6th Medieval History Seminar

Oct 08, 2009 - Oct 11, 2009

Conference at the GHI London | Conveners: Carola Dietze (GHI), Jochen Schenk (GHIL) | Joint seminar of the German Historical Institutes in London and Washington

Seminar at the GHI London, October 8-11, 2009. Co-sponsored by the GHI London and the GHI Washington. Conveners: Michael Borgolte (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Frank Rexroth (Universität Göttingen), Patrick J. Geary (University of California, Los Angeles), Dame Janet Nelson (King's College, University of London), Barbara H. Rosenwein (Loyola University Chicago), and Miri Rubin (Queen Mary, University of London), Carola Dietze (GHI Washington), Jochen Schenk (GHI London). Participants: Jan-Hendryk de Boer (Universität Göttingen), Joshua Burson (Yale University), Alison Creber (King's College, University of London), Daniel Föller (Universität Frankfurt am Main), Leanne Good (University of California, Los Angeles), S. Adam Hindin (Harvard University), Astrid Lembke (Universität Frankfurt am Main), Jamie McCandless (University of Western Michigan), Katharina Mersch (Universität Göttingen), Sandra Müller-Wiesner (Universität Zürich), Levi Roach (Cambridge University), Steven Robbie (University of St. Andrews), Tanja Skambraks (Universität Mannheim), Gustavs Strenga (Queen Mary, University of London), Immo Warntjes (Universität Greifswald)

The sixth meeting of the Medieval History Seminar took place in London from October 8-11, 2009. The second such trinational seminar, it was held jointly by the German Historical Institute London and the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC. Frank Rexroth gave the opening lecture, comparing "Three Doctoral Students" - John of Salisbury, Hermann Heimpel, and Kerstin Seidel - and the way their work was influenced by the discipline of their time. Papers were given by seven German, one Swiss, four American, one Latvian, and three British Ph.D. candidates and recent Ph.D. recipients and then discussed with mentors Michael Borgolte, Patrick J. Geary, Dame Janet Nelson, Frank Rexroth, Barbara H. Rosenwein, and Miri Rubin. The seminar considered proposals from all areas of medieval studies, and the projects selected covered a broad range of thematic perspectives, methodological approaches, and periods of medieval history. Papers were distributed ahead of time, so the eight panels could be spent on discussion. Each panel featured two papers introduced by fellow students acting as commentators rather than the authors themselves. The intriguing papers opened a window to current research in medieval history in Germany, Britain, and North America, and the resulting discussion was constructive and lively.

The opening panel started with a presentation of Immo Wartnjes's dissertation "The Munich Computus: Text and Translation: Irish Alternatives to Bede's Computistics." Warntjes stressed the importance of the study of computistical texts not only for historians of science, but also, and especially, for linguists and cultural historians. Using hitherto unknown source material, he argued that Bede's scientific work can only be understood as a culmination point on a line of Irish tradition, with this deconstructing the myth of Bede as the only outstanding scientist of his age. Daniel Föller's dissertation "Verflochtenes Denken. Kognitive Strategien in der Runenschriftlichkeit der Wikingerzeit" focuses on the way information was conveyed on rune stones in order to analyze the intellectual basis of Scandinavians' acculturation to other European cultures in the ninth to eleventh centuries. He stressed that an entire network of semantic significations indicated by different media (content, form of the text, presentation, ornamentation, pictures, topography) and methods of presentation (making it mysterious, strengthening the main idea or completing it) had to be taken into consideration together by those reading them to understand them correctly. He maintained that the complexity and dynamic of such mental processes allows us to draw conclusions about the cognitive flexibility expressed within them. This flexibility has to be regarded as the basis for the Vikings' skill at acculturation.

The second panel began with a discussion of Gustavs Strenga's dissertation, which focuses on the role of elites in memoria of two non-elite guilds - beer carters and carters - in the late medieval Riga. He analyzed the impact elites had on the remembrance of the two guilds and put forth the hypothesis that the elite members joined these guilds because they perceived them as guilds of the "poor," which would take good care of the elite's commemoration. After that, S. Adam Hindin presented his work on the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague (founded in 1391), which has been considered unique in Central European Gothic architecture. He proposed that its atypical appearance is best understood as willful participation in an ongoing architectural and social dialogue about ethnic identity and minority status between the Czech and German populations of Prague rather than as a conscious effort at church reform.

In the third panel, Jan-Hendryk de Boer presented his work on doctrinal condemnation at universities in the High Middle Ages. He analyzes these not as an "occupational accident" but as a constructive part of scholastic scholarship that establishes the banned texts as speech acts on the edge of the system of scholasticism. By banning books, the scholastic system of thought generated determines the difference between an author and his work, between right and wrong, and between belief and knowledge. Joshua Burson's dissertation deals with one of the more "disreputable" topics in the history of Constance - drunken brawls in brothels - and uses them as a key to understanding the relationship between the city and the surrounding countryside.

In the fourth panel, Jamie McCandless analyzed how different groups competed, and justified their competition, for the control of ecclesiastical property in late medieval Germany. Dominican reformers often relied on secular authorities (the territorial lord or the free city) to complete reform projects, yet those authorities often used reforms as a means of enhancing their own authority against each other. Reforms, therefore, brought many houses under the control of the same secular authorities. McCandless suggests that the mendicant order supported lay and prayer confraternities to offset the loss of power and prestige to the secular authorities, whom they had to rely on to ensure the success of their reforms.

In the fifth panel, Tanja Skambraks presented her studies on the Kinderbischofsfest exemplified by the English cathedral town Exeter. Using liturgical, pragmatic, and regulatory sources from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, she analyzed the ritual and secular character of the festival, and church authorities' attempts to regulate violations against the rules. She showed that the Kinderbischofsfest was important in reducing tensions caused by age and hierarchy, and that it can, moreover, be interpreted as a substitute ritual sustained by performative magic. Finally, it had an important function in building community. Katharina Mersch unlocked the value of late medieval pictorial sources for the religious and social history of women's convents. Against the grain of common assumptions in the field of gender studies and art history, she showed that Eucharistic piety in women's convents was specific neither to gender nor certain orders. Instead, it resulted from exchange processes between the women's convents and diverse outside influences.

In the sixth panel, Jan Hildebrandt analyzed the reception of ancient myths in the early middle ages. He stressed the diversity of approaches towards these pagan narratives, ranging from scholarly explanation and euhemeristic interpretation to allegorical explication and a method of observation that demonized them. Moreover, he pointed out that the assessment of ancient myths in medieval commentaries range from strong skepticism to integration into the Christian worldview. Astrid Lembke studies the ways in which the protagonist of the Jewish narrative Ma'aseh Yerushalmi needs to prove himself in the world with its divine and paternal system of rules. The narrative, with its hero conceived of as a literary character and in contrast to the similarly saintly protagonist of another text in which he appears, opens up discourse on the possibility of masterfully dealing with the law.

In the seventh panel, Alison Creber'S study of imperial models for the seals of Beatrice of Tuscany and Matilda of Tuscany was discussed. The seal depictions of Beatrice of Tuscany (c. 1020-1076) and Matilda of Tuscany (1046-1115) have been interpreted in terms of typically ‘feminine' priorities. This gendered approach obscures the seals' role as Herrschaftszeichen, or signs of rule. Against this, Creber argued that Beatrice and Matilda were princely women whose seals expressed their political ambitions. Therefore, their seals made use of different imperial models to claim and secure political legitimacy against the Salian emperors. After that, the panel discussed Sandra Müller-Wiesner's dissertation, interpreting the common side of the Genevan altar of Konrad Wirz constructed in 1444. It depicts the "Wonderful Catch" and the "Liberation of St Peter" as an expression of the struggle for city rule fought between the Bishop of Geneva and the Savoyan (anti-) Pope Felix V.

In the eighth panel, Steven Robbie presented his work on the evolution of the duchies of Burgundy and Alemannia over the period of 887-940. Early tenth-century aristocrats are routinely characterized as players in a contest to claim the dukedom of Alemannia, even though no such office existed. His paper questioned this conventional framing device and suggested that senses of Alemannian identity played no significant role in the actual politics of the region, which were driven by magnates competing for resources and access to royal patronage. Leanne Good investigates the terms used in the Freising charters to describe land during the time of the Carolingian takeover in Bavaria. Although the property descriptions in the charters become increasingly more detailed, they do not represent a developed system of ecclesiastical land administration. Rather, she finds a variety of competing ‘vocabularies' of land possession, of which the Episcopal thrust to establish canonical jurisdiction over proprietary churches stands foremost. Levi Roach discusses hitherto unexplored possibilities for using theories developed by German historians of the Ottonian Empire to understand the performative aspects of tenth-century English diplomas. He argues that there are notable similarities between the rituals of charter-granting in both kingdoms, but that we must also be careful not to lose sight of the important differences.

The final discussion focused on differences and similarities between medieval study and scholarship in Germany, Britain, and the United States. Moreover, the institutional possibilities and limits of the different university systems were compared.

The seventh Medieval History Seminar for German, British, and American doctoral students and recent Ph.D. recipients will take place at the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC, in October 2011. If you are interested in participating, please take a look at the web site of the GHI Washington for further information and requirements.

Carola Dietze (GHI), Jochen Schenk (GHI London)

Call for Papers

The German Historical Institutes in London and Washington are pleased to announce the sixth Medieval History Seminar, to be held in London, from October 8 to 11, 2009. The seminar is designed to bring together American, British and German Ph.D. candidates and recent Ph.D. recipients (2007-2008) in medieval history for a weekend of scholarly discussion and collaboration. They will have the opportunity to present their work to their peers as well as to distinguished scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. Conveners for the 2009 seminar will be professors Michael Borgolte (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Frank Rexroth (Universität Göttingen), Patrick J. Geary (University of California, Los Angeles), Barbara H. Rosenwein (Loyola University Chicago), Dame Janet L. Nelson (King’s College London) and Miri Rubin (Queen Mary, University of London).
The Medieval History Seminar welcomes proposals from all areas of medieval history. Participation is not limited to historians working on German history or German-speaking regions of Europe. Nor is a particular epoch or methodological approach preferred. Applications from neighboring disciplines are welcome if the projects have a distinct historical focus.
Papers and discussions will be conducted both in German and English. Successful applicants must be prepared to submit a paper of approximately 5 000 words by September 1, 2009. They also are expected to act as commentator for other papers presented in the seminar.
The GHI will cover the travel and lodging expenses of the participants.
Applications should include:

  • a curriculum vitae (including address and e-mail);
  • a description of the proposed paper (4-5 pages, double-spaced);
  • one letter of recommendation.

Send applications per e-mail to Anita Bellamy
German Historical Institute
17 Bloomsbury Square
London, WC1A 2NJ (UK)
Tel.: 0044 (0)20 7309 2023
Fax:  0044 (0)20 7309 2073
The deadline for submission is December 31, 2008.
For further information, please send an e-mail to:
Dr. Carola Dietze, GHI Washington DC or
Dr. Jochen Schenk, GHI London.
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