Tag Archives: blogs

Kalamazoo 2015, Part 1

People in conversation at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, West Michigan University, Kalamazoo

Other people in conversation at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, West Michigan University, Kalamazoo (official photo)

Well, we’ve had another lapse in posting, for which I apologise, but there was good reason, I promise you, not least the International Medieval Congress just gone, which was a success but really very busy. I will write about that at some point, I promise, but my ridiculous backlog is only made more so by the passing of another IMC, not least because the next thing I have to write about is an ICMS, the International Congress on Medieval Studies at West Michigan University, which I didn’t make it to this year but did last year, that being where the trip to the US lately described wound up, and that’s how far behind I am. Given that, while I don’t want to say nothing about it I do want to say less than usual, so: I am going firstly to let all the stuff about dreadful accommodation, food and coffee go as standard; secondly I will add that the actual town of Kalamazoo does however have some places worth exploring for food and drink if you are not, as I used to be, determined to scrounge all the free alcohol going on campus; and thirdly, I will try and keep my reportage on the papers I saw down to one sentence of summary or commentary each, a writing challenge I should probably set myself much more often. So, here we go with day 1, 14th May 2015!

45. The State and its Loyal Constituencies in Late Antiquity

  • Michael Kulikowski, “Saying No to Government: Disintegrating and Reinstating States”
  • One sentence for this is actually all I have, because I arrived late to the session and missed almost the whole paper. That sentence therefore is: “A ‘collective sovereignty’ model of northern barbarian kingship gets picked up by those further south over the 5th and 6th centuries”; make of it what you will, but I wish I’d seen more.

  • Stefan Esders, “Regnum, Civitas, and Pagus: Rearranging Spatial Structures in Merovingian Gaul”
  • Arguing that although in Merovingian Gaul many of the functions of the Roman state fell away or were loaded onto new counts or old bishops, the territorial structures through which they continued to be organised necessitated a continuing level of fiscal sophistication that we could safely call a state. As Julie Hofmann pointed out, the missing part of this picture was Church organisation and its imprint on bishops’ fiscal responsibilities, but that was a part of the study still to come.

  • Guy Halsall, “Political Communities? A Comparison of the Roman and Merovingian Polities”
  • Guy, who it was that I had particularly come to see, argued instead that Merovingian Gaul was not a state, in as much as there was no single identity of which people could claim membership, but several, Frankish military, Catholic Christian, Arian Christian, Gallo-Roman aristocrat or peasant, all partially replacing the now-discredited Roman civil and patrician identity that, until Justinian I’s campaigns excluded them from it, the ruling élites in this area were still emulating. Michael Kulikowski pointed out that that identity had never been available to most of the Roman population either, but Guy argued that patronage would have joined them up to its holders.

Gold tremissis of the Merovingian King Chlothar II (584-628) in the British Museum, London

Arguably a part of a state apparatus, a gold tremissis of the Merovingian King Chlothar II (584-628) in the British Museum, London. By PHGCOM – Own work by uploader, photographed at the British Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5969234

80. Leadership Profiles in the Tenth- and Eleventh-Century Church

  • Edmund McCaffray, “Leading by Example: customaries and abbatial conservatio at Cluny in the eleventh century”
  • Argued that we should see John of Salerno’s biography of the famous Abbot Odo of Cluny less as a straight biography than as a set of descriptions of the abbey’s custom justified by Odo’s good example, something that became irrelevant as actual custumaries became common and the Life was rewritten.

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “In the Teeth of Reform: reprofiling the Catalan Episcopate around the year 1000”
  • Argued that the commonly-propagated picture Catalan Church of the millennial era as a worldly monopoly of the comital family is based on misreadings of Catalan secondary work, rather than actual evidence, but that a binary appraisal of them in terms of being reformed or not in any case misses out what most of what made them suitable for their jobs. Rereading this paper makes me think I should get on and do something more with it, it’s maybe quite good.

  • Pieter Byttebier, “Intitulatio or Æmulatio? Developing New Forms of Episcopal leadership in Eleventh-Century Lotharingian Contexts”
  • A series of examples of new, and often foreign, bishops, boosting the reputation and even cults of their predecessors in order to better anchor themselves in the local traditions of their offices, and arguably imitating what could be known of their lives—Heer Byttebier argued it, but some of those supposed imitations were post mortem so I had trouble taking his case at full strength. Someone in questions asked about the æmulatio part of his title and he admitted that he had no examples as yet, so probably more could be done here.

St Clement of Metz  leading the dragon Graouilly to the River Seille

One feat probably beyond imitation, St Clement of Metz leading the dragon Graouilly to the River Seille, a legend of the tenth century. Domaine public, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17574925

99. Women and Power to 1100 (A Roundtable)

Quite how I, with only one paper on anything like gender to my name and that unpublished, got in on this may never be entirely clear but it was fun and I don’t think I disgraced myself. I think Julie Hofmann won the day early on with her remark that we’ve been being surprised by women with power in the Middle Ages since 1908, but her deepest point may have been that when you’re dealing with power, their gender is not as important in defining what power someone has as their placement in society and their efficacy at using that. There was a general preference for the word ‘agency’ over ‘power’, which got challenged in discussion by Teresa Earenfight for I think good reason—Lois Honeycutt offered ‘autonomy’, a right to decide, as being closer to what we were getting at. Martha Rampton spoke about magic, one sphere in which women were perhaps dominant, up until around 1000 at least, and I focused on the apparent plenitude of examples from my material of women doing stuff without reference to men, usually with property but still untrammelled, and suggested that even that could more usefully be seen as a way they operated within larger family contexts than trying to separate them out into a female sphere that never existed by itself, any more than a male or indeed, as Jonathan Lyon pointed out, royal or imperial, sphere did. Lastly in the formal section, Phyllis Jestice pointed out that work on women and power has either focused on individual strong women or the whole aristocratic class and asked if there was a middle level where variation and over-generalisation might coalesce into useful conclusions. In discussion I managed to steer that through my favourite point that we need to distinguish between things that are usual but infrequent and things that are actually unusual, and Julie reminded us that the limits on female power were less institutions than straightforward misogyny, so looking at rules about what women could do only gives us the tip of the iceberg. This was all fun to be part of and I felt a lot like a real scholar afterwards, but I can’t help feeling looking back that although progress does seem to have happened these are all quite old problems. The new work that many of us were agitating for seems to be hard to do.

Countess Matilda of Canossa, enthroned with attendants, manuscript portrait from the Vita Mathildis by Donizone

Not everybody can be Matilda of Canossa…

So that was the end of the first day, and then there was a certain amount of free wine and catching up with people. I can’t, by now, remember who those were, or what we did for food, but I don’t think we can have gone far because there was a blogger’s meet-up later in the evening. I felt somewhat as if I shouldn’t show my face at that given how little blog I’d written in the previous few months, nay, years, but others were in the same case and in any case these are to some extent my people, so, if any of you are reading, Another Damned Medievalist, Notorious Ph. D., the Medieval History Geek and Vellum (and others? Sorry if I’ve forgotten you), it was good to catch up and I learnt a lot in that conversation too. It overran well into the evening sessions: does anyone ever go to those? I’m not sure I ever have. Anyway, with that all concluded, it was off to my awful bed and ready for the next day, on which I will try and report shortly!


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!

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!

The blogger you have selected is busy; feel free to choose one of these links…

Well, I am back in Oxford and so are the students, and even here term is at last starting, my reading lists are not quite ready and my time is limited. I hope therefore that you’ll forgive me if I take a post to point you at some links to things elsewhere, rather than write anything substantive. Some of these I’ve been saving for a while, but some are more recent; all connect with things I’ve written about here or elsewhere so should hopefully prove of interest.

  • First and foremost, matters blogular. Had you noticed in my sidebar that the well-known Alaric Hall, elf expert, environmentalist, drummer and general good thing, has been on tour and blogging about it? Since Alaric is a man who is not afraid either to post detailed literary analyses of novels in Icelandic or to describe his experience of a major North American city as “as great as a skate on a plate”, I reckon you’ll enjoy his writing as I don’t quite see how anyone couldn’t. Not convinced? Who do you think wins in a fight between the Rockies and Iceland? Go see.
  • More formally, those who know me well and have been at conferences in the UK with me will probably recognise who has briefly stepped into the blogging world with this post at the British Museum’s site. Now that was an interesting job!
  • Then, going back a long way, we have mentioned the fort of South Cadbury here in the past, largely because it’s supposed to have been Camelot. It goes back to the Neolithic, but was like many hillforts in Britain refurbished in the period immediately after the Romans left, including a timber hall dated to between 460 and 500, and reused Roman ceramics at table and so on. In 1971 Leslie Alcock, a major figure in my early medieval British thought-world, put forward a well-known argument for an Arthur-like figure based on this site, arguing that its huge perimeter could only have been manned by a substantial army and that therefore someone in that period and in that hall must have been able to raise such an army.1 (He later retracted almost all of this, but it has stuck around.2) I should have realised that there was an alternative explanation after going to l’Esquerda but recent digs at Ham Hill nearby in Somerset have raised the issue somewhere less soluble; here, the perimeter is more like three miles and you just couldn’t really have got enough people in it to hold it. The answer may therefore be that these places were both actually settlements not fortresses, and I now need to get back and read more about Cadbury-Camelot and see whether that would work.3 The Ham Hill digs are reported on in the Guardian here, which I found out about at David Beard’s Archaeology in Europe, to which a hat duly tipped.
  • Next up, we have often talked about capitularies here, those very diverse collections of legislative bullet points the Carolingian kings issued that hardly ever seem to have been acted upon.4 I was in correspondence with someone who was lamenting that the manuscript of the collection of these things made by one Ansegis that survives from the Catalan monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll, ACA MS Ripoll 40, was not yet digitised, and I bethought me: hang on, isn’t there a rolling initiative of the Spanish government to digitise their archives’ manuscripts? I wonder if… And lo it has been done and is here,5 so your Carolingianists who want to see how far that law got, here you are, and meanwhile I can pay a bit more attention to what other texts may have come in by the same route during the short period when the Carolingians really were trying to govern the Spanish March as directly as their other provinces.
  • Now that’s pretty cool, but it pales into insignificance for my work compared to news that has lately been e-mailed me by Marie-José Gasse-Grandjean at the Université de Bourgogne, which is the launching of this site, a philologic index of the medieval charter material from Burgundy. A laughable claim, you may think, knowing that that would mean digitising all the thousands of documents from St-Pierre de Cluny; well, look and marvel. You realise what this means? For the first time since they were written, and 120 years or so after they were actually published, the charters of Cluny that have been the source of so many controversial and influential works have been indexed.6 You can now look things up in the Cluny charters. If you want to know how this might help anyone, imagine how much less frustrated this post might have been if this had happened sooner… But it’s not just Cluny, there’s are literally about forty different archives in there and this is a resource with which it is possible to get something serious done. So, if you don’t know I’m letting you know; there it is. And, furthermore, they’re having a conference to encourage people to do this stuff. You would have to get busy as they want submissions by October 30th, but they say:

    The present symposium will deal with the revisiting of several research experiences using this database, ranging from punctual experiments to fully-developed academic works. The objective of this gathering is to invite researchers to become familiar with this interface and to assess it. All researches who desire to share their experiences are welcome to make a presentation. We would appreciate it if you can let us know of your part-taking before October the 30th (email addresses provided on the header). Presentations already confirmed by Alain Guerreau, Eliana Magnani, Nicolas Perreaux et Armando Torres Fauaz.

    … and that looks like interesting stuff to me even if I can’t actually go. They sent me CFP PDFs in French and English so I’ve linked them there for you.

  • Lastly, it is always worth publicising the Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, and so I let you know that their Autumn schedule is now online. But! This news strikes me with great chagrin as I see that Alex Woolf is first up with what looks like a really interesting paper (does he do any other sort? I ain’t seen it) and I can’t go. So, an undergraduate-like plea that someone will go and take notes for me, and my apologies to Alex, though I will at least be able to deliver those in person as well when he comes to Oxford later in the season, so hurrah for that and also a passing notice that that seminar and others too will surely also soon be detailed online, here, and are open to visitors. [Edit: I should also have mentioned the similarly excellent Cambridge Late Antique Network Seminar, whose program is also online already, and full of stars including Alex Woolf again! How does he do it? But he does, so there it (also) is.]

There is also a shedload of stuff that could be mentioned about Picts, but since that is relevant to my interests just now and I haven’t finished thinking about what the new finds mean, or indeed likely talking about them to Alex (again) who was kind enough to alert me to one of them, I will write more on that further down the line. For the moment, here’s a post!

1. Leslie Alcock, Arthur’s Britain: history and archaeology AD 367-634 (London 1971, repr. Harmondsworth 1973, 2nd edn. 1989), pp. 221-226 & 347-349 in the 1st edn., with some account of the whole hillfort phenomenon at pp. 179-181. I always forget until I dip into this that despite Alcock’s own later misgivings (see n. 2 below) it was a really good book when it came out and still holds its own remarkably well in the face of forty years’ subsequent research.

2. Idem, Kings & Warriors, Craftsmen & Priests in Northern Britain AD 550-850, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monographs (Edinburgh 2003), p. 5.

3. Alcock was of course the principal excavator of that site, which is how he got to make that point; I’ve read idem “Cadbury-Camelot: a fifteen-year perspective” in Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 68 (London 1982), pp. 354ff, repr. in idem, Economy, Society and Warfare among the Britons and Saxons (Cardiff 1987) pp. 185-213, but should now complete that with idem, S. J. Stevenson & C. R. Musson, Cadbury Castle, Somerset: The Early Medieval Archaeology (Cardiff 1995).

4. Christina Pössel, “Authors and Recipients of Carolingian Capitularies, 779-829″ in Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Pössel & Peter Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 12, Denkschriften der phil.-hist. Klasse 344 (Wien 2008), pp. 253-274.

5. I’m not sure if it’s possible to get durable links out of the PARES system, so if that doesn’t work, the way to get to it is to start with the Busqueda Avançada and choose Archivo de la Corona de Aragón in the Filtro de Archivos, then Diversos y Colecciones in the Clasificación, Manuscritos in the Fondo, and then stick “Ripoll” into the Filtro per Signatura and search. You’ll then get, rather than a search result, a results tree to expand, and you choose: ACA, COLECCIONES, Manuscritos, RIPOLL, the scroll-down arrow and it’s no. 40. This search engine of theirs is what you might call `highly featured’ rather than effective, but if you know what you want it’s kind of amazing what’s there and what they’ve done.

6. Most obviously to name but three, Georges Duby, La société aux XIe et XIIe siècle dans la région mâconnaise (Paris 1953, 2nd edn. 1971, repr. 2000), a few parts translated by Fredric Cheyette as “The Nobility in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Mâconnais” in idem (ed.), Lordship and Community in Medieval Europe: selected readings (1968), pp. 137-55, and see now idem, “Georges Duby’s Mâconnais after fifty years: reading it then and now” in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 28 (Amsterdam 2002), pp. 291-317; Barbara Rosenwein, To be the Neighbor of St Peter: the social meaning of Cluny’s property, 909-1049 (Ithaca 1989); and Guy Bois, La mutation de l’an mil (Paris 1989), transl. Jean Birrell as The Transformation of the Year 1000 (Manchester 1992).

Things that are (relatively) newly online

A quick post to point out some things I recently discovered before they go off, most of which are things I shall have to try and go to. First up, what looks like a really interesting weekend conference at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, entitled “Local Churches and Lordship in the European Middle Ages”. I’m not presenting or anything, but the range of speakers is such, including three Iberian papers, that I am really going to have to make all efforts to go. Full details here.

Next up, the new term’s schedule for the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar is now published, and again, everything on it looks unmissable, so I really hope I can continue to make it to these. If not, however, I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who feels they might be able to write stuff up for inclusion here, with full credit of course. The schedule is online here, and a shiny PDF version for sticking on noticeboards has also been circulated, though it isn’t yet there: I shall therefore stash it here for you all for the time being.

I’m particularly interested by the seminar for the 13th October, because it is described thus:

Leslie Webster, Guy Halsall

Staffordshire hoard round table

Now, Guy Halsall has views on the Staffordshire Hoard, views with which I can only partially agree but no news there really, and I know this because I recently became aware that Guy Halsall hath a blog, which he has set up to help with his current project, The Transformations of the Year 600. Dammit, why wasn’t I notified, etc. So far it seems largely to be texts of his seminar papers and so on, all very interesting of course (the one about the Hoard is here). There’s a wealth of stuff there, and he says in the first post, “I hope too that it might bring about some useful and helpful discussions and sharing of ideas and information.” As far as I can see, however, this is a well-kept secret so far and no-one has actually commented. I’m not sure I want to be the first, since I don’t know enough to argue with Guy or contribute to a perspective so early, but I expect some reading may be less bothered by the idea, and I thought you might want to know. Here’s hoping he adds more soon.

Kalamazoo and Back, II: ritual, chronicles and arm-wrestling

Resuming the Kalamazoo blogging, then, as mentioned before, there was no kettle, and before that in reverse order, there had been geese, an electrical storm and a small hours arrival in a room which we will not discuss further. Result, really not much sleep, and there was no kettle. Therefore to become at all coherent for the day I had to negotiate the canteen uncaffeinated, and no sooner had I uncertainly done so than a voice I didn’t know hailed me by name. This turned out to be Michael who writes the Heptarchy Herald, and he was not like I’d imagined him at all (though if I had stopped and thought back over one of his comments, I might have had a better idea). He amiably put up with me while I diluted the blood in my caffeine-stream enough to talk with joined-up words, and then we headed off to sessions.

Session 4. Carolingian Studies: Secular Culture I

(Also covered by the Medieval History Geek here.)

  • Obviously, having travelled thousands of miles to a strange country filled with people I’d never met, the first thing I did was go to hear an old friend. But Christina Pössel is always thought-provoking. Here, her paper, “Was there such a thing as Carolingian secular ritual: comparing oranges and apples in order to learn something about fruit”, was aimed at tackling the problem in ritual studies (which she tends to prove are still interesting) that circulate round the fact that rituals are usually directed at the supernatural, which pretty much excludes them from secularity. She wound up arguing that non-supernatural rituals did exist, and that several may be in the Salic Law; she also, more controversially, suggested that they might be almost as new as the writing of the code, as they give a large rôle to kings despite supposedly harking from an era when there supposedly weren’t kings in the same way. In particular, a ritual for breaking your kin ties and their rights to inherit your property makes the fisc your heir, which could hardly be the case before there was a fisc… Her general pitch was that these were ways of generating a memorable spectacle that no-one could later easily deny knowledge of, and that makes sense to me and fits with some work of Jinty Nelson’s (which Christina namechecked) about the Franks getting children to witness transactions so that their memory, which should be beaten into them if necessary, would persist in subsequent decades.1
  • Paul Kershaw then presented a paper about a particular one of the poems of Theodulf of Orléans, in fact just a few lines of it (also singled out by Paul Dutton in his reader of such things2) in which Theodulf mocks an oversize courtier by the name of Wibod (and Curt Emanuel has posted Paul’s translation if you’re curious). Paul’s paper, “Membrosus heros: Theodulf, Wibod, and Carolingian categories of secular identity”, went deep into questions of physical versus intellectual and how far our sources let us see the rough side of the court culture, but also put some much-needed context to Wibod himself. This was a paper where the questions actually wound up considerably altering the slant of the presentation, as Paul had left me with the familiar impression that Theodulf was basically being malicious from a safe distance whereas several questioners seemed to think that the joke wouldn’t work unless Theodulf and Wibod were already old sparring partners and Wibod understood the jibe, which lets Wibod a lot further into the court culture than we might otherwise have thought.
  • Lastly in the session, Professor Lynda Coon presented a paper called “Lay Bodies” in which she described the kind of access the lay population had to the imaginary monastery laid out in the St Gall Plan, which was not just extremely schematised (as is everything else in that plan, and some of schemed in much older lists as I had recently been discovering3) but also complete with built-in hierarchy, one side of the church for nobles and friends and one for the plebs4), although still only a sixth of the whole floor plan with lay access at all. This, interestingly, didn’t apply in the crypt where monks and pilgrims might mingle almost ineluctably. Lots to think about with boundaries of secular and religious space here, especially since the scheme of saints’ chapels got more and more male and monastic the further into the church you would have gone if it existed (that last being the fundamental problem with this source of course: I helped by suggesting that recent archæological work at San Vincenzo al Volturno suggests that that site might have been built a lot closer to the ideal than was St Gall).

Then there was lunch, by which point I had located the estimable Another Damned Medievalist, or rather she me, and so I was able to let her take over my social calendar for the day, which was just as well given my disorientation. Over lunch we spotted and accosted Mary Kate Hurley and she of the Rebel Letter, one of whom I knew was charming and about the other of whom I was proved right to suspect similarly, and I avoided the book exhibit until more rational. After that, it was back to Carolingia!

Session 59. Carolingian Studies: Secular Culture II

(This one also covered by the Medieval History Geek here.)

  • The second of these sessions was led off by Jennifer Davis, whom I turned out to remember from her time in Cambridge unbeknownst to me, and she was talking to the title “The Court of Charlemagne: lay aspects in the aula renovata“. Here again we met the problem of largely ecclesiastical sources for a project, the Carolingian court, that was also or even more meant to involve the lay population, and she negotiated those problems to suggest especially that the assignment of persons to tasks was probably done by their particular skills and connections more than by any office or rank they might hold, and also that quite a lot of Charlemagne’s reign was spent reacting to crises so that a fully-developed and implemented policy is probably too much to expect anyway. Obvious, you may think, but often someone first needs to say these things before they seem that way.
  • Cullen Chandler is of course my officially-appointed nemesis or arch-rival or something, though this has been a lot more difficult to maintain since we were actually introduced and got on OK. He was presenting to the title, “Königsnähe and Rebellion in the Ninth Century”, and suggested that the long string of rebellions on the Spanish march by Frankish marquises could not be seen as a struggle for Königsnähe but as a means of forcing the king to open negotiations around which power might be rearranged in this or other areas. I wasn’t really aware that people had seen it the former way, because as usual my perspectives are formed from the local scholarship where sometimes a more global perspective would be useful. The Catalan historiography isn’t interested so much in vindicating the marquises, since out of their forfeitures comes the success of the local dynasty, but it is pretty clear that Barcelona is not somewhere one runs to to get people’s attention, but because it’s a long way away and damned difficult to reduce.5 It’s not at Barcelona that Charles the Bald finally catches Bernard of Septimania, after all, but his notional home capital of Toulouse… But anyone else who is pointing out that interesting things happen in this area that affect the rest of Carolingian history is fundamentally OK with me and that was certainly happening here. There is more I could say about a particular theme of Cullen’s and one or two other papers, too, but I’ll come back to that separately.
  • The Roman walls and medieval towers of Barcelona

  • Lastly, and heroically defeating transport difficulties to be there at all, came Helmut Reimitz, speaking on “Ethnicity, Identity, and Difference: the future for lay people in the Carolingian Empire”. There were some very interesting takes from the social sciences on what constitutes an identity deployed here: the most cynical, but also useful, was one from a chap called Hall to the effect that identity is a cover story to assert continuity during an episode of change,6 but Helmut pointed out that over time this cover story also changes, noting it especially in the fact that when Charles the Bald gets a kingdom of Alemannia in the fateful divisio of 829, it’s not an Alemannia with any historical or ethnic basis, but one with which, nonetheless, Walahfrid Strabo goes on strongly to identify. Interesting stuff, and Helmut pulled it out to an Empire-wide successful formulation of the Frankish identity as Christianity-plus-membership-of-the-Frankish-polity, wherever its constitutents had come from. I think it might be interesting, in a full version of this paper, to look at some areas where this identity doesn’t triumph, for example, northern Italy or, indeed, the Spanish March though there things are a lot more complex. But I would say that wouldn’t I? This was a good paper and that’s what matters.

Session 129. Accessing the Medieval in Nottingham II

  • Refreshed by further coffee, I now struck out, because there was developing a danger here that I do what can be done at Leeds with the Texts and Identities sessions and listen to nothing outside my own field of study; there was enough Carolingiana all conference that I thought breaking out would be a good plan. Instead, I went to a session some way off in an incredibly huge lecture theatre that I didn’t then realise I’d be presenting in two days later, where sadly Dayanna Knight was no longer going to talk about “Cultural Contact in the Norse North Atlantic AD 800-1500”, which I’d thought might hit some of this blog’s less common interests, but John Quanrud was still there and presenting on what I thought was a title full of potential, “Annals, Scribes and Kings: revisiting the origins of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, and which did not disappoint, either. His pitch was basically that there has been quite a lot of work on the possibility of precursor texts to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as supposedly assembled somewhere near King Alfred c. 892, by Janet Bately and Frank Stenton especially, but that they were all working in different directions.7 Quanrud’s paper brought them all into line, or at least a number of them, and demonstrated that there is a particular point around 878 when all of the models seem to emphasise a discontinuity in the texts. He proposed that the solution to this was that there were two precursor texts, an annalistic compilation from which most of the bald annals come and a dynastic propaganda text covering the sons of Egbert, 825-878 basically, which he supposed was done for circulation when Alfred was on his uppers in the marshes that autumn and which may have helped motivate support for the king against the Danes. I was less convinced by the stylistic arguments that these two were distinct than I was by the argument that this was the best way to resolve the apparent oddities of focus by region and person that the earlier work was picking up on. But whether you credit it or not, it just goes to show that there is no such thing as a worked-out source…
  • Follow that, you may think, but Malte Ringer did a reasonable job with, “Heathendom in the Laws of Medieval Norway”, which took a very sober and careful view of what the Old Norse laws actually say about paganism, wisely refused to entertain any of the extreme interpretations that have been placed on this material, and separated a number of different senses of the word ‘heathen’ in them that don’t want to be confused for each other, ‘unbaptised’, ‘idolatrous’, ‘inclusive of anyone who might not be Christian’, ‘unchristian’ in the sense of needing to be excluded from Christian society by reason of ill conduct, and ‘foreign non-Christian’. It sounds like a dry paper but it wasn’t; maybe I just have a high tolerance for social philology or maybe it was just that Malte is a good speaker who prizes accuracy enough to be interesting about it; I thought the latter, myself.
  • I would have liked the third paper too, but these two were worth coming across the site for.

Of course there were more papers in the evening, but at that point I let society overwhelm me. First there were wine hours (and was it perhaps then that I met Michelle of Heavenfield? I did this at some point that day) and secondly there was an excellent early medievalists’ dinner arranged consummately by Deborah Deliyannis. I didn’t perhaps meet as many new people as I should have but I got to introduce separate sets of friends to each other and talk Tom Waits and that’s a definite success as far as I’m concerned. Then there was, after a while of getting there, entry into the élite circles of the blogosphere in as much as there was an after-party for the launch of the book of Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog. This has been reported elsewhere, of course, with claims of arm-wrestling and generally decadent comportment, but who are you going to believe on a matter of fact over interpretation, me or Jeffrey Cohen? Don’t answer that… Instead, let me merely say that In the Medieval Middle stock a mean beer fridge, that Eileen Joy has some impressively strong students, [edit: that it was delightful at this point to meet Adrienne Odasso of Lost in Transcription, whose fame had reached me long before and who was quite frightened to discover this—she should have been in this post from the beginning, I apologise—] and that just because I’ve met Brantley Bryant doesn’t mean I have to stop referring to the Chaucer blogger as Chaucer does it? It was fun. Thankyou guys.

Quote of this day of the conference, a toss-up between the following:

  1. “Of course! Literature is left-handed!” (Eileen Joy)
  2. “A corner of tenth-century whoop-ass!” (Brantley Bryant)

I invite judgements in comments! Of course, some might have said that I needed an early night. I think I did say this, in fact, but it was obviously wrong.

1. I think this is Janet L. Nelson, “Gender, Memory and Social Power. Elisabeth van Houts, Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe 900-1200 (Macmillan, London, 1999). Lynda Garland, Byzantine Empresses: women and power in Byzantium AD 527-1204 (Routledge, London, 1999)” in Pauline Stafford and A. B. Muller-Bakker (edd.), Gendering the Middle Ages, Gender and History Vol. 12 Pt. 3 (Oxford 2000), pp. 531-771; repr. separatim (Oxford 2001), pp. 722-734.

2. Paul Edward Dutton (ed./transl.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader, Readings in Medieval Civilization and Cultures 1, 2nd edn. (Peterborough ON 2004), p. 106.

3. I need to mail this to Professor Coon, in fact, and ‘this’ is: Wolfgang Metz, Das karolingische Reichsgut: eine verfassungs- und verwaltungsgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Berlin 1960), pp. 26-45, which is ostensibly about the Brevium exempla but also uses the St Gall Plan as one of the texts that he shows were using late antique plant lists to source their supposedly contemporary lists of crops and garden patches.

4. I remember being very surprised when I first discovered this word was singular. Now I surprise other people with the fact.

5. For this reason I still think the best and clearest account of the politics in southern France during the second half of the ninth century that I know comes from Josep María Salrach i Marés, El Procés de Formació Nacional de Catalunya (segles VIII-IX). 1: El Domini Carolingi, Llibres a l’Abast 136 (Barcelona 1978), pp. 91-127, because he places the rebel magnates in both their regional and central contexts rather than just the latter.

6. Apparently Stuart Hall, “Ethnicity: identity and difference” in Radical America Vol. 23 (Somerville 1989), pp. 9-20.

7. Quanrud’s excellent handout allows me to list these as especially: Janet M. Bately, “The Compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 60 B.C. to A.D. 890: vocabulary as evidence” in Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 64 (London 1978), pp. 93-129; R. Hogdkin, A History of the Anglo-Saxons (Oxford 1935); and Frank Merry Stenton, “The South-Western Element in the Old English Chronicle” in A. G. Little & F. M. Powicke (edd.), Essays in Medieval History presented to T. F. Tout (Manchester 1925), pp. 15-24, repr. in Stenton, Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Doris Stenton (Oxford 1970), pp. 106-115.

Recent interdisciplinary symposium and bone churches

Scholars in conference! Left to right T'anta Wawa, my own self and Martin Rundkvist

Scholars in conference! Left to right T'anta Wawa, my own self and Martin Rundkvist

An impromptu affair occasioned by the presence of the good Dr Rundkvist in the UK for purposes of being amazing, or amazed, or both! And like all proper academics we gathered in a pub to moan about the field and enthuse about each other’s projects. There was also a resolve that this would be properly documented on all three blogs, which will at least make TW post something :-) Martin is way ahead of me though.

Also, while I’ve attracted both of your attentions via pingbacks, you two, and also indeed Colleen Morgan at Middle Savagery if I may, what about this article about ‘houses of bones’ in the Czech Republic, which I found via Archaeology in Europe? I mean, this would cause NAGPRA campaigners to choke on their own incredulous disgust, but it’s even a good long way off contemporary practice in Western Europe too innit? All the current debates about the scholarly and artistic use of bodies, from the furore over Gunther Hagens’s Bodyworlds exhibitions to arguments over the reburial of the Anglo-Saxon bodies from that cemetery at Barton-on-Humber a few years back, I don’t think any of them considered anything like this:

The ossuary at Mělník (open daily except Mondays; cost 30 Kč) contains the bones of up to 15,000 people, arranged along the walls of an old crypt beneath the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul. Skulls are used to create patterns and spell out words – including large letters reading “Ecce Mors,” or “Behold Death.”

I mean, the first ‘teaching point’ I get out of this is that it’s no use talking about Christian attitudes to the dead as if they’re all the same or laid down in Scripture, but I also wonder what we think an appropriate reaction for us as spokespersons for our various ideas of best practice. This seems to me a very alien way of ‘living with the dead‘, but (except for the artwork constructions! and that’s a fairly big ‘except’) it’s also a pragmatic and Roman one, isn’t it? Only this isn’t a Roman zone and the prevailing culture arrived after the collapse of the Empire in the West. They were Christianised from both West and East, but in Germany or in Byzantium burial practices were not like this, were they? I just don’t know whose peculiarity this is and what frame to use to look at it through. But am I just being the naïf Western medievalist here? Because this, this is nothing I recognise:

Ossuary display in the Kaplica Czaszek, Kudowa-Zdrój, Poland

Ossuary display in the Kaplica Czaszek, Kudowa-Zdrój, Poland

Metablog VII: automated search queries?

I am finding it hard, these days, to gauge how many people read this blog, and the main reason is what seem to be automated search queries. I still get around forty to sixty hits a day on my post “Setting Ethnicities”, about which I’ve written before, and it seems to me that although these are not consistent in numbers and although a certain number of them click through, nonetheless this must be automated. I can’t believe that so steady a string of people daily search for images of a certain Bohemian town that I won’t name and never say anything here. I imagine that somewhere some company in the town has its browser home page set for an image search of the town using ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ and that they don’t switch the same number of computers on every day. But because it was until very recently consistently my most-read post, every day, without that necessarily implying that anyone was in fact reading it, it was hard to tell how many people were still coming in to other things.

Now I seem to have acquired another, that post I did about Bede’s De Templo. About two weeks ago that suddenly started climbing in the tables, and the reason transpired to be similar, image searches that were picking up the picture of Solomon’s Temple I borrowed for that post. I’m used to people occasionally hitting this blog for what is pretty clearly that week’s essay question, especially the posts about the Treaty of Verdun, but this has been continuous for a month and shows no signs of going away, so I guess it too is robots, of whatever strange purpose. If I had to submit figures to anyone for this blog I’d be glad about this but as I’d actually just like to know what’s happening with my readership it’s more than slightly maddening. If, by some chance, you are reading this through the pingback to one of those posts and know what’s going on, please see if you can have it stopped…

Antiquarian Catalan photo glee

A Renault 5 parked in a part of Vallfogona vulnerable to flooding...

A Renault 5 parked in a part of Vallfogona vulnerable to flooding...

Somewhen while my back was turned in July some civic-minded antiquarian started about nine historical photo blogs from my area of study. (What is it with Catalans and plural blogs?) The identity of this person is concealed, but they seem to have access to about twenty different local archives from various points of the Ripollès. In particular, one, L’abadia, is covering Sant Joan de les Abadesses, and one, A l’ombra del monestir, the village of its brother house of Santa Maria de Ripoll. Obviously, because they’re photo blogs, they don’t go back beyond the 1920s really, most of the pictures are of people (especially the Vallfogona football team…) and one has to fight the continual idea that all early twentieth-century events tooks place in monochrome, but all the same, the towns and local scenery have changed an awful lot in that time, and become massively more built-up. It’s now quite hard to get a sense of what the actual abbey of Sant Joan looked like in its local context, because it’s surrounded by shops. But it wasn’t so long ago that there were gardens round it:

Sant Joan de les Abadesses surrounded by gardens, date unknown

Sant Joan de les Abadesses surrounded by gardens, date unknown

I think I will be borrowing more from these people…

Archaeology, peasants, women: links from the fringes

I have little of my own to add just now—the Leeds paper is taking my attention but you’ve heard what I have to say about that stuff here before—so let me instead draw your attention to a few interesting archæogical reports and other things of interest on the web this day that I write.


Peasants and women

It’s approximately 15 years now since I studied the Peasants’ Revolt in any detail, and at first I thought a recent post by Bavardess was merely a worthwhile little reminder about the sequence of events. Actually, having done that, it goes much deeper into the scholarship by asking a very simple and damning question: the sources for the Peasants’ Revolt are full of women, where are they in the scholarship? And, well, I was slightly knocked back because I know that in the sources I got, they didn’t really appear and while I’m used to the idea that history teaching is gendered this is still pretty fierce. So I recommend a read of Bavardess’s post to rebalance yourself if you were taught similarly.

It’s odd that this comes at the same time that a vocal female reaction is making itself heard on parts of the web I pass near to a recent article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times about the disappearance of ‘traditional’ history courses in the USA. It did cross my mind that I have seen such material termed ‘boy history’ in the past, and Claire Potter at Tenured Radical picks up the opposite end of the stick, shows that the first end is on fire and in your face and suggests that such laments and worries are principally caused by men on the defensive at a slightly greater incidence of women among the faculty. The figures she gives suggest that this defensiveness is, to say the least, well into no-man’s land and that the entrenchments of the establishment are still pretty safe for now. (Though it might have made her case stronger if, er, she’d read the figures that the target article presents…)

1381, 2009, who’s counting? Some men writing history are still scared of women with agency. This is one of those continuities between medieval and modern I wouldn’t mind disappearing. (And that’s intransitive, not transitive.) I suppose that a positive change is to be seen in the fact that now some women are also angrily defensive about such fears making rumour or even policy, but in words quoted about something else entirely by Maximilian Forte at Open Anthropology at the same sort of time, “it is clear that non ah we ent arrive as yet“.