Abstracts of Lectures

Meeting 1: Leeds, Thursday 10th / Friday 11th November

National history / Notions of myth

Dr. Jonathan Shepard (Oxford), "How did the Rus' land come to be?" A Dangerous Question.

The question in the title is posed in the opening words of the Rus Primary Chronicle and it registers the difficulty of encompassing Rus, in geographical, chronological and ethnographical terms. The term 'medieval' is anyway of doubtful validity for Rus, begging the questions of when 'medieval' or 'Old' Rus ended, perhaps the sixteenth century, but arguably not before Peter the Great's reign (1682-1725); and of whether Rus' development is best viewed as comparable to that of the rest of Christian Europe, as more akin to Asia's, or as a case apart. The difficulty of constructing a conceptual framework is apparent in the Rus Primary Chronicle itself, although a theory of Rus' manifest destiny had been formulated in the mid-eleventh century by Metropolitan Ilarion's Sermon on Law and Grace. Controversy over basic matters of fact as well as interpretation surfaced as soon as critical engagement with the sources began in the eighteenth century, over the Normannist Question as to whether the original Rus were Northmen or Slavs; and also over the nature of authority, power and material resources in the pre-Mongol period – concentrated in the princes' hands or dispersed amongst nobles and (in larger towns) the assembly (veche)? The Normannist Question could imply backwardness and passivity on the part of the indigenous inhabitants, while power-distribution raised the issue of which political structures had worked best in the past and which best suited the present day. Pre-Mongol Rus appeared an ideal to some nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century historians, but under Marxist inspiration Soviet historiography sought to formulate it in terms of evolution from a slave-owning society to stages of 'feudalism' and 'feudal disintegration'. At the same time, Soviet historiography became hostile towards identification of the Rus with Northmen, and amongst those falling foul of this hostility was Andrei Amalrik, later the author of 'Will the Soviet Union survive until 1984?'

The subsequent eras of Mongol dominion and the emergence of Moscow to predominance have also raised fundamental problems of interpretation, with many historians (including, early in the nineteenth century, Karamzin) ascribing Muscovy's autocracy and lack of political, social and cultural pluralism to Mongol overlordship, and seeing Ivan the Terrible's reign (1547-1584) as, in effect, the culmination of this. Some historians, however, have minimised the Mongols' impact, as being marginal to the course of Rus history. Others again put a positive interpretation on Ivan's actions, taking them as a model of how a ruthless autocrat – unfettered by nobles, corrupt officials or bad customs – can best provide for his people, keeping their religious faith pure, repulsing foreign foes and acquiring lucrative new lands. This interpretation was pronounced during the 1940s, and has resurfaced in the early twenty-first century, with semi-academic works warning that Ivan's reign holds out lessons for the present day. Some writers even advocate the canonisation of Ivan. But besides this preoccupation with models of masterful rulership, another recent historiographical trend has been to revive study of early Rus socio-economic history at grassroots with the help of archaeology, palaeo-biology and birch-bark letters. Recent reassessments point to the unusual dynamics of pre-Mongol Rus, involving 'compact nests' of settlement and the engagement of broad sections of the population in commercial exchanges involving the fur-trade. These communities deferred to princely authority, yet were essentially self-regulating, a situation obscured by, yet dimly discernible in, the Rus Primary Chronicle. The local and regional history of Rus/Russia was marginalised as an academic subject in the early 1930s, but it enjoyed massive resurgence after 1991, partly because of the detachment in that year of various 'regions' to form separate polities. Despite 'the years of ruin' (as the 1990s are sometimes colloquially termed) and despite current popular fascination with strong 'top-down' direction, study of local communities in pre-modern eras and of how they interacted with authorities and overlords is still lively. The question 'How did the Rus' land come to be?' is all the more pertinent in that preparations are underway – upon Presidential instructions – for celebrating the 1150th anniversary of the 'statehood (gosudarstvennost') of Russia' – in 2012.

Suggested Reading:
M. Bassin, 'Russia between Europe and Asia: the ideological construction of geographical space', Slavic Review, 50 (1991), 1-17
S. Franklin & J. Shepard, The Emergence of Rus, 750-1200 (London, 1996), esp. chaps. 1, 2, 10
*S. Franklin & E. Widdiss, National Identity in Russian culture. An Introduction (Cambridge, 2002), especially Franklin's 'Russia in time', pp. 11-29, and Widdiss' 'Russia in space', pp. 30-49.
R. Pipes, Karamzin's Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia. A translation and analysis (Ann Arbor, 2005, new ed.)

Dr. Bastian Schlütter (Freie Universität, Berlin), From Barbarossa to Barbablanca. Nation and Medieval History in 19th and 20th Century Germany.

The image of medieval history was of great importance in nineteenth century Germany. In spite of a growing national movement, Germany was not united until 1871, when the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck created the second Deutsches Reich 'from above', with no particular involvement of the citizen's national movement. In the decades before this, the glorification of the history of the so-called 'first German Reich' had been a key element in the propaganda of this movement, and was viewed as a political utopia within its self-conception. But in the aftermath of 1871, the recourse to medieval history, and especially to the reigns of the famous medieval emperors, remained frequent, and was a prominent element in the historical legitimisation the new Deutsches Reich. Nor did this recourse to the medieval past come to an end after the collapse of the monarchy in 1918 – and indeed not even after 1945, although the contexts and narratives had by then been changed completely. My lecture will trace these uses of medieval history with the help of various examples from the early nineteenth to late twentieth century, describing the specifically German characteristics of 'making medieval history'.

Suggested Reading:
Patrick Geary, The Myth of Nations. The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton 2002), chapter 1, pp. 15-40.
Herfried Münkler, Die Deutschen und ihre Mythen (Berlin 2009), especially pp. 197- 210 'Der Zug nach Süden'.
Michael Burleigh, 'Albert Brackmann (1871-1952) Ostforscher: the years of retirement', Journal of Contemporary History 23 (1988), 573-588.

Meeting 2: Sheffield. Thursday 1st December, 5.30 p.m.

Land and Frontiers

Prof. Richard Hitchcock (Exeter), Reflections on frontier zones in medieval Iberia

This lecture illustrates the complexity of studying frontiers in the Middle Ages by the case study of the frontier between Christian and Muslim Spain in the ninth century, and with special attention to the so-called Middle March in the centre of the peninsula. Much of the historical debate since the early years of the twentieth century has centred around the issue of depopulation. Sanchez-Albornez argued, on the basis of the Chronicle of Alfonso III (a tenth-century source referring to events two centuries earlier) that this ruler had largely depopulated the region, transferring its Christian population to the north. However, other historians of medieval Spain, notably Menendez Pidal, have contested this theory, and the more recent consensus has tended to be that long-term depopulation was unlikely. Other elements have been added to the debate – Thomas Glick has, for example, pointed to drought as a major problem in this region. Prof. Hitchcock suggests, however, that other important aspects have not been addressed by the historiographical controversy. He argues that religion was not a significant factor until the eleventh century; that both Christianity and Islam in early medieval Spain were essentially urban religions – the indigenous peasantry were far from fully Christianised, and the incoming Berbers were at best superficially Islamicised, and quite possibly were still largely Latin-speaking. He thinks, however, that modern Spanish historians have been right to focus upon the issue of immigration from the south – the lure of free land, even if relatively poorly-watered, was strong.

Suggested Reading:
Derek W. Lomax, The Reconquest of Spain, Longman, 1978;
Thomas F. Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages, Princeton, 1979;
Eduardo Manzano Moreno, La frontera de al-Andalus en época de los omeyas, Madrid, CSIC, 1991.

Christian Lübke, Germany's Growth to the East: from the Polabian Marches to Germania Slavica

German expansion to the east in the Middle Ages was from the mid-nineteenth century the subject of nationalist polemic, both from pan-German writers and from proponents of a nascent Polish nationalism. The two traditions have only begun to engage in a dialogue from the 1980s. Interestingly, German scholars of the Romantic era, such as Herder, did recognise that the Slavs had played a part in the colonisation of the lands to the east of the Elbe. But the change came among German writers with the rise of nationalism post-1815, in the wake of the war of Prussian liberation against Napoleon. The Ostforschung movement of the early twentieth-century, which was taken up and encouraged by the Nazis, increased the polemical edge, and in the Cold War period German culture was seen as defending the west. A major figure in changing attitudes among German scholars was Walter Schlesinger, who propounded the idea that there was 'a community of settlement' among Germans and Slavs. His ideas were developed by his pupils in detailed research on Mecklenburg, Pomerania and Silesia, all Länder with a strong Slavonic component, and acculturation has been an increasingly important concept in their work. Modern scholars point to the continuation of Slavonic dialects in what became 'German' territory, and that linguistic / ethnic boundaries were often blurred. Indeed, the German word Grenze (frontier) is of Slav origin.

Suggested Reading:
Friedrich Lotter, 'The Crusading idea and the conquest of the region to the east of the Elbe', in Medieval Frontier Societies, ed. Robert Bartlett and Angus MacKay (Oxford 1989), pp. 267-306.
Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe. Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (Harmondsworth 1993), especially chapters 8-9.

Meeting 3: York, 9th / 10th February 2012

Imagining / Inventing the Middle Ages

Jinty Nelson, Why Reinventing medieval history is a Good Idea.

This lecture begins by reflecting upon the well-known book by Norman Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages (1991), a book that is often criticised, but which has more virtues than some of its critics would admit. The lecture continues to examine some of the ways in which study of the early Middle Ages, in particular, has developed and been reinterpreted and reinvented in the twenty years since the publication of that book: 'big-picture' reinterpretation, for example, by Chris Wickham and in the 'Transformation of the Roman World' project, and closely-argued regional studies, such as that by Wendy Davies on early medieval Ireland. The lecture then highlights the increasing role of inter-disciplinary research, and especially collaboration with the sciences – for example, microbiology and plague studies, and physics and climate change, and how much the discipline has gained by such new collaboration. The lecture concluded, however, by considering a more traditional genre, biographical studies. Whereas ruler biographies have always tended to be 'life and times' studies, because of what is seen as a paucity of genuinely personal evidence, it is possible, sometimes, to provide a sensitive and nuanced approach to an individual in the Middle Ages, as Michael Clanchy has shown for Abelard, and Lyndal Roper for Luther. Dame Jinty reflects on this as she prepares her new study of Charlemagne.

Prof. Ian Wood (Leeds), Literary composition and the early medieval historian in the nineteenth century.

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Meeting 4: Leeds, Thursday 1st/ Friday 2nd March

Constructing a European Identity

Prof. Patrick Geary, European Ethnicities and European as an Ethnicity: Does Europe Have Too Much History?

What did it mean, and what does it mean today, that at the end of the Roman Empire the fundamental units of European political organization ceased to be geographically designated provinces but became regna, kingdoms identified by ethnic designations of their ruling elites? How are we to understand this change and what should we understand by ethnic labels both in the past and the present? This lecture will look at the vocabulary of ethnic labels at the end of the Roman Empire and then suggest the historical process by which these labels were redefined and transformed into what we understand today as ethnic nationalism. It will also raise doubts about efforts to create a new European ethnicity, yet another manipulation of history.

Suggested readings:
Patrick J. Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
Gerda Heydemann and Walter Pohl, eds., Strategies of Identification. Early Medieval Perspectives, (Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages 13, Turnhout: Brepols, 2012.
Ian Wood, "'Adelchi and 'Attila': The Barbarians and the Risorgimento," Papers of the British School at Rome , Vol. 76, (2008), pp. 233-255.

Michael Borgolte, Crisis of the Middle Ages? Deconstructing and Constructing European Identities in a Globalizing World

In a globalizing world the Middle Ages run the risk of losing their position in the order of history. The period of national histories seems to come to an end and also the interest in European history seems to wane. Nevertheless there are fascinating new perspectives for the making of Medieval History in comparison with other cultures and for the analyses of the connections between all of them.

Full text: web version | print version

Further Reading:
Borgolte, M. (2010) "A single God for Europe. What the advent of Judaism, Christianity and Islam meant for the history of Europe". In: Winfried Eberhard and Christian Lübke (eds.), The Plurality of Europe. Identities and Spaces. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag.
Id. (2008) "How Europe Became Diverse: On the Medieval Roots of the Plurality of Values." In: Hans Joas and Klaus Wiegandt (eds.), The Cultural Values of Europe. Edd. and transl. by A. Skinner. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
Id. (in press) "Mittelalter in der größeren Welt. Eine europäische Kultur in globalhistorischer Perspektive." Historische Zeitschrift.
Id. and Bernd Schneidmüller (eds.) (2010) Hybride Kulturen im mittelalterlichen Europa. Hybrid Cultures in Medieval Europe. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Meeting 6. York, Thursday 17th/Friday 18th May

Rewriting Medieval Religion.

Peter Biller, 'Mind the gap': Modern and Medieval Religious Vocabulary

The lecture does not start from a tight philosophical position about the relation between words and what they denote. Rather, it proceeds from the rough common-sense notion that the keywords we use – and that people in the past used – are important components in how we think – and how they thought – about things. Marc Bloch meditated brilliantly on this in the section entitled 'Nomenclature' in his Apologie [English: Historian's Craft].

Here in this lecture I am not looking at the precise vocabulary that preoccupied Bloch, rather at the key-words used about 'religion' in two discourses, (i) the writings of medieval clergymen and (ii) the writings of modern historians discussing medieval 'religion'. The lecture will concentrate on three areas, (i) religion (= monasticism) and lay religion, (ii) religions (Judaism, Islam etc), and (iii) heresy. In a series devoted to modern 'making' of the middle ages, the aim is to encourage meditation about the ways in which modern vocabulary can 'construct' our middle ages, with 'religion' as the example.

I invoke Bloch at the beginning not because I am foolhardy enough to try to imitate him, but because I think that his thoughts in this area are both the starting-point and also still the most brilliant that we have.

Further Reading:
Marc Bloch, Apologie pour l'histoire ou métier d'historien (Paris, 1949), ch. 4.iii 'Nomenclature'.
Michel Despland, La religion en occident: évolution des idées et du vécu (Montreal and Paris, 1979). John Bossy, 'Some Elementary Forms of Durkheim', Past and Present 95 (1982), 3-18.

Peter Biller, 'Words and the Medieval Notion of "Religion"', Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36 (1985), 351-69.
André Vauchez, 'Conclusion', in La religion populaire en Languedoc au XIIIe siècle et à la moitié du XIV siècle, Cahiers de Fanjeaux 11 (Toulouse, 1976).

The Making of Medieval History project continued in 2013 with a lecture by Prof. Mikhail Boytsov (Moscow) at the Humanities Research Institute, Sheffield, on 28th June.

The Healing Touch of a Sacred King? Convicts surrounding a Prince in Adventus Ceremonies

Prof. Boytsov looked at a ceremony whereby a ruler formally allowed persons who had been exiled to return to a territory or town, within the particular context of the German Empire in the late Middle Ages. This ceremony is attested in civic chronicles from the early fourteenth century, and the last known instance took place as late as 1786. But while this ceremony was a potent symbol of the power of rulers, both kings / emperors and princes, it was not universally welcomed, especially in towns. There were attempts to restrict the privilege; there were also appeals not to make this a regular occasion, and it could cause considerable tensions between towns and rulers. Civic customs tended to exile murderers in perpetuity. But it was an important part of imperial prestige to be able to override such customs, and show magnanimity. Other provincial rulers also exercised this prerogative in the late Middle Ages, notably the dukes of Burgundy in Flanders, as part of their 'solemn entry' as count; and also the archbishops of Riga.

The Sachsenspiegel in the thirteenth century discussed this ceremony, as an example of how the authority of a higher judge superseded that of a lesser. On a king's first formal entry into a city lawbreakers were to be presented to him for trial, and possible pardon. But according to this text, the right was limited to the ruler's primus adventus, and the ruler was to be isolated from the prisoners – the details should be arranged by his officials.

What was the origin of this ceremony? Although the Sachsenspiegel embodied Germanic customary law, Boytzov does not think that this was its origin. Indeed, he suggests that this came from France in the time of Louis IX, and the Luxemburger emperors of the early fourteenth century were significant in developing and popularising the ceremony. Henry VII in Italy 1310–13 used it as a means of trying to secure general peace, and re-integrating exiles. But only one British example is known – when Richard II made a formal entry into London in 1392.