Nieuwe film Redbad: ‘klassiek geval van misbruik van de geschiedenis’

 

Eind juni is de première van de in Nederland geproduceerde film Redbad. Radboud-historicus Sven Meeder schreef een boek over deze Friese koning uit de achtste eeuw – niet te verwarren met de naamgever van de Radboud Universiteit. ‘De film neemt een loopje met de geschiedenis.’

Sven Meeder en zijn collega Erik Goosmann hebben de komst van de film aangegrepen om een boek over Redbad (of Radboud) te schrijven. Niet alleen om de figuur Redbad nog eens uit te lichten, maar ook om uit de doeken te doen hoe historici met problematische historische bronnen werken, hoe het verleden te pas en te onpas wordt ingezet om een eigen politieke of sociale boodschap te verkondigen, en welke krachten hierbij werkzaam zijn. ‘Het gaat ons er niet om een belerend vingertje op te steken tegen de filmmaker en zuur op te merken wat er allemaal niet klopt in de film. Dan is er weer zo’n wetenschapper aan het woord die het beter weet. Wij vinden het interessanter om de verbeelding van het verleden zelf aan de orde te stellen.’

Redbad als stoere strijder

In de Nederlandse film van regisseur Roel Reiné krijgt Redbad de rol toebedeeld van stoere strijder die de Friese gebieden weet te behoeden tegen de verovering en fanatieke kerstening door de Franken, als een verdediger van de eigen cultuur en vrijheid tegen een imperialistische, extremistische vijand uit het zuiden. Dat zwart-wit beeld doet de geschiedenis geweld aan: Redbad bleef weliswaar heidens en vocht meerdere malen tegen de Franken, maar het grootste deel van de tijd handelde hij juist op een heel diplomatieke manier. Meeder: ‘Hij gaf enige ruimte aan de verkondigers van het christelijke geloof en hij wist door te dringen tot de hoogste politieke kringen van Frankenrijk. Decennialang bleek hij uitstekend te functioneren met een voet in elk van de twee werelden. Hij was eerder een politicus en diplomaat dan een koppige strijder.’

Meeder baseert zich op de paar historische bronnen over Redbad die bewaard zijn, vaak decennia later geschreven en doordrenkt met eigentijdse politieke bedoelingen. Wil de echte Redbad opstaan? Een lastige vraag. Meeder: ‘Dat maakt dat ons boek geen platgeslagen geschiedenis over de ‘echte’ wereld in die tijd kan bieden. Dat zou misleidend zijn. We beschrijven hoe historici zo adequaat als mogelijk tot een reconstructie proberen te komen.’ Zo bestaan er bronnen over een paar ontmoetingen tussen Redbad en Willibrord, in die jaren druk met de missie in de lage landen. ‘Redbad had hem gemakkelijk een kopje kleiner kunnen maken, dat heeft-ie niet gedaan. En hij is een alliantie met de Franken aangegaan door zijn dochter uit te huwelijken aan de zoon van de Frankische hofmeier Pippijn. Dat doe je niet als je een fanatieke, heidense barbaar bent.’

Framen van de geschiedenis

boekPippijn is een voorvader van Karel de Grote, in wiens tijd het beeld van Redbad als brute krijger definitief werd gevestigd. Meeder: ‘Karel gebruikte Redbad om de strijd van zijn familie nog glorieuzer te presenteren. Door hem extra bruut en extra heidens af te schilderen, probeerde Karel de Grote zijn eigen positie en die van zijn familie te legitimeren.’ De nieuwe film doet volgens Meeder hetzelfde als de Frankische keizer van toen: het framen van de geschiedenis voor een eigentijdse boodschap. De Franken boetseerden hem tot een geduchte tegenstander, de film schetst hem als een heldhaftig krijger die de ‘eigen’ noordelijke, vrijheidslievende cultuur verdedigt tegen extremistische vreemde machten. ‘De filmmakers framen de geschiedenis zo dat deze in dienst komt te staan van hun eigen stellingname in de actuele politieke discussie over immigratie en multiculturaliteit.’

Overigens is Redbad van de film een ander dan de naamgever van de Radboud Universiteit. Deze Radboud is de bisschop van Utrecht uit de tiende eeuw, mogelijk wél verre familie van Redbad – een Friese verbastering van ‘Radbod’ (zoals we hem in de Latijnse bronnen tegenkomen). ‘Die vergissing hoor je vaker’, zegt Meeder. ‘Maar Redbad was een overtuigd heiden, en dus moeilijk voor te stellen als naamgever van een katholieke universiteit.’

Radboud Recharge 18-6-2018

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Redbad (or: more on the (mis)use of history)

Historians of the early Middle Ages daily tackle complicated, technical sources in foreign, defunct languages and apply subtle sociological and anthropological methodologies in order to shed more light on the societies of old as well as more universal cultural and societal approaches and mechanisms: such as ‘othering’, ‘identity formation’, and the ‘use of the past’. Sometimes the insights of such specialised studies seem slow to reach a wider audience, even though they may be highly relevant.

The upcoming release of the Dutch film Redbad: the legend provides an promising opportunity to share some of our insights with a general public, not least because the film itself seems to be a prime example of using the past to gift-wrap a contemporary, political message. Redbad (or Radbod as we encounter him in the sources) was a Frisian leader who both battled with the Frankish mayor Pippin II and managed to integrate extremely well in the ruling Frankish family; while he himself did not seem to have converted to Christianity, he did provide welcoming work environment for missionaries like Willibrord and Wulfram (as long as this was politically beneficial to Radbod, that is). This nuanced image of Radbod is somewhat obscured by the primary sources, which all date from at least some decades later and were all written by Carolingian apologists, who found in Radbod a suitable candidate for their ancestors’ heathen arch nemesis. Academic scholarship has uncovered the much more nuanced reality, but the film makers opted to present this history in a rather uncreative, dualistic version: Radbod as the freedom-loving champion of a ‘northern culture’ fighting against ‘southern religious extremists’. Sounds like a familiar message?

I teamed up with Erik Goosmann to present the more nuanced history of Radbod and the scholarly method of uncovering this history from sources which so blatantly misrepresent the past to further their own messages. The upcoming film proves that insight in this rhetorical strategy continues to be relevant, not just for historians…

Read our introduction (and more) via Google books:

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Name in print: The Irish Scholarly Presence at St. Gall

The Irish Scholarly Presence at St. GallApril saw the publication of my book on the Irish scholarly presence at St. Gall with Bloomsbury Academic publishers. The cover is certainly wonderful and I can only hope that the reviewers feel that the content matches it. To give you some idea of the argument of the book, I am including the final version of the brief conclusion of the book here.

The glosses that were added to the breviary of St. Gall’s books in the last decades of the ninth century are testimony to the voracity with which the community had obtained its scholarship. In their urge to acquire learned texts, the monks of St. Gall had hit a number of misses, so the later annotator recorded. Especially among the texts of purported patristic writers, he found false, mendacious and useless works. While the later annotator appears to have had the leisure to thoroughly examine the books in the library, the earlier copyists and book buyers were simply too eager to collect authoritative texts and too time-pressed to inspect closely what they were about to acquire.

These unique glosses paint a picture of a bustling and vibrant blooming of intellectual energy that distinguished the Carolingian revival of learning. Networks of knowledge were buzzing with activity and scholarly exchange. With its focus (mainly) on a few manuscripts, written at or brought to the Alpine monastery of St. Gall, and containing scholarly material originally composed in Ireland, this book only covers a tiny detail of the prodigious intellectual phenomenon that was the Carolingian revival of learning. Nevertheless, this study represents an attempt to offer a contribution towards a better understanding of the intellectual boom of the eighth and ninth centuries. Rather than taking a top-down approach and attempting to explain the situation ‘on the ground’ from the well-expressed ambitions of a distant court, it aims to present a ‘horizontal’ model for the enquiry of intellectual contacts between St. Gall and other learned centres. And despite its modest scope, this book has tried to demonstrate that, when studied closely, a history painted with broad strokes can prove to be deceiving. Thus, whereas the numerous surviving products of Irish learning in the library of a monastery with an Irish patron saint would suggest the existence of a singular connection between the monastery and Irish scholarship, or a gateway function connecting Ireland with continental Europe, a more detailed look presents us with a different picture altogether.

The turbulent and creative years of Carolingian renovatio formed the circumstances in which Irish learning was spread over the continent, where they were read, copied, redacted or ransacked with vigorous creativity. The community of St. Gall managed to collect a sizeable corpus of Irish scholarly works with some of the most influential texts from Ireland: De XII Abusiuis, the Collectio canonum Hibernensis, Ailerán’s exegesis and Irish penitentials. The monastery was no stranger to Irish influence. It appears that a modest, but steady stream of pilgrims visited Saint Gallus’s grave among the many travellers seeking to cross the Alps into or out of Italy.

The Irish learned texts were, however, obtained through other channels. The study of the extant manuscript witnesses to Hiberno-Latin scholarly texts at St. Gall reveals evidence (sometimes circumstantial) for intellectual connections with nearer, continental centres. Especially north-eastern France and central and southern Germany – and of course Reichenau – seem to have supplied St. Gall with Irish scholarship; and vice versa. By the time it arrived at the monastery of St. Gall, it had often already gone through a number of continental or Anglo-Saxon hands: an Anglo-Saxon by the name of Eadberct had been able to put his stamp on a version of the Hibernensis; De XII Abusiuis was already employed to fulfil a role in a continental, political dispute; the preface to Cummean’s penitential was already appropriated for use in a continental penitential composition.

The monastery of St. Gall did not fulfil the role of bridgehead, connecting Ireland with the continent, nor was it any more of a gateway than other continental centres within the Frankish realms. If metaphors are necessary, St. Gall acted more as a sink strainer. With the streams of scholarship rushing through St. Gall, an impressive number of Irish works were trapped by its monks in their nets. Partly thanks to the cupidity of the St. Gall monks, partly owing to its convenient location, and partly due to the fortuitous survival of so much of the library’s holding, we have this unique collection to study.

None of this, of course, diminishes any of the creative splendour of the Irish scholars who produced the learned masterpieces. On the contrary, the rich evidence of continental appreciation and appropriation, and the dynamic redistribution of Hiberno-Latin scholarship between continental intellectual centres only underlines the fact that Irish learning was valued greatly by its continental recipients for its skill, sagacity and utility. It was these qualities rather than any value automatically attributed to ‘Irishness’ that ensured its place within the pan-European pool of learning.

The medieval spread and reception of scholarship was, ultimately, an exercise in cultural exchange in which both the ‘sender’ and the receiving party influenced the scholarly product that was shared. The transference of a cultural object from one context into another by necessity transforms its meaning. By the time Irish scholarly works arrived at St. Gall, they had already gone through a number of such semantic transformations. While the Irish background is important for historians to understand the context of the works’ conception and original composition, we cannot assume that this background was equally significant for the St. Gall recipients. In fact, one can justifiably wonder whether the St. Gall monks always knew the origin of the Irish texts they copied, read and taught (and whether they cared). Similarly, the meaning and relevance of Irish works of learning must have been different for the community of a continental monastery than for its Irish author and initial Irish audience. In fact, one could argue that the Irish scholarship became ‘more continental’ (or rather ‘more European’) with every step of its dissemination beyond the shores of Ireland. This ‘globalizing’ trend is, after all, the hallmark of the most durable of scholarly expressions. And the durability of Irish learning is not in doubt.

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Opinions…: ‘Herwaarderen geschiedenis is van alle tijden’

The bust of Johan Maurits at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague
Johan Maurits in het Mauritshuis

“Historici verbazen zich over de nieuwe ’beeldenstorm’ die over Nederland raast”, schrijft de Telegraaf op 17 januari. Dat lijkt mij sterk; historici zouden moeten weten dat het herwaarderen van de geschiedenis een verschijnsel van alle tijden is. Sterker nog, dit ‘gebruik van het verleden’ was de afgelopen decennia een belangrijke stroming in het historisch onderzoek. Verbazing is dan niet de meest voor de hand liggende reactie, maar dat de emeritus professoren Emmer en Ankersmit geïrriteerd zijn, dat geloof ik wel. Maar daar is geen goede reden voor. Er wordt namelijk niet ‘gefraudeerd met de geschiedenis’, zoals de kop doet voorstellen, er wordt alleen maar anders omgegaan met de geschiedenis. Dat een school J.P. Coen niet langer op een voetstuk wenst te plaatsen is nogal logisch gezien zijn geschiedenis van wreedheden. Die geschiedenis moet niet vergeten worden, integendeel, maar Coen hoeft ook niet gevierd en geëerd te worden met zijn naam op de gevel een school. En het is alleen maar goed dat we niet alleen herinneren dat Johan Maurits het Mauritshuis heeft laten bouwen, maar ook dat hij een rol in de transatlantische slavenhandel had. Zo wordt voor iedereen duidelijk dat historische personen gewoon mensen van vlees en bloed waren, en dus veel complexer dan helemaal goed of helemaal fout. Een naamsverandering van een school of de verplaatsing van een buste naar een andere zaal is natuurlijk geen censuur. Het rekent af met een onvoorwaardelijke heldenverering sinds de negentiende en vroege twintigste eeuw. Het verschaffen van context maakt geschiedenis uiteindelijk veel interessanter dan wat simpele verhalen over helden en schurken.

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Symposium

Social and Intellectual Networking in the Early Middle Ages

31 August – 2 September 2017

@ Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands

Co-Organised by Networks of Knowledge and Networks and Neighbours

Keynote Speakers

Prof. Eileen Joy (Punctum Books, BABEL Working Group, and Postmedieval)

Prof. Yitzhak Hen (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Abstract

Networks of Knowledge (NoK) and Networks and Neighbours (N&N) are two projects dedicated to interrogating social, political and intellectual connectivity, competition and communication between persons, places and things in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. We are excited to announce that we have come together to bring you an international, interdisciplinary conference on social and intellectual networking in the Early Middle Ages.

The conference aims to explore the existence, performance and sustainability of diverse scholarly, intellectual, social, and material networks in early medieval worlds. We will engage manuscripts, artifacts and theories over several panels framed by two categories: people and history and ideas and society. The first references networks of scholars, thinkers, writers, and the social and political histories related to their productions. The second imagines the transmission of ‘knowledge’, as information, as rhetoric, as object, and as epistemic grounding. In addition, we will have a dedicated panel for interrogating the applicability of social network theory for early medieval studies.

Selected 30-minute papers will investigate the theoretical possibilities and problems of researching early medieval networks, attempt to re-construct historical networks, critically analyse ‘information’, and/or contribute in diverse ways – theoretically, methodologically, and epistemologically – to our understanding of early medieval connectivity.

The symposium is set up in such as way allowing ample time for discussion and active participation of the audience. Assigned moderators, who will have pre-read the papers, will ensure thorough discussions following the papers.

The programme is now published!

The conference is entirely free and open to anyone, but in order to make accurate catering bookings, please register your interest at conference@networksofknowledge.org (preferably before 1 August).

For more information, please contact Dr. Michael J. Kelly and Dr. Sven Meeder at conference@networksofknowledge.org

Radboud University NijmegenNWO

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Living the law in the early medieval West

The earliest form of European law is canon law, the first body of legal texts with ambitions to universal applicability for all Christians in the West, regardless of geographic, political or social boundaries. From the fourth century onwards we observe a steady growth in the involvement of individual Christian clerics and church councils in the making and codification of law. Early medieval canon law collections, rulings of church councils, Papal legislation (in the form of letters), and penitential literature, far outnumber the surviving legislation issued by early medieval kings. Canon law, and especially canon law collections, was also much more sophisticated: it drew upon a wide array of sources, it benefited from the debate culture of church councils, it often sought to have a universal rather than local appeal, and it can be seen to interact with various European vernacular laws, some of which are couched in pre-Christian traditions. Canon law is an especially important historical source because the dialectic process through which it was formed allows us to gauge the way in which different contemporary cultural traditions could be fused and eventually forge new identities in the period of transformations from late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages.

However, many of the essential scholarly publications in the field of early medieval canon law are now over a century old. Despite being meticulously researched, they are extremely technical and are all but impenetrable to non-specialists (many are written in Latin).[1] Moreover, many of the sources necessary to study early canon law remain unedited and available only in manuscript. The impenetrability/unavailability of the sources and resources for the study of early canon law led, in the twentieth century, to the subject being generally neglected by early medieval historians. Late antique and early medieval canon law are still considered rather obscure subjects today. Yet, few would argue with the statement that religious and ecclesiastical law was of the highest importance for the literate (mostly clerical) elite throughout the Middle Ages. A better understanding of the dynamics within the genre therefore will not only elucidate the scholarly context of these intellectuals, but the insights gained from the study of these canonical texts can also be brought to bear on the development of western thought more generally.

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Insular elements in the Collectio 400 capitulorum

The Collectio quadrigentorum capitulorum, the Collection in 400 chapters (or: Collectio 400 from hereon) has caught my interest some years back and it has continued to intrigue me. There are several reasons for it, but one must be Friedrich Maassen’s remark on the collection in his 1870 important work Geschichte der Quellen und Literatur des kanonischen Rechtes that the arrangement of this seemingly very sophisticated systematic collection is ‘ohne Plan’, – ‘without a plan’ – observing that the text abruptly jumps from one subject to the other. Hubert Mordek confessed that ’with the best will in the world’ he could find no system in this systematically arranged collection either.[1] Reconciling the obvious richness in source material available to the compiler of the Collectio 400 with its perceived disorganisation offers a very attractive challenge. But just as challenging, as I found out, is the puzzle of identifying the collection’s sources and their provenances, and digging deeper it produces more insular connections than obvious at first instance. Before exploring these connections, though, let me first very briefly introduce the Collectio 400.

BnF lat. 2316
A friendly fellow in BnF lat. 2316

The canonical collection named ‘Die Sammlung in 400 Capiteln’ by Friedrich Maassen (in one of his less inspired moments) is one of the many products of the vigorous canonical activity of the eighth and ninth centuries. It is a systematically arranged collection featuring just over 400 chapters comprising ecclesiastical rules from a wealth of sources ranging from Roman secular law, ecumenical councils, papal letters, Gallic synods, Irish and Anglo-Saxon penitentials, to theological treatises and, importantly, the Bible.[2] 

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A codicological observation 2: BnF lat. 2316

Lat 2316First, some wisdom from old:

[…] non operatur plenitudo ergo legis est dileccio magi opere precium […]

This poignant lesson was left in the margin of manuscript BnF lat. 2316 for future generations to ponder over.

Finding codicological notes on the internet when you find out that you need to know more about a particular manuscript but are hundreds of kilometers removed from it, can be a very joyous occasion. At least, that is my experience. In that spirit, I put some of my findings online on Paris, BnF lat. 2316, one of the three extant manuscript witnesses to the Collectio 400 capitulorum. 

The ninth-century part of the manuscript (it is bound with a 25 twelfth-century folia) contains a fragment of the canon law collection known as the Dionysiana (fols. 26-84), the aforementioned Collectio 400 capitulorum (fols. 84-120), a fragment of the Breviarium apostolorum (fols. 120-1), some chapters of the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle of 801 (fols. 121-2), and an incomplete copy of Theodulf of Orléans’ first capitulary ad presbyteros parochiae suae of 797 (fols. 122-133).

It is now, in its entirety, available on Gallica, but (again) useful as online digitised manuscripts are, this does not allow for the following codicological observation.

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Continental networks of Hiberno-Latin learning

Sometime in the middle of the eleventh century, the St-Gall monk known to us as Ekkehart IV (c. 980-c. 1060) set down to write a continuation to the century-old chronicle of his monastery, the Casus Sancti Galli. His continuation took the form of a series of anecdotes about key figures in the history of his monastery, starting with the combative bishop and abbot Salomo. Early in the text, while introducing the background of Salomo, Ekkehard shares an anecdote about the most famous couple of Irishmen to visit the monastery of St-Gall in the ninth century.

These two men are the Irish bishop Marcus and the son of his sister, Moengal, whom the monks of St-Gall quickly renamed Marcellus. They appeared on the monastery’s doorstep sometime between 849 and 872, on their return trip from Rome. The monks invite the Irish bishop to stay for a while, but it would seem that their main target was recruiting his nephew, who, Ekkehard says, was most learned in religious as well as secular scholarship (‘in divinis et humanis eruditissimus’).[1] After some deliberation they both decided to remain at St-Gall with some Irish-speaking servants. Their money, horses, and mules were given to their companions who would continue travelling back to Ireland, but Marcus is said to have kept his books, gold, and costly vestments (‘pallia’) for himself and for St Gallus (‘sibi et sancto Gallo retinuit’).[2]

The phrase ‘for himself and for St Gallus’ can either mean that some of Marcus’s books were donated to the monastery while he held on to others, or that an arrangement was made that the possessions of the Irish bishop would fall to the abbey after Marcus’s death. Either way, this phrase constitutes the only explicit mention of an Irish traveller providing St-Gall with books. It is a point worth stressing; there is no other evidence of Irishmen giving books to the monastery of St-Gall. And even in this one instance, we are left with many remaining questions: for instance, we don’t know how many books Marcus actually had on him during his travels, where these books originated, how Marcus had obtained them (some perhaps brought from Ireland, but others were probably collected during his travels), or which texts they contained.

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Networks of knowledge

I recently learned that my grant application for a project, whose name I have since changed into Networks of knowledge, has been successful. The funding comes from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) as a Veni-grant under the Vernieuwingsimpuls scheme. It will keep me occupied for the coming 3,5 years and relieve me of a lot of my teaching duties. And it will take me to the archives of the abbey of Monte Cassino, the various libraries of Rome, as well as the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.

An internet site is indispensable for any serious research project, so mine will have one as well, in time.

This is the (by necessity very short) abstract of my grant proposal.

The ninth-century revival of learning known as the so-called ‘Carolingian renaissance’ found its origin in Charlemagne’s deep, but modest, concern for the correct cult of God within his empire, but it quickly resulted in diverse, creative outbursts of textual culture independent of royal aims. It was in this creative process that the biblical, Christian and antique traditions were appropriated to form the melting-pot of post-Roman ‘European culture’. How this revival of learning could take such flight is still not well-understood. In this project I propose that to understand the relationship between royal ambitions and the intellectual blossoming of the eighth and ninth centuries it is essential to study the mechanics of early medieval transmission of tradition ‘on the ground’, at learned centres in the empire. In a novel approach, this project will focus on the networks linking intellectual centres and scholars. Its main hypothesis is that these scholarly networks, rather than royal decrees, shaped and directed the revival of scholarship on a local level.

In this project I will analyse the extant manuscripts of three important scholarly centres: the monasteries of St-Amand, St-Emmeram, and Montecassino. Reviewing all learned texts contained in the entire corpus of extant manuscripts of the selected centres, I will ask the essential question: how did these works get to this particular centre? And how did these copies play a role in the subsequent dissemination of these texts? The answers to these questions help to identify the scholarly networks these centres were a part of. Philological study of the manuscript material is then used to reveal scribal and scholarly choices, which shed light on the approach of scholars towards the advancing revival of learning. These local approaches will then be compared with the developing royal and imperial ambitions and directives.

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