Before I get to the post I want to note that other bloggers will now find my comments signed as “Medieval History Geek” rather than as Curt Emanuel. This isn’t a move toward anonymity or anything. We’re going to be developing a blog for work and I don’t want people going to that blog to somehow run across my description of my knowledge level for this blog which basically says “I have no training and really am not qualified to say much of anything on this topic but I think it’s fun and interesting so I’m going to anyway.” When it comes to my job, I am trained and I do know what I’m talking about (for the most part anyway) so I’m going to use my real name for that blogger profile and MHG for this one and hope to avoid any confusion.
Posts to Check Out
Before I start putting together Kalamazoo summary posts I want to put up
a quick post one discussing some online resources. 1 First, and something I’ve been remiss about lately, are good posts from other blogs.
Guy Halsall has two recent posts I strongly encourage people to read, Warfare and Society in the Early Medieval West and Warfare, the “State” and Change Around 600. For the latter post, take a look at it and see what you think about what it says on defining an entity as a state in the medieval period. This is something I am uncertain of myself and unable to say what I think of the various “state” opinions out there as I find myself swinging between arguments however this post made me think about it quite a bit which, for me, is a pretty strong recommendation in itself. 2
For the earlier post I want to pull out an excerpt and emphasize a point that over the last few years I’ve come to believe is essential for looking at all aspects of medieval history.
“Talking about all this as an issue of Roman continuity or new barbarian methods entirely – as I see it – misses the point. This was neither the take-over of western Europe by immigrant barbarian military societies with new social and military practices and nor was it – evidently – a simple continuation of the Roman regular army. It was an evolution that took place within the particular, distinct circumstances of the fifth and sixth centuries.
This general point, about seeing early medieval warfare in its own terms, applies to another common view of the period, which would understands it by extending the observed features of central and later medieval warfare backwards into our era. Thus it is sometimes said that battles were rare in this period. They were risky and therefore they were not generally sought. Instead sieges were the most important feature of warfare. This is, as far as I can see, a reasonable description of warfare in the age of castles and knights, from the eleventh century, perhaps the tenth, through to the end of the Middle Ages, but, as I will argue later, it is quite mistaken for the period between the sixth century and the ninth.”
This points to something I’ve come to believe very strongly; that examining aspects of history independently and without contamination from knowledge of other aspects, is essential to gain the most unbiased information possible (every single Human, historian or not, has biases) for the aspect under study. Chris Wickham in Framing the Early Middle Ages was highly influential in my believing in this for geographic regions, that they need to be examined on their own terms before you start looking for other regions to compare/contrast/group them with. I’ve mentioned before how Dr. Halsall, in Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 helped me to realize that the same holds true for other pieces of evidence – each piece needs to be examined independently, on its own terms, before looking at it in relationship to other pieces. Here he applies this same reasoning with regards to warfare – don’t allow your knowledge of other periods to contaminate (I don’t think this too strong a word) how you perceive or examine the period you are investigating.
The reason these things are important to me is so I can assess what I’m reading. As I’ve (hopefully) made plain, I am not a historian. I am not engaged in historical research. Among other reasons (there are a lot of them but this is the most critical), I do not have the skills, particularly the language skills, to investigate source material in their original language, even if I had access to them. So what I do is read stuff – stuff written by historians. For me to asses what I think of their work, how much influence it should have on me, I need to be able, as much as possible, to evaluate their argument. A critical component of that is their use of evidence. Now I can’t examine the evidence itself so it’s the argument, as presented in their writings, that I have to look at.
I apologize for the digression in the previous paragraph but I try to throw something like this in every now and then so you can figure out where I’m coming from, particularly since, based on site traffic, there seem to be some new folks reading this blog recently.
New Online Resources
Right before Kalamazoo I posted about the Digital Poster Session. I had a chance to briefly look at the booths (it was a shame more people weren’t there) before the Cistercian session I attended and some seriously good online resources were displayed. I’ll note that I’m highlighting the ones which myself, with no Latin or Medieval languages skills, found interesting. Others may well be as or more useful to professionals, or serious amateurs with those skills I lack.
Cusanus Portal – This site is devoted to resources related to Nicholas of Cusa. The main site is in German but some information in English is also available.
Early English Laws – This is a project to provide online translations and editions of all English law codes and related texts produced prior to the Magna Carta in 1215. They do not have anything up yet but are looking for people to help with the translations so if you have language knowledge in Medieval Latin, Old English, Old French, etc., I encourage you to contact them and offer your assistance.
St. Gall Monastery Plan – I know; you read the title and think, “The plan of St Gall? I can already find that online“. In some ways I think the title does this site a disservice, though it will likely show up well on internet searches. First, the plan will be displayed in over a hundred images, providing far more detail than has previously been available. However the treasure is, “Besides a variety of digital representations of the plan itself, the site includes a graphic representation of how the plan was physically made, detailed information on each of the component elements of the plan, and transcriptions and translations of its inscriptions. In addition, the site contains a series of extensive data bases including one presenting physical objects found across Europe that add to our understanding of Carolingian monasticism, one devoted to the terminology of Carolingian material culture, descriptions of all known Carolingian religious edifices, and an extensive bibliography on both the Plan itself and Carolingian monastic culture generally.” I think this will be a wonderful resource.
1 Uh, sorry – when I started I thought this would be a short, quick post. Then my enthusiasm got the better of me. And it’s still too short to really talk about uses of evidence which I’m very interested in.
Halsall, Guy, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2008). ISBN: 9-780521-435437.
Wickham, Chris, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2006). ISBN: 9-780199-212965.