Tag Archives: James Palmer

Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica II

RM Monogramme

Back again in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre atop Blue Boar Court in Trinity College, Cambridge, I really regretted the no-caffeine resolve when I just about got to the second day of Rosamond McKitterick’s birthday celebration conference on time. Trinity is a very odd mix of styles internally, and really I think it would be fair to call it an odd mix of styles generally. It is full of odd little contradictions to its general ambience and attitude, and some of them are architectural. But anyway. We were safe away from the street, in fact from pretty much everything, so we settled into our seats and listened to the tributary scholarship.

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bedes Historia Ecclesiastica

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica

Session 3. History and Memory

  • Paul Hilliard, “Bede’s Use of History”. A nice clear summation of how Bede’s programme to incorporate the Anglo-Saxons into a universal history of Salvation actually operated, logically.
  • Linda Dohmen, “History and Memory: Angilberga and the court of Louis II”. A close study of the public profile of the wife of the third Holy Roman Emperor, one of the most powerful women of the early Middle Ages, who by the twelfth century, in certain chronicles, a figure of feminine evil, Jezebel-style (and where have we heard that before?). Linda presented some extra material that showed that this discourse was not completely fictional, and found the roots in eighth-century politics that had been twisted into romance, which make it hard to discern whether the stories would have been heard as romance or as history.
  • Rob Meens, “The Rise and Fall of the Carolingians. Regino of Prüm and his conception of the Carolingian Empire”. A useful presentation of one of the Carolingian period’s gloomiest but most informative chroniclers, arguing that Regino saw the Carolingians’ fall as being brought about by their mismanagement of the proper restraint of sex and violence in due deference to Rome that had brought them to power.
  • In questions Matthew Innes made the excellent point that one of the things that the chroniclers dealing with the Vikings do is emphasise the way things have gone topsy-turvy by putting the Vikings in the narrative places of the king; instead of royal itineraries and victories you get pagan ones, and the whole world seems shaken out of joint as a result. I wonder how deliberate this would have to be but it’s very sharply observed. I wish, for various reasons, I could catch up with Matthew more often, he has a point like this for almost every discussion.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Session 4. Res italica karolina

  • Richard Pollard, “Carolingian Connexions: Reichenau and Nonantola. A new manuscript fragment of Hatto’s Visio wettini“. Seriously complex manuscript stuff trying to work out how the two different versions of this rather odd and surprisingly contemporary text about Charlemagne in Purgatory actually relate to each other, and in the process thickening the links we already knew between these two Carolingian mega-monasteries.
  • Clemens Gantner, “The Lombard Recension of the Liber pontificalis Life of Stephen II”. Posited that a part of the LP‘s assembly of papal biographies might have been sanitised of its ethnic abuse and general anti-Lombard rhetoric for the eighth-century political situation in which Lombard support started to seem desirable to the popes, again demonstrated by painstaking manuscript work. This one met with sceptical questions but Clemens was equal to them with the evidence.
  • Frances Parton, “Louis the Pious, Lothar and Gregory IV: why was the Pope at the Field of Lies?” By means of a very thorough run-through of the texts, Frances showed that there is considerable uncertainty about Pope Gregory IV’s purpose in coming from Rome to assist Emperor Louis the Pious’s sons in deposing their father, and concluded that while Gregory had seen an opportunity to restore the papal status as arbiter of the Frankish monarchy Lothar had had much smaller ideas for him and kept him from having any such rôle. This also met some tough questions, almost as many of which were answered by Charles West as were asked, if not the other way about, but one thing that was made clear to us all is that Nithard, and possibly other writers of the time, were definitely thinking of the papal approval of Pippin III’s kingship in 751 when they wrote up the doings of 833.

Then there was a really quite nice lunch, and then back to battle/s!

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Session 5. Trouble and Trouble-Makers

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power. Unauthorised miracles and Dijon, c. 842″. Keen observers may recognise this title—I certainly lost no time in taxing Charles about it because I’m nice like that—but this was actually a markedly different paper, albeit about the same miraculous episode, largely because Charles had now been able to consult the manuscript that sources it and found it to be probably contemporary and rather out of place in its binding; though a later cover appeared to have been made for it out of a redundant notarial instrument, the actual libellus that tells of the strange events at Dijon in 842 may well be the very one that Bishop Theobald of Langres received from Archbishop Amilo of Lyons and therefore presumably travelled as a letter between the two. The other new emphasis was on the parish structures which Amilo apparently thought, even in 842, should be absorbing these people’s religious energy and piety, rather than crazy cult sites with politically-charged ownership issues. For one small text there’s a huge amount of potential here, I envy Charles the find.
  • James Palmer, “Apocalypticism, Computus and the Crisis of 809″. A series of well-aimed kicks at the idea that there was a widespread belief in the years leading up to 800 that that was going to be year 6000 anno mundi and therefore the end of everything, largely as expressed by Richard Landes. James’s position basically is that there is no conspiracy but there are a lot of people really interested in time and how you reckon it. In making this stand, however, he also dismantled in passing a number of the pro-millennial arguments which was a joy to hear. The significance of 809 is that in that year computistical experts were consulted by Charlemagne and his ecclesiastics on the age of the world, according to a council record, but that came on the back of two years’ famine and a defeat by the Slavs so the date may not have been the big issue. I think we all finished this paper remaining comfortably convinced that 800 was a Carolingian high point, not a year everyone spent waiting for the sky to fall on their heads.
  • These darn summaries are getting longer as I warm up. Let’s see if I can keep this under control.

  • Elina Screen, “Adalhard the Seneschal: troublemaker?” As one of the really important nobles of the time of the war between Louis the Pious’s sons, Adalhard has been seen as a kind of destabilising kingmaker figure. Here Elina argued the opposite, that as a kind of ‘shuttle diplomat’ he was frequently one of the few forces holding the fragile confederacy of brother monarchs together, largely because he had so very much to lose if it broke. She rightly pointed out in the course of this that an awful lot of the terminology we use to describe the politics of the mid-ninth century is straight from the Cold War: summit meetings, shuttle diplomats, and so on. I’m not sure what that does for our perspectives, because it does look like that in the sources…

At this point, what should have been the closing remarks were shunted forwards to allow the relevant speaker to make a plane connection, so we were next treated to:

  • Mayke de Jong, “Rosamond McKitterick and the Frankish Church”.
  • This was more of a personal tribute than an academic one, but one of the things Mayke noted is that in a climate of scepticism Rosamond’s early work always took religion seriously and that this is a great strength. And this is true, but more widely, one of Rosamond’s greatest strengths of character is that she takes people, generally, seriously. The fact that one of the most notable professors with whom I’ve ever had contact listens to my ideas and thoughts as if they might be interesting and insightful has helped me wrestle down the imposter syndrome more often than I can tell you, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one. This is one thing I didn’t manage to say in my personal thanks to her so I’ll put it here.

By now people were already gently and quietly making their farewells. People had come from Scotland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA and Israel, as well as many points of England, and there were planes and trains necessary to catch. Pity, because the last session was just as interesting as any of the others.

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Session 6. Taxes, Trumpets and Texts

  • David Pratt, “Taxation and Origins of the Manor in England”. While this paper was not an exception to the statement I just made, because Dr Pratt’s erudition is considerable, I have friends who are a lot more sceptical about the solidity of the terms that litter Anglo-Saxon economic history for the sorts of land that were recognised in law than this, and there was also a somewhat apocalyptic rôle for knight service which didn’t seem to have heard Nicholas Brooks’s new evidence about the date of its introduction. So I’ll forebear from further comment except to say that really, the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminars are worth attending if you can, but almost all the Cambridge people only go if they’re speaking. I think exposure to Sally Harvey’s and Professor Brooks’s papers would have made this one a different shape.
  • Jesse Billett, “Theuto’s Trumpet: the cantor in the Carolingian Renaissance”. A very unusual paper, as papers on chant usually are, not least because they are usually given by people who aren’t afraid to actually sing their subject, Dr Billett being no exception. Here he focused on one particular mention of a cantor with a trumpet in Ermold the Black‘s In honorem Hludowici and concluded that the usage was probably metaphorical, associating the poem’s military victories, which both mention real trumpets, with the spiritual one of the baptism of the Danish royal Harald Klak in 826.
  • Matthew Innes, “The Carolingians and the Archival World: charters and their preservation in the ninth-century Mâconnais—and beyond”. I actually can’t say too much about this one because it was a Lay Archives paper, and I have caused trouble before by talking too much about the Lay Archives project. You can see from his title that my work overlaps with Matthew’s here and this is something that I think we would have wished to avoid, had better communication been possible. Suffice to say that half the paper was stuff I knew nothing about and was fascinating, and of the remaining fifty per cent half is not yet agreed between us… But Matthew’s stuff is as I say always fascinating so wherever this one actually comes out it will be worth the read. (The papers should be printed; but I believe this one may be spoken for already.)

Final questions were fewer, largely because there weren’t many people left to ask them. The closing remarks were given by Walter Pohl, who made the excellent point that while the gathering had been advertised as a Festschrift, that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense to a German-speaker and he proposed instead calling it a Schriftfest, which we all thought worked a lot better. He also emphasised that the sort of open comparison of perspectives in friendship that we’d been able to do these two days was the best way to advance scholarship, and replete with that assurance, we all went our separate ways. I’m very glad to have been able to be part of all this. As long as I’m still in Cambridge it’s nice to be able to join in sometimes, and this was very good to join in with.

Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica I

At last the truth can be revealed. Why was I writing a paper about nuns all of a sudden? Why hadn’t it been in the sidebar as my next due paper? What was all the foreshadowing in that earlier post about? Now it can be told.

RM Monogramme

Very recently Professor Rosamond McKitterick had a significant birthday and, seeing this coming from some way off, various of her students had had the idea of a birthday conference. This, and its title which forms the subject header, was largely the brainchild of Richard Pollard, who also designed the monogram you see above and generally did the bulk of the donkey-work while the rest of us who were in one way or another participating kept quiet, tried not to tell ask anyone for help that wouldn’t be able to do similarly and, in the case of David McKitterick, her husband, made sure she kept the relevant weekend free without explaining why. And duly at 14:00 on September 12th she was escorted into Trinity College in Cambridge and found a gathering of about forty of her fellows, erstwhile and current students there basically to say thanks. As the person in that gathering with, I think, the longest hair other than Rosamond herself, and possibly one or two of the younger women, I feel myself uniquely qualified to say, “there was a whole lot of love in that room, man”. She’s had an awful lot of students and a lot of them have gone on to be important themselves. Some of us still hoping, also. But, well, it’s a conference. With due discretion and all that, obviously I’m still gonna blog it, if only to list the names…

Rosamond McKitterick, Professor of Medieval History and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Rosamond McKitterick, Professor of Medieval History and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

The folder I have my notes stashed in has the monogram on the front. It contains a short biography of Rosamond, the programme, a map and contact details (all very well to hand out on arrival, but surely only useful before! this is my only criticism of the organisation) and a full or as-near-full-as-possible bibliography of Rosamond’s work, which registers (deep breath) six monographs, another co-written, six volumes of essays that she edited, another that she co-edited, and two volumes of collected papers, and eighty-two articles and chapters (not including stuff in the volumes she edited), one alone of which was co-written. If you don’t know Rosamond’s work, this may give you an idea that she is an important scholar in quantity as well as quality. Then, on the specially-printed notepaper (why yes, they did get some funding since you ask…), we have notes on the following papers.

    Keynote Address

  • Janet Nelson, “New Approaches to Carolingian Reform, or 1969, 1971, 1977 and All That”. The keynote address, which placed Rosamond in the context of her teaching by Walter Ullmann, something that Jinty also went through, and drawing the roots of Rosamond’s first work into the many branches it now has, full of shared remembrance and intriguing background that could have been supplied by no-one else.

    Session 1. The Reformatio monastica karolina

  • Marios Costambeys, “Paul the Deacon, Rome and the Carolingian Reforms”. Argued that Paul the Deacon‘s conception of Rome deliberately ignores its Christian and recent Imperial heritage, referring to it in terms of its earliest history to place both its history and the new Frankish rule in inarguable and uncontested Antiquity.
  • Rutger Kramer, “The Cloister in the Rye: Saint-Seine and the early years of Benedict of Aniane”. More or less as title except that that was the only terrible pun involved, a critical reading of the Vita Benedicti Anianensis pondering whether Benedict was in fact at first one of Carloman’s party not Charlemagne’s and how far his initial monastic conversion might have been a political retreat, then moving into questions of how his initial drive for asceticism apparently transformed to a desire for uniformity ‘that we can believe in’.
  • Sven Meeder, “Unity and Uniformity in the Carolingian Reform Efforts”. Argued that the Carolingian ideal of unity should not be mistaken for uniformity and that it was always ready to accept a good deal of diversity to which its own efforts only added. Arguable, but probably not with the Oxford English Dictionary definitions used; Susan Reynolds would have been unable to stay quiet in questions had she been there.
  • Some critical questions here especially for the latter two papers, and perhaps most notable among them James Palmer asking if, in fact, Carolingian reform could ever have succeeded adequately for its proponents or whether a perception of failure was built in. Sven responded, I think wisely, that the ultimate aim was to make the kingdom favoured by God and so the proof would be seen in events. It’s an interesting cycle of paranoia that this kind of drive might have set up, however. I think we see something similar with Æthelred the Unready‘s vain attempts to prescribe extra piety when the Danes just keep coming in his autumn years.

condal128

    Session 2. Reform from without, reforms to without

  • Benedict Coffin, “The Carolingian Reformation in the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Churches”. Drawing out even more similarities between Carolingian and English reform movements as well as a few crucial differences, not least that in England it was primarily Benedictine not royal.
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia”. You basically saw a chunk of this paper already, and I had to leave a lot of detail out, but it went OK and did everything I hoped for. Completely overwhelmed however by…
  • Julia M. H. Smith, “Wrapped, Tied and Labelled: importing Jerusalem, recycling Rome in the early Middle Ages”, exploring the contents of the altar in the Sancta Sanctorum in the Lateran in Rome, which transpires to have been installed by Leo III and to have contained, in 1906 when it was last opened, a mind-boggling assortment of Holy Land soil, branches, twigs, etc. from significant places there, as well as martyr relics probably from the other patriarchal sees, replacing Rome’s pagan history with a new one imported from Jerusalem and elsewhere. The illustrations were fascinating and it was a really interesting paper.
Behind those grilles is the box installed by Leo III

Behind those grilles is the box installed by Leo III

The evening was rounded off, well, for me at least, with a pre-dinner paper given by Yitzhak Hen. I won’t attempt to describe that here except to say that what I’ve written about his work here before may have failed to take his sense of humour into account. Then, there was a wine reception and a dinner, but I, with my usual mismatch of engagements, ran into London for one of the best gigs I’ve been to for a long time. But I was back the next day, aching of neck and back and short of sleep, and I will describe that later.

Leeds report 4 and final

So, by this time slightly broken from lack of decent sleep, I headed into the fourth and final days of this year’s Leeds by filling myself with fried food and heading for “Texts and Communities in Early Medieval Europe”, on the grounds of a friend presenting. The other two presenting were St Andrews grad. students, one speaking on the Vita Columbani and the other on the communities of St Filibert; the latter paper, by Christian Harding, revealed some interesting faction in the longtime-fugitive monks apparent in the hagiographic texts and was nicely argued. The final paper was James Palmer complaining that computistical texts are actually really complicated and that no-one, particularly Arno Borst, has really come up with an explanation of what they’re for that satisfies all or even most manuscript cases. He did say it was mainly a rant but he managed to make it interesting despite his lack of conclusions as yet.

The cloister of St-Philibert de Tournus

The cloister of St-Philibert de Tournus

Then much-needed coffee and collecting books that had been put aside so as not to weaken displays, and then the second session of the day and last session of the whole thing, “Rethinking Early Medieval Narratives”. In this Adrian Smith told us that Gregory of Tours sets up King Theuderic of the Franks as the bad guy in his Ten Books of Histories (or at least the one of them where he appears) for what must have been mainly rhetorical purposes as he makes him a good guy and his enemies the evil ones in his Glory of the Fathers; this was an interesting observation, if as yet unexplained. Marios Costambeys became the latest of many a scholar to get his hands dirty in the manuscript transmission of the Liber Pontificalis, the papal biography collection which sources so much of Roman history in the Early Middle Ages; and Steven Robbie argued energetically for a closer dating of Widukind of Corvey’s Deeds of the Saxons by suggesting that Widukind’s depiction of the coronation of Otto I must be based on actually having witnessed Otto II’s. This seemed, as I recall, to set up as many problems as it solved, because Otto II’s coronation is not mentioned in the text, so you then have to argue why there was time to redraft lots of the earlier text but not mention even briefly the patron monarch’s crowning glory (no pun originally intended). But such was the energy of the argument that it only became clear it didn’t work once we’d wrapped up.

Statue of Otto II and his wife Theophanu being crowned by Christ, in St Pantaleon\'s Cologne

Statue of Otto II and his wife Theophanu being crowned by Christ, in St Pantaleon's Cologne

And then, well, it was over. I got my things together, left the bike briefly in charge of the estimable Gesta while handing in papers, and got myself down to the station, getting lost and missing my train by minutes but happily being allowed onto the next one with no difficulty. Home by just late enough not to need to go into work. Which leaves me wondering how to try and give an idea of the whole Leeds thing. You’ve got some idea already, I guess. It probably comes over as very intense the way I tell it, but I spent most of it either panicking, desperately short of sleep or drunk or all three, and I expect many people might play it differently. There are for example excursions on all the four days if you want to do some medieval tourism instead, and there are plenty of local possibilities. I don’t see the point of missing out on the networking and learning myself, but if you’re not from the UK I guess that seeing some of these things with expert guidance may have more appeal.

Basic things. The conference is split between two halls of residence, Bodington and Weetwood, about ten minutes’ walk apart. This means that a half-hour gap between sessions is just about enough to both caffeinate and travel between if you need to. At Weetwood the accommodation, food and drink is expensive and the coffee is drinkable; at Bodington the accommodation is cheap, the food lousy, and the beer acceptable but the coffee is not worth the name. Neither venue really makes tea possible and one of the best moments of getting home is a cup of tea in which boiling water actually formed part of the process. Eating conference food all through is not only unpleasant but unnecessary, though the breakfasts are good reinforcement if you don’t value your arterial clearances and the packed lunches are reliable and filling. For dinner, however, I recommend nipping down the road to Headingley and buying some stuff you can cook in a microwave; you’ll have one (you may even have hobs, but you can’t tell this till you arrive so bringing a pan may be pointless) and this will see you eating more cheaply and healthily. The buses into town are half-hourly, but regular; the conference shuttle buses between the campuses and accommodation are less regular, but numerous and usually adequate. The buses at either end of the process, from conference to station (like the campus shuttles, free) are horribly over-subscribed and not over-particular about timing, but I didn’t do much better on the bike, so hey.

I always stay in Bodington, partly because it’s cheaper and the accommodation, being student rooms in term, is adequate for a few days, indeed it’s better than two of the rooms I had as an undergraduate. The pictures below give you some idea. Also, Bodington, being the bigger and older of the two halls, has the computer lab (though as it won’t let Java applets run and has no SSH I effectively can’t check mail from there so I never use it), the big and cheaper bar, and the lawn on which people sprawl during sunny conferences. As I’ve said, this point where everyone relaxes together is one of the best bits for me, though there are plenty of people organising private or family parties—there is family accommodation, though it’s further away. Weetwood is probably a nicer place to chill, however, and because it has the high-tech presentation equipment tends to be where the trendy and literature studies types wind up socialising. Actually there isn’t an obvious causal link there but it does seem to work out that way. Perhaps it’s their beer choice that determines it? Anyway.

One end of this year\'s Bodington Hall room

One end of this year's Bodington Hall room


The other end of the same room

The other end of the same room

On the last night there is a dance. This would doubtless occasion ridicule from some quarters, though some people really can dance and they’re not all the ones you’d expect. Mainly I stay clear because by my lights, the music is terrible: eighties and nineties AOR and chart-pop, school disco fodder that I really can’t summon up a dancing urge to. As this in turn makes me feel like a wallflower when so many other people are able to enjoy themselves, I tend to spend it in the bar talking to people from Utrecht, Helsinki or Sheffield (or, this year, St Andrews, by the law of averages as much as anything). The point though is that lots of people do not, that even European medievalists can manage to let their hair down and have fun and if you think such-and-such an author doesn’t read like someone who would, you might be surprised. There is no harm in this except in the reinforcement of the idea in the DJ’s head that this music is what people want to hear. The football (soccer, that is) match that happens before is a different matter, mind. I gather Helmut Reimitz is a bit good…

Also, there are huge numbers of cheap books. Five or six second-hand sellers are far outnumbered by stalls from most of the big publishers with medieval interests. This year Cambridge University Press were conspic. by their a., and Brepols and Oxford University Press were inviting mockery with their prices, but I bought something from both so again, hey. There are many bargains to be had, and the offchance of being able to find the author if you so choose.

Mainly this is a forum where plans are made. You hear something that someone else is doing and perceive a link, an angle on your own stuff; you talk to them afterwards and you find, or I did, that next year the two of you are presenting a session. Next year it’s a strand, and there’s a book planned; you meet other people in the field and applaud some of their ideas, think others are useless (but probably don’t say so). You hear about texts and sites you didn’t know existed; you get new details on stuff you thought you knew; and sometimes, you nearly fall asleep being told stuff that doesn’t matter, but this can usually be avoided. You keep up with things and get the impetus to get ahead a short way in time for next year. You also see friends, but you’ll make more, even if only academic ones. (But sometimes more, you know: I’ve seen one marriage and a long-distance relationship disintegrate because the husband got together with one of the long-distance partners at the dance, but because I know them not the wife or the distant partner I only saw the happy side. No I am not naming names for this one, do you think I’m mad? But it happened at Leeds.)

I don’t know if Kalamazoo is like this, though I may yet have to go you know. But I know that other conferences in the UK aren’t. This is a congress that deserves its name, people are not conferring together but going about together. Its huge size allows this to happen, but also makes it very expensive: registration plus accommodation and food is in the realm of £150 sterling, and you have to factor in beer and books too as well as travel (though there are reductions and bursaries for students, unwaged, etc.) It is also hectic, high-pressure, crowded and usually very hot. But I guess I’m doing it again next year, because although I can see why someone would prefer not to and it’s not like I lack for medievalist chatter compared to many of my readers, Leeds has managed to make itself where things happen and it’s always nice to be part of a happening, isn’t it?

Sleep, however, that’s a trick I really need to remaster…