Politics and Texts in Late Carolingian Europe, c. 870–1000
July 31, 2013 Leave a comment
On 8–9 July, the St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies hosted ‘Politics and Texts in Late Carolingian Europe, c. 870–1000’, a two-day conference organised by PhD students Roberta Cimino and Ed Roberts, and generously supported by the School of History.
This conference brought together leading specialists, young researchers and postgraduate students to explore the relationship between political authority and textual production in the late Carolingian world. The Carolingian dynasty (751–987) ruled the last pan-European empire of the middle ages, a territory spanning over one million square kilometres at its height. In the late ninth century, however, this empire began to disintegrate, and the tenth century has classically been depicted as an age of cultural stagnation and political decline. ‘Politics and Texts’ thus sought to contribute to a body of research which is increasingly questioning traditional conceptions of the tenth century as one of the darkest corners of the Dark Ages.
With roughly thirty-five delegates in attendance, the conference featured nineteen papers presented by a range of scholars and students from Britain, Europe and the USA. A number of academics were invited to speak on the conference themes. Paper topics were wide-ranging, but all fundamentally sought to examine specific written sources of the period and the contexts in which they were produced. In recent years, there has been substantial re-evaluation of traditional methodological approaches to all kinds of early medieval texts, from narrative histories to documentary sources. Historians have increasingly taken stock of the interdependence of textual aspects such as audience, reception, dissemination, authorial agenda, and the relationships between cultural and political elites. Armed with these insights, the participants of this conference set out to move beyond traditional notions of decline and failure, and to re-assess the tenth century from the ground up by looking at the sources themselves.
Types of sources examined included narrative histories (chronicles, annals), hagiography (saints’ lives), poems, charters & diplomas, wills, conciliar acts, manuscript miscellanea, and more. Many traditional assumptions about well-known narrative works were revised or shown to be in desperate need of rehabilitation, while other papers exposed lesser-known writers and texts that have scarcely been appreciated for what they reveal about the era. A number of papers were able to examine charters in novel ways thanks to recent developments in the field of diplomatics. Because of the conference’s specific themes, discussions were particularly rigorous, valuable and insightful. Younger scholars and postgraduate students in particular benefited greatly from the opportunity to share their ideas with leading experts in the field. The thought-provoking papers of this conference demonstrated just how much there is still to be said about this formative period of European history and the way we use our sources to understand it.
Beyond the intensive deliberations in the Old Class Library, the conference included a wine reception followed by dinner at the Golf Hotel on the Monday evening, and after proceedings concluded on Tuesday afternoon, many participants headed off for a walk around the castle and cathedral of St Andrews before having dinner at Zizzi. On both evenings, St Andrews’ fine assortment of pubs provided appropriate venues for further late-night discussion and merriment.
Overall, the conference was agreed to have been an intellectually stimulating couple of days. Many participants expressed an interest in continuing discussion of the issues raised in a further capacity, which the organisers are presently considering. The organisers would like to thank SAIMS and the School of History for its support and encouragement of this event.