Haskins Conference 2015
Haskins Conference 2015

Haskins Conference 2015


New Research Forum

The first session of the Haskins is the New Research Forum, with presenters giving five-minute flash papers on research in progress before they and the attendees break out into groups in which questions and problems can be discussed in more depth. The three participants in this year’s Forum were Heather Wacha (University of Iowa), whose presentation “La Puissance du Choix: Women’s Economic Activity in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Picardy” presented questions about changes in women’s status (or lack thereof) documented in the records of the officialité of Laon; Hugh Thomas (University of Miami), on the planning and structure of his latest book project, “A Social and Cultural History of the Court of King John”; and Shane Bobrycki (Harvard), who sought feedback on how to grapple with the thorny issue of demographic decline in the early Middle Ages.

C. Warren Hollister Lecture

“The Place of Henry I in English Legal History”
John Hudson, St. Andrew’s University

Last minute problems prevented Professor Hudson from travelling to Minnesota, but Skype saved the day and so he was still able to present his keynote talk. This was one of those comprehensive, learned overviews of a subject that can only be delivered by someone who’s spent decades immersed in it. Hudson began by tracing the historiography on the topic from the 1870s, beginning with Stubbs and Maitland and their peers, right through to the 1970s. He discussed the main schools of thought on the significance—or lack thereof—of Henry I’s reign on the development of English law, before analysing the key areas (such as dispute resolution, landholding practices, and legal writing) under discussion. Whatever the specific legal developments of Henry I’s reign, Hudson concluded, Henry did have an acknowledged effect on the legal reforms undertaken by his grandson: Henry II, after all, referred to his grandfather as the “Lion of Justice.”

Session 2: Space and the Operations of Justice and Rule

The ruins of the medieval bishop's palace at Lincoln, with the cathedral in the background. [Source]
The ruins of the medieval bishop’s palace at Lincoln, with the cathedral in the background. [Source]

“As Saints See: Legal Spaces Defined through Visibility and Observance”
Adam Matthews, Columbia University

Adam Matthews’ paper attempted to tease out what happened when various different “legal spaces” bumped up against one another in medieval France. Matthews argued that saints had hinterlands in rural areas, often surrounding namesake monasteries, which they did not possess (or at least not in the same ways) in the more complex, multilayered spiritual landscapes of urban environments. When disputes arose, or agreements were to be made—particularly across spiritual “boundaries”—the circumstances required particular strategies in order for everything to be considered legal and for the saint to be satisfied.

“How Bishops Used Their Halls and Chambers in Later Thirteenth-Century England”
Michael Burger, Auburn University, Montgomery

This was a really interesting look at how documentary evidence—primarily charters—can be used to get a better sense of how space was used in episcopal residences in medieval England. (Such as Lincoln’s bishop’s palace, pictured left) Michael Burger examined acts and charters which referenced the architectural settings in which they were carried out—mostly in halls or chambers but in one or two instances in locations of more specificity, such as “in front of the bishop’s fireplace”—and argued that the distinction which has been made between public hall and private chamber has been over-stated. Medieval people had different understandings of intimacy and privacy than we do in the modern West, and he suggested that noting where an action took place was primarily a means of jogging the memory.

Session 3: Norman Sicily, North Africa, and the Mediterranean

“The Normans in Africa and Ifrīqiyā”
Matthew King, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

The first paper of this remarkably cohesive and complementary panel explored medieval understandings of Norman involvement in north Africa—specifically the brief period of two decades or so when the Normans, under Roger II of Sicily, exercised control over some city states in what is now Tunisia. Unsurprisingly, the Arabic sources never refer to Roger or to his son William as rulers of the region. However, some Latin-language Sicilian chronicles did make reference to the king of Sicily as also being rex Africe—not, surprisingly enough, a claim made by Roger II or his administration, but one made mostly with reference to William, under whose rule the city states were lost.

Coronation Mantle of Roger II, now at the Schatzkammer in Vienna. [Source]
The silk Coronation Mantle of Roger of Sicily, now at the Schatzkammer in Vienna. [Source]
“The Lion and the Camel: The Mantle of Roger I and Siculo-Norman Relations with the Islamicate Mediterranean”
Robin Reich, Columbia University

Robin Reich’s paper challenged traditional interpretations of the eponymous mantle (pictured right). This gorgeous silk cloak was used for many generations in the coronations of Holy Roman Emperors. Reich argued that its depiction of lions attacking camels was not a reference to the Norman conquest of Sicily as is traditionally thought, but as a sort of banner calling for the expansion of Norman control to Berber Ifrīqiyā. Part of her argument involved a reclassification of the cloak not as a hybridisation of European and Islamic styles and motifs, but as a representative of a distinctly new Mediterranean style.

“Were Sicily’s Norman Rulers Trying to Build a Mediterranean Empire?”
Sarah Davis-Secord, University of New Mexico

Sarah Davis-Secord undertook a close reading of the coins issued by Sicily’s Norman kings in an attempt to read their intentions for further territorial expansion. She saw in them a distinctively “Mediterranean” idiom that was being used to lay the groundwork for a future extension of their power—in this, tying in neatly with the previous paper’s reading of Siculo-Norman elite material culture. The coins drew on Byzantine imagery but maintained the same metallic standard as did coins issued in Cairo—the kings at Palermo, Davis-Secord argued, were therefore claiming equal status with both.

“North Africa and the End of Norman Sicily”
Timothy Smit, Eastern Kentucky University

Timothy Smit rounded out the presentation by looking at interactions between Muslims living in Sicily and their co-religionists living in North Africa towards the end of Norman rule on the island. By this time, Sicilian Muslims were mostly living in the Val di Mazara region on the western side of the island, a region relatively inaccessible to the Christian rulers in Palermo. Smit argued that the links which Muslims maintained with the North African city states was used to justify their suppression by the crown.


Session 4: Agency and Gender in the Early Medieval Frankish World

“Deviance, Violence, and Women in the Frankish World”
Martha Rampton, Pacific University

Martha Rampton looked at descriptions of women’s magic in the Merovingian and Carolingian periods, and argued that the texts increasingly depicted women’s reliance on magic as being ineffective. Where Merovingian women could achieve their required ends—reputedly—by resorting to magic and deviance, their Carolingian descendants could not. Rampton tied this decline in belief in magic’s efficacy to changing understandings of sacral matters.

Stuttgart Psalter. Württemburgische Landesbibliothek, Bibl. Fol. 23 , f. 73r
As it turns out, this is one of the less violent images in the Stuttgart Psalter. Württemburgische Landesbibliothek, Bibl. Fol. 23 , f. 73r

“Horror and Infidelity in the Stuttgart Psalter”
Matthew Gillis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

This talk centred on the Carolingian manuscript known as the Stuttgart Psalter (pictured left), a work which contains, illustrating the psalms, some images of startling violence. Matthew Gillis focused on the psalms’ power to disturb, to create a kind of devotional horror which heightened the pleasures of faith. The unfaithful were punished in gory ways that the faithful reader was encouraged to approve of, and Gillis also hinted at a connection between this and a possible dynastic audience for the text—perhaps these images of violence were used to validate imperialist desires?

“Women as Agents through the Creation of Textiles: A Comparative Approach”
Valerie Garver, Northern Illinois University

Valerie Garver’s paper explored how conventional items and activities, such as cloth and weaving, could be harnessed by elite women in order to give themselves agency. Her talk focused particularly on the so-called Balthild Tunic, a late seventh-century textile relic which is still preserved at Chelles and which is linked to the queen. Garver discussed the tunic in relation to medieval accounts of why the pious queen was divinely inspired to donate her jewellery to be used to decorate the tomb of St Eligius, and in light of clerical writings about Carolingian queens who were particularly described as being active in cloth production. Garver argued that women’s textile work was a way in which they could be held up as a moral exemplar.

Session 5: Women and Networks in the 12th and 13th Centuries

"Remains of Sibton Abbey, Suffolk" (1827) by Henry Davy. [Source]
“Remains of Sibton Abbey, Suffolk” (1827) by Henry Davy. [Source]
“Re-Analyzing Aristocratic Women’s Role in Shaping Social Networks in Twelfth-Century England”
Hanna Kilpi, University of Glasgow

Hanna Kilpi discussed the findings of her soon-to-be-defended doctoral dissertation. Her research focused on charters issued by lesser aristocratic women in medieval England women. It both overturns assumptions that there aren’t the sources that allow for this kind of work, and shows that married women and widows were active landholders. Moreover, Kilpi demonstrated—drawing on a set of charters concerning donations to Sibton Abbey (pictured right)—that women’s social networks were incredibly important in their own right and were not necessarily mere reflections of those maintained by their male kin. This is such a useful and important continuation of the work that’s been carried out by scholars like Amy Livingstone and Kimberly LoPrete.

“Spinning Stories of Murder, Saints, and Bad Queens: Laying Claim to the Danish Throne in the Mid-Thirteenth Century” Kerstin Hundahl, Lund University

Kerstin Hundahl’s paper took us to a part of the world about which I know little: thirteenth-century Denmark. She analysed a series of fresco images which were made to bolster the claims of one branch of the royal family to the throne in the aftermath of a civil war. The supposed regicide committed by the ironically named King Abel was used to nullify his descendants’ claims to the throne—a regicide which was depicted in some rather gory artwork (decapitation apparently being a theme of this year’s Haskins Conference) and which was particularly promulgated by queens.

Featured Speaker

“Blanche of Castile and the Culture of Death”
Lindy Grant, Reading University

The conference’s second keynote presentation was given by Professor Lindy Grant, and presaged her eagerly anticipated—and soon to be published—biography of Blanche of Castile. Grant used the death and commemoration of Blanche, and of her descendants, to explore practices associated with death in thirteenth-century France. Blanche’s heart was buried at Maubuisson and her heart at Le Lys, a divided burial which would become familial practice. In other tomb effigies, such as those of royal children at Poissy and Royaumont, Grant saw an affective sensibility at work which she argued Blanche had brought with her from her Spanish homeland. Blanche may not entirely have been a trend-setter or an innovator, but she was in some senses a populariser of certain elite funerary practices in France.

Session 6: When Stones Speak: Text and Tomb in the Norman World

Window at Étival-en-Charnie, showing the arms of the lords of Beaumont. [Source]
Window at Étival-en-Charnie, showing the arms of the lords of Beaumont. [Source]
“Beaumont Tombs of Étival Abbey and the Construction of a Family Identity”
Robert Marcoux, University of Laval

The viscounts of Beaumont were the founders of the Cistercian abbey of Étival-en-Charnie in the Sarthe, and the abbey’s church became their necropolis. Robert Marcoux’s paper delved into the thorny issue of the dating of these tombs, and how they were used to portray familial, political, and social identities. Marcoux argued that the incorporation of motifs like the fleur-de-lis on the tombs were an attempt to signal fealty to Philippe II Auguste—but that their small scale was an attempt at bet-hedging, should political circumstances in western France change.

“Funerary Epigraphy across Norman Europe: Written Commemoration of Death in Northern France, England, and Southern Italy between the 11th and 12th Centuries”
Antonella Undiemi, Università degli Studi, Padova

Antonella Undiemi’s paper explored epigraphs commemorating Normans—some well-known, some less-known—across Europe. All of the epitaphs were in verse, and though few in number they give us some insight as to how these people wished to be remembered—or at least, how their survivors thought they should be remembered. There was one particularly fascinating case of an epitaph being inscribed on the inside of a coffin lid. I have to admit I’m still a little flummoxed as to how that inscription was supposed to function.

Session 7: Manuscripts and Their Agendas in the 11th and 12th Centuries

“Lost Libraries and Monastic Memories: Purpose and Origin of the Eleventh-Century Novalesa Miscellany”
Edward Schoolman, University of Nevada, Reno

The Novalesa Miscellany is an eleventh-century manuscript (Chicago, Newberry Library, MS f3) compiled at a Benedictine monastery in northern Italy. Schoolman argued that the manuscript was a piece of “re-fashioned history”—a compilation of texts used to forge (in both senses of the world) a continuous historical past for a monastery which had been founded in the 720s but whose existence had been disrupted by the Arab raids of the early tenth century. The hagiographic texts and sermons which it contained, moreover, were the kind of text helpful in rebuilding a monastic library.

Hec est armorum finalis causa meorum: The Morality of War in the Twelfth-Century “Relatio metrica de duobus ducibus
Scott Bruce, University of Colorado

Scott Bruce’s paper centered on two texts—a 1500-word prose exemplum of the late tenth century, called “The Tale of St Maiolus concerning the Two Dukes” and an 827-line verse elaboration of the tale composed in about 1150. (BM Charleville-Mézières MS 190, ff. 144-49). Bruce argued that some of the additions and emphases in the second version of the tale reflected the author’s immersion in twelfth-century thoughts about Crusading.

An Anglo-Frisian funerary urn from the Snape ship burial, East Anglia. [Source]
An Anglo-Frisian funerary urn from the Snape ship burial, East Anglia. [Source]
Session 8: Digital Humanities@Haskins: Mapping and Modelling the Middle Ages

“Urns in the Round? Re-imag(in)ing the Link between Anglo-Saxon Cremation Urns and Annular Brooches using Photogrammetry”
Austin Mason, Carleton College

This was a two-part session, with presenters first speaking about their projects and then leading a workshop in which audience members got to try out the technology. Austin Mason’s presentation led off the session. He showed how he’s used photogrammetry—taking dozens of photos of a single artefact from multiple positions in order to gain accurate measurements—to build three-dimension models of Anglo-Saxon funerary urns (similar to the one shown right). Mason argued—I thought convincingly—for a link between the design of these urns (particularly the decoration on their rims) and contemporary brooches, and for their roles as a marker of identity and conveyor of memory. This method of obtaining 3D reconstructions was a new one to me, but it seems to have lots of promise.

“Re-envisioning the Past: Using SketchUp to Model Changes in Church Architecture and the Use of Religious Space”
Christine Bertoglio, Boston College

I’ve played around a little with SketchUp myself and know that it’s not always the easiest thing to figure out. Building models using only lines and simple shapes sounds easy in practice but it can be a little overwhelming for the novice (or at least for this novice!). However, Christine Bertoglio showed the utility of the program in building models of medieval buildings—her examples all came from Lincolnshire—to get a better sense of how buildings changed over time. For instance, how might changes to the interior of a church have made it more or less dark, or changed movement patterns within it.

“The Oxford Outremer Map: The Possibilities of Digital Restoration”
Tobias Hrynick, Fordham University

Tobias Hrynick presented on the project to digitise and make accessible the so-called Oxford Outremer Map, which was made in the mid-thirteenth century by Matthew Paris. He spoke about the difficulties of taking a map which is in places hard to read, and which is not made according to modern notions of scale or distance, and digitising it using current technology. The final product looks like an elegant solution, and I’m already thinking of ways to incorporate it into my teaching.

Session 9: All in the Family: Medieval Siblings

Lothair of France and Emma of Italy, as imagined by René François Bescher, Les rois et reines de France en estampes, 1826. [Link]
Lothair of France and Emma of Italy, as imagined by René François Bescher, Les rois et reines de France en estampes, 1826. [Link]
“Emma, the Forgotten Sister? Half-Siblings and the Limits of Kinship in Tenth-Century Germany”
Phyllis Jestice, College of Charleston

Phyllis Jestice’s paper made a bold claim: that in tenth-century Germany, a kinship bond was not perceived to exist between half-siblings who were related through their mothers. In other words, Emma of Italy, the maternal half-sister of Otto II of Germany, was not regarded by him as his sister. Jestice arrived at this argument in order to make sense of the silence of the French and German chronicles on the topic, and on the absence of Emma from the witness lists of Otto’s charters, when his other sisters frequently appear. This is definitely a topic on which more work needs to be done so that it’s not simply an argument from silence in a single case.

“Masculinity and the Uses of Brotherhood: A Case Study from Late Medieval Brittany”
Cameron Bradley, Macalester College

François I of Brittany and his younger brother, Gilles, did not get along—that’s putting it mildly. Gilles supported Henry VI of England’s cause in France, and an embittered François threw Gilles into prison in 1446. Four years later, Gilles was strangled—possibly on his brother’s orders. Cameron Bradley argued that in the hands of these two angry brothers, the late medieval rhetorical ideal of close and loyal brotherhood came into conflict with a competing and sometimes clashing ideals of chivalric masculinity.

Session 10: Meaning and Saints’ Lives in Early England

“Legible Flesh in the Old English Life of St. Mary of Egypt”
Jill Hamilton Clements, Lindenwood University

The monk Zosimus and a lion carry Mary to her grave. Smithfield Decretals. BL Royal 10.E.iv f.288. [Source]
The monk Zosimus and a lion carry Mary to her grave. Smithfield Decretals. BL Royal 10.E.iv f.288. [Source]
The final panel session of the conference was led off by Jill Hamilton Clements, who looked at commemoration through inscribed media in Old English. She focused on a life of St Mary of Egypt, in which an inscription was said to have miraculously appeared in the desert sands, letting the monk Zosimus know when Mary had died and that her body required burial. Hamilton Clements drew comparisons between this permanent impermanent inscription (since the sand will blow away but the vita‘s text lives on) and relic tags, which were used in the Middle Ages to distinguish between holy but often unidentifiable scraps of fabric and bone.

“Episcopal Ideals in Alcuin’s Revised Saints Lives”
Kelly Gibson, University of Dallas

Kelly Gibson focused on some texts of Alcuin which are comparatively under-studied—his vitae of Willibrord, Vedast, and Martin, and his “Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York”—and used them to further our knowledge of Carolingian church reform. These vitae were reworkings of earlier texts, and in their additional emphasis on the saints’ preaching, pastoral, and other public work, Gibson argued that we can see Alcuin expressing his ideals about episcopal behaviour.

“The Power of Inventio: Eadmer’s De reliquis Sancti Audoeni and a Cross-Channel Solution to the Canterbury-York Dispute”
Bridget Riley, University of Toronto

St Audoen was a distinctly Norman saint, Bridget Riley asked, so why did the very English Eadmer write about him? She argued that it was a consequence of the early twelfth-century dispute between the episcopal sees of Canterbury and York, something which had damaged Canterbury’s primacy among English bishoprics. Riley argued that the De reliquis text was a creative-cross-channel solution to Canterbury’s problems, one which presented Canterbury as part of a cross-channel episcopal network and increased its religious importance. The memory of a saint, in this instance, could be a powerful kind of PR.

David, on foot, fleeing from Absalom and two companions on horseback, with upraised swords. BL Harley 2895 f.81v. [Source]
David, on foot, fleeing from Absalom and two companions on horseback, with upraised swords. BL Harley 2895 f.81v. [Source]
Featured Speaker

““Goliath thought David rather boastful”: Royal Masculinity in Kingless Societies”
Ruth Mazo Karras, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

The final keynote, given by Professor Ruth Mazo Karras, was a tour de force look at royal masculinity—as exemplified by the biblical King David—across three medieval kingless societies: that of the period between the time of the Crusaders’ capture of the city and the acclamation of a rex Jerusalem; Jewish communities in the Middle Ages; and Iceland. Karras argued that David was the model of masculinity par excellence among Jewish and Christian societies, and that differences in how he was referred to in texts therefore tells us a great deal about how masculinity and power was conceived of in those societies.

While Crusaders did debate whether or not to make a kingdom of Jerusalem—what man dared to take the throne of the holiest city in Christendom?—ultimately they regarded kingship as the default, as inevitable. Jewish attitudes towards kingship was ambivalent, but David was also seen by medieval Midrashic commentators as the epitome of piety—perhaps not surprisingly, given that the Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of David’s. Accordingly, these authors worked to explain away David’s misdeeds with Bathsheba—there it was pride, not sexual misdemeanours, which was his undoing. The fourteenth-century Icelandic biblical paraphrase known as Stjórn is decidedly less pro-monarchy in its depiction of David. It neither excuses nor lessens his sins, and in its language and framing presents David as much more the typical, arrogant Norse saga hero.

This was my second time to attend the Haskins Conference, and both times I’ve been impressed both by the quality of the papers and the collegiality of the attendees—keep an eye out on their website for the Call for Papers for next year’s conference.

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