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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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)


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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Pal.lat. 577: A codicological observation

droppedImageOne of the manuscripts I got to study on my last trip to Rome was Vaticano (Città del), Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 577, a late eighth- or early ninth-century manuscript originating from a centre in the Mainz region with insular influences. It contains the so-called Sententiae Bonifatii Palatinae and a version of the collection of canon law known as the Dionysiana. The whole manuscript is now helpfully accessible online on the database of digitised manuscripts of the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, and the Sententiae are transcribed by Michael Elliot.

Useful as online digitised manuscripts are, it doesn’t allow for the following codicological observation.

The manuscript opens with the so-called Sententiae Bonifatii Palatinae (folios 1r-11) with an excerpt from Boniface’s Capitula de invasoribus ecclesiarum (fol. 1r-v), the only fragment of a text attributed to Boniface in the whole of the Sententiae. The whole of the manuscript is written in an Anglo-Saxon hand, with continental influences (demonstrated for instance by the use of a distinctive open cc-shaped a), except for the first folio which is in a continental hand. This first folium is a singleton and thus not part of the first quire. The first quire is made up out of 3 bifolia (instead of the 4
usual in the rest of the manuscript) and lacks a quire signature at the end. In fact, the first quire signature (“A”) is found on the recto of the first folium of the second quire (which consists of 5 bifolia, also unusual).

shapeimage_2Contrary to Mordek (Bibliotheca capitularium manuscripta, p. 774), I found the first quires to be structured thus:

I, 16, 210 (10 = strip), 38 etc.

or, to put it otherwise:

    I (singleton): fol. 1r-v

    16: fols. 2r-7v

    210: fols. 8r-16v (8v has quire signature “A”, 16v has “B”)


shapeimage_3According to Glatthaar (Bonifatius und das Sakrileg, p. 458), the first folio may have been a replacement of an older page, which – being the first folio of a book – was (at risk of being) damaged. The implication is that the later copyist of this page copied exactly the same text as the original. Or, Glatthaar concedes, the page was found elsewhere and added since it fitted.

The quire signatures seem to argue in favour of a view that sees the first folio as a replacement: folio 8r-v is no longer part of a bifolium, and, were it the last folium of the first quire, would have been attached to the very first page. The original arrangement also had a first folio preceding the rest of the Sententiae Bonifatiae. Whether or not that was the Bonifatian fragment presently on fol. 1r-v must remain uncertain.

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Translating Hildemar

Sometime in the middle of the ninth century, the Civate monk Hildemar wrote a commentary on that most important of medieval monastic texts: the Rule of Benedict. Meticulously commenting on (nearly) every verse and sentence of the Regula, his Expositio is a very sizeable book. Over 600 pages in its (relatively) modern edition! Very few people nowadays make it through 600 pages of Latin commentary with ease, which is probably partly to blame for the fact that this important testimony to ninth-century monastic thought and practice has not received more interest by historians. This led to the initiative of Albrecht Diem (Syracuse), Julian Hendrix (Carthage College, WI), Corinna Prior (Toronto) and Mariel Urbanus (Utrecht) to ask fellow scholars to translate bite-size sections of the Expositio, together forming the first English translation of this long text. The results are slowly filling the project’s website, complete with Latin text, background information and forum. In a time when historians are no longer awarded indefinite contracts to work on decade-long projects on their own, this approach to a huge task could be the key for future projects.

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