Monthly Archives: July 2010

Information Request: AP Medieval History Textbooks

This will be a bit different – I don’t usually use this blog for this.

My A World Lit Only by Fire review has, ever since I posted it, been one of the most popular pages on this blog. Kind of warms my heart actually – maybe I’m doing some good in the world.

The problem is that while I blast this book fairly well, I don’t provide any alternatives for high school teachers who may be looking for something that covers the Middle Ages for their AP class. A recent thread on mediev-l has brought this to my attention and I’d like to provide something.

I’m not familiar enough either with AP history or with all of the medieval history overviews to come up with something on my own. If anyone has a suggestion or suggestions, please send them to me, either by e-mailing me, or by posting comments to this post. Also, I will include your name (not contact information) as a contributor unless otherwise requested.

As a very brief introduction to a topic I’m not very familiar with, in the United States Advanced Placement (AP) courses are offered to high school students, usually Juniors or Seniors. On completing the course and exam, students receive college credit for the course.

A separate issue is/are the AP history test(s) itself – if A World Lit Only by Fire is considered appropriate to provide students with information to pass the exam(s), then the exam(s) may need some work. This goes beyond what I plan to address with this request though as I learn more I may become inspired. This book should not be given to high school students as a reference.

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Posted by on July 31, 2010 in Books, Resources


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Carolingian Lay Literacy

My extremely busy 2-month work period ended with the close of a conference Thursday. Saturday morning I had the urge to post something – but there’s nothing medieval floating around in my brain. It’s full of 1st century BC stuff and I didn’t want to put anything up about Cicero stretching his neck out to be executed or Antony and Octavius either at war or peace, or even what Cleopatra may have looked like. Fortunately, Early Medieval Europe (EME) came to the rescue. 1

The new issue is out and it has some good stuff. So good that I did something I rarely do and printed off two articles to read more closely, one by Cullen Chandler and another by Jonathan Jarrett. Usually I just save the PDF’s and read them on my screen. This had an added, unexpected benefit. I couldn’t find my stapler (it was on the dining room table) and started digging through my desk – and found a “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Desk Calendar 1999.” THAT was a bonus – Heidi Klum has looked very good for a long time. Also, there was a review of Patrick Wormald’s and Janet Nelson’s (eds) Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2008). As always, I looked at the title wistfully, then decided to check the price. Sure enough – it’s still over $90, which is why the only thing I look at is the title – except Cambridge is releasing a paperback edition in September. Score!

First weekend without having to go in to work in a month, some fresh (well, maybe not so fresh) eye-candy, an unexpectedly affordable edition of a book I really want and some good articles so I can start to re-medievalize my brain – yesterday was a good day.

I’m gonna save Jonathan’s discussion of the Carolingian apriso for another day and start with “Barcelona BC 569 and a Carolingian programme on the virtues” by Cullen J. Chandler. 2

Those of you with any background or interest in the Carolingians will know of Dhuoda’s Liber manualis, commonly known as the “Handbook for William.” I’ll refer to it as the Handbook from this point forward. 3

For those who aren’t, here’s a very brief summary, complete with links to Wikipedia articles (please don’t hurt me!). William was the son of Bernard of Septimania and Dhuoda. Bernard was pretty high up on the Carolingian food chain. He was Count of Septimania and also named Duke of Barcelona. Both of these were pretty important, often contested Carolingian possessions, so having someone reliable in this position was important.

Map of Septimania, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Unfortunately, Bernard was only reliable until Louis the Pious died in 840. After that, for various reasons he chose the wrong side in the ensuing civil wars and was executed by Charles the Bald in 844. While this was going on, William had been consigned to Charles’ court. While he was there, Dhuoda sent him her Handbook.

We know little about Dhuoda other than that she very likely came from a wealthy family and was well educated. The Handbook is primarily a moral guide where Dhuoda describes to William how to live his life from a moral perspective. It’s also written in a fairly melancholy tone – reading it, you get the sense that Dhuoda isn’t a happy camper, whether it was because Bernard’s position was insecure, because he was sleeping around, because she didn’t see him much, or because William was stuck in the court of a somewhat hostile, powerful man. Or maybe she was just an anti-jovial person.

Apparently, the Handbook didn’t take – or if it did, the result couldn’t have been what she wanted. After his father’s execution William rebelled and, after some initial successes, was defeated and executed at the age of 23.

The Handbook is fascinating – a lengthy, well-written book indicating lay literacy – and female lay literacy. It hints at a role for Carolingian women of serving as the voice of morals and values. And it certainly tells us that noble Carolingian women could read and write quite well. But that’s not what Chandler’s article is about (not exactly) and not what I want to discuss.

The most complete edition of the Handbook was found in the manuscript Barcelona BC 569. This is simple enough. However medieval manuscripts frequently don’t contain just one text – they are often a collection. This particular collection included seven. Chandler included a very helpful table on page 273 which I’ll paraphrase here (because I’m currently too lazy to remember how to build a table in html – something about TD and TR):

  • Isidore of Seville’s Chronica – this is also known as the Chronica Majora, a brief history of the world.
  • Isidore of Seville’s Liber differentiarum, the section found in BC 569 is concerned with questions about the nature of the Trinity.
  • Expositio computus de diuisionibus temporum by Bede, a treatise on math and computation.
  • Dhuoda’s Liber manualis
  • Alcuin’s De uirtutibus et uitiis, a moral treatise.
  • Disticha Catonis, moral tracts/proverbs authored by Dionysius Cato in the 3rd century.
  • Commentary on Parabolas Salamone by Alcuin – a commentary on the parables of Solomon found in Proverbs.

The significance of this is well described by Chandler – all of the above works are those which might reasonably be expected to be found in an educated lay Carolingian’s library. Several of the texts are very similar to portions of Dhuoda’s Handbook. The Barcelona manuscript is a 14th century copy of an earlier work. He believes it likely that it was copied from a collection of documents which may represent William’s library, and that it is very possible that all of these works were sent to William by Dhuoda. If so (or even if not – this just provides added evidence), this is an excellent example of the type of education/literacy expected of a high-level Carolingian noble – and possessed by a woman of the same class.

As Chandler says, “The complete contents of BC 569 show nicely a Carolingian-era educational programme in which science as we know it was subordinated to, and indeed an element of, the knowledge of God. In fact, these texts embody the ideals of virtue and learning that Dhuoda herself held and wanted to impart to William.” (p 273)

Chandler notes that there is post-9th century material in BC 569, particularly “a list of Carolingian and Capetian kings from Pippin III to Louis VII”. (p 280) He believes it likely that this regnal list was added to Isidore’s Chronicle by a later copyist.

I won’t go into the complete details of Chandler’s argument, which includes an excellent discussion of each of the texts included in Barcelona BC 569. In general, he describes what each text is about, discusses how they would be appropriate for an educated Carolingian to have, and how Dhuoda’s Handbook utilizes material from them. The BC 569 texts provide a mixture of moral instruction and science – items that would fit in well with the education of a Carolingian noble.

While the theory that these texts originated from a single library cannot be proven, it is a very logical inference. Pierre Riché “concludes that the version of the Liber manualis in the Barcelona manuscript is closest textually to Dhuoda’s and William’s copies . . .” (p 275). The manuscript also includes other texts available to 9th century Carolingians and contains topics related to those included in the Handbook. It is reasonable to conclude that the texts in BC 569 came from the same collection – and the simplest explanation for the origin of that collection is that it came from William’s.

There are other possibilities. Perhaps William or (after his death) one of his associates augmented Dhuoda’s Handbook with other similar works. Perhaps a member of the royal court saw Dhuoda’s Handbook and said to William, “This is cool – here are some other things which go along with it.” Perhaps someone in the 12th (or any century up to the 14th) century collected these together. However the simplest explanation is that a) the texts all belonged to William and b) that they were sent to him by his mother. The one item that might clinch this is lacking – a reference in Dhuoda’s Handbook to other texts she is sending, or intends to send.

This does not keep Chandler’s hypothesis from being the simplest, and most logical. “It could be the case, then, that Dhuoda sent Isidore’s text along with her Liber manualis to William at court in the 840s. He later took it with him, along with some early additions to the narrative and other texts now in BC 569, to Barcelona, where he died in rebellion in 848.” (p 281)

In essence, it is a strong possibility, perhaps even likely, that Dhuoda sent all of these texts to her son in an effort to engage him in a fairly standard Carolingian educational program. This has important implications for details of lay literacy, education, and let’s not forget how much concern this shows that Dhuoda held for her son. Very good article that I enjoyed tremendously. And even though this is quite a long post, I haven’t begun to detail Chandler’s argument.  

1 As I’ve mentioned before, I encourage anyone with an interest to see if you have JSTOR access. EME is an excellent publication – there were 4 articles in this issue and I downloaded all of them.

2 Chandler, Cullen J., ‘Barcelona BC 569 and a Carolingian programme on the virtues,’ Early Medieval Europe 18 (2010), pp. 265-291.

3 The edition generally cited as most complete and reliable is Riché, Pierre, ed. (1975). Manuel por mon fils (Paris). I have the English edition, based on Riché. Neel, Carol, trans. (1991 with 1999 addendum). Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman’s Counsel for Her Son (Washington, DC). ISBN: 978-0813209388.


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Of Notes, Books – and Split Personalities

  • I read lots of books
  • I have an electronic note-taking system
  • I use Library Thing

What’s everyone think? Should I exchange the first three lines of my profile for the above? I was pretty deliberate about how I introduced myself when I began this blog. I wanted to make sure folks understood that I’m a complete, 100% amateur and that when I discuss medieval history it is absolutely not from any authoritative/authoritarian standpoint – just the ramblings of a guy who’s read a few things and loves talking about it. I never gave much thought to just what makes me an amateur. Obviously, there’s the fact of not getting paid. But a couple of recent posts from Jonathan Jarrett and Magistra et Mater got me thinking about how very differently I approach my medieval hobby when compared with my real job.

My real job is an academic one – I’m not a professor but I work for a university and I work with information. I think most people would consider my hobby to have a lot of academic elements – I don’t dress up in a suit of armor or even collect coins or other artifacts. I read books and some journals and try to learn. Despite the fact that my job and my hobby both deal extensively with information, I approach the two entirely differently.

Let’s start with note-taking. My “professional” note-taking system is much closer to the one described by Jonathan than the one I use for Medieval History. Now it isn’t identical, but at work I have subject files – three 4-drawer cabinets of ’em. I have two full bookcases and a couple of rows of wall shelving. And I have boxes of information on some arcane stuff in the basement of my building. When I come across something interesting I generally print it off, fill in the margins with notes, maybe write a brief summary for my use and stuff it in the appropriate folder. My bookshelves have a total of 8 shelves – only two of those have books. The others are for subjects that became so large that they don’t fit in files any longer but have been put in three ring binders. I don’t do any – nada – electronic note-keeping or indexing, though I will save PDF’s.

I had never given this any thought before but if you look at how things are arranged/organized at home for my medieval stuff vs. work, I doubt you’d think this was the work of the same person. And here’s the real kicker – I’m a huge reader at home. Tons of books. I sometimes feel overcome by the urge to buy. Sometimes I go a bit overboard when it comes to medieval books. I could not tell you the last time I read a book – an entire, complete whole book, cover-to-cover – for work. I’ve read chapters of books. I’ve checked books out of the library, read sections, took notes, and copied pages of interest. But I haven’t read a whole book in forever. It’s all magazines, scientific journals, conferences, meetings, field days, conversations with colleagues, committee work sessions, RSS feeds and e-mail – at work, I don’t do books.

For my hobby, I keep track of my books on Library Thing. It was Magistra’s most recent post discussing Library Thing that really got me thinking about this dichotomy. I have zero compulsion to put anything I use at work on my Library Thing Page. But I religiously enter Medieval stuff. On my home computer I keep a book database including a massive wish list – nothing remotely like it for work.

E-mail is yet another divergence. At work I keep e-mail I don’t delete in my Outlook inbox until it bursts. It’s only grudgingly, painfully, that I’ll delete them – generally after printing them off and stuffing ’em in a file. My home Outlook has multiple folders and it’s rare that an e-mail sits around for more than a week before I either delete it, save it to a subject file on my PC, or at least move it to one of the dozen or so Outlook folders.

I have no idea what this means – I keep my personal and professional life pretty segregated. I do take work home but it’s along the lines of “if I get some spare time with nothing to do I’ll work on it.” If there’s something I have to get done, I go to the office as my efficiency is much better there. For whatever reason, my approaches for dealing with my hobby information (hopefully anyone who’s read this blog much knows it’s a hobby I respect very much and take quite seriously) and my work information are very, very different. This seems a bit strange to me, but it’s the way it is – and I have no particular desire to change how I deal with either my work, or my medieval, information.

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Posted by on July 20, 2010 in Uncategorized


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And I Will Sell My Soul for Books

This is somewhat a “yes I’m still blogging (or wanting to) – just have nothing to say right now” post. Still alive, still very busy with my job and still planning to re-join the world in a month or so. Though I’ve been reading a LOT on 1st century BC Rome – the Social and Civil Wars. And not taking extensive notes (though I probably should).

As an introspection into a personal character flaw – I am such a book-slut. I don’t mean to be. I try to control myself. But they lure me in – coquettishly beckoning to me with their covers, prefaces and alluring terminology such as, “This book explores the situation of the non-elite living in Gaul during the late fifth and sixth centuries.”

I may have mentioned that I bought a few books at Kalamazoo in May. My to-read stack is ponderous. I have a list to check-out from my University library. I (mis)use a budget. I wasn’t going to buy anything more until at least this fall.

And here I am – just bought Matthew Innes’, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages. The Middle Rhine Valley, 400-1000 Allen Jones’, Social Mobility in Late Antique Gaul: Strategies and Opportunities for the Non-Elite and Wendy Davies’ and Paul Fouracre’s The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe.

At least in about 3 weeks my reading time should open up and I can set aside ancient Rome and go back to reading 4th-7th century stuff. But I wasn’t going to do this. For some reason, if I go about 6-8 weeks without attacking my wish list I start to suffer withdrawal – and all it takes is a 20% off Barnes & Noble coupon to kick me off the wagon.

There should be a program.


Posted by on July 5, 2010 in Books


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