Monthly Archives: May 2012

Friday at Kalamazoo Part I: Jerome and Virgil

NOTE: As I’m sitting at over 2000 words after reporting on the first session, I’m going to split my Friday Kalamazoo report in half. One day I really must learn discipline.

Friday dawned cool and sunny, continuing the excellent weather which largely lasted for the entire Congress. And I’d caught up on my sleep which was great. My room this year overlooked the interior Valley III courtyard so I occasionally was woken up by the sound of folks enjoying a wine social but I’ve also been next to the elevator before or had a room right over an entrance. I’ll take this, thank you very much.

After breakfast I made my way (surprise!) to the exhibit area and worked my way through the booths which I hadn’t yet visited. Generally by this time I would have pretty much completed my shopping but for some reason I was a bit slower this year. Part of it was I kept running into people to talk to which was cool. I was also a bit more selective than last year. Seems strange that it would take longer to buy fewer books but it did. Still, by the end of the morning I’d made it through all but the sellers on one side outside of the main exhibit area (for attendees, the section including Powell’s).

Then I rode the shuttle to Bernhard for Session 230, Late Antiquity I: Christianity and Culture in Western Late Antiquity. This session was one I was looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint though I ended up taking useful notes for only 3 of the 4 papers. In fact, in re-reading this, in some ways this is a lousy session report as I seem unable to keep from interjecting my own thoughts rather than just recounting the papers. I’m leaving it anyway; this is what happens when people give good papers about things I’m interested in.

This was the session which largely consisted of “topics I’m going to get to very soon.” The first paper was no exception as the Saturnalia sits on my bookshelf in the stack of things I’m going to read in the near future. For a brief summary for those less familiar with the period, the Saturnalia, authored by Macrobius around 430, is a fictional dialogue between prominent late Roman Pagans from the later 4th century on a variety of subjects. One of those subjects is Virgil and this was discussed by Eric Hutchinson of Hillsdale College in, “Literature and/as Religion: Christianity and the Reception of Virgil in Saturnalia I.”

The use of Virgil (and other classical authors) by Christians seems to have become a significant issue by the 5th century. The account by Jerome of his dream of being rejected from Heaven due to his love for Pagan Classics is probably the most famous example of Christian denunciation of ancient literature. 1 Despite this, numerous Late Antique Christians display substantial knowledge of pagan literature. Hutchinson explored an aspect of this in this paper. He opened with the basic premise I stated above; that there was an issue with how Virgil would be used by Christians. He states that Macrobius was likely a nominal Christian and that the audience for the Saturnalia would have been nominal Christians. The dialogues may have been important in helping to frame Virgil within the context of 5th century literary culture.

The principals in the dialogue over the use of Virgil are Evangelus and my old buddy Symmachus. Hutchinson provided a handout to help the audience track the discussion. Evangelus argues that Virgil is simply a poet, nothing more, and that to call him a philosopher is a gross exaggeration. Symmachus responds by calling the poem sacred and says that learned men should study it to discover its hidden truths. Hutchinson believes this fits nicely in the debate over the use of pagan literature in the fifth century. I’m looking forward to reading more on this in the future and this paper helped to define the discussion a bit. 2

Next up was Angela Kinney, currently working on the Vulgate Bible Project at Dumbarton Oaks. In fact, Volume IV of that series, for which Angela was the Editor, was released the day after K’zoo. Now if Dumbarton Oaks would just get a booth for the Exhibit Hall. Of course this would leave me poorer. Two years ago Angela gave a very good paper on hagiography I mention this merely to point out that at the time I was doing a lot of my own dead holy people reading and this year she moved into early Christianity which I happen to be reading quite a bit about at the moment. I found this to be very considerate. :)

More seriously, Angela’s paper was titled, “Virgilian Fama as Christian Courier in Jerome’s Epistles.” In this paper she explored Jerome’s portrayal of rumor in his letters and his Vulgate. She opened with a seriously cool image by J. Paul Weber, Das Gerücht, which shows rumor in the form of humanoid creatures coalescing as a mass into a serpent. Nice imagery for this paper as it’s tough to find positive portrayals of serpents in Christian literature.

Weber's Das Gerucht
Das Gerücht, Image from the J. Paul Weber Museum

Jerome uses two terms to describe unverified news; fama and rúmor. My Latin is too weak to discuss this with any real certainty however based on my reading of my dictionaries the two terms seem nearly interchangeable however Jerome uses them very differently. 3 Angela provided multiple examples showing that for Jerome, fama is used positively, rúmor negatively. Jerome’s Vulgate includes 12 instances of fama and it is always used positively while his uses of rúmor are always negative. Fama is used with Jesus’ coming or going and in Ruth 1:19 and is more along the lines of report or word, not an unsubstantiated rumor. Fama has legitimacy, rúmor does not.

Angela also provided examples from Jerome’s epistles. Unfortunately, I don’t have all of his letters in Latin however examples she gave were from CXXX.6 when news of Demetrius’ virginity spread through the world. I do have letter LXXVII in Latin and in LXXVII.11, word of Fabiola’s death is spread by, “Et iam fama volans, tanti praenuntia luctus” bringing crowds to her funeral to praise her. This is a quote from Virgil where fama is the Roman Goddess of Rumor. 4 Interestingly, in the same letter at LXXVII.8 Jerome uses rumor to describe the crowd’s belief that barbarians were about to attack Jerusalem.

This paper really interested me. Jerome is an interesting fellow all on his own and someone I’m not as familiar with as Augustine. Here he seems to be trying to use language to portray sanctified rumor in a different way from the reports which had no religious meaning. There are some implications here for Jerome’s use of language which I probably only halfway perceive. And despite his prior account in letter XXII of his dream, he was quite willing to use classical literature to make a point. This was a good, well presented paper with a clear focus. I enjoyed it.

More Jerome was in store in the form of a paper by Amy Oh of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, “Vigilantius, Jerome, and Biblical Exegesis.” The focus of this paper is over a piece of the conflict between Jerome and Vigilantius. Oh began by providing an overview of this, explaining how initially we find Jerome and Vigilantius friends, or at least friendly when the latter carries a letter of Jerome’s to Paulinus of Nola. This soon changed. Vigilantius apparently accused Jerome of Origenism and Jerome struck back, firmly at first and then really hard.

One particular aspect of this involved a story from the Book of Daniel where a stone is cut from a mountain without hands and strikes a statue, destroying it. This story had often been interpreted as a sign of Christ’s virgin birth where the stone is Christ, the mountain is God, the statue is the Devil (or the barrier to Heaven) and the stone being cut without hands signifies the virgin birth. However Vigilantius, according to Jerome, stated that the mountain was the Devil.

Vigilantius’ interpretation had some precedent. Oh provided a useful handout which showed that Ambrose called mountains the Devil’s kingdom and that Origen believes Zechariah describes the Devil as a mountain. However for Jerome, Vigilantius’ made a huge error as the mountain should be God the Father Almighty, not the Devil.

Oh discussed the possible reasons for this harsh response. She believes that as Jerome had only recently rejected Origen he may have been sensitive to this accusation. For myself, and I mentioned this to her after her paper, I wonder if Jerome may have sensed some dualism in Vigilantius’ interpretation. I’m not up enough on the evolution of Manichaeism and other dualist sects to be definitive about this however even then they believed in a good spiritual portion of the world and an evil matter portion of the world. Would Jerome have sensed this in Vigilantius’ story? Or maybe he was just mad, particularly as he had previously recommended him to Paulinus. Whatever the case, it helped give us one of Jerome’s more well-known (and abusive) pieces a few years later, the Contra Vigilantium. Another good paper and it pointed out some specifics of the Jerome-Vigilantius conflict I hadn’t thought about before.

I took very few notes for the final paper so I’ll leave it alone. In looking at my notes I have a feeling I was so psyched about the prior two papers that I was expanding on them rather than paying attention to what I should have. At least there are a bunch of boxes, circles and arrows in my notes, which I usually don’t do until when I review things later.

So even though I didn’t pay proper attention to one of the papers, I thought this was a very good session. I enjoyed it, learned quite a bit, and after returning home I started flipping through my Vulgate and reading quite a bit of Virgil and Jerome.

NOTE 2: I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out images in WordPress, mainly that when I post an image I’m getting the full image, not a thumbnail. I’ve looked through the settings and help topics and am coming up blank. Is this a theme thing or am I just missing something? Any help with this would be appreciated. If necessary I can write the img src thumbnail-link-to-large-image html code (which I used to know how to do and can probably figure out again) but that seems clunky.

1 See Jerome, Ep. XXII.30. One of the things I’m interested in finding out more about is how influential this dream account was. It gets repeated quite a bit, but the classics keep being used and IIRC, Jerome even quotes from them after he wrote this letter. (A re-reading of Jerome’s Letters is in my “to do in the near future” list.)

2 I think it’s important to note for those a bit newer to this topic that Macrobius was writing a half-century after the protagonists in his dialogue were active. The Saturnalia should not be considered to represent how these individuals actually behaved/spoke but how Macrobius believes it is reasonable for them to have spoken when faced with the issues he presents them. I expect at some point to post something on Late Antique Christian use of Latin Literature once I’ve read more on it. It’s a very interesting topic, not just that this literature was used but why, for example, Virgil largely replaced Homer in the “epic poem” category. This is part of the reason I’ve kept my comments brief for this paper.

3 I’m basing this statement on a perusal of dictionaries, not my, ahem, fluency in the language. I happen to have 16 books on Latin, including 7 dictionaries. Definitions for Fama and rúmor have in common hearsay, common talk, general opinion and rumor. My two Cassell’s (one published in 1959, the other in 1977) both include tradition and report while the older includes intelligence in the definition for Fama. My Smith’s Smaller Latin-English Dictionary (1968) also includes report and tradition. Rúmor is almost exclusively unverified opinion though Smith’s does include reputation. Interestingly, the definitions for rúmor and fama are nearly identical in my Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin by Stelten (1995) with both definitions including report, fame and rumor while fama includes reputation and rúmor includes hearsay and popular opinion. It appears that some uses may have used fama as Jerome does but more commonly it and rúmor are synonymous. They seem split on whether it should be spelled rūmor or rúmor. I’m going with the latter because the page I pulled it from said that rūmor may not be visible in some browsers.

4 I have the Loeb edition of Jerome’s letters which translates this to, “Flying Rumour heralding such woe.” The quote comes from Virgil’s Aeneid XI.139.


Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Conferences, Religion


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Maybe This is Why There Were Pirates

I don’t want to make fun of anyone because if you want to dress as a pirate, why shouldn’t you? There have always been a few folks dressed in an interesting manner at Kalamazoo and while I can’t recall ever giving it much thought I’ve pretty much figured they were doing so because what they were wearing added something to a paper or presentation they were giving. Heck, I happen to wear a giant belt buckle much of the time as a holdover from my days in rodeo and as a horse trainer, though my wearing it all the time at this year’s Congress was more a factor of my leaving in a hurry and forgetting to throw something less obtrusive in my bag.

However maybe there’s another explanation. Check out this article from a Detroit CBS affiliate titled Hobbit Alert: Michigan College Hosts Medieval Fair. I saw that and about spit up water all over my keyboard.

I was happy to see that they also referenced Game of Thrones.

There’s no real harm in this if it gets more people there, unless folks didn’t get what they were expecting. But I’d say the article fails to capture the flavor of Congress.


Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Conferences, Humor and Games


Tags: , ,

Thursday at Kalamazoo: Books, Sessions and Bloggers

Before I get started I want to mention that if anyone happens to read these and feels that I’ve been inaccurate, please either e-mail me or comment. I’ve been corrected plenty of times. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Thursday morning I went to breakfast and ran into a friend who was among a group of people Paul Gans first dragged to Kalamazoo over ten years ago. By 8:00, as has been the case for every Kalamazoo since I began attending, I was at the doorway of the exhibit area. I don’t have any cute stories about hunting for specific books like last year. I did meet an individual who I’d interacted with on Library Thing, David Kathman. Of course I then had to inform him that as he was talking about the 14th century I wouldn’t be hearing his paper in favor of a session organized by Ralph Mathisen. Somehow Dave managed to go on living (I know this because I saw him again Sunday).

After the usual perusal of half-price Ashgates, $5 Penguins, etc., I walked up to the Bernhard Center for Session 43, “Medieval Environments I: Food Shortage and Subsistence Crises in Medieval Europe”, which has also been discussed by Michelle Ziegler. Choosing sessions is always interesting. In picking where I was going pre-conf, I had thought I might not go to a Thursday morning session as nothing seemed that interesting to me. More time for books, right? But the night before, as I was marking my brand new program book, I found this one and wondered why I wouldn’t have wanted to attend it. I just pulled out my original book and I hadn’t identified this as a possibility. I have no idea why.

Kathy Pearson of Old Dominion opened with, “After the ‘Fall’: Feeding Rome in the Early Middle Ages.” This was a discussion of the food supply for the city of Rome in the 6th and 7th centuries. She discussed how, while Rome’s population from the period of Justinian’s Gothic Wars was radically reduced from that of the Empire, it was still substantial. With an estimated population of 25,000 to 40,000 it was the largest city in Western Europe at the time, and periodically it would swell significantly due to pilgrims and refugees. She discussed evidence of trade networks (diminished but still present) such as from North Africa and Sicily, the existence of papal estates, demolition of buildings within the walls in favor of arable ground, and crop yield estimates. This paper was heavy with information. Ultimately, Pearson believes that it is likely that as much as half of the land area within the walls was used for agricultural production. If this is the case she believes that if the population of the city was 25,000, then the city (this includes the surrounding countryside) would have been nearly self-sufficient, however with a population of 40,000 Rome would have needed to rely on larger networks.

From Tim Newfield of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor we received a new look at the Carolingians in “Shortages and Population Trends in Carolingian Europe, ca. 750-c.950.” Newfield believes that theories describing a fairly steady population growth during the Carolingian period should be regarded with caution. His main thesis is that the Carolingian Empire was subject to fairly regular and significant food shortages, which he divided into two categories; famines and lesser shortages. I won’t include all of his information however he identified 10 famines from 762/4-939/44 and 12 lesser shortages from 752-919, usually the result of unfavorable weather. He believes that these food crises would have generated in a strong demographic response, likely in the range of a 5-20% population reduction, and that while a post-shortage baby boom was likely, population recovery would have required twice the duration of the shortage (for a 2-year shortage it would take 4 years to regain the lost population). He believes that in order for relatively continuous growth to have taken place shortages must have occurred a minimum of 5-9 years apart while he believes it is very likely that they were more frequent. This was an interesting paper. There seems to be a growing body of evidence which shows that things may not have been quite as good during the Carolingian period as has sometimes been argued. I’m hopeful that a form of this paper shows up in EME or another journal where he can provide more details. The validity of this paper hinges on the quality of its information, particularly regarding the shortages, which there’s little time to explore in a 20-25 minute paper.

I can’t help wondering if the later time period for the final paper was the cause of my not identifying this as a session to attend. In any case, Philip Slavin of McGill University took us into the later Middle Ages with, “Alternative Consumption: Fodder and Fodder Resources in Late Medieval English Economy, ca. 1250-1450.” Slavin examined the use of fodder in feeding draft animals, how these changed over time, and what these changes may indicate. He divided fodder into two categories; grassland, consisting of pasture and meadow hay and; crops, consisting of oats, legumes and straw. 1 There are some interesting changes which took place during this period which he discussed with the help of some useful charts and graphs. One of these was that in 1300 over 2/3 of all fodder was sold by Lords with the remainder being fed while by 1400 roughly half was sold. He believes this points to a decline in the demesne economy and a possible increase in peasant wealth. Between 1300 and 1400 the percentage of oats in rations declined radically while pasturage and hay fed increased, indicating a shift of land from arable to pasturage, possibly due to a labor shortage. As a result of the reduction in the level of oats fed, animals became weaker, something he believes is supported by archaeological evidence from Wharram-Percy as this has revealed skeletal pathologies in animals including lesions and weakened bones.

This was a very good session and made my forgetting my program book well worth the trouble. This session was sponsored by the Environmental History Network for the Middle Ages (ENFORMA), a group I may have to keep an eye on. They sponsored several other sessions during Congress though this is the only one I made.

Following this session I headed back to the Exhibit area to resume my prowl through the books. I found that in addition to Ashgate and Cambridge selling books at 50% off, Brill had the same discount for its display copies, resulting in me finally owning one of their volumes. Yes, I have indeed arrived. I made it through a bit less than half the exhibit and decided Loome might take too much time so I returned to Bernhard, had some lunch and headed to Session 95, “The Ties That Bound I: Early Medieval Prosopography”.

Unfortunately only one of the three presenters made it to this session. However the one paper, “Becoming Barbarian: An Examination of Stilicho in Fifth-Century Latin Sources” by Deanna Forsman of North Hennepin Community College was very good and made the walk worthwhile. She discussed source mentions and descriptions of Stilicho to assess his historical portrayal as a barbarian rather than as a Roman. A portion of this was a comparative analysis of Stilicho and Aetius. She had a really good slide which showed substantial parallels between the two, yet Aetius is generally referred to as a Roman while Stilicho is not. In examining the literature, Forsman found that source material is generally positive about Stilicho and almost all refer to him as a Roman. The only negative depictions come after Stilicho’s death and of those, only Orosius refers to him as a barbarian and he is the sole source for his being considered half Vandal. 2 Forsman believes that Jerome’s reference should be interpreted as Stilicho being called semi-barbarian, like a barbarian, or even equating to “barbarian-lover”, not that he was half barbarian as this has commonly been interpreted as. 3 Even Rutilius Namatianus, in a vituperative condemnation, doesn’t refer to Stilicho as anything but Roman.

Ultimately Forsman does not believe it likely that Stilicho was referred to as a barbarian while alive and that his being half Vandal is somewhere between unproven and unlikely. Stilicho certainly thought of himself as Roman and the bulk of the sources seem to support him. Good paper and Forsman gave an excellent presentation. There is a followup question of why, with so little evidence for this, did Stilicho come to be known as a barbarian? I can make a couple of conjectures (for example, Orosius wrote his Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri septem at the request of Augustine who may have helped disseminate this) but nothing concrete.

Next I looked outside, didn’t see a shuttle and set out for Valley III for my next session. I think this was the trek which woke my hip up. I can walk a long time with no trouble at an amble but when I need to push the pace a little it doesn’t take long for it to start speaking to me. I went to a four-paper session and I only have notes which would allow me to post a coherent summary of one of these. I have a bunch of data points but not much in the way of the overall themes or messages of the presentations. This was a 3:30 session which is a low energy time for me, at least when I’m short of sleep but I don’t recall dozing off or even having a hard time concentrating (as opposed to a session Saturday – not sure if I’ll mention that when I get to it). However I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the way of useful summaries so I’ll just leave this one alone entirely.

In any case, once the session ended I dropped my notepad in my room and headed to the Valley III registration area for the Blogger Meet-up. We hung around in the lobby for a bit before heading to the room. I’ve previously mentioned the Bloggers who were there but I think I left out one. At least I think Lisa Carnell has a blog, titled The View from Kalamazoo.

Several folks who don’t (but should) blog were in attendance. I’m not sure on the protocol for this so I’ll leave them unmentioned but I did appreciate meeting them. ADM did a nice job organizing this. Good snacks, a couple of wine selections and a variety of beer choices. We hung around, told stories/lies and I started to trot out what would become my 2012 Kalamazoo conversational theme, a combination of, “How I go about doing my job is very different from you,” with a liberal dose of, “My University doesn’t expect me to know how to write.” This last isn’t completely true but we have communications people who review our more formal pieces before they are unleashed on the general public. I only thought of this because at the time I thought I was meeting with my Comm. staff person and a graphics designer on the Tuesday after K’zoo (said meeting has been pushed back to this coming Friday) about a publication I’m currently working on.

There were also some creative ideas for new blogs which I shall allow to remain in the room for the time being. However Vaulting had a really good one which I think she should have a go at. We had a bit more time than at last year’s meetup, or at least this seemed to be the case. Afterwards several folks headed for Postmedieval’s “Burn After Reading” session which I had originally intended to make but following a couple of beers and with my hip making a bit of a commotion I decided to head for my room instead where, after putting together a quick update post, I went to bed.

1. I was surprised that oats were considered fodder as today they are classified as feed concentrates as opposed to roughages such as hay, pasture and silage.

2. I was unprepared when I first read Orosius on Stilicho (I believe this wasn’t long after reading Claudian so that may be the reason) but in 7.38 of his Seven Books of History Against the Pagans he comes down on him hard, accusing him of using Alaric and other barbarians as a tool to terrify Rome and of plotting to place his son on the throne and restore paganism (a bit contradictory re Namatianus accusing him of destroying the Sybilline Books). At one time up to 8-10 years ago I had this half-formed notion that if Stilicho hadn’t been assassinated the Roman Empire would likely have survived. I have since reformed my thinking (though if he actually had killed Honorius and been successful in placing himself or his son on the throne the possibilities remain interesting to think about).

3 This is in Jerome’s letter 123.17, where he asks Ageruchia, a wealthy widow, to not remarry. My version is from the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Second Series, Philip Schaff, ed., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson (2012) and says, “This humiliation [payment to Alaric’s Goths] has been brought upon her [Rome] not by the fault of her Emperors who are both most religious men, but by the crime of a half-barbarian traitor who with our money has armed our foes against us.” Unfortunately this does not have an accompanying Latin original (the Loeb editon of selected letters didn’t select this one). I’ve found myself increasingly wanting to check translations against the original and this is one of several Congress papers which sent me looking.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kalamazoo on the Blogs

Last year I saw relatively few bloggers posting about Kalamazoo. This year they’re all over the place. This page will be my attempt to provide a list of bloggers who have posted about the 2012 International Congress on Medieval Studies and who have described something about it, beyond simply, “I was there.” As I’m posting this just three days after Congress I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ll be adding more links. Also, if I link to a blog post about Kalamazoo and that blogger adds additional posts, I won’t add all of their links (I don’t think – if I change my mind this sentence will disappear). If you know of a blogger posting about K’zoo and I haven’t included it here, feel free to either e-mail me or post a comment. The same goes if I’ve posted a link to your blog and you’d prefer I remove it. made their initial K’zoo post here and mention there may be more. I wonder if they’ll describe how they were featured at the Pseudo Society Session?

At Modern Medieval Matthew Gabriele provides his contribution to a BABEL Panel, “Against the 19th Century: A Mini-Manifesto.”

Notorious PhD posted about a strange encounter she had at this year’s Congress. I think I may throw a post in sometime about how I approach Medievalists with suggestions.

JJ Cohen discusses his Kalamazoo experience on the group blog, In the Middle. Because this is a group blog I will try to provide a link to a K’zoo post from each individual blog author as they appear.

On Grateful to the Dead, Chris Armstrong posted his Congress Paper, “C S Lewis: The classical and medieval resonances of his moral teachings.”

Historian on the Edge posted his paper from a BABEL Session (I really need to get to these), “History and Commitment: A Miniature Manifesto.”

Steve Muhlberger posted a couple of links from BABEL Session papers, including the one from H.O.T.E.

Jonathan Hsy guest posted about Kalamazoo on In the Middle.

From a new blog, for me, Bachanal in the Library discussed his first Kalamazoo experience.

Michelle Ziegler of Heavenfield and Contagions provides a summary of her Kalamazoo experience.

Jonathan Hsy just shared a post from James Smith of Australia where he talks about his Kalamazoo experience on his blog, Fluid Imaginings.

I hardly ever come across LiveJournal Blogs for some reason, I really don’t know why, but here’s what looks to be the final Kalamazoo Post from The Rose Garden. Heather Rose Jones was live blogging from Kalamazoo – I mean posting about sessions pretty much as they happened. And she has a bunch of ’em. I’m in awe.

Charlie Rozier at Rozier Historian offers a few Kalamazoo observations.

Jonathan Hsy also shared a post by Anne from Medieval Meets World. This post is less about the events of Congress than its spirit. It’s a different way of looking at Kalamazoo, at least for me.

In the Middle’s Eileen Joy authored a lengthy post in which she provides a summary of the Exemplaria Roundtable (Session 12) as well as her perspective on some issues related to Medieval Studies as a discipline and as a profession.

Jim Tigwell, another individual whose blog was previously unknown to me, posted some of his thoughts.

Megan Arnott from The Society for the Public Understanding of the Middle Ages posted a summary of their Kalamazoo session.

MEARCSTAPA, the Medieval Monster Group, (I’m not gonna try to type that out) posted a quick summary of their two sessions.


Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Conferences, Other Blogs


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kalamazoo 2012 – Day One; The Arrival, Accommodations and Other Miscellany

Folks will be getting sick of me posting about Kalamazoo, if they aren’t already, and this one will have almost no educational content. However I want to get this out while it’s fresh on my mind, particularly since there were some significant changes which I think reflect favorably Lisa Carnell and the Congress organizers. Lisa is flat-out awesome. I’m annually impressed with what she puts together. In some ways this post follows the format of Jonathan Jarrett’s recollection of his first Kalamazoo experience.

I had some trouble getting away from home, which led to minor troubles once I arrived. Literally half an hour before I’d planned to depart I received a call about a major snafu regarding a program I’m hosting this week. I won’t go into details but basically the site where I was bringing a hundred or so attendees, several pieces of equipment and several speakers to was no longer available. The host site had a very good reason for this and there’s no blame here but I had to find an alternate site and notify speakers and attendees. This helped me to forget several items, among those being my Kalamazoo Program Book, which is essential. I realized this was absent literally on arrival. There’s a simple fix – buy a new one – but I also had to go through it and re-mark which sessions I was planning to attend. And somehow I managed to forget deodorant. This may not have mattered much to me but I’m fairly certain it would have to those around me. Luckily I have wheels so at about 10:00 I found a grocery store open (the first I came to had already closed which began to concern me) and took care of that issue. I also had thought I might pop by a winery to help ADM a bit with the Blogger Meetup but this didn’t happen either. In essence, I had a bit more stress on leaving, left later than I’d wanted to, brought work with me, contrary to my plans, and was without a few items, though I did remember my soap dish.

Shortly after getting to my room and on discovering that I could not give myself a deodorant “booster shot” (do people really want to read this? how mundane some aspects of us as a species are) I decided my attitude needed some help and I went down to the wine hour sponsored by Witan Publishing and Scott Nokes. There I had my first of several Cullen Chandler encounters and I enjoyed briefly chatting with him. I had initially thought I’d run into town Thursday morning but instead I ran up to my room and did an inventory; toothbrush-check, razor-check, shampoo-check, etc. On finding that deodorant was indeed the only personal hygiene item I was lacking, I made my town run (don’t worry, I’d had just one of those little plastic cups of wine so I think I was safe). On returning I filled in my shiny new program book with sessions to attend the following day and made my bed, thus ending day one. Now on to some accommodations/amenities details.

The food has improved. The dining hall meals were as I remembered them, however the snack bar in Schneider was open through the week where in the past it was only open Thursday. This is a major improvement. The food there isn’t exactly good – you grab a sandwich which has been pre-made and sealed in plastic – however it is a way of consuming calories without having to run off if you happen to have your last morning and first afternoon session in Schneider, as I did on Saturday. Bernhard has a complete food court with multiple options (long lines but you have two hours for lunch).

The provided soap was brand-name. I always bring my own soap as I have literally dozens of little bars of the stuff at home from hotel stays and might as well use it up – same for shampoo(I actually like the stuff Sheraton provides, maybe I’m weird) – but I was impressed by this anyway. My bed/mattress was the best I’ve ever had there. They had bolted plywood to the bedframe to eliminate the pesky sagging issue and I actually had a real mattress, not one of those thin foam things. I also had two beds which always helps as a location to put books.

Wireless Internet access is now available in most of the dorm rooms. There were only a couple of dorms without and happily mine received it. I have a feeling as I read other reports that this will be HUGE. Of course there was the inevitable letdown when I returned home to 3G access through my aircard but it’s not Kalamazoo’s fault that I live in Siberia/rural Central Indiana. The same held true for the exhibit area. Most used digital credit card readers. I only had a couple of mechanical card swipes.

Now a word of caution. Among the items I forgot was my leg weights. Since my hip replacement I have some exercises I do and even 5 months post-op, doing these absolutely makes a difference. If I ever forget them again for four days and have wheels I’m finding a sporting goods store; for some reason I didn’t think of this until I was driving home. I walked to sessions Thursday and realized this was about all I wanted to put the hip through once I’d come back from Bernhard to a late afternoon Valley Session. However I didn’t want to drive for some reason. I soon found that the shuttle service is fine to get to things first thing in the morning, and fine for the two-hour lunch break, but on Friday I tried to use it to get from Bernhard to Schneider in the half hour between the two afternoon sessions (my hip was speaking to me rather loudly at the time) and ended up walking in late to that session (where the speaker I really wanted to hear was not in attendance, more on absent speakers later). I hate walking in late. It’s rude and disrespectful and shows a lack of concern for the others in the room. Sometimes this is unavoidable. For instance, a speaker may end up talking to several folks following their session and just not be able to make it. I had no such excuse though the young lady whose talk I walked in on accepted my apology graciously. In any case, that was the last time I used the shuttle for the half hour between sessions. This is likely more my fault than theirs and I don’t want to come across as blaming anyone for it but offer this for future reference as to what the shuttle can and can’t do. I ended up making at least one “half trip” (usually back to Valley) each day. It was OK and there was never any risk of any injury/harm, it was just uncomfortable, particularly when I had to set a decent pace.

So the accommodations were improved (my camping with walls reference may no longer be applicable), as were the meal options. The wine and free coffee service continue to be good; I only availed myself of the coffee Saturday morning following my ill-advised pizza and beer dinner when I had no interest in breakfast.

I’ll follow with posts on sessions and what I did Thurs-Sun in the coming weeks. If I recall anything to add regarding facilities/accommodations/amenities I’ll insert those but I think this is most of it. Lisa Carnell and the Conference Committee deserve a lot of credit for continuing to work to improve Congress. I was pleasantly surprised by a number of things.


Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Conferences


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Brief Kalamazoo 2012 Thoughts

I don’t have a lot of gas left in the tank but I suppose I have enough for a few brief thoughts.

First, going back to my book-buying planSUCCESS!!! I bought 39 books this year. For me, this is sanity. And of those, 21 had been on my wishlist and most of the others were fairly inexpensive. I mean, $5 Penguins? Not gonna pass that up. I also now own a book from Brill so that’s another milestone reached. Their display copies were 50% off. I just wish they’d brought their Transformations of Late Antiquity (or whatever that’s precisely called) collection. Of course then my total wouldn’t have been in the 30’s. I’m not gonna bother with a picture since it doesn’t come close to last year’s. I also only bought one Carolingian book so I was mostly successful there, but there was a copy of Dumbarton Oaks Charlemagne’s Survey of the Holy Land by Michael McCormick, trans & ed., which was priced to where I decided not to pass it up.

Of course such discipline on my part deserves a reward doesn’t it? So I just ordered the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2 14-volume set. No, this was NOT a Kalamazoo purchase so my total of books bought is NOT actually 53. No, really. 1

Note to self: Buy new bookcase.

I had a much better time at Kalamazoo this year than last. Unlike last year I was able to be a social person, chat with folks, grab some drinks occasionally and even eat pizza with grad students. Being a recluse may have been fine for some fifth century folks in the desert but it’s not for me. But I still didn’t go to the dance.

I went to some really good sessions this year. I have a list of sources to look through(or for) to check some things out that people were talking about. I’ll fill everyone in when I do my reports. I’m not positive how I’ll do those. At the moment, I think I’m going to mostly do the daily reports but there were some really good sessions which I may feature in standalone posts, so it’ll be somewhere between what I did last year and for 2010.

Appreciated seeing everyone this year, even those I only saw once or twice. Every year there are people I seem to run into all the time, seemingly at random. This year the two were Larry Swain (though we didn’t get to spend much time together, we just kept walking past each other) and Cullen Chandler, with an option on Steve Muhlberger. Then there are folks I was told were there who I never saw. And then there’s Michelle Ziegler who I saw at three sessions I was in and the most we communicated was with a wave – Michelle, I promise I wasn’t ignoring you.

More on Kalamazoo to follow – likely more than anyone wants to read. Right now I have books to shelve.

1 If you want to see what I picked up, go to my Library Thing Page and select the tag, ICMS 2012.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Books, Conferences


Tags: , , , ,

Kalamazoo Friday/Saturday Update

I just finished grabbing my books from the exhibit area and have a few minutes to kill before heading to dinner and then the Pseudo Session. Speaking of dinner I was reminded last night (actually the reminder came this morning) that I’m closing in on 50, recently received a new hip and my metabolism isn’t what it used to be.

I was coming back from the Digital Poster Session at 8 or so last night and as I’m about to enter the dorm I hear three grad students saying that they hadn’t gotten to Bilbo’s and they’d heard that was a must. Now I wasn’t about to take them there because, while I like grad students there’s a difference between that and wanting to cart three I don’t know all over Kalamazoo. Besides, I figured there would be no way of getting a table Friday night anyway. But I hadn’t eaten and I offered to split a pizza with them (of course they still haven’t been to Bilbo’s). All this was fine but I’ve spent the better part of the day feeling like my system was out of whack. Pumping that much salt, topped with beer, into my system had me drinking water non-stop all day and not eating a whole lot. Things are right with the world again but I think a salad’s going to be my main course tonight.

I had a chance to chat with The Cranky Professor(TCP) and ADM again today. ADM was getting work done but I had a lot of fun swapping stories with TCP. I’m always interested in how folks from different educational fields do their job because I can always learn something.

Beyond that, while it’s been raining lightly a bit today, the weather’s been excellent overall. If I’m not too tired when I get home, I’ll likely post tomorrow once I catalog the book haul.


Posted by on May 12, 2012 in Conferences


Tags: , , , ,

Kalamazoo Thursday Update

Skipping an evening session because I need SLEEP! I’m one of those people who never sleeps well my first night in a strange place. I’ll be making up for it tonight.

Ran into a bunch of people today. I think my intentional no advance social planning strategy is working. I’ll talk more about that when I give my reports later.

The main reason for this post is so I can at least mention everyone who was at this evening’s Blogger Meetup. Again, this is just a roll call for now because I’m afraid I’ll forget someone if I wait a week or two. Present were, Another Damned Medievalist or ADM who organized the event. Also present were Vaulting and Vellum. One day I really must learn which of the two is the linguist and which is the art historian. Steve Muhlberger attended and, briefly, so did Larry Swain.

These were all folks I’d met before. However I enjoyed meeting some new people. I had never met Dame Eleanor Hull. And The Cranky Professor was friggin’ hilarious – I may have to start following his blog. Also present was Sapiens, whose blog I’m not finding else I’d link to it (it was Sapiens wasn’t it?). Good food, good drink, good people, good time. I’ll have a bit more post-K’zoo.

Other than that, I went to sessions, bought some books (running count is 24 so far but we’ll see where it ends up) and didn’t leave as early as I wanted Wednesday but what else is new? On to bed – hopefully tomorrow at this time I’ll be able to keep my eyes open.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Conferences, Other Blogs


Tags: , , ,

Random Pre-Kalamazoo Thoughts

I had hoped to put up a followup post on Symmachus before heading to Kalamazoo but while I’m about 750 words into one, I don’t think I’m going to finish it by the time I leave.

Last week I posted about the Statues of Late Antiquity Project, even though the database wasn’t yet active. It is now and it’s SWEET! I haven’t messed with it a ton but the search options seem to work fairly well. Since I’ve been reading on him I did a search using the terms “Symmachus” and “Rome” and came up with 10 results. Now only one of those was for Q. Aurelius but I was pretty happy with it anyway.

I’ve underplanned for Kalamazoo I’m afraid but I’ll get that figured out. Last year I had a feeling going in that I’d pretty much go to sessions, buy books and be an antisocial SOB the rest of the time because of a project I was working on at the time that had gained some urgency right then. Not so this year. I’m planning to take absolutely no work from my real job with me. However I’ve made zero social plans.

Speaking of books, I am hoping for a return to sanity this year. For me, sanity means that my book haul will be in the 30’s, not in the 60’s like it was last year and the year before.

How might I do this? you may ask. Or maybe you may not, but I have been. Right now, 24 hours before leaving, my thoughts are that I will buy nothing on the Carolingians. There are two reasons for this. First, at this moment I have 24 books on the Carolingians on my to-read shelf (one of them anyway). That is sufficient. Second, my reading up on early Christianity is taking a while. I shouldn’t be surprised by this as I had 37 books to go through when I started and have bought more but I was going to start from the late 4th/early 5th centuries and work backwards right to reading the New Testament. Er, I’m still in the late 4th century, working on a new micro-periodization which seems to exist between Julian and the death of Theodosius, or roughly 360-395. I still have Evagrius Ponticus, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and others to read. This will take a while. I won’t be working my way forward to the Carolingians for quite some time. Last year I bought 33 Carolingian Books at Kalamazoo. Cutting these out of my menu will help a LOT.

I’ve tried one other strategy. In past years, knowing I would be buying tons of books at Kalamazoo, I imposed a book buying moratorium on myself starting from when I registered in early February. I’ve come to wonder if the result has been the same as for any other addiction/obsession where I overindulge once I proverbially “fall off the wagon” – and in a veritable den of sin, at least when it comes to the availability of books. There was no moratorium this year. If I came across something I really wanted, I bought it (within reason – I still have nothing published by Brill or any volumes of the PLRE). We’ll see how that works.

Hopefully I’ll see some of you there. As of now I’m leaning toward no prior social planning on my part. I haven’t done that in several years but I remember the first few years I attended when I’d hang around at wine events, drinking crummy wine (it’s improved – I now consider it mediocre which, considering it’s poured from gallon jugs, ain’t bad) and frequently a conversation with someone turned into, “A bunch of us are going to _____ later, why don’t you join us?” I’m yearning for those aforementioned free-spirited days.


Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Books, Conferences, Resources


Tags: , , , , , ,

The Danger of Historical Models

I received my first issue of The Journal of Early Christian Studies a month or so ago. I can already see that this will be an interesting and enlightening publication. The $50 I paid to join an organization I’m not qualified to intellectually contribute to and receive a journal I have free electronic access to may seem foolish but I think it will easily be worth it. The other really cool thing? (self-back-patting tangent to follow) Ten years ago, maybe even five, I wouldn’t have understood what the article authors were talking about and today I find the topics very interesting. Maybe I am actually learning something. Oh frabjous day! (love that poem, whatever it’s supposed to mean)

I’ve previously mentioned my dissatisfaction with historians (IMO) wrongly trying to fit historical events into a favorite model. We all(I’m going outside history here – this applies to all disciplines) have our pet theories about various things but just because we find a model valid and useful, it doesn’t have to be universal and there’s no need to try to shoehorn items which don’t fit into it. A few outliers does not invalidate a model or theory. Most importantly, evidence should be looked at and evaluated on its own terms, without contamination from other evidence, models or, as much as possible, our own preconceptions (this last is the hardest for me).

Ann Marie Yasin includes an article, “Reassessing Salona’s Churches: Martyrium Evolution in Question” which calls into question, not the model itself (not completely anyway – see below) but the propensity of historians to assign an evolutionary process to a model, even when the evidence doesn’t support it. In this case, the model is the development of churches centered around the tomb of a saint or martyr. “The accepted model for the birth of Christian sacred architecture traces a line of evolution marked by successive stages of increasing monumentality: martyr’s tombs were transformed from ‘ordinary’ graves to small shrines, and then from modest cult centers to focal points of large, communal basilicas.”(63) While the specifics, including the number of intermediate steps, will vary, in essence this model states that what was once a martyr’s or saint’s tomb becomes a church with the tomb as a centerpiece.

In this article Yasin chooses to focus on three archaeological case studies from Salona, in what once was Dalmatia. Salona is useful for this purpose as, “… more recent scholarship regularly treats Salona’s burial churches as ‘textbook’ cases of martyrium development and deploys them as models with which to reconstruct the architectural developments at other sites.”(62) Salona has a fairly large number of churches housing relics, with substantial remains available for archaeological examination.

Three sites are chosen for closer examination; Kapljuč, Marusinac and Manastrine. Significant problems exist with each of these in reconciling the archaeological evidence with the martyrium evolution model. I will examine Yasin’s argument for each of these. 1

For Kapljuč, considered a focal site for the cult of St. Asterius, in essence there is no evidence that the basilica was built after the tomb – the tomb could as easily have been added after the structure was completed. In fact, the tomb may not initially have been a tomb at all. Yasin says, “Given the current state of the evidence, it is just as possible, or perhaps even more likely, that the pit was not a tomb that pre-dated the church but a reliquary deposit constructed at the time of the building’s foundation, or even added later.”(81-2) While there is evidence that Asterius was venerated at the site, the inscription stating this was added after the church was built and there is nothing to indicate that his remains were ever contained within the church.(85-6) Yasin does not disqualify the possibility that Kapljuč may have contained the remains of one or more saints, simply that there is not enough evidence either way and that applying the martyrium model, as has consistently been done, is,”… because they enable the site to mesh comfortably with, and in turn persuasively reinforce, the evolutionary structure of the conventional model for cult expansion.”(89)

Marusinac is an interesting case where historically, hagiography has been used as the authoritative source for the development of the site, rather than relying on archaeological evidence. Based on a later (possibly tenth-century) text, the area was originally the rural dwelling of a wealthy family which included a cemetery. According to the text, Asclepia, a wealthy member of the family, interred the remains of Anastasius (martyred under Diocletian at the start of the fourth century) and was later buried nearby with her husband. The martyr’s tomb inspired the development of a cemetery area around it and later his remains were translated to a church built on the site. Unfortunately, archaeology does not support this, according to Yasin, “The reading [hagiographic tradition] does not grow out of the material remains uncovered at the site so much as form the framework into which the archaeological evidence has been inserted. This triumphant, evolutionary narrative of cultic and architectural monumentalization thus prescribes rather than describes (my emphasis) the evidence …”(94). There is considerably more evidence for this site which Yasin discusses but the above is the essence of it; archaeologically, there is no basis for considering Marusinac to be a Church built due to the presence of a martyr’s relics. Instead hagiographical tradition has been used to provide a framework of development which fits with the martyrium evolutionary model. As with Kapljuč, there is not enough evidence to say with certainty that Marusinac’s development didn’t follow this model, however there isn’t enough to state that it did either.

The site of Manastrine is different from the above two because not only is there not enough evidence to support the traditional model, in this case evidence exists which contradicts it. This is the site of a large, three-aisled basilica which according to tradition was built in the mid-fifth century over the tomb of Domnio, martyred under Diocletian. Recent excavations have revealed that the portion of the basilica built over what was considered the martyr’s tomb was not the first portion constructed. Instead, the earliest built portions housed the tombs of a line of Salona’s bishops. It is possible that these tombs were constructed in some relation to the (supposed) tomb of Domnio, however this relationship is not obvious and even if this were so, one would expect the section over Domnio’s tomb to have been built first. Based on the date of construction of sections of the basilica, as well as the relative lack of emphasis placed on the (supposed) martyr’s tomb, there is no evidence for the traditional martyrium model (this does not, strictly speaking, eliminate the possibility). The construction seems to indicate that its focus was to celebrate the bishops rather than to highlight the single tomb of a martyr.(107-11)

Where this article appealed to me is that it is an example of how important it is to examine evidence independently, without preconceptions, and to not allow other, unrelated evidence to influence findings and conclusions. 2 Yasin does not specifically deconstruct the entire model, however she does infer that it is possible that with enough additional site examination, the model may be invalidated. At this point she says, “Moreover, not only does the conventional model for martyrium evolution provide an overly confident and homogenous picture of cult development, it also narrows the range of inquiry to a single trajectory. Because the model cannot account for anomalous aspects of the sites, it steers investigation away from them.“(111)(my emphasis) She believes more sites need to be examined critically without relying on this model, either to deconstruct it if necessary, or at the very least to update it and account for sites which don’t fit. 3

NOTE: OK, I’m embarrassed. I just did a search of Bill Caraher’s Blog to get the link for his review/summary of Yasin(2009) to include in note 3 and came across his discussion of this very article. So I suggest you read it and, where he and I disagree, if we do – as I’ve just spent three hours putting this post together I’ve obstinately decided not to edit mine but to post it and THEN read his – you should probably go with him. In my defense, I did mention that I was behind on reading blogs.

1 I’ll apologize for the length here rather than in the text. Initially I was only going to look at Yasin’s argument for one of the sites but this will allow me to expand on and summarize my notes. This very well may be more useful to me than readers but one of the functions of this blog is to include information I’ve come across so I can come back to it later.

2 Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2006). ISBN: 9-780199-212965. was the first to show me that regional development must be examined independent of other regions and without preconceptions. Guy Halsall took this one step further for me in Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2007). ISBN: 978-0-521-43543-7. He provided a statement I haven’t forgotten related to possible Barbarian settlement in Roman regions, “The archaeological data permit no association of these graves with trans-Rhenen settlers. Without assumptions based on the simplistic use of written sources no archaeologist would assume these were the graves of immigrants.”(159) Every now and then I read something which wakes me up, almost like a slap in the face. Halsall’s statement did this regarding the need to evaluate evidence on its own merits first before turning to other evidence be it textual or, as with this article, a preconstructed model. These made it on my most influential books list for those reasons.

3 If you want to go into more depth on sacred space-making two books I’d suggest are Yasin’s Saints and Church Spaces in the Late Antique Mediterranean: Architecture, Cult, and Community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2009). ISBN: 9780521767835. This was reviewed/summarized by Bill Caraher a little while back. The other is Kim Bowes, Private Worship, Public Values, and Religious Change in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2008). ISBN: 978-0-521-88593-5. For a review of this one, I’m going to recommend me. (No, I’m not at all pretentious!)

Yasin, Ann Marie, “Reassessing Salona’s Churches: Martyrium Evolution in Question,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20(2012), pp 59-112.


Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Archaeology, Hagiography, Religion


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,