Tag Archives: Another Damned Medievalist

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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!

Leeds report 3 (Wednesday 15th July)

By Wednesday I’d managed to get my alarm going again (“have you tried switching it off and switching it on again?”) and thus set out in relatively good order for the following excellent session, albeit conforming to type by opting for Texts and Identities:

1006. Texts and Identities, VIII: Carolingian priests in action

  • Carine van Rhijn, “Local Priests, Local Manuscripts: Correctio in action”
  • Marco Stoffella, “Carolingian Reform and Local Priests in Early Medieval Tuscany”
  • Bernhard Zeller, “Local Priests in Early Medieval Alemannia: the Charter Evidence”
  • Attentive readers will see here a theme that has interested me both in and of itself and because of the cool things Wendy Davies keeps finding in the kingdoms next door, that of what priests actually did for their communities in the early Middle Ages and how they got the wherewithal, both material and intellectual, to do it. Carine had found some texts that appeared to be lists of exam questions for `priest inspectors’, preserved perhaps as revision aids, ranging from the simply administrative to the tangly Trinitarian; her area is very much the Carolingian heartland, so if you were going to see this anywhere it might be there, but it was still fascinating. Marco was looking at the process of Carolingian takeover in Lombardy, where a network of baptismal churches of mostly private origins was gathered up by rich bishops in the name of hierarchy. Bernhard, who is one of ‘my people’, meanwhile, was looking at the education and employment of the clerics visible in the St Gall evidence, and had some interesting observations about script regions that opened up questions of education outside schools, presumably by forebears.

An original St Gallen transaction charter of 786

An original St Gallen transaction charter of 786

I think I will come to look back on this session as the start of a big thing. Wendy Davies and I were talking avidly with Carine and Bernhard for some time afterwards because we felt that, together, we probably had enough evidence (in terms of documents in local priests’ hands over time) to say some genuinely useful things about where these people got their training, what the structures of priestly education were and how they changed. This is a question, in other words, that we may genuinely be able to answer, and I hope some collaboration comes of it. This is one important thing the big conferences can do for one.

Now, next, I probably should have gone to the session in which our occasional commentator Theo was speaking, and looking back at it now I’m not quite sure why that didn’t leap out at me as a necessity given that and the other contents. Sorry Theo! Instead I dithered and finally decided that what I needed more than anything was a rest, so went back to the flat and flopped with a novel for half an hour before going and prowling the book stalls. I bought far too much that I will take years to get round to reading—this is almost pathological and makes me feel guilty every time I see the books so I should stop it—but I also found time that I hadn’t thought I would have to meet up with my publisher and settle a few outstanding questions, and furthermore felt vastly less stressed for not trying to run across campus and keep up with someone else’s thought for a few hours. I possibly should have found the time to do this earlier and not missed Theo’s session but I’m not sure what I would have dropped to do this. Anyway, after lunch, things resumed with a small spot of hero-worship.

1210. The Boundaries of Free Speech, II: silencing the voice, restraining the pen

  • Paul Edward Dutton, “Voice over Writing in Eriugena”
  • Professor Dutton is a hero of mine in a small way, partly for his Carolingian Civilization reader which manages to make a vast range of sources not just accessible but interesting, and partly for the enthusiasm and amusement with which he writes; this was very much in evidence as he in turn dealt with one of his heroes, and perhaps the only Carolingian intellectual I’d like to drink with, John the Scot or Eriugena, asking why, given that he seems to have believed that truth was diminished by writing it down rather than speaking it, he wrote so much. The conclusion was, more or less paradoxically, to stop them relying on a written truth: as Stuart Airlie observed, “Tell Derrida et al. it’s all been done!” I find Eriugena pleasantly modern in this respect, and it’s largely due to Professor Dutton that I ever bothered. Have a go yourself!

    Modern cartoon of William of Malmesburys story about John the Scot and Charles the Bald

    Modern cartoon of William of Malmesbury's story about John the Scot and Charles the Bald

  • Irene van Renswoude, “‘Writings speak after one’s death when the writer is silent’: on the danger of publication”
  • An almost inaudible study of psychological and logical reasons why Rather of Verona didn’t dare write more than he did, and that for a very small an audience without whom, however, he couldn’t do.

  • Michael Clanchy, “The Right to Speak Out by Publishing: Abelard and his Master, Anselm of Laon”
  • Michael has, as he said, been talking about Abelard for many years now, and I’m always happy to hear him do it more; he’s a very friendly speaker, both with the audience and with the material, and makes for a very human humanism. Here the main question was why did Abelard publish so much, with such frequently awful consequences, compared to a master who was widely renowned but published one book, if that, which he denied? The quest for fame rather than students was the provisional answer, which sounds obvious if you know Abelard’s writings but Michael can always give one more depth of understanding of these texts and didn’t fail. The discussion that followed was also really lively and interesting, though I confess I remember it mainly for Stuart Airlie suggesting that we read the sources of the Carolingian Renaissance with a closer eye for what they’re not saying: “Big party, Aachen, tonight; don’t tell Theodulf!”

For the last sessions of the day I went back to Texts and Identities for the one paper by a friend I managed to catch the whole conference that I hadn’t squeezed out of them myself.

1306. Texts and Identities, XI: religious alterity and textual control

  • Clemens Gantner, “Quae enim societas luci ad tenebras: the papal charge of heresy against others in the 8th and 9th centuries”
  • A close reading of papal writings about their Arian and Iconoclast opponents shows how very rarely direct assertions of heresy were made from Rome but how frequently the power of insinuation and implication left that impression on the reader.

  • Rob Meens, “Thunder over Lyons: Agobard, the tempestarii, and Christianity”
  • There is a lovely cache of material about rural belief in the letters of Bishop Agobard of Lyons. They include, perhaps most infamously, a report of some locals who believed that weather magicians whom they called tempestarii could be employed to bring storms onto the crops of others or keep them off one’s own, an operation that they were held to perform by means of communication with people in flying ships who lifted away the destroyed crops unless paid not to attack them. That is, the tempestarii were not themselves the stormbringers, but had friends who were, and who apparently operated out of aircraft. This, as you may imagine, has been beloved of UFO conspiracy nuts for a very long time. Now Rob brought a critical eye to it and asked whether these tempestarii were, as they have often been seen, pagan cultists or whether they were Christians who claimed to have some special extra knowledge; Agobard envisages them making confession, which necessitates some rethinking of categories. I had to ask whether Agobard could afford to exclude anyone or whether he had to open his category of Christian out to include them. It seems more likely, though, that Agobard just wasn’t thinking in terms of Christian vs. pagan at all and therefore probably neither should we.1

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power: unauthorised miracles at Dijon, c. 842″
  • Crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

    Crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

    Lastly came Charles, ever bright and interesting with his material, which was in this case a very odd miracle episode in which a saint’s crypt full of people, who may have all been women, were confined inside by invisible forces that buffeted them to the ground if they tried to leave; we know of this from a letter from the local bishop to another asking for advice on how to get them out, so it’s pretty far removed from hagiography. Nonetheless, Charles showed that the account draws quite heavily on Agobard, again, and he took a very careful inventory of the power interests involved and what we could read between the lines of the text. Fascinating, and our speculations were almost certainly more fun than whatever the real situation may turn out to have been alas, but this makes for a good paper.

So that was a good wind-up for the day, and then various factors combined to leave me eating at Weetwood with Another Damned Medievalist and the In The Middle crowd in a rough repeat of the meet-up of the day before. Mary Kate Hurley was amusingly dismayed to hear I might dodge the dance, and when I did in fact turn up insisted I actually dance, which I felt a lot better for doing, though fundamentally the muscles didn’t remember how it go till `Blue Monday’ came over the rattly PA. I had fun anyway, and the music was a lot better than last year.

However, again, the abiding memory is going to be a remark by Stuart Airlie, who was resplendent in a t-shirt reading “I Conquered the Avars and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” among other things, and who was also giving it some on the dancefloor, but who paused briefly to be introduced to me because of this here blog, which he told me, in between flattering people and attacks of Terpsichorean enthusiasm, was an exercise in control, and suggested I was trying to control too many things with it. Now, I accept that a conversation in that forum is not to be taken entirely seriously but I’ve been trying to puzzle out what he meant ever since. The blog was of course created to try and control something, which was and is my online academic footprint, and indeed my academic footprint full stop until actual publication finally burst from the infinitely tapered pipeline, but I don’t know that it’s been very successful; the audience is big but dropping, I don’t get any extra interviews because of it and though many people seem to like it I don’t think it really sells me the way I’d intended, because I talk too much about other people, or indeed just too much. It’s made me some useful contacts but these are things that make my academic profile broader, not deeper. So I don’t know. Either way, power hunger is not, to me, a great part of my make-up or presentation and I’m slightly worried that someone whose gaze is as penetrating as Dr Airlie’s sees it under the surface of my writing. So I went to bed with many a muse on this, and as you can tell am still musing…


1. I expect you’d like some bibliography on this, or at least that somebody eventually would, and to them I say, aided by Prof Meens’s excellent handout, start with the text, which is online here in Latin and partially translated (of course) in Paul Dutton (ed.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader, 1st edn. (Peterborough ON 1993), pp. 189-191; then for scholarship one must apparently start with Monica Blöcker, “Wetterzauber: Zu einem Glaubenskomplex des frühen Mittelalters” in Francia Vol. 9 (Sigmaringen 1981), pp. 117-131; go on to Paul Dutton, “Thunder and hail over the Carolingian countryside” in idem, Charlemagne’s Mustache and Other Cultural Clusters of a Dark Age (New York 2004), pp. 169-188, and finish with the latest word by Jean Jolivet, “Agobard de Lyon et les faiseurs de pluie” in M. Chazan & G. Dahan (edd.), La méthode critique au Moyen Âge, Bibliothèque d’histoire du Moyen Âge 3 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 15-25. Presumably Rob is also working on publication about this and supporting websearches also revealed as forthcoming Mark Gregory Pegg, “Agobard of Lyon, tempestarii, and magic in early medieval Europe” in W. Wunderlich (ed.), Medieval Myths: Magicians, Seducers and Rogues (Kontanz forthcoming). Wow, and people tell me my website picture makes me look like a vampire…

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.