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Kalamazoo Registration is up!

The online registration for the International Congress on Medieval Studies is up. This year’s Congress will be May 12-15 Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And at this time I have no idea if I’ll be attending.

Registration Link

Congress Program Link

If you’d like to read what I’ve had to say about it, take a look at my Kalamazoo page. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything from last year posted. One more example of my recent failure as a blogger.


Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


A Quick, Sad Note

Just a quick post to note the unfortunate passing of LSU Medievalist Lisi Oliver. She was killed on June 7 when she was struck by a vehicle while walking her broken-down bicycle along the side of a road.

A while back I made a couple of posts summarizing some of what I found interesting from her book, The Body Legal in Barbarian Law. I also attended a Kalamazoo session she gave a paper (excellent – entertaining and witty) for on Saturday, May 16. After the session was over, I spoke with her and mentioned that her book was an absolute gold mine for someone writing a Medieval blog intended for general audiences. I gave her the address and was hoping she’d have the chance to read those posts and offer a comment or two.

Sad news.

Oliver, Lisi, The Body Legal in Barbarian Law. Toronto: University of Toronto Press (2011). ISBN: 978-0-8020-9706-4.


Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Uncategorized



Thursday Kalamazoo Update

A very short post while I wait the 30 minutes until the book exhibit opens. Gorgeous day yesterday, contrasted with today’s rain (a gentle rain though and it isn’t snow). Attended one good, one very good and one somewhat “meh” session yesterday.

Blogger meet-up update. Present were, for various portions of it, ADM, Dr. Notorious,Jonathan Jarrett, Steve Muhlberger and half of Vaulting and Vellum (I still do not know which one is Vaulting and which is Vellum). Several bloggers who I know are here did not make it, unless they showed up after I left.

As for the books, so far I’ve bought 13. Then again, I’ve only visited 5 out of about 70 booths. I did pick publishers I tend to buy a lot from – Ashgate, Oxford, Cambridge, Boydell, and Scholar’s Choice. If I get Loome, Powell’s and David Brown taken care of this morning I’ll likely have most of the damage done. We’ll see if it adds up to less than 20. I’d say the odds are roughly even at the moment.

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Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


Tertullian VIII: Repentance and Penance

Initially this was going to be part of the very complex post I mentioned recently however I decided I could split it up and make it more readable.

One of Tertullian’s shorter treatises is On Repentance(de paenitentia). In contrast with much of his other material, where he seems to be writing to convince someone of something, this is more expository. He seems to be explaining something which is generally accepted practice within the Church. Still, as he’s the first Christian author I’ve seen address this in this sort of detail, I wanted to mention what he has to say as I think it represents an evolution in the development of these concepts.

Now you don’t need to be particularly knowledgeable about Christianity, or have read a pile of source material, to understand that from its earliest days the Church was concerned with sin. The concept of receiving a single baptism for the remission of sins goes back to Paul; it’s unclear just what sort of baptism he received but he was baptized. But what happens when you sin after baptism? You’ve already received the giant forgiveness promised you, suppose you screw up later? The very early Church accepts this as a possibility. As early as The Didache Confession is mentioned, though it appears to have been a public confession told to the entire group. 1

Tertullian discusses Confession however in this treatise he adds a couple of new twists, or maybe a twist and a half. Repentance; the sinner being truly sorry for his sins, has at least been strongly implied as being necessary for the Confession to be acceptable to God. I just don’t recall anyone stating this as baldly and in as much detail as Tertullian. He terms this a second repentance and applies conditions; a second repentance is possible, but is a third? Tertullian says not. He believes that repeatedly engaging in the same sinful behavior implies a lack of repentance and that this repeated sinning will not be forgiven:

“It is irksome to append mention of a second — nay, in that case, the last — hope; lest, by treating of a remedial repenting yet in reserve, we seem to be pointing to a yet further space for sinning. Far be it that any one so interpret our meaning, as if, because there is an opening for repenting, there were even now, on that account, an opening for sinning; and as if the redundance of celestial clemency constituted a licence for human temerity. Let no one be less good because God is more so, by repeating his sin as often as he is forgiven. Otherwise be sure he will find an end of escaping, when he shall not find one of sinning. We have escaped once: thus far and no farther let us commit ourselves to perils, even if we seem likely to escape a second time.” On Repentance, VII (italics from the ANF text)

What is new with Tertullian is the idea that the Christian must somehow demonstrate his or her repentance, through some sort of penitential act. He or she must accept a ritual humiliation, before God and his or her brethren, in order for this second repentance to be accepted.

“The narrower, then, the sphere of action of this second and only (remaining) repentance, the more laborious is its probation; in order that it may not be exhibited in the conscience alone, but may likewise be carried out in some (external) act. This act, which is more usually expressed and commonly spoken of under a Greek name, is ἐξομολόγησις, whereby we confess our sins to the Lord, not indeed as if He were ignorant of them, but inasmuch as by confession satisfaction is settled, of confession repentance is born; by repentance God is appeased. And thus exomologesis is a discipline for man’s prostration and humiliation, enjoining a demeanor calculated to move mercy. With regard also to the very dress and food, it commands (the penitent) to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body in mourning, to lay his spirit low in sorrows, to exchange for severe treatment the sins which he has committed; moreover, to know no food and drink but such as is plain, — not for the stomach’s sake, to wit, but the soul’s; for the most part, however, to feed prayers on fastings, to groan, to weep and make outcries unto the Lord your God; to bow before the feet of the presbyters, and kneel to God’s dear ones; to enjoin on all the brethren to be ambassadors to bear his deprecatory supplication (before God).” On Repentance, IX

As Tertullian doesn’t go into the type of detail for this topic as he does with many others, my sense is that he is describing accepted practice rather than introducing an innovation, though I can’t be certain of this. As I have not read of this practice of physical penitence before (I always want to caution people that as much of this material as I’ve read over the past couple of years, it’s very possible that I missed earlier mentions) I think it’s an interesting evolutionary “marker.” At least in Carthage in the middle of the Third Century, Confession was still offered to the community, not to a designated individual, and in order for post-baptismal sin to be acceptable, penitential acts must be publicly performed. Many of these acts; sackcloth and ashes, wailing for forgiveness, and dietary restrictions were used for penance until very recently (and I suspect still are used in some sects).

I’m also sorry I didn’t review On Repentance before my post on Baptism. In Chapter VI he has stronger statements than I used in that post on the necessity of delaying baptism until the individual is truly ready to receive it.

1 The Didache, IV and particularly XIV, “On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure.” You can also look at 1 John, I.9 and James, IV.16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” Basically, these three texts which first officially mention confession were probably all written around the end of the first century. 1 John is less explicit that this means a confession to others rather than to God however from the context (a discussion of Christian fellowship) it appears to me that this is the case.

Coogan, Michael D., ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition With the Apocrypha. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2010). ISBN:9-780-195-28955-8.

Kleist, James A., trans., The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Epistles and the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, The Fragments of Papias, The Epistle to Diognetus, Ancient Christian Writers Number 6. New York: Newman Press (1948). ISBN:0-8091-0247-1.

Osborn, Eric, Tertullian, First Theologian of the West. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1997). ISBN: 978-0-521-52495-7.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-083-1.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (entire), Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004). ISBN: 1-56563-084-X.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 3: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian: I. Apologetic; II. Anti-Marcion; III. Ethical. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 4: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Part Fourth: Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2004), ISBN: 1-56563-086-6.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 3: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, Rufinus: Historical Writings, etc. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Volume 6: The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012), ISBN(for series): 978-1-56563-116-8.

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Posted by on January 18, 2014 in Uncategorized


I Could Never Give a History Paper

I’ve attended enough Medieval Conferences by now, mostly Kalamazoo but occasionally others, to recognize that papers given at these conferences are very different from those I deliver. In fact, what I do would not be considered giving a paper at all but making a presentation.

I’m a pretty decent presenter. When I know my topic I can get on a roll. I use a lot of humor, usually try to throw up some entertaining images and try to keep people engaged. Bill Caraher posted some advice on giving papers which shows me how very far off base I would be and why I have always, when asked (yes, it has happened) if I’d be interested in giving a paper at Kalamazoo, I have said no. My explanation has traditionally been that this is vacation for me and that sounds like work and while that’s a bit of it, of equal or greater importance is due to my knowing that my paper wouldn’t be very good.

Part of this is that for the most part when I present, I’m not delivering an argument to a group of my peers but providing information to people who are less knowledgeable about something. Occasionally this will include detailed concepts, for example in discussing guidelines for developing emergency management capacity within a community to care for animals during a disaster (math combined with a hazard analysis here), but keeping it entertaining, not entertaining through argument, is one of my goals. I’ll echo one statement of his as it’s a peeve of mine. I don’t care what the purpose of your presentation/paper is; NEVER read from your powerpoint. If you’re going to do that you might as well just give each of us a copy and save everyone some time.


Yes, it’s true – I use this image when I give talks about the value of planning (more specifically about what can happen when you fail to plan).

I’ve gotten decent at evaluating the historical arguments of others when I make sure I pay close attention. But constructing an argument myself? I am not trained in doing that and wouldn’t dream of trying to present one to a group of trained historians. I’ll stick to trying to figure out what others are saying and now and then explain why I think an aspect of history is interesting, fun and exciting. That much I can handle.

My apologies for my recent lack of activity. Another period of being absolutely swamped. I have another ten days or so of the same and then it looks as if I’ll have a bit more time.


Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


Radiation, History, and Human Misery

I need to offer two apologies. First is for not posting more often. Every year around mid-June I seem to get very busy which cuts down on my blogging. For some reason I thought that might not happen this year but it has (definition of insanity here?). At the very least I’ll be quite busy through a conference in Charleston I’m returning from on July 20 and I imagine for at least a few weeks after that. My second apology is that I’m about to put up what may be one of the most pointless posts I’ve ever written. But I want to get something out which I could put together quickly, even though a chunk of it relates to my real job.

I recently received the conference proceedings for the “International Science Symposium on Combating Radionuclide Contamination in Agro-Soil Environment.” Yes, this is the kind of stuff I read for my real job. A friend of mine from USDA who I work with on a national radiological project attended (March 8-10 in Koriyama Japan) and sent the proceedings to me. This is absolutely fascinating stuff (this term will be repeated later). We have the world’s largest outdoor laboratory to assess the agricultural and environmental impacts of a large-scale radiological incident. The amount we’re going to learn from this, lessons we can apply in case of another incident, will be tremendous.

The proceedings, which include discussions of topics such as; the efficacy of recovery techniques such as potassium or phosphate fertilizer applications, feeding Prussian Blue to livestock; which crops are susceptible and resistant to radionuclide soil uptake; lessons learned from Chernobyl and their application to Japan, etc., is riveting. Seriously. And I’m just getting started reading it.

So I’m reading the first presentation and the thought literally crosses my mind, “This is absolutely fascinating.”

Full. Stop.

This is a real tragedy, with a massive Human cost. The death toll will likely approach 20,000. The economic losses will be in the hundreds of billions and won’t be able to be accurately assessed for decades. Displaced families, cultural damage and loss – I suppose I could throw in a hundred terms about what Japan and its citizens have suffered and continue to suffer. And I find it fascinating? I was more than a little appalled at my response.

I can’t help it. As I continue to read, it continues to be fascinating. Intellectually I know there have been massive losses and suffering. I can’t say I’ve never been exposed to this as I’ve assisted with disaster response before though for nothing approaching this scale. However for the most part my interest in the subject matter trumps my recognition of the devastation. And then I started thinking about history.

I find it fascinating too. Never mind that so much of it is about Human suffering. The end of the Roman Empire, the period in which I’m most interested, resulted in (I’m certain, despite some recent books seeking to minimize this) major societal upheaval, loss, death, lack of security, and so on. During the later Roman Empire the mere existence of the institution of slavery meant that for many people their entire lives consisted of a pitiful existence. Among the areas I find most interesting are heresy and its suppression and the Crusades. No suffering there, eh? (sarcasm mode)

But I don’t think of this, much. I know it went on though I can’t quantify it. I don’t give it all that much thought when I’m reading about the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent disaster (though it does encroach a bit more). I’m not a psychologist and can’t begin to explain it but I don’t think I’m alone in being able to read about and study Human events which were absolutely devastating for those involved where my foremost thought isn’t the Human impact but rather how interesting it is. I guess we wouldn’t want a world full of people walking around crying every time a tragic event crossed their minds. Even so, I find this troubling.

Don’t say you weren’t warned; I told you this post was pointless.


Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Uncategorized


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This is disturbing. Not that Oxford is going to be asking me to publish anything. What’s troubling is that I’ve seen terms which state that a press retains academic rights while still leaving the author with something. I like OUP books (among other things, for the most part they still have real genuine footnotes at the bottom of pages) and am going to have to figure out what this does for my purchasing habits. The kicker is, I’m not sure how different this is from what they already have – the terms I’ve received already stipulate press rights to publication in print and digital form but at least they leave you something, such as the ability to copy your own work to use in a class or program (this may still constitute fair use or do these terms specifically sign that away too?).


If you are reading this blog, this piece might be of interest. I heard about it via Steve Muhlberger. Given the extortionate prices of OUP’s books already — or extortionate compared to my salary, at least — this is especially outrageous. I love some of OUP’s textbooks. I really love the John Arnold Very Short Introduction to History. I’m less willing to use OUP, and now really have no wish to publish with them (not that it’s likely) if this is what they are up to. We get little enough direct remuneration for our scholarship — at the very least it seems fair to allow us to keep the rights to it, or at least to our own use of it.

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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Uncategorized