All hail WordPress, because whatever bug was causing my Firefox to die at the `write post’ window appears to have been vanquished. I also discover that I forgot to mention, in the last report, renewing my acquaintance with Gesta, whom I knew from a long time ago but whose real-life name I’d managed to forget knowing in that time—given when it was I bet I didn’t hear it properly the first time and was too bashful to ask again. Anyway, I worked it out, and she has her own Leeds report up already, much shorter and probably far more interesting than mine, so go have a look.
So anyway, Leeds, Tuesday 8th July, yours truly wakes with a thick head but makes it to breakfast anyway, what does he do next? Well, with a bitter headache that was apparently turning his face white and making him look as if he wanted to kill someone, he chairs the third and last of the Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic sessions. This one didn’t gel as well as the other two, which is not to say that the papers were any less good: Matthew Hammond, talking about ceremonial acts in early Scottish charters, got many questions from an audience he’d clearly partly drawn, and Morn Capper and Elina Screen also had some interest, Morn especially in fact as I heard people talking about her paper separately from the session discussion through the rest of the day; she was talking about how Mercian royal titles in charters seem only to vary when other people, who are producing the charters, aren’t sure about their new expanded status. Elina by contrast was talking about the political self-conceptualisation of the Italian rule of Emperor Lothar I, and so it was hard to find questions that included all three. I got one that Wendy Davies said she was meaning to ask herself, but thereafter it was kind of three separate crowds rather than a discussion. Still good, though, especially as the other sessions had been much more pure diplomatic and this was more like what historians want to use charters for only done properly.
Screenshot from my Catalan comital charters database
Coffee helped with the head and I had a choice next session. I opted to stay in the same building, which also let me visit and wince at prices on the Brepols stall, and I then went to “New Work in Digital Medieval Studies“. This turned out to have been the right decision. In it, Arianna Ciula spoke of using computerised recognition to do palaeographic analysis, which seemed a tool that was so far very useful for a known corpus but which still had some work to be done before anyone could easily deploy it either to recognise scribes, rather than periodize script which was her interest, or use it on a new corpus without almost as long `teaching’ it conventions. All the same it was very interesting. Then Georg Vogeler spoke impassionedly about an attempt to get as many charters as possible onto the web—he was aiming for all of them, pointing out that the rate of increase over the last five years made this apparently realisable in the mid-range future—so as to compare usefully across many corpora, and complained about how little cooperation there was between diplomatists of different areas. Since my collaborators and I had been saying something very similar the previous day, this struck a big chord, and I talked with him afterwards about doing something about it. I’ll blog more about that in the next post; a lot more could very easily be done than is but it’s easy to change that. And finally Dorothy Carr Porter talked about using a 3D scanner to read old papyrus rolls without unrolling them and generally had us impressed at her budget and hardware and wondering what we could use it for. Here again, I know that the technology lacks as yet: papyrus is easier to see `through’ than parchment, codices less so than rolls, and though one would love to be able to read palimpsested text by scanning the tech isn’t yet there; I nearly got to work with the tech that isn’t yet there so I know something about this. It is on the way though, and in the meantime there’s still lots to be done with this, especially if we combined the papers: hi-tech scanning, webifying it then analysing scripts on the web images, for example, would make it nearly possible to automate scribal analysis on pretty much any text being digitised anywhere if people all cooperated… But as was mentioned by several people, “the deans don’t like that idea”. It seems a real pity that that attitude is apparently so frequent, and this sort of thing is really what the sadly moribund Arts and Humanities Data Service ought to have been doing, as I’ve said before.
Galla Placidia as depicted on a gold solidus of Valentinian
After lunch I perhaps made a mistake, because rather than as I might have done going to see my boss orchestrate numismatists or some stuff about Carolingian-era Eastern Europe I opted instead to go and see friends, and this kind of failed because one of them had broken a foot and thus wasn’t present. However, I did get a fabulous paper by Ralph Mathisen asking whether the Roman emperors really meant it when they apparently outlawed marriage between Romans and barbarians in the fourth century (his answer: only for a certain class of militarily-occupied barbarian or their womenfolk; a related paper on barbarians and citizenship is here), and Jamie Wood unquestionably knows a lot about Isidore of Seville.
The Vale of York hoard
Finally, I did after tea cave into the numismatic urge, mainly because someone had persuaded the British Museum to finally tell us what was in the Harrogate hoard, now to be known as the Vale of York hoard because of not really coming from that near Harrogate. The answer turns out to be 617 coins, about half of them being Athelstan Two-Line type, but some of the rest being previously unknown Viking types that reverse a small part of the chronology of the mint of Viking York. Small fry to you maybe but coinage chronology is the best early medieval dating evidence there is, it’s important that we keep trying to get it righter. We got one paper about the other artefacts in the hoard (because the cup it was all in is a fairly impressive silver thing in and of itself) and one about the coinage from Barry Ager and Gareth Williams respectively, and Megan Gooch set the scene first of all.
After that I got back to the other half of the site quickly as I could, then raced back again (as far as the conference buses made that possible) and just squeezed into Patrick Geary‘s Medieval Academy lecture, which was quite impressive, not least for the number of languages he had on screen (including Icelandic and Arabic—I can’t quite believe any non-natives speak both, and if they do, I doubt he’s one), but which also illustrated quite nicely Magistra’s point about the difference between `interesting’ and `important’: it was quite interesting to see that the reform movement around the eleventh-century Papacy did use a lot of language suggestive of an attitude that wanted to exclude the ignorant from Latin learning in case they messed it up, but since it was rather harder to find them actually stating this or forming policy round it in a conscious way, it wasn’t yet important. Once, as might not be too hard, it could be shown that these attitudes conform with what they actually did say out loud, it might be an interesting psychological twist, but really, Henry IV and Gregory VII already has enough such twists to make a spring out of. We’ll see if he does anything with this I guess.
There were a few receptions on that evening, though we badly missed our friends from Utrecht, sadly not very evident this year and certainly not offering vast amounts of cheese and Jenever, but given how ropey I’d felt for much of the day I made a sincere but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get an early night, and rose something like better shape for the Wednesday.