Tag Archives: social networks

Kalamazoo 2015, Part 2

The second day of the 2015 International Congress on Medieval Studies—which is where my reporting backlog currently sits, alas—began reflectively…

226. The Nature of the Middle Ages: a Problem for Historians? (A Roundtable)

I went along to this mainly for reasons of celebrity-spotting, but it’s also often interesting to hear veterans of the field talk about what the field actually is, and to set it against one’s own perspectives. There are dynamics here about how elevated you get before your bird’s eye view becomes cloud-cuckoo land, but equally ones about being so close to the ground that you define the whole world by your local topography, and so on. All of this was given extra meat by this ICMS being the 50th, provoking reflection on the ICMS itself as much as anything. The scheduled presenters each picked their own targets for their muses, as follows:

  • Robin Fleming, “What Material Turn?”
  • Marcus Bull, “The Study of the Middle Ages and the Dread Word ‘Relevance'”
  • Ruth Mazo Karras, “Not Quite Fifty Years of Women’s History at Kalamazoo”
  • Paul Freedman, “Changing Subjects in Medieval History”
  • Nancy Partner, “Medieval ‘People’: Psyche?/Self?/Emotions?”
  • Some of these were complaints, and some reflections. Professor Fleming told everyone else that we don’t use objects enough in our history, and the conference programme certainly gave her a basis for the stance. Professor Mazo Karras charted the growth of the history of women from the archive of ICMS programmes—the first session on women at the ICMS was (only?) eight years coming but the take-off point for her was when societies started to form to do the work elsewhere. Professor Freedman, who was one of the first people to realise how great Vic is as a place to work on and whom I was glad to meet at last, had done similar analysis and noted, among other things, that at the second ever ICMS there had been seven women presenting, four of whom were nuns, but also that English literature and English history still dominate the programme, but that the rest has diversified hugely since 1965. Professor Partner spoke mainly of periodization and the problem of difference, between us and our subjects, which she argued could only be approached by deliberately seeking the ‘interiority’ of our sources, a kind of ‘depth psychology’.

    Medieval manuscript illumination of King Arthur's court and the Round Table

    Of course, it now strikes me that the very word ’roundtable’ is a medievalism, not something that any of the participants mentioned, but the site I got this image from epitomises the medievalism pretty well…

    This opened up the question of the session title perhaps more than the others had, and discussion went two ways, one following this, asking what we could do to avoid the problems of the terms ‘Middle Ages’ and ‘medieval’, which have myriad difficulties because of being defined only by whatever lies outside them and not having clear ends. Professor Partner had argued half-jokingly for ‘really early modern’, but David Perry, one of the organisers, argued that it means more to people outside the Academy than it does to us, and Steven Muhlberger continued that by saying that the emptiness of the category actually serves us by allowing us to fill it with whatever suits us. True, useful, but hard to make into a clear mission statement, I think…

    Faulty slide purporting to set out differences between women's situation in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance

    Periodization and women’s history: what we’re up against, grabbed just now from the web

    This desire for a mission statement was what had occupied Professor Bull’s contribution, which I haven’t yet discussed. This is because it seemed to me a much more UK-focused perspective than the others and to sit oddly with them. His was a pitch familiar to me from my years in Oxford, in fact, roughly that that we should stop paying attention to governments and managerial bodies who want us to justify our subject, especially in terms of its relevance to the era in which we live, not least because we medievalists will always lose to the modernists in such a contest but also because modern-day relevance must by its nature shift all the time so can’t be a foundation. I accept the logic of this but it seems to me that this is only a fortification that can morally be erected by those who have no outside paymasters. Oxford had been mostly aggrieved that those of its paymasters whom it had trained didn’t seem inclined to respect that privilege, and obviously that someone pays some of your money doesn’t mean that they should get to set all of your agenda, but to argue that they can set none of it because what we do is just worthy of support, whatever it is, is, I fear, unlikely ever to convince those with nationally-accountable beans to count.

    Cover of Simon Doubleday & David Coleman (edd.), In the Light of Medieval Spain: Islam, the West and the Relevance of the Past (London 2014)

    But why should we stop now, when we’re beginning to get books out of it, I am tempted to ask? Cover of Simon Doubleday & David Coleman (edd.), In the Light of Medieval Spain: Islam, the West and the Relevance of the Past (London 2014)…

    The people who picked up on this in discussion seemed mostly to argue that our use to the wider world is not to show how the Middle Ages is like whatever is now happening, but to show when other people who are saying that are wrong. I feel the push to do that very strongly myself, as you may be aware, and have long argued that to use history is almost always to misuse it, but behind this is an idea of a ‘correct’, empirical and detached vision of the Middle Ages whose perfect fruition would be that no-one outside the Academy ever derived any benefit from the study of the past at all except in a pure æsthetic form; if they discovered anything that was ‘relevant’ it would have almost to be suppressed before it got into others’ hands. It seems to me that people are always going to have reasons why they find this stuff interesting and the best we can do is to train them to find it interesting enough to be careful with it. You can tell, anyway, that this interests me as a subject of discussion, but I still wish we could have the discussion with the economics in. As an earlier defender of this view said, “money doesn’t stink”. You’d think we couldn’t strike for more of it without considering where it comes to us from, but it seems not so. So anyway, from here to coffee and calmer waters…

248. The Venerable Bede: Issues and Controversies I

  • Thomas Rochester, “The Place of Luke and Acts in Constructing Bede’s Ecclesiastical History
  • Morn Capper, “Bede and the Making of ‘Mercian Supremacy’: Challenging the Construct”
  • Sarah McCann, “Nodes of Influence: Networks, People, and the Writing of History”
  • It is of course impossible entirely to avoid Bede or Beowulf at the ICMS, but in this instance I would of course have gone anyway because of the presence of Morn Capper, long-standing friend of both this blog and your blogger. Morn’s paper argued that the groundwork for the period of the eighth century in which the kingdom of Mercia dominated England was largely laid in the seventh century, when Bede was in some sense watching, and yet he tells us very little about how it was done: for him, Mercia under the famous King Penda only shows up when it was on the warpath, whereas our sources for his successors Wulfhere and Æthelred emphasise negotiation, alliance and sometimes infrastructure. As Morn said, all of these rulers must have done all of these things but Bede is mainly interested in how far they supported the Church and so the version of Mercia we get from him is very partial indeed. As for the other two, both were at a very preliminary stage, Mr Rochester to establish Biblical models for Bede’s structuring of the Ecclesiastical History and Miss McCann to build a network model of the History using Gephi, and it doesn’t seem kind to mount a critique of their work here.

315. Fluctuating Networks: the Constructive Role of Broken Bonds in the Medieval Mediterranean and Beyond

  • Robert Portass, “The Peasant Parvenu: Social Climbing in Tenth-Century Spain”
  • Petra Melichar, “Noble Women and Their (Broken) Allegiances in Late Byzantium”
  • Arthur Westwell, “Studios: a Network of Alternative Power in Ninth-Century Constantinople”
  • Here, likewise, I had mainly come because of the presence of a colleague of yore, Rob Portass, but his paper sat rather oddly in the session as it was principally about bonds formed, not broken, between local transactors in Galicia, which is after all kind of Rob’s stuff.1 He was arguing that confrontation with the actual documents, mainly here those of Santo Toribio de Liébana, showed you peasants making deals with each other and advancing relative to each other, rather than the narrative of the historiography of the area which shows you landlords beating down on peasant necks.2 Well, not here, says Rob. Meanwhile, the other two had picked up on the theme a bit more. Ms Melichar looked at the different ties late Byzantine noblewomen could break, with family, Orthodoxy, political networks and so on, usually to stay connected to one of the other of these sets, but as she pointed out, never as far as we can see to advance their own positions, rather than those of the networks within which they worked. Lastly, Mr Westwell set out a case for the monastery of St John the Forerunner of Stoudios as a long-lived ‘safe’ focus for opposition to imperial religious policies in eighth- and ninth-century Constantinople, although the high point of that was the Abbot Theodore, who set himself and his monks to guard what they saw as orthodoxy through a series of theological disputes and mounted that defence not least by many many letters to people at court, ex-monks who had gone on to serve elsewhere, friendly church officials and noblemen and women, not just mobilising support but giving backing to those people’s own opposition. This was a whole world of source material I’d had no idea about and for me one of the eye-openers of the conference.

That was the end of the academic programme for me on this day. If I remember rightly we now met back up with Morn and set out to walk to the legendary Bilbo’s, a required rite de pizza for the medievalist visiting Kalamazoo. We had no driver so set out to walk it, which is perfectly doable as long as you can work out which way to head, and that I eventually did after being 180° wrong to start with. That was worth it for the guy we checked directions with, however, who despite being of apparently normal build and health counselled us to get a cab: “It’s a hell of a walk. Gotta be half a mile at least.” We assured him that in Britain that is OK to walk and enjoyed our pizza and beer all the more for the adventure, and that was how we wrapped up day two of Kalamazoo 2015.


1. As witness Robert Portass, “Rethinking the «Small Worlds» of Tenth-Century Galicia” in Studia Historica: Historia Medieval Vol. 31 (Salamanca 2013), pp. 83-103.

2. Classically presented in Reyna Pastor, Resistencias y luchas campesinas en la época del crecimiento y consolidación de la formación feudal: Castilla y León, siglos X-XIII (Madrid 1980).

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Picturing Abbess Emma’s associations

Really long-time readers of this blog will maybe remember a debate that got going on this blog in June 2008, apropos of a paper in the Journal of Neurocomputing that was using medieval charter information to showcase visualisation of social networks data.1 I was initially sceptical but talking to two of the authors got me much more interested and I subsequently talked one of them into delivering a paper in the final Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic session at Leeds, a paper that we did want to publish but which sadly in the end could not be included in the final publication.2 That’s still a shame as there was good stuff to think with there, but of course what any historian dealing with dense social data is going to want to know about such software and techniques is, ‘how will it help me with my stuff?’ And since answering that question usually involves a lot of data entry, it has tended to rest there.

"Representation of the medieval social network with force directed algorithm" from Boulet et al., "Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis", fig. 1

There is also the question of how much a “Representation of the medieval social network with force directed algorithm” like this from Boulet et al., “Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis”, fig. 1, can tell you by itself, which is why of course in that article they then spend a lot of time breaking it down

For my area of interest, this was changed in mid-2012 as the indefatigable Joan Vilaseca of the Cathalaunia website began to investigate applying such techniques to the database he maintains there, which includes quite a lot of the documents from which I ply my trade. Magistra et Mater, who was getting interested in the possibilities of these things around then too, wrote some initial thoughts about what Joan and others were doing at hers in December 2012, and I had already made a stub note to talk about it in October of that year but, well, it’s been queued ever since. There is still plenty to say, though!

The thing that particularly caught my interest was that Joan put up a post on his blog in which he produced a list of the best-connected people in his database, the ones who appear with the most other people, and once the kings who appear in dating clauses and their notaries were filtered out, pretty much top of the list was Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll. Since there is perhaps no-one in the world who cares more about Abbess Emma than me,3 this seemed like a really good type-case with which to answer the quesion: does this kind of analysis actually tell us very much that we didn’t already know? And, weirdly, I think that my conclusion is that for me it’s perhaps most valuable for emphasising what we don’t.

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database coloured according to grade of connectivity

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database coloured according to grade of connectivity

To talk about this it’s necessary to get you the reader clear about exactly what Joan has actually done here, of course. As simply as I can put it, what we have above is a graph built in the following way. In Joan’s database Emma appears in 50 documents and in those 50 documents she occurs with an awful lot of people. Looking for only the most meaningful, Joan excluded from the count all persons with whom Emma turned up only once, which is a lot given that she orchestrated the Vall de Sant Joan hearing in which about 500 people swore testimony for her and then there’s still 48 more documents with her in. That still leaves 112 people with whom she is recorded associating more than once, in fact the total of associations still in the count is 1292. Many of these people also relate to each other and what you have above is a computer-aided display of all those links, with Emma at the centre and everyone else pulled out to where you can see the links. But you can already see from the way that some of the links are made with thicker bands of darker colour that some of these people dominate the sample much more than others. So, who are these people? Well, if you load up the SVG version of this graph on Joan’s blog you can just click straight through to his database records, which is marvellous, but in short the top five are two priests called Gentiles and Guisad, and then three laymen, namely Reinoard, Guimarà and Tudiscle.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version), with Gentiles’s signature lower left centre

This all sounds more or less sensible to me: though I think only Gentiles and Reinoard, maybe Tudiscle, would have been in a top five I’d guessed, I can see why they’re all here. Gentiles was something like the chief scribe of Sant Joan: he appears in Emma’s first appearance as an adult, he went on appearing some six to ten years after her death, and in that time an awful lot of the documents of the abbey carried his scribal signature, even though as Federico Udina pointed out when he edited these documents, they’re not all in the same hand. This presumably means that he had subordinates signing stuff off for him and that his name was important enough that it still had to be there.4 Guisad was another frequent scribe for the abbey, apparently older, and he also appeared on the panel of a couple of the hearings in which Emma pursused people for her rights over their land.5 Reinoard was headman of one of the settlements in the Vall de Sant Joan and worked as court enforcer for Emma once as well as appearing in court when she called them, he was a collaborator of hers whom I’ve discussed elsewhere.6 Tudiscle and Guimarà present a more interesting case: these are two of the landowners whom Emma took to court, but in both cases those episodes were part of a longer relationship with the abbey which had here broken down. I’ve written about these two as well precisely because I think that in Tudiscle’s case the hearing was part of mending that relationship, as his importance seems not to have suffered subsequently, whereas Guimarà seems subsequently not to have worked with the abbess and in fact seems to have managed to shift quite a lot of property once donated to the nunnery onto Emma’s little brother, Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, as part of Sunyer’s campaign to clip his sister’s independently-ruled abbey’s wings.7 But before that he had worked for Emma, and these people certainly make good people to study if you want to understand how Emma worked, which is of course why I did.

Relationships of Abbess Emma in the Cathalaunia database, sorted by modularity

The same relationships now displayed according to their modularity, that is, by the size of the groups internal to the data

So, the first answer to the great question about whether this tells me anything looks like ‘no’; I had already found these people by older methods. But I’m arguably not the target here: the thing is that those methods were very like what Joan’s programming all but automates. I went through the documents, made note of the names who recurred most, assembled profiles of their appearances and decided who were the people I could tell the story with. Joan’s database and graphing together mean that I could, if I was starting again, do in about ten minutes the same exercise that took me weeks when I actually did it. I could do (and may do) the same thing now with Count-Marquis Guifré II Borrell, Sunyer’s predecessor and brother, for whom I haven’t done the same kind of background data-crunching, with far less trouble than I was anticipating. So in terms of research facilitation for others, this is a huge step forward even if it doesn’t help me. I can in fact only tell how much use it is precisely because I’d done it already by another means! (Whether Joan had to put fewer hours in to make it happen than I did for my research is another question of course…)

All the same, as I said above, what it now makes me think is how imperfect our data sometimes is for the kind of questions we might like to ask. If, on first principles, we asked ourselves who the principal contacts of an early medieval abbess was, we would probably presume that the main ones were her nuns. So indeed they may have been here, but as I’ve observed in a supposedly-forthcoming paper, while Emma was in charge of Sant Joan we know the names of only two other nuns, and those are only seen as they join the nunnery, we’ve no idea what Emma’s relations with them were like.8 If we then allowed ourselves to remember that this abbess was a count’s daughter, we might then think about her family as an important second string. But Emma hardly shows up with her family, and when she does it needs very careful reading: I think she only occurs alive and in person with brother Sunyer in the Vall de Sant Joan hearing where she was in theory taking him to court, for example.9 (She also turns up as a neighbour of land he was transferring twice, but of course she wasn’t actually there for that, though it gives us another reason to suppose they had other dealings.10) Also on the defending end on that occasion was their probably-elder brother Miró, Count of Cerdanya, who in his will named Emma one of his executors and had her called ‘my most dear sister’; I think she occurs with him once otherwise.11 She got Radulf to consecrate a church with her once, I think that’s it though.12 We can more or less see from this that this set of siblings were close collaborators even if not always very willing ones but the quantity of occurrences doesn’t really reflect what we can guess the importance of those relationships would have been.

The memorial stone for Abbess Emma in the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Abbess Emma’s memorial in the medieval church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

The information we get from this, therefore, is not wrong but it is partial. Emma probably did see Gentiles and talk with him most days of her adult life. It’s not clear whether Guisad was also a priest of the abbey but if so, he also would have been a regular feature of her days. She placed a lot of reliance on Reinoard, and that relationship was probably important to both of them in raising Reinoard above his fellows and showing those fellows how Emma could reward her collaborators. Tudiscle and Guimarà, at least at first, were more of that sort of person and even if the relationships probably didn’t mean as much to Emma as that with brother Miró did, for example, they’re historically very interesting and anyone working on Emma would be well served by being pointed towards them. But there is also quiet and missing data that must have made up a great deal more of her life, and that we can’t really reconstruct. It’s not by any means the fault of this technology that it can’t bring that to our notice: it obviously can’t give us back information we didn’t put in. But that also means that the technology is no more than one of the tools we have to use to understand that information in its context, some of which context is simply what isn’t there.13


1. Romain Boulet, Bertrand Jouse, Fabrice Rossi & Nathalie Villa, “Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis” in Journal of Neurocomputing Vol. 71 (Amsterdam 2008), pp. 1579-1573.

2. What final publication, you ask? Why, Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013). You could buy it here if you wanted!

3. See J. Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229-258; idem, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 23-72.

4. Ibid. pp. 29-30; see Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), p. 205 for the argument.

5. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 59 n. 162.

6. Ibid. pp. 39, 41-42.

7. Ibid. pp. 52-53 (Tudiscle), 53-57 (Guimarà) & 64-65 (Sunyer’s pressure on the nunnery).

8. J. Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, to appear in a Festschrift for Rosamond McKitterick first planned in 2010.

9. The hearing is best printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 119 & 120, though the palæographic notes of Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 38, are still very useful.

10. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 103, 105 & 155. There are a few other cases where she and Sunyer both turn up as neighbours, but not of the same properties, so I don’t think that really counts here.

11. The will is only printed in Prosper de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los reyes de España considerados como soberanos independientes de su marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), 2 vols. I pp. 88-90. In Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 57 Miró presided over a hearing where Emma was the plaintiff, but she was represented by a mandatory and not present herself.

12. Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 73. The two also occur as common neighbours in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 155 & 419, but again that only tells us that they probably met at some other point.

13. Cf. Jarrett, “Poor Tools to Think With: the human space in digital diplomatics” in Georg Vogeler & Antonella Ambrosiani (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011, Beihefte der Archiv für Diplomatik (München forthcoming), pp. 291-302.

Leeds report 2 (Tuesday 14th July)

This was a bad day for my alarm to fail, but happily nerves had me awake in plenty of time anyway. I didn’t have a lot of choice about which of the first two sessions of the morning to go, you see, as I was running some. I think they went pretty well, now, but I wasn’t sure of that at all at the time, and since one of my speakers was completely out of contact between agreeing to do the paper and turning up ten minutes beforehand I think a certain amount of fraught should be forgiven me. Anyway, those sessions were:

502. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: Pushing the Boundaries

Altar slab from the pre-monastic church of Sant Pere de Casserres

Altar slab from the pre-monastic church of Sant Pere de Casserres

  • Georg Vogeler, “Possibilities of Digital Analysis of Medieval Charter corpora
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “How To Take Over An Archive: Sant Pere de Casserres and its Community”
  • Erik Niblaeus, “Cistercian Charters and the Import of a Political Culture into Medieval Sweden”
  • In which Georg told us all to get our documents onto the web and showed us what became possible if this were only done; in which I for the first time modified my paper title and distracted people with pretty pictures to cover the holes in the argument, a trick I learnt from Roger Collins; and in which Erik gave a very sane and interesting paper on something he isn’t really terribly concerned about, leaving us to wonder how powerfully he must have analysed the stuff with which he is.

I wasn’t sure whether coffee would help with the nerves, but finding my last speaker did, and so then we rolled on to…

602. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, II: Genesis, Production, Preservation and Study

  • Julie A. Hofmann, “Changes in Patronage in Carolingian Fulda: a re-evaluation”
  • Wendy Davies, “Local Priests in Northern Spain in the 10th Century”
  • Alexander Ralston, “The Preservation of Dispute Records in the Medieval Cartulary”1
  • In which Julie alerted us all to the fact that databases don’t really tell you much about groups who are most of their population (such as, for us, men) and suggested smaller questions that would attack the same problems; in which Wendy kept us all interested for twenty minutes with one formula; and in which Alex asked whether our interest in dispute records is really proportional to their importance at the time.

And then I could breathe easily, and more importantly eat lunch and thus damp my adrenaline. I ought, here, to thank all my speakers for making it run so easily and for coping so well with the few problems that there were. If you want an outsider’s critique of the sessions, then the estimable Magistra et Mater has written one. But for me, the bit I had to stay engaged for was now over and I could let other people engage me instead. Now ordinarily it is easy for an early medievalist at Leeds to spend their entire time in the huge ever-growing strand that rules from the centre of the Early Middle Ages, Texts and Identities, which now has its first book out.2 Last year I nearly did; this year it was a rarity, but I first touched base with it for this one…

706. Texts and Identities VI: Louis the Pious and the Crisis of the Carolingian Empire

  • Mayke de Jong, “Charters, Capitularies, and the so-called Crisis of Louis’s Reign”
  • Prof. de Jong has unfortunately had dealings with the wrong sort of diplomatist, charter specialists who don’t want to do history but want to reinforce what they were taught at school with new sources. She offered alternatives.

  • Courtney M. Booker, “Histrionic History, Demanding Drama: theatrical hermeneutics in the Carolingian era”
  • Illumination from the Andria of Terence, a comedy, in Roma, Biblioteca Vaticana MS lat. 3868, fol. 4v, copied c. 820

    Illumination from the Andria of Terence, a comedy, in Roma, Biblioteca Vaticana MS lat. 3868, fol. 4v, copied c. 820

    Apparently Vitalis the mime doesn’t belong in the Carolingian era but Radbertus could get enough drama to write dramatic narrative anyway. Pass it on!

  • Rutger Daniel Kramer, “Stuck in the Middle? Benedict of Aniane and monastic networks in narratives and charters”
  • There’s been an argument since about 1990 that Louis the Pious gave up on his monastic reform policy after the death of Benedict of Aniane because Benedict was really driving it, and Louis;3 here we got the older argument, that Louis was driving Benedict, and some evidence of how he worked, but the big question about why it stopped remained unanswered, for me at least, as the questions disintegrated into a civil but loud argument between Mayke and Stuart Airlie (of whom we have not heard the last) about whether or not 833 was a political disaster for the Carolingian Empire.

And so to tea. Finally, refreshed, it was back to T&I for a rather rarer thing than a session on Louis…

806. Texts and Identities, VII: the formation of an Emperor – Lothar I

  • Elina Screen, “Models for an Emperor: the influence of Lothar’s early career (795-840)”
  • Maria Schäpers, “The Middle Kingdom between 843 and 855: some reflections on the effectiveness and motives of Lothar’s reign”
  • Marianne Pollheimer, “Spiritual Power for an Emperor: Lothar I and the use of Biblical texts”
  • The problem for understanding Lothar I is that except in one poem by a supporter he is the man the sources about the breakup of the Carolingian Empire love to blame. Reconciling this with the evident ability and energy with which he ran his kingdoms, the loyalty of his core supporters and his developed interest in theology has therefore presented some problems, and all these papers wrestled with them in different ways: Elina explored what his royal training might have done for him, Maria’s reminded us that his ability with his own kingdoms didn’t stop him stabbing his brothers’ in the borders, and Marianne suggested that he saw Biblical scholarship as a way to try and create or at least understand the relationship with God which he seems to have deeply felt governed his success. It was interesting, but there’s so much more to do here. I for one am looking forward to Elina’s book.

Then, there was dinner. This was the one day I’d booked dinner in hall, in case the sessions had people clamouring to join in next year: suffice to say that this was not the case, but that the food was better than last year. Then, I attempted to fit a quart into a pint pot by trying to find time for this…

902. Complexity Science and the Humanities: an opportunity to networks – Round Table discussion

    This fell into two parts, the first on social decision modelling and the second on social networks. The whole session was an admirable attempt by scientists to show us what their methods could do and ask us for data and cases to play with. It was also organised by a right comedian and I wished I could have attended it all. I would have been more interested in the latter part but had, nonetheless, to leave before it—Magistra, who was there, has been able to tell us more. What I did get, however, was:

  • Serge Galam, “Modelling the heterogeneous spread of religions”
  • This was probably more interesting as an exercise in mathematics than as a demonstration of anything except how frighteningly weak the models policy-makers use for decision-making are—but, regrettably, we knew that already. However, whatever complexification we could think of Dr Galam was ready to try and add, and it was hard not to believe that if it was built up enough at the end of it one would have a reasonable model. The question was whether it would become chaotic before we got there, which has the worrying corrollary that in that case society is probably also chaotic, in mathematical terms. In that case, kids, I tell you there is something going on that humanity cannot explain with maths because this does not look, this world in which we live, like a chaotic system to me, it looks like many different systems running at once and often producing their designed outcomes. It usually goes wrong very slowly for something that’s chaotic. What’s up with that? I think we are trying to analyse the wrong thing. Maybe there’s no general field theory but many general fields. Dammit. We need more funding! And that was, of course, roughly the point of the session…

  • Edit: Stefan Thurner, “Laboratory for measuring evolution of socio-economical structure in an anti-medieval massive online game”
  • This was of course the portion that I missed, but the purpose of this edit is to advertise that you can now read about it care of Magistra et Mater, and very interesting it sounds as if it was too drat it. I shall have to contact the guy.

However, with some trepidation, I had to leave to try and find bloggers. This too didn’t happen as completely as it might have. I got found by In the Medieval Middle in all its considerable force, and Another Damned Medievalist kept there from being blood (no, OK, I admit it, we sparred but did not fight, they’re actually all really good people, and I understand all of their approaches a lot better for being able to hear them in their own voices now, this being IMM rather than ADM whom I already knew is good people), and for a while there was also Magistra et Mater, but others did not find us. This was at least in part because Magistra and I had completely failed to decide on a single meet-up venue and so this may have confused matters; some have apologised, Gesta was caught by exactly the same kind of session planning tail I’d escaped, and others will remain enigmatic and anonymous, but I had fun anyway. So much so that I missed the Early Medieval Europe reception and hardly cared! (It’s always so hot, anyway…) This day’s Leeds experience was much better than the previous one, though my mood proved mercurial as night fell and I was glad that sleep followed it quickly.


1. Now, class, I’m sorry to see that someone has added in the margin of my notes on this paper the message “♥ Eileen Joy”. I can assure the person who did this that it is neither big nor clever. Miscreants!

2. Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Christina Pössel & Philip Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages (Vienna 2006).

3. The watershed here being the volume of essays put together as Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), which is the volume T&I should really be setting up to replace or so I reckon; they have all the necessary material and expertise.

Seminary XLVIII: plus ça change, plus c’est la Rome chose

The penultimate (I almost typed punultimate, but I’m afraid I probably have more than one left) gathering in this year’s Cambridge Late Antique Network Seminars took place on the 12th May, and Chris Wickham drove direct from giving one paper in Oxford to give us a different one in Cambridge, in the course of things proving that Cambridge’s tidal one-way system is a form of gatekeeping the University would never have stooped as low as. Anyway, your humble correspondent may have had too little sleep and too much tea so I’ll try and stick to the reportage. The title of the paper was “Social Change (and Complexity) in Early Medieval Rome, 700-1000”.

The paper was divided into three parts, and the first of those went on ceremonial. The focus was on the elaborate adventus ceremonies that Rome mounted for incoming emperors, something which needed doing fairly rarely, and so was always exceptional, but nonetheless had a background going back to the late Empire, and which had been progressively updated to incorporate new social orders like the ex-Byzantine militia (whoever they actually were) in the old hierarchy.1 Rome was in this respect open to change as long as it could package it firstly as antique and secondly as unique; nowhere else went to the same level of elaboration over these things except perhaps Constantinople, one of the few cities bigger than Rome in any of the Empire, let alone the West where it was unrivalled. (This was really the only part of the paper which really went back to 700; most of the focus was on the tenth century, which was of course fine with me.)

Ruins in the Foro di Nerva, Rome

Ruins in the Foro di Nerva, Rome

This led to questions of how such a city supported itself, which are unusually complex because inside, say, 20 miles of the centre, there was no visible peasant landholding. This doesn’t preclude agriculture, of which there obviously was some even within the old city walls, but it must have been tenant farming because all, to an incredible degree of exclusion, of the land visible in the tenth-century charters was Church-owned and had been as far back as can be seen in the record. This doesn’t mean it was full of churchmen because almost all of it was leased out to aristocrats, including for example the Foro di Nerva above, on which in the ninth century private housing was built. Other previously-public spaces developed workshops, housing, gardens, and so on, apparently built for profit, but the land remained the church’s, and there was apparently no guarantee of heredity when the time came for the leases to be renewed, though since most of these leases were made for three lives, a certain amount of future planning was possible. Nonetheless, when laymen give land to the Church in these records, it is land that they had leased; land that they owned was all much further away. Yet they lived in Rome, and leased land to do so, land on which they tried to turn a profit but which they did not own. The rents were tiny, so what the Church got from this was something that Chris had yet to resolve; one assumes, protection and a clientèle but I got the impression that Chris would have preferred an economic rationale, and as he observed, since these arrangements last for generations and are often seen at renewal, they must have been economically viable because otherwise all the leasing churches would have gone bankrupt.

Anyway, Chris’s general point was that there is a lot of change in Rome, especially in the tenth century, a lot of it at the high political level but also a growing change in the development of the economy, artisanal titles becoming more and more visible in charters as the year 1000 approaches, various sorts of associations of clerics and laymen joining the existing ones (often seen through the ceremonial by which they articulated their links to the old and current orders). Despite this, the social structure of the city, most of all focussed on the pope but below him mediated through dozens of links between Church and churches and aristocrats of various grades, with a pre-eminent family (the Theophylacti, family of the Patrician Alberic) not diminishing that variety, stayed more or less the same. The long-term nature of the lease situation and its apparent inherent stability left the aristocrats, who were getting profit from the lands and the social capital of a Roman presence, and the churches who were getting, well, we don’t really know but they kept doing it so there must have been a reason, with no reason to alter things. In the end, Chris suggested, it was Henry IV and Gregory VII who spoiled this equilibrium by really really messing with the ability to maintain this lay-ecclesiastical property-sharing; reform undid Rome’s social networks.

Pope Gregory VII depicted deposing King Henry IV of the Germans, 1054 (unknown source)

Pope Gregory VII depicted deposing King Henry IV of the Germans, 1054 (unknown source)

That bit sounds a bit glib, but I’m fine with the implication that the tenth century is pretty stable. I’ve seen a few of the relevant charters, however, and the impression I got is that it’s not just the economy that’s elaborating.2 Or maybe it is, but landholders are transacting more, or being recorded more, scribes who used to only be seen working for the pope are seen doing private jobs, this is when at least one of the texts of the papal formulary and general order of practice known as the Liber Diurnus is probably created, and in general Rome is taking part in a much wider economic phenomenon visible all around the Western Mediterranean in which at least, after some hard centuries, the economy is beginning to kick out a genuine surplus.3 An awful lot of the change that’s supposed to happen around 1000 firstly comes from this new availability of surplus, and therefore the resources with which to do things differently, and secondly, is largely seen (because of the nature of our sources) in terms of elaboration and increased preservation of documents. That last makes it hard to tell what’s new and what was already there but just invisible, but as Chris said, in the few places where documents go back further than this period, they don’t show the same concerns and, although formulas changing can obscure or reveal a lot, they also represent a change in social practice that has made the old ones less useful. This is an old argument associated indelibly with the name Barthélemy, though it should as I’ve argued be associated instead with its resolution by Bedos-Rezak, and I won’t do it again here. But it did seem to me that Rome was here partaking of a wider pattern from which its indubitable distinctiveness shouldn’t be allowed to separate it. The wind was blowing on Rome and on, I don’t know, Aigüatèbia de Conflent alike.

The building used as the Senate House in medieval Rome, next to the Temple of Vespasian, from Wikimedia Commons

The building used as the Senate House in medieval Rome, next to the Temple of Vespasian, from Wikimedia Commons

The other thing that I wanted to remark on was the behaviour of the `aristocrats’. For Chris’s purposes anyone not farming their own food is an aristocrat, and I thought that in a society as stratified as Rome that didn’t break things down enough. Some of these guys, the Theophylacti for example, were really important people who could make most of the city follow their bidding (no-one can make all of Rome follow their bidding, not since Octavian if then), and some were just struggling people we’d call knights anywhere else, and to imply that they’re all supported by the same system and that that doesn’t change, while acknowledging that they are also changing the face of Rome’s public spaces and embroiled, as we can tell from Liutprand of Cremona, in all kinds of power politics, seems like a disjunction to me. These are people involved in political change and economic agency, and I felt that the link between the fierce competition and change at that level, and the apparent stasis of the social structure, needed exploration. But then, we know so little about what these people did. It’s always amazed me how little work there is on Alberic. A guy starts calling himself Prince of Rome and ruling the city alongside the pope! Apparently no-one can oust him. He can almost ignore the kings! And yet somehow Pierre Toubert seems to be the only person who’s thought him worth writing about in the last century (and I confess, I haven’t read that writing).4 Am I missing something or is that badly out of synch with what people would find interesting anywhere else? So it’s easy to understand why such a story is not yet told, and the story that Chris was telling at system level was equally new to me and equally fascinating, but I did feel that there were these two halves to the story which will only make sense together, and now I’m hoping someone will do the other one.


1. Much of what Chris was saying will, I expect, emerge in his own work in the not-too-distant future, but two references of resort were Pierre Toubert’s Les structures du Latium médiéval : Le Latium méridional et la Sabine du IXe siècle à la fin du XIIe siècle (Rome 1973) and Roberto Meneghini & Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, Roma nell’Altomedioevo: topografia e urbanistica della città dal V al X secolo (Roma 2004).

2. The Roman charters with which I’m familiar are mainly edited in L. Allodi & G. Levi (edd.), Il Regesto Sublacense del Secolo XI, Bibliotheca della Reale Società Romana di Storia Patria (Roma 1885) & L. M. Hartmann (ed.), Ecclesiae S. Mariae in Via Lata Tabularium. Partem vetustoriem quae complectitur chartas inde ab anno 921 usque ad a. 1045 (Wien 1895), both of which give a giddying impression of social complexity.

3. The Liber Diurnus is something of a controversy; its function, date and importance are all long disputed. The two most recent contributions to the debate I’ve seen are Hans Hubert Anton, “Der Liber Diurnus in angeblichen und verfälschten Papstprivilegien des früheren Mittelalters” in Fälschungen im Mittelalter. Internationaler Kongreß der Monumenta Germaniae Historica, München, 16.-19. September 1986, Teil III: diplomatische Fälschungen (I), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Schriften) XXXIII.3 (Hannover 1988), pp. 115-142, and Hans-Henning Kortüm, Zur papstliche Urkundensprache im frühen Mittelalter: die päpstlichen Privilegien 896-1046, Beiträge zur Geschichte und Quellenkunde des Mittelalters 17 (Sigmaringen 1995), pp. 312-318, but I’m sure there’s more since I was up with this stuff. As for the economy, I don’t think the tenth-century growth is widely enough appreciated. It’s somewhat dwarfed by the economic take-off of the eleventh and twelfth centuries but this take-off run unleashes an awful lot of social development and change. The only decent comparative treatment I know arises in a conference volume, La Croissance agricole du haut moyen âge : chronologie, modalités, géographie. Dixième Journées Internationales d’Histoire, 9, 10, 11, Septembre 1988, Flaran Vol. 10 (Auch 1990).

4. Toubert, Latium, and idem, “Une révision : le principat d’Albéric de Rome (932-954)” in idem, Études sur l’Italie médiévale (IXe-XIVe s.), Collected Studies 46 (London: Variorum 1976), V.

Friends and Relations: social networks vs. actual sociability

The more that I muse on it, the more I think that the biggest problem with that Neurocomputing paper I just discussed is that the links between people that they attempt to graph were in many cases probably not real. As I said, for them a link counted if two people were in the same document, if they were in two documents involving the same lord within 15 years of each other, and if they were in two documents involving the same notary in that space of time.1 The first one is debatable but an obvious starting point: we may know that sometimes people listed together in charters weren’t all present together, but there is at least a contemporary association involved in that someone so recorded them.2 The second is much more dubious, as the two people linked might never have been in social contact at all; but as I said, at least they are in some sense in the same familia, though I really don’t think that’s what they were after; and I don’t think the third criterion has any value at all.

All the same, even the first one has problems if what you are after is a genuine social network. There’s argument about how witnesses are chosen for charters. In Rosenwein’s Cluny stuff family is clearly a big factor, and Duby did some of his most important work on the changes of society around the millennium by showing how that family presence changed in the charters there. In Brittany, Wendy Davies has shown that local reputation was primary; and not enough other people have considered it. In my stuff, I think that by and large people bring a couple of significant persons with them, whom we can sometimes pin down as neighbours, family, or frequent collaborators; and that is exactly the sort of thing I’d be hoping to achieve with social Network analysis of my material. But sometimes, I’m sure, the transaction is being held somewhere public, and a proportion, or sometimes all, of the witnesses are just people who were present for their own reasons. I’ve written about this with the court of Barcelona here, but it goes on at much tinier levels, gifts to abbeys on the same day and so on.3 So just loading them all up into a links table uncritically may be dodgy technique. On the other hand, the analysis might, ideally, sort the wheat from the chaff anyway, and maybe give us a way to test whether we can put people in the one box or the other…

Bishop Ermengol of Urgell mistrusting a lay magnate doing homage to him, from the Liber Feudorum Maior

Anyway, today I have been thinking less about this, and more about actual people and their relationships, and the main reason for this has been reading more of Julia Smith’s Europe After Rome. The great virtue of this book and the reason why it must have very difficult to write, as I’ve said elsewhere, is the way that Julia manages to step around the various difficult controversies that abound in medieval social history without avoiding the actual questions. So in her chapter about family and friends, rather than get bogged down in debates of agnatic versus cognatic, whether the kindreds in the lawcodes are real or imaginary, or whatever, Julia firstly (and throughout the book, without however losing the general thread of European unity) stresses variation, and then stresses how the categories blur. Some of your kindred are friends: kindred who aren’t friends aren’t much help and friends who aren’t kindred may be lots, but ultimately, “in Marc Bloch’s memorable phrase, ‘friends by blood’ were the kin who could be relied on.”4

The great contradiction of kindred, as a historical explanation of things, is of course that they don’t always behave properly. There are probably as many examples of family feuds as family solidarity in our sources, and we could guess as much from our own experience if there weren’t. Julia does cover this, but doesn’t make one point that I’ve long felt allowed us to get past that problem question, “do kin help or hinder?” It’s a problem question that people don’t often ask outright, but that lies in other questions, for example about law overtaking the threat of vengeance as a method of social control. My sidestep point is, that whatever else kindred are, they’re the people you, as a medieval man or woman, see most of all, and know best. Now it is true, as Julia says and others have said, that kindred counts for little a lot of the time until someone activates it by making demands on it, when people either help or don’t. Schrödinger’s support… But we can’t say whether family ties worked on one person or another differently: what we can say is that because they existed, they must have come into consideration.

Tacuinum Sanitatis, XVe siècle Paris, BnF, Département des manuscrits, Latin 9333 fol. 97v

Sometimes extraneous people in the kindred will have got dragged into things, of course. Hypothetical example: for some reason, you, though living in the Westfalian countryside on the family manse, have business in Frankfurt. It’s only now that anyone thinks of your mother-in-law’s Bavarian uncle with a share in a town-house there, who’s been out of touch for six years or so: he wouldn’t ordinarily be on the kingroup radar at all. But if you need a loan to do your business in town, you have the Bank of Dad right there at home, or if not, Bank of Bros. or whatever. Now the Bank may be closed, because you’re an irresponsible wastrel, or because of that thing you said about your stepmother at Pentecost; but it’s the first thing you think of because it’s at home, no? Kindred is a factor because of proximity as much as anything. It’s also a big part of identity that has to be defended at times, of course, but as a support network the reason the kindred come to the fore so much is at least partly, surely, because they are the people everyone knows best. Friends could come to be as close, too, but there isn’t a contradiction between these two groups if you see them like this. You appeal to people you know well: and the people you know best are likely your relatives. Easy, no? One more argument that perhaps we don’t have to have…


1. Romain Boulet, Bertrand Jouse, Fabrice Rossi & Nathalie Villa, “Batch kernel SOM and related Laplacian methods for social network analysis” in Journal of Neurocomputing Vol. 71 (Amsterdam 2008), pp. 1579-1573, here cited from independently-paginated electronic preprint online at http://w3.grimm.univ-tlse2.fr/smash/jouve/papier/neurocomputing-final.pdf, last modified 11th February 2008 as of 21st May 2008, pp. 8-9.

2. See J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 2005, pp. 31-34.

3. One pet example is F. Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 37, which is three donations to the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses in completely separate locations, done on the same day and in the same document; witnesses from all three or none at all could presumably be present, as the transactions were surely therefore done at the nunnery itself. On the other hand, contrast C. Devic, J. Vaissete, Histoire Générale de Languedoc avec les Notes et les Pièces Justificatives. Édition accompagnée de dissertations et actes nouvelles, contenant le recueil des inscriptions de la province antiques et du moyen âge, des planches, des cartes géographiques et des vues des monuments, rev. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & A. Molinier & ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. V (Toulouse 1875, repr. Osnabrück 1973), Preuves: Chartes et Documents nos 193 & 194, where two cases in Elna, in the same court on the same day nevertheless brought forth different, but overlapping, sets of witnesses. For more references on witnessing, including to Rosenwein and Davies, see Jarrett, “Pathways”, pp. 54-59.

4. Julia M. H. Smith, Europe After Rome: a new cultural history 500-100 (Oxford 2005), pp. 83-114, quote at p. 98.