairly busy. Any questions?

The irony hasn’t stopped yet, indeed; I had a mail when I got back (in fact I had lots, but moving on), and it was from Ashgate Publishing asking whether I wanted this book I’d ordered with them. I mailed them to ask `what book? I’m sure I brought them all home with me!’ but this didn’t stop a duplicate copy of one of the books I bought arriving on Tuesday anyway. I’m sure it’s dead good but I don’t want two of them. Bizarrely, this turns out to be unconnected with the mail, which was about another book they aren’t now going to send me a duplicate of. Funny people. Meanwhile, anyone want a spare copy of Chris Snyder‘s The Britons enough to slip me ten English for it?

Anyway! Too chatty! The following posts will in due course return you calmly into the arms of scholarly academe. Meanwhile, it is nice, as Professor Nokes also says, to remember occasionally that actually this damn discipline has fun in it when you look hard enough.