Tag Archives: Cliopatria

Collecting from Cliopatria

Screenshot of the History News Network magazine website

Screenshot of the History News Network magazine website

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

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

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

Actual Research Posts

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

Medievalism in the Modern World

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

The State of the Academy

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

My writing in other places (or not)

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

My writing where I wanted it

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

My writing where I didn’t want it

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

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

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

My writing not being where I want it

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

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

Seminary LXVIII: a namecheck to be treasured

I am conscious that I’m writing these up more slowly than I’m amassing the notes, but this will presumably ease once term does and speed up once I finally get online from home, whereas, as it is, all blogging is kind of stolen moments. However, since I came into the office an hour earlier than planned the day I wrote most of this, because of missing the UK’s winter clock change, I suppose I have stolen some. On 13th October the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages seminar hosted a round-table about the Staffordshire Hoard, and it was jolly interesting. The speakers were Guy Halsall, Leslie Webster and David Ganz, and this had attracted such a crowd that Guy, who turned up perhaps a little bit behind the dot (not that I can talk) almost had nowhere to sit. There were plenty of others on the floor, I’ve never seen that room so full.

Stylised horse terminal from the Staffordshire Hoard

Images for this post are not going to be hard to find (and they're all Creative Commons licensed)

Alan Thacker introduced the proceedings, and the Hoard, and in doing so added several facts that I hadn’t managed to gather, and in particular hadn’t known when I wrote my Cliopatria piece about the Hoard some time ago: that the Hoard was found at Hammerwich (which as he said was an auspicious name for a metalwork deposit) and that the site is very close to Watling Street. It also emerged later that the deposition site may have once had a mound over it, which would have been quite clear from the road, and this considerably alters my thinking about it, but all that can come in a minute. Guy, who has written about this on his own blog indeed, once again presented the very strong case against the Hoard being a collection of trophies, because the identity of trophy items is important. If one had captured some really impressive swords, one would show off the swords, not their fittings, and so on. He also argued, and argues, that the size of the Hoard indicates that we should be thinking in terms of early medieval armies of hundreds or even thousands, not a 36-man warband as the Laws of Ine seem to imply. Then, most shockingly to me, he said that until a short while before he hadn’t had a better answer, but now he’d read one on the web and it was mine. Guy didn’t actually know I was there at this point, and so I was left in the corner with the usual bottom-of-stomach-missing reaction when an academic talks of my blogging—it is where my biggest dose of impostor syndrome is located, because I’m well aware that I don’t research these posts as closely as I do my academic work. Nonetheless, Guy liked the interpretation of the hoard as a ransom paid after a defeat, a humiliation by denuding the weapons of the defeated, and although, as I said cautiously in questions, that’s a very romantic interpretation, damned if I can think of a better one. And that was apparently roughly how Guy felt, although he went on to differ from me about the nature of the deposition, which is fair enough as, given the information about the mound, I think that what I then suggested about the deposition (that it was an attempt to steal the goods back gone wrong) is less plausible than Guy’s explanation of it as a symbolic deposit, neutralising the wealth of the enemy.1

Helmet cheek-piece from the Staffordshire Hoard

Helmet cheek-piece from the Staffordshire Hoard

Leslie Webster substantially agreed with Guy, but added a few very useful points. The first of these was that, since we can now say that the fragments of helmet in the Hoard don’t add up to one complete helmet, or even part of only one helmet, but bits of several, it is likely that the Hoard was only part of a larger assemblage, so that we need to keep the phases of accumulation, selection and deposition rigorously separated in our interpretation. My explanation really only covers accumulation. She also noted that (unlike Sutton Hoo!) almost all of the metalwork was of English origin. Dating of any of the individual objects is practically impossible; furthermore, the variation in the possibilities of dating them means that another possible source of variation, geographical origin, is smoothed out to invisibility. To put that another way, if two contemporary pieces of ornament differ because they were made one in Middle Anglia and one in the kingdom of the Hwicce, for example, but we don’t know that they’re contemporary, we are as likely to attribute the variation to development over time as to geographic separation. (This is why stylistic dating is so rubbish.) And when we add into that the problem that individual metalworkers at this standard were probably highly mobile… we’re just never going to know for sure. Much of the silver looks less military than the gold: there are for example quite a lot of things that seem to be cup-mounts. She agreed that the Hoard is definably male and almost entirely secular, however, and though I make her presentation sound substantially negative because of the dating impossibility, there was a wealth of snippets of observed information that possibly no-one else could have given us.

The inscribed gold strip from the Staffordshire Hoard

The inscribed gold strip from the Staffordshire Hoard

Lastly David Ganz (for it was he!) spoke carefully about the script on the metal strip that is the sole textual component of the Hoard. He also revealed one thing that I hadn’t spotted before, which is that the strip is inscribed on both sides (as witness above), but the other side appears merely to be a botched attempt at the same inscription as on the side we had already seen, so he suspects that this tells us that it was stuck fully down to something so that the mistake was invisible. He also told us (and few people could say so more authoritatively) that the text chosen, from Numbers, is not one that attracted very much interest from medieval commentators, unlike a similar one from Psalm 67 (as the Vulgate numbers it; you may, as I did, find it as Psalm 68 in your translation), so that the script as we have it is an odd choice. It does however crop up in the Life of Guthlac, which is of course almost the only Mercian text we have that isn’t a charter, and would presumably have been available to many from the liturgy. The orthography, he said, is unparalleled, suggesting that no actual text was available to copy from: someone who knew the text must have told it to the smith or the smith remembered it himself. As to its date, he would say no more than seventh-century, perhaps best paralleled by manuscripts from the latter part of that century (not least the Cathach of Columba) and Welsh inscriptions, but even that is enough to help decide between the widely-separated dates given by Michelle Brown and Elizabeth Okasha, the latter of which pushed the strip far later than we suppose anything else in the Hoard to have been, however wide its date-range may be. He lastly pointed out that the text itself is written in the body of a beast which forms the strip, which may indicate the banishment of the Devil by the incantation.

Obligatory pseudo-hoard photograph of material from the Staffordshire Hoard

Obligatory pseudo-hoard photograph of material (including the above pieces) from the Hoard

There were some lively questions, so much so that it was only at the very end that I could reveal my presence to Guy. Roy Flechner pointed out that St Patrick, on returning to Ireland, is said to have brought with him a collection of treasure with which he could buy stuff, and wondered if this too could be some migrant’s treasure trove, ‘banked’ in the ground and accessed as needed as Patrick’s would presumably have been. I don’t think that works for this, it’s just too special, but as a reminder of how such things might have worked in other cases it was very salutary. Guy wondered if it really needed to be so high-status, if armies were as large as he believes, but Leslie Webster pointed out that only at Sutton Hoo do we have any other case of sword pommels being deposited; otherwise, presumably, they were always kept back, but this Hoard has many of them. So whatever it is, and at the end of the day despite Guy (and me I suppose, indirectly) the jury was still out on that, we are pretty much agreed that it’s one of a kind. What that kind is, we may yet hope to agree at least, but maybe not when or whose alas.

1. I always struggle with this, because if one buried a lot of robbed precious metal somewhere obvious, my natural expectation is for it not to be there next day. And yet, we have Sutton Hoo, and there’s no way that the deposition of a boat full of treasure in a huge mound can have gone unnoticed by the local populace or been obscure of purpose to immediately-succeeding generations, yet it was left alone. And the same goes for every other rich and conspicuous burial, really. I recognise my twentieth-century capitalist upbringing shaping my expectations here, therefore. It’s later these things get stolen, if they do; the Hoard, if it had been deposited like that, could well have been left until no-one remembered it was there.

Know ye not that we shall judge politicians? (New Cliopatria post)

Just a note to say that, as promised, I have a new, and lengthy, essay up on Cliopatria asking what, exactly, the world wants its historians to do at this time of, well, global, difficulty. More than you might expect, less than we do, and not what we want to do, is roughly my conclusion. You may like to read…

“All the gold I could eat”: Staffordshire hoard of Anglo-Saxon weapon fittings

Cheek piece, fittings and zoomorphic mount from the Staffordshire Hoard

Cheek piece, fittings and zoomorphic mount from the Staffordshire Hoard

As mentioned previously, fabulous things have been coming out of the English soil just lately, the 1500+ gold and silver items that is being called the Staffordshire hoard and reckoned a more important find than the Sutton Hoo boat burial, and two things have been written about them that you may not have spotted yet. First off, one of my two favourite Mercia pundits to drink with, Alex Burghart, has managed to get some wise word on the subject into the Times Literary Supplement as you can see here. I don’t entirely agree with Alex’s reading, however, and in fact as Cliopatria’s official early medievalist I had already supposed I ought to try there to piece together some more of the story behind the deposition of these marvellous objects. So I had a go in this post and it occasioned debate. In either case, you may like to go and see…


Just a short note to let you know that I have a new post up at Cliopatria discussing objectivity, peasants, ghosts and memory apropos of an article of Simon Doubleday’s I was reading on my way up to Leeds. Some of the themes are old ones here and some are new material. You may like to have a look

A certain sensitivity to the medieval, expressed by means of a bagful of links

One way I sometimes wind up writing a post is that I have two or three links that I see a common theme in. Because I tend to put things together over a while, these inevitably collect more links like fluff and not all of these fit the theme. The three extras this time do however pick up on old themes here. For a start, do you remember me posting something about Norse-Inuit contact in the Western Atlantic a while ago? A Canadian archæologist by the name of Patricia Sutherland had been set onto a search by some wool from circa 1300 found at Kimmirut on Baffin Island, and also come up with several other articles that she thinks can be called Norse. Some of these things later got displayed by the Smithsonian Museum, and now there is apparently more, a whalebone spade and drainage constructed in what Sutherland says is a Norse style, which would indicate some attempt at prolonged Viking occupation in what is now Canada, if she’s right. I evince caution because she seems to be a voice in the wilderness, and the article to which I’ve linked there shows that at least one other archæologist is reading the finds differently, as evidence that Western archæology just doesn’t rate the Dorset Inuit’s sophistication the way it should. I imagine the debate will continue, and more digging is afoot so it may even be resolved, but since I broached it here it seemed necessary to keep it up to date. Hat tip here to Melissa Snell at about.com.

Medieval wool recovered from Kimmirut site, carbon-dated to circa 1300

Medieval wool recovered from Kimmirut site, carbon-dated to circa 1300

The second piece was just a rather nice little piece of media antiquarianism. Would you like a digital copy of the original newspaper report of the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon royal burial at Sutton Hoo? The East Anglian Daily Times, who carried it, have put it online. Hat tip here to Sæsferd of Antiquarian’s Attic.

The original 1939 excavations of the Sutton Hoo boat burial

The original 1939 excavations of the Sutton Hoo boat burial

And the third is slightly gratuitous in as much as it’s more the period of bloggers such as, well, Ceirseach, than mine, but I hereby decree that it can never be gratuitous to feature a charter on A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, especially a charter which has turned up somewhere rather unexpected, to wit, Brock University in Canada:

The Clopton Charter, Brock University

Donation by Robert Clopton to his son William, <i>c. </i>1216

This linked to the St Catharine’s Standard, which reports on the discovery (hat tip to News for Medievalists), where they say: “The best educated guess among faculty pegged it somewhere in the 15th century.” Well, I’m no palæographer for all I once passed a test in it but I do have a copy of Michelle Brown‘s A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 handy and it sure looks a lot like her sample of 13th-century cursiva anglicana to me, and indeed 1216 is the date that their examinations have settled on though I’m not going to pretend that I can read that off the JPEG myself. Still cool, though: as with the charter of Abbess Emma at Harvard or the one about Espinosa de Berguedà at Berkeley, some of this stuff has travelled a long long way. Seems to be in good shape considering…

The actual things I wanted to talk about, though, were four pieces all of which for various reasons made me quietly pleased that someone had done some genuine thinking on the basis of their knowledge of the Middle Ages, while about something where that wasn’t strictly necessary. One of these is that I have a new piece at Cliopatria talking about the two cultures and how odd it is, on a European scale, to have them. It’s not terribly surprising however that that would contain some medieval checkpoints, right? So, the oddest of these was a post at Strange Maps, in which a suggestion by Freddy Heineken, the guy who made Heineken lager a household name, that Europe would work better if its states were replaced with more equally-sized polities which punched a more equal democratic weight. It’s no more than an interesting exercise given the continuing disparity of the area’s resources, but it was slightly fascinating firstly for the breakdown of the population balances—I mean my goodness I live in a populous country compared to some—and secondly for the units he chose, apparently in collaboration with two unnamed historians. The Strange Maps crew say the new states would have had less historical baggage, but they should probably say not less, but older… Do have a look, you need their text too hence only thumbnail below.


Then, I was reading a thing I downloaded more or less at whim about the Catalan monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, which is as you see below rather splendid even now and is still a pilgrimage centre for the relics of Saint Peter that it claims to have. A few years ago the Generalitat de Catalunya put quite a chunk of money into education programmes around its historic sites, most of which are administered loosely by the Museu Hisòric de Catalunya, and one of the results has been a set of ‘Dossiers educatius’, the one for Sant Pere being here, and being written by Sònia Masmarti. Now Miss, Mrs, Dr or whatever Masmarti has or had a nice touch with the language, and although it might be slightly romantic, it is still very far from wrong to point out that:

The majority of people lived in small houses of mud and wood, and believed firmly in the supernatural powers with which the Church acted as intercessor. They would turn up at religious centres of pilgrimage with a blend of fear and hope, looking for consolation and the pardon of their sins, or indeed for the healing of their maladies. We can imagine the enormous impression that would have been produced in them by contemplating this marble portal, crossing it and entering into the magnificence of the temple, with its decorated furniture and pictures, now disappeared.

The translation is mine, because the original is in Catalan, but you get the idea.

The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, as it now stands (albeit mostly empty inside)

The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, as it now stands (albeit mostly empty inside)

Yup. That portal led to a different world in a whole range of senses, economic, cultural and theological. For all that people did easily move between the two worlds, we’re wise not to lose grip of the contrast between them.

The Regensburg fragment, a page of a twelfth-century litany of Irish saints

The Regensburg fragment, a page of a twelfth-century litany of Irish saints

And something similar seemed to strike me when I saw this, an article in the Irish Times about a fragment of a litany from the Schottenkloster, the Irish monastery, at Regensburg, the which fragment has now been bought by University College Cork. (Hat tip here to Larry Swain at The Heroic Age.) I don’t want to weigh in one way or another on the repatriation of artefacts; it doesn’t seem to me that there’s a good way to argue that that ‘belongs’ to Ireland and we should instead celebrate the fact that it can be shared by all. Pádraig Ó Riain has done some serious work on the text and brought out all kinds of ways in which it can show what bits of Ireland were feeding the Regensburg community with monks by the 12th century, when it seems to have been composed, but that wasn’t what struck me, what struck me was this:

Of course, it has immense significance as the only early medieval written record of the Irish community in Regensburg in its day, and of course it has much more to tell us than even both Ó Riains could cover in their initial lectures. But it was meant to be prayed. Following the seminar, it was at the Benedictine’s Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick that the monks sang the litany at vespers, giving it its first ever liturgical recital in Ireland and possibly the first chanting of its verses since the 16th century.

I’m not a religious man but I find that attention to purpose and the sense of connection and duty involved in that very satisfying, both to hear of and to sort of understand.