Monthly Archives: February 2010

Empires and Barbarians, Part 1

This will be a new tactic for me. I’m currently reading Peter Heather’s Empire and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe. Ordinarily I’d wait until I finish before commenting on it. This is not a book with sections that stand completely alone – chapters build on preceding information. But I haven’t posted to this blog in 2 weeks and the last thing I want this to become is a Zone of Deadness, Cone of Silence or whatever. I suppose I should caution people that after I post this, edits are likely over the next few weeks. This is kind of liberating – normally once you publish something you’re locked into it but here there’s a get out of jail free card. Though I don’t edit things months down the road – I like to see how my thinking has progressed.

I’ve read several of Heather’s books. One thing I enjoy about his work is that, more than many other current academics, he frames his issues in a clearly readable, understandable way. I’ve reached the point now where I can generally figure out what the author is getting at, but with Heather, it’s a much simpler trip. I’ll also mention that I hesitated to buy this book. I thought it likely that it would be a re-hash of his The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians. It is not. It certainly expands on many of his ideas but the primary focus – the interaction between Rome and the Barbarians – is different from that earlier (and IMO very good) book.

This post will address the first three chapters of this book. These discuss how the Barbarians evolved into a force that could threaten Rome, up to 376 when Valens admitted the Tervingi into the Empire. Heather traces the evolution of Barbarians from small, mostly tribal-sized groupings into larger, more cohesive and more militarily capable “peoples” (I don’t like that term – should I use gens?) governed by kings – or individuals who functioned much like kings, such as the Gothic “Judges”.

The overall theme of this section is that it was the interaction with Rome which created these larger, more cohesive, and militarily proficient groups. He tracks several factors with this, which I think can be divided into two overall categories – Wealth Infusion and External (to the Barbarians) Threats. These are my terms for discussion purposes, not Heather’s.

Heather goes into some depth about how these societies evolved to the point where they possessed excess wealth which they were able to channel into militarization. Rather than being a subsistence society, where virtually all resources were devoted to simple survival, these groups found or developed wealth which could be used for weapons production and the support of an elite military class which could be freed from the more mundane tasks of feeding themselves.

One factor in this is an increase in agricultural productivity. In pages 48 through 53 Heather discusses evidence of the improvement of agricultural productivity, such as increasing cereal pollen levels and the Fedderson Wierde site and how the improved agricultural production paralleled changes in settlement practices; from that of groups relocating whenever soil fertility was exhausted in an area, to stable communities remaining in place (and growing) over generations; as well as the development of specialized weapons production. Heather does not discuss how and why this improved agricultural efficiency may have happened – a discussion which I think would be interesting (possibly because whenever I say my job is “nothistory” you can substitute “agriculture”). For my money, I think it’s likely that we’re seeing a case of knowledge transmission from Romans to Barbarians. This may have been unintentional however, with Roman frontier forces receiving much of their supplies through trade with the Barbarians, I am fairly certain, in my own mind, that this was more deliberate. It was probably not in any systematic, organized way, but if a Barbarian farmer showed up at a fort or contrafort and asked about vegetable or wheat production, he probably received answers. Either way, the ability to produce excess food allowed the Barbarians to release people from agriculture to engage in specialized weapons production (as well as ornamental metal and glass production) and to become military elites.

Another form of wealth infusion was the system of payments from Rome to client states. For more detail on this I’d suggest looking at Thomas S. Burns (2003). Rome made payments to Barbarians to help retain leaders in power who Rome had a working relationship with as well as to give them an alternative to raiding. This wealth could then be distributed by Barbarian leaders to subordinates. This had many impacts including helping develop trade networks however it also allowed the leader and his retinue to do something other than farm.

Another impact of these payments was to encourage the Barbarians to create larger, more cohesive groupings. By favoring a leader, Rome helped him gather more “loyal” followers. Also, Barbarians realized that in order to be considered for these payments, they needed to be a large enough organization for Rome to notice. A small warband of a couple of hundred armed men wouldn’t merit a payment but a group of several thousand to tens of thousands capable of supporting a significant, cohesive, temporally consistent military force would. And of course the leader had to demonstrate enough control of his followers to make this payment worthwhile from a Roman perspective.

There were two main External Threat influences. As Barbarian groups near the frontier received payments, groups located further away recognized this. Areas near the frontier became prime real estate. However nobody was selling it. In order for one Barbarian group to supplant another, they had to become larger and more militarized themselves. This became something of a cycle – a group located at some distance from the frontier became militarized enough to threaten a frontier group so the frontier group became larger and more militarized in response.

The other threat was Rome itself. A typical Roman response to raids was to invade the Barbarian territory and lay waste to it. If they could bring the Barbarians to a fight, well and good, but mostly they wanted to teach them a lesson. To respond to this threat the Barbarians, again, had to become larger, more cohesive and more militarily capable.

For Heather, an important aspect of this evolution of Barbarian groups into militarily powerful forces is that the groups which threatened Rome were not large warbands but a large, fairly cohesive group, including entire families – women and children included. This is the ethnogenesis portion of his work. I’ve read a few things on ethnogenesis including Geary (2001), Pohl and Reimitz (1998) and Gillett (2002)1 as well as several items in the Goffart-Wolfram “conversation.” This has become the elephant in the room that nobody can ignore. My opinion as an amateur is that if it weren’t for the hideous uses the Third Reich made of the 19th century Volkerwanderung theory, this would be one of those relatively minor issues which, ultimately, people would decide we really don’t have enough information on to reach any firm conclusions (but would continue discussing and examining, without some of the rancor). Instead, anyone who ventures to speak on the Barbarians/Germanics (I know Goffart hates the second term) has to spend extensive time explaining exactly what he or she means. One could wish people would apply the same standard to their use of the term “feudalism” – something we DO have information on.

Heather believes that many researchers have worked so hard to distance themselves from the Volkerwanderung that they have begun to distort the evidence in the opposite direction. With regard to the Barbarians he believes that there is some truth to the original theory – absolutely not in the sense of any type of racially “pure” group which moved wholesale from its original site and then exterminated the previous occupants of its new “digs.” However he does seem to believe in the Pohl and Reimitz (the Vienna School) theory of a “kernel” of elites who retained their group identity, even as the people who made up the overall group changed, adding new individuals and groups, dropping others, leaving some people behind as they moved while others joined, etc.2 This is an extremely brief summary of Heather’s discussion BTW. And I want to be very clear – Heather does not believe the old migration theory, however he does believe that there are elements of it which may be true in some cases.

As evidence that these Barbarian groups consisted of family units on the move Heather offers the source evidence, particularly Ammianus Marcellinus. He also discusses the continuity of language over centuries and how this would have been impossible without mothers teaching that language to their children. He criticizes Goffart (2006), Halsall (2007) and Kulikowski (2007) for their use of sources.3 In addition, he does not believe that the conquests achieved by Barbarian groups could have been achieved by an armed warband but would have taken a large enough entity that it would have required the support of family groupings – and would have left family members who remained behind at substantial risk without anyone left to defend them. He uses the Boer migrations of the 19th century from the area around Capetown to the Transvaal and Natal as evidence of how this may have happened and discusses how the Roman sources indicate similarities. I always get nervous when historians feel they need to use a modern example to describe how something may have happened 1500 years ago but I suppose this works well enough as an illustration.

As a note, I’ll say that I believe his criticisms of Halsall and Goffart are appropriate (the validity of said criticisms is a matter of judgment) however not so much for Kulikowski. The reason I say this is that for the former two, their works are larger, more academic, and involved detailed use of the evidence (I like a lot of both of those books). However Kulikowski’s Rome’s Gothic Wars is very much an introductory text of less than 200 pages. Criticisms of his not exploring the evidence in depth seem a bit inappropriate. In his Late Roman Spain and Its Cities Kulikowski does examine evidence, textual and archaeological, in detail. Now he tends to be very conservative in his use of the evidence, which is a valid criticism, however Gothic Wars is not the place to bring this out – that book isn’t meant to examine evidence in detail but to give a rough overview. I suppose you can argue that any time an author puts something in print which states conclusions he or she has opened him or herself to criticism, but in this case Heather’s criticizing Kulikowski for something his book isn’t intended to do. There’s a place for an introductory work which doesn’t dive in too deeply for the general reader or beginning student.

I’ll have much more on the Heather-Halsall-Goffart interaction in the next section. That’s where we get into the real “What drove the Barbarians into Rome in 405-408?” issue. I have some opinions on that (very interesting) discussion from what I’ve read so far but I’ll wait until I finish this discussion of Heather’s to dive into it.

To sum up, as usual Heather does a nice job of communicating his thoughts in a clear, understandable manner using a progression of offering evidence to support a stated conclusion. There’s much of what he says regarding the evolution of Barbarian groups that’s similar to Thomas Burns (2003) though interestingly, he doesn’t reference Burns. Burns goes into more depth (which he should since his entire work is devoted to the topic) and falls further on the “Rome made the Barbarians” side of the fence than Heather but many of the concepts are similar. Heather is careful to mention that he believes the Barbarians were already moving toward greater group cohesion and size but that their interactions with Rome greatly accelerated the process (92-93). Heather also is explicit in how he reaches his conclusions which continues to be one of his strengths (though it also provides critics with a club to use against his “Hunnic Pressure” theory) and does a nice job of integrating archaeological and textual evidence. One of the very interesting aspects of this period for me is to read Halsall and Heather where both detail their use of evidence, yet reach very different conclusions.

NOTE: June 19, 2011. I’ve finally written a follow-up to this post with a few comments on later portions of this book. I apologize for taking so long to put something up.

1 I’ve read all three of these but checked them out of the Purdue Library and have since returned them. I have overall impressions of them but wouldn’t think about getting into specifics here. I have everything else mentioned in this post.

2 There’s a ton of literature out there on Barbarian ethnogenesis. Pohl and Reimitz (1998) and Gillette (2002) are two works which illustrate what have become known as, respectively, the Vienna and Toronto schools of thought. As an outsider looking in, this debate has become extremely nit-picky and way too emotionally charged – at times verging on unprofessional. For an attempt to bring some sanity back into the discussion, see Curta (2007).

3 I’m going to save the Heather/Halsall/Goffart/Kulikowski discussion over the use of sources for a later post where I can address it more fully. I want to note that, as opposed to ethnogenesis, the debate over the use of sources continues to be valid and valuable for me. The participants treat each other as respected colleagues they disagree with and the points raised address substantive issues.

Books Mentioned:

Burns, Thomas S. (2003). Rome and the Barbarians, 100 B.C. – A.D. 400 (Baltimore). ISBN: 978-0-8018-7306-5

Curta, Florin (2007). ‘Some Remarks on Ethnicity in Medieval Archaeology’, Early Medieval Europe 15, 159-185.

Geary, Patrick (2001). The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe. ISBN: 978-0691090542

Gillett, Andrew, ed. (2002). On Barbarian Identity: Critical Approaches to Ethnicity (Turnhout). ISBN: 978-2503511689

Goffart, Walter (2006). Barbarian Tides: the Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire (Philadelphia). ISBN: 978-0-8122-3939-3

Halsall, Guy (2007). Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 (Cambridge). ISBN: 978-0-521-4353-7

Heather, Peter (2009). Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe(London). ISBN: 978-0-333-98975-3

Heather, Peter (2005). The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians (London). ISBN: 0-19-515954-3

Kulikowski, Michael (2007). Rome’s Gothic Wars (New York). ISBN: 978-0-521-60868-8

Kulikowski, Michael (2004). Late Roman Spain and Its Cities (Baltimore). ISBN: 0-8018-7978-7

Pohl, Walter and Reimitz, Helmut (1998). Strategies of Distinction: The Construction of Ethnic Communities, 300-800 (Leiden). ISBN: 978-9004108462


Posted by on February 21, 2010 in Books, Society and Social Structure


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Salvian – You Cheery Fellow

I’m a bit disappointed today. I was going to head over to Purdue for the Comitatus Annual Conference. Even though my job is in “nothistory” I enjoy hearing the Purdue students and was planning on reporting on the papers here either tonight or tomorrow.

Unfortunately, last night we had 6-8″ (15-20 cm) of snow and continue to have 30 mph (50 kph) winds resulting in a local travel emergency. No travel except for essential services – which basically means the county’s thrown in the towel and won’t be trying to clear the roads until conditions improve. So today I stay home.

I thought maybe I’d throw in a Geek’s opinion of a contemporary Late Antique Source. One of the nice things about not doing this for a living is I can read pretty much what I want. Typically I’ll read several secondary works, take lots of notes, and when I feel the urge I start wading through a bunch of the sources mentioned (this tends to be a very good period for booksellers). This fall I spent a few months reading Halsall, Goffart, Burns, James, Kulikowski, etc., mainly to raise my knowledge about the whole “Why did the Barbarian Cross the Rhine” issue that Peter Heather discusses in the Journal of Late Antiquity (I’d previously read a few other books on the subject) along with the more comprehensive question of why Rome “fell.” Over the last couple of months I’ve been going after the sources – the ones I can get, anyway. I don’t generally comment on primary/contemporary sources but Salvian recalled a memory – rather vividly – from my younger days.

When I was 19 I spent some time working on a ranch in Nebraska to make some money to help me finish my last two years of undergrad. Nebraska does not happen to be filled with a lot of social activities for people in their late teens/early 20’s. As an example of the lengths we were willing to go to find something off-ranch to do, one week during the summer there was a Baptist tent revival a few miles down the road – tents appeared all over some fields and thousands of Baptists converged. We decided to head over there one evening.

I’m not sure what inspired us to do this (there were three of us, the oldest 22 so maybe that explains it) but we certainly overestimated the entertainment factor. We followed a large number of folks into the largest tent on the place. There I had my first experience with a hardcore “hellfire and brimstone” sermon. I don’t know what version of Baptist this was, but I can assure you that a couple of hours later (I was afraid to leave in the middle) I walked out 100% certain that when I died I was going someplace where you don’t need to bring any charcoal for the barbecue. Salvian would have felt right at home in that tent.

Salvian’s message in The Governance of God (De gubernatione Dei) is simple, though he goes into great detail about it. God has not deserted us (the Romans) – he’s still in charge. It’s just that we have sinned so monstrously that God is giving us our just desserts. Why has God favored the barbarians? They are less evil than us. He proceeds to expound on the ways in which Rome has sinned and how, by comparison, even as heretics or pagans, the barbarians have not. This goes one step beyond the typical “God has visited the Barbarians upon us as punishment” to “God has punished us while rewarding them.” This is a significant amendment to the typical punishment by God and the implication is that – from Salvian’s perspective – the Barbarians are not a temporary visitation, present only until the Romans clean up their act, but a permanent affliction that will be the end of the Empire; “For, who can be eloquent about freebooting and crime because the Roman State is dying or already dead or certainly drawing its last breath?” (Salvian 4.6, p 100)

This aspect of Salvian is pretty simple. What’s more interesting is analyzing it for its historical value. Items of interest he discusses include; corruption of public officials (Salvian 3.10, pp 85-86); how taxation is destroying the empire, particularly where the rich are exempt and the poor bear the burden (Salvian 4.6, pp 100-101); how Romans welcome the barbarians as Roman governance is so oppressive (Salvian 5.5, pp 135-136); the creation of the Bagaudae (roaming groups of bandits – they were also prevalent in the third century – see Van Dam, 1985 and Halsall, 2007) being the direct result of people fleeing Roman oppression (Salvian 5.6, pp 136-137); Romans voluntarily becoming coloni to escape the burden of taxation (Salvian 5.8, pp 141-144) and; the overall poverty of the Roman state (Salvian 5.8, pp 165; 5.9, 167-168). Other items are of less critical interest to me such as the Romans craving games and the circus to such an extent that in Carthage citizens were cheering in the circus while Carthage’s walls were breached. Salvian really doesn’t like the Africans.

Salvian is pointed to as an example of how Roman governance broke down as the end approached, and rightly so. However it is important to use him with caution and place what he says in context. Salvian should not be used as an example of earlier innate weaknesses of the Empire, particularly regarding taxation, which would doom it to its end. Salvian likely wrote between 440 and 450. He speaks at length of the loss of Carthage to Geiseric and the Vandals which happened in 439, and does not prominently discuss the Huns, as would be expected if he were writing after 450 when they became a threat to the Western Empire.

Salvian’s perspective is based on a Western Empire which has lost its wealthiest province and its tax revenues thereof, yet, as most societies do, was attempting to maintain itself – through increasing taxes in other regions. There are other sources discussing the disparity in the tax burden during earlier periods, however Salvian cannot be used to discuss a weakness in the Empire that existed prior to the loss of Africa – certainly not to the extent he speaks of. What he can be used for is to illustrate how Rome attempted to respond to the loss of Africa and how devastating this was to the Gallic provinces (though some consideration must be given to exaggeration).

Salvian is a fascinating source to me for two reasons. First, he is one of the few sources who was writing, not before the end of the Empire appeared imminent, or afterwards when sources could use hindsight, but during the period when things were crumbling. He and Sidonius Apollinaris, writing of events two to three decades later, combine to present a picture of the last days of the Empire. Second, his message, at least as presented in O’Sullivan’s translation, is very clear. For me, The Governance of God is a source which helps provide a picture of an Empire in severe crisis, very possibly at or approaching the point of no return. I had braced myself for something which would be tedious, along the lines of Augustine’s City of God, and was pleasantly surprised.

At some point I’d like to get my hands on Prosper of Aquitaine, Hydatius, and the Gallic Chronicle of 452 but the available translations are out of my price range.

NOTE: In the near future I’ll re-learn html and post real footnotes instead of what’s in this post – I promise.

Burns, Thomas S. (2003). Rome and the Barbarians, 100 B.C. – A.D. 400 (Baltimore, MD).

Goffart, Walter (2006). Barbarian Tides: the Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire (Philadelphia, PA).

Halsall, Guy (2007). Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 (Cambridge, UK).

Heather, Peter (2009). “Why Did the Barbarian Cross the Rhine”, Journal of Late Antiquity 2: 3-29.

James, Edward (2009). Europe’s Barbarians, AD 200-600 (Harlow, UK).

Kulikowski, Michael (2004). Late Roman Spain and its Cities (Baltimore, MD).

Salvian the Presbyter, On the Governance of God: The Writings of Salvian the Presbyter, trans. O’Sullivan, J.F. (New York, 1947)

Sidonius Apollinaris, Sidonius I: Poems, Letters, Books I-II, ed. and trans. Anderson, W. B., (London, 1936)

Sidonius Apollinaris, Sidonius II: Letters, Books III-IX, ed. and trans. Anderson, W. B., (London, 1936)

Van Dam, Raymond (1985). Leadership and Community in Late Antique Gaul (Berkeley, CA).


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The Geek’s Guide to Kalamazoo, Volume I – Why Amateurs should Attend

You’ve heard about Kalamazoo and maybe you’ve even heard some stories about it. But you’re an amateur, AKA a geek, who simply has an interest in the period. You’re not employed in the field in any capacity. Nobody’s asking you to publish anything, you’re not a graduate student in Medieval, Religious, or Classical Studies, or even English Lit. There’s nobody to turn a request for reimbursement form in to – or if you did the response would range anywhere from laughter to advice that you might want to sharpen your resume. Not only that, but you have to use some of your vacation time (or pretend to be sick and hope nobody discovers that your bout with the flu requires you to go to Michigan – I do NOT recommend this tactic). So why would you go to Kalamazoo?

First, the official name of the program is The International Congress on Medieval Studies and it’s held for four days each May in Kalamazoo, Michigan at Western Michigan University. It’s the largest gathering of Medievalists in the world. This year’s Congress runs from May 13-16. You can find the program and registration information at The Congress website. I registered the first day it was open (I know, kind of geeky – there’s a reason I picked that name for this blog) and had the same struggle with how to fill out the “affiliation” part of the form as always – I ended up putting Independent Scholar, again, even though my knowledge level doesn’t come close to that of most of the true Independent Scholars – folks working in the field, scrounging for grant dollars, etc. Some day I’ll get some courage and put “History Geek” in the field – and see if they print my name badge that way.

Why I attend

1. It’s relatively inexpensive, sort of (see number 4 for the reason for the disclaimer). The conf registration is only $135, airfare from N America is pretty cheap IF you fly to Detroit or Chicago and grab Amtrak to Kalamazoo. Rooms are only about $35 per night. Of course those are dorm rooms – hotels are another story. And the meal rates are very reasonable if you eat in the dining hall and not too bad elsewhere. When I do have the opportunity to be reimbursed for a professional conference the number on my form is much larger than what I spend here. Granted, it’s driving distance for me but even with round-trip airfare from most places in the US, it isn’t bad.

2. Where else can you hang out with 2,000 people who share your interest? Of course some will be interested in a different aspect of the Middle Ages but that’s a small difference. The casual conversations you can get into with people you don’t know are fantastic. I think I really got hooked on this at my first congress when I was standing on the steps outside a building after a session and someone I didn’t know started to shoot the breeze with me and before I know it we’re in the middle of a discussion about Merovingian burial practices – and we both knew what we were talking about. Total Geek Heaven. I don’t know how it is where other folks live, but here in Central Indiana it’s very difficult to strike up that kind of conversation at a Starbucks. Even my friends start to zone me out after about 10 minutes.

3. The sessions. The toughest thing is figuring out what sessions to attend. I can generally get down to 2-3 choices in each time slot and then just have to flip a coin. Every now and then you’ll get a bad one but by and large I’ve been fortunate to attend well presented, thoughtful, insightful sessions which include the attendance of leading experts in the field who add to the discussion with Q & A. There are 605 Sessions offered this year – you’ll find some that will interest you.

4. THE BOOKS!!! OK, I need to restrain myself. The Conference Exhibit area has bookseller after bookseller, academic publishers, used book stores – another piece of Geek heaven. Not only that but you get a conference discount. Not only that but by attending, publishers will give you a catalogue with other books they didn’t bring which are eligible for the conference discount. As I may have mentioned once or twice, I don’t get paid for being a Medieval History Geek – no publication budget like I have for my real job. Kalamazoo means I get books from publishers such as Cambridge, Routledge, Ashgate, etc., which I’d never buy otherwise (haven’t worked my way up to Brill yet – you think they might get their Transformation of the Roman World series down to, say, 50 bucks each?). Last year I bought 37 books. The time before the number was similar. In this day and age when your bags are charged a fee for flying the friendly skies it may be worth your while to find out what ground shipping costs from K’zoo to home are.

5. Miscellany. There’s more but I’ll be brief. Free coffee (ain’t great but last year it was surprisingly drinkable), free wine at receptions (not sure it’s even drinkable but if you down a few beers before hitting a wine reception it works), and I can absolutely recommend the mead tasting. The pseudo session (a humorous program) is great – last year there was a presentation on Medieval mortality patterns that was as funny as anything I’ve ever heard. A meal and beers at Bilbo’s is still a congress tradition – even if they did move the damn place. There’s a dance Saturday night but I skip that – it scares me. And if you’ve contacted other people interested in Medieval History in the electronic world, chances are you can meet some of them in person. You’ll probably leave having made a new friend or two.

This is a great conference. As I’ve said – Geek heaven. I hear there’s another piece of heaven each July in Leeds but it’ll be a while before I make that one. Amateurs are welcome – you won’t feel out of place. You may feel that some of the discussion is over your head but nobody will notice.

And if you won’t take my word for it, how about hearing it from a celebrity? You may also want to check out the Congress Facebook Group.

Every year I get into discussions with people about K-zoo so by posting this I’ll have a ready-made site to point them too – which will have the added benefit of getting folks to read my blog! Also, if anyone would like to add something I’ve missed, please include a comment. I’ll likely throw in another post or two about this as we get closer – particularly a first-timers guide.


Posted by on February 2, 2010 in Conferences


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Palaeography at Kings College London

Anyone working in higher education – particularly tax-supported higher education – knows how tough times are right now. I also know how tremendously fortunate I am in Indiana where, while things are tight, we aren’t facing the level of academic distress of my colleagues in neighboring states.

However the impending loss of the Chair of Palaeography at Kings College London raises alarm bells for a variety of reasons. First, beyond knowing that Peter Heather is a Professor there, I know virtually nothing about KCL. However I want to provide a few notes on why this should concern those of us who do not earn our living in Medieval History.

As an amateur, I’m not 100% “up” on everything that Paleography entails (sorry folks – I’m reverting to Americanization for the rest of this). I have Bischoff’s Paleographie: De L’Antiquite Romaine Et Du Moyen Age Occidental sitting on my shelf (and just today realized there’s an English language translation – oh well, my French needs work anyway) and will likely know much more once I read through it. I know that it involves the detailed study of historical texts – study that goes well beyond what was written and into how it was written, including the script used, margin illustrations, the vellum/parchment used, etc. This type of detailed analysis is essential for historical study – it, along with archaeology, are the most basic building blocks of history. For myself, over the past few years I’ve fallen increasingly in love with books and articles that examine the minutiae of textual evidence. I love it when a translator’s annotations and footnotes provide details far beyond what the translated words say.

I’m not going to belabor this. First, this blog is only a day old and likely nobody’s reading it yet and second, there are many other blog posts from people much smarter than I about this. However I do want to say that we are going to see many posts, news articles, etc., discussing the loss of academic positions over at least the next, and very possibly next two, year(s). It would be easy for the casual observer/amateur/geek to look at people making a fuss about the loss of positions and think of it as a form of self-interest. Many times that will likely be true.

However I’ve been told – and have no reason to doubt it – that the King’s College London Palaeography Chair position is the only one of its kind in any English-speaking institution of higher education. With Paleography such a critical component of Medieval (and Classical) Studies, preserving this position is essential.

There’s a group on Facebook developed to promote a letter-writing campaign to KCL to preserve this position. I don’t know what good it will do for an American non-Medievalist to write them a letter but I will and I encourage others to do so.

Bischoff, Bernhard. Paleographie: De L’Antiquite Romaine Et Du Moyen Age Occidental. Paris. Picard, 1985. ISBN: 2-7084-0113-0


Posted by on February 1, 2010 in Uncategorized