Monday, December 21, 2009

Carnivalesque #57

A fine collection of recent posts from Ancient and Medieval blogs, collected at Zenobia: Empress of the East. Read!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blogging history

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Medieval notes from my blog reader

Two blogs I regularly read contribute material worth passing on.

Another Damned Medievalist at Blogenspiel shows how you can just skip grad school entirely (not exactly what she said) yet still do an acceptable job of reading medieval charters. Go look and learn!

Did you know that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo? And some famous 20th century killings associated with it? If you don't know what I'm talking about, see what Jeff Sypeck has to say at Quid Plura?

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Medieval women's magazine?

That is what the Toronto Star called this 15th century manuscript unearthed by Wilfrid Laurier University English professor James Weldon. More properly, it is a commonplace book, an interesting genre of writing not unlike blog writing (or better, diary writing) in some respects. Janice Liedl, a Laurentian University historian who has worked with such things, comments on the Star article:

While the Star’s characterization of the work as a precursor to a modern women’s magazine in the vein of Chatelaine or Cosmopolitan is a little bit over-the-top, it does seem to be a great example of a purpose-assembled collection of manuscript material ranging from medical recipes to literary excerpts, what we might call a florilegia [florilegium sm]. By the sixteenth century, these collections were known as commonplace books. And, contrary to the comments of some of the newspaper readers, literate women were hardly unknown at this time or uninvolved in producing their own manuscripts of either original works or anthologies. So this document is hardly unprecedented but I’d say it’s because of that context that the story seems all the more interesting.

I’ve worked with a number of women’s commonplace books at libraries such as the Folger (and really ought to get back to some of that line of enquiry, one of these days) that have a similar range of subjects, though most of those seem to be in the hand of one copyist, presumably the user who collected the tidbits of particular interest by copying them as they were encountered, rather than literally pulling folio sheaves together. This manuscript, from the images provided, has very different “hands” and might be assembled from different texts produced at many times and places. So it seems as if this set of texts have been more “collected for” an individual reader than “collected by” an individual copyist as most of the commonplace books have been.

So I’ll wait to see if some more information about this manuscript percolates out into the scholarly community. It’s certainly an example that I’ll be using in this fall’s senior seminar when we discuss gender implications for reading and writing in the early modern period!

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Robin and Marian (1976): the middle-aged Middle Ages

Robin Hood comes back to England after 20 years away, crusading and fighting in France, and finds that his old love, Marian, is now an abbess. And she is not young, or particularly impressed by his devil-may-care attitude. Everybody else Robin knew back when is old or dead. Nevertheless, he proceeds to try to live up to his own self-image and the even bigger legend that has grown up around him in his old neighborhood. The results are tragic, though derived from an actual Robin Hood ballad.

This is a remarkable movie. It stars Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, and a luminous Audrey Hepburn. The screenplay author is James Goldman, who wrote the Lion in Winter and They Might Be Giants. The director was Richard Lester, who gives this material an unheroic treatment similar to that which he gave to the Three Musketeers and the Four Musketeers a few years earlier. The physical setting, the buildings and the costumes are very good if not perfect. What really makes the movie is the psychological reality, of Richard Lionheart dying of his own greed and determination to be a king, or the contradictory impulses that drive Marian's behavior.

I probably should not say that this is a movie about middle-aged people for middle-aged people, but it is, and I mean it as a compliment. I certainly can't think of a better historical movie of this sort.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Congress, 2009

Kalamazoo Congress, that is.

I had more enjoyment, intellectually and socially, this time around than I can remember -- and I am a great fan of the Kalamazoo get-together. When before have I picked all good sessions and all good papers? Whenever have I had so much good companionship? I am not complaining about previous experiences, not in the slightest!

My paper on arms and law in the 1350s had the good fortune to be part of the popular De Re Militari series, and it was well attended. The response made me think that when I do write my book on Charny's Questions on War, there will be a reasonable audience for the work. Reassuring! I am also to have an opportunity to speak on the subject of my choice in two years' time. By that time, perhaps, I will have a chance to reread "The Book of the Good Duke," and come up with something of general interest from it. (Some of you may laugh at that choice, but there really is such a book, and it's good.)

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Carnivalesque 49 -- Ancient/Medieval edition, April 2009

This is my first time editing Carnivalesque, the blog carnival that alternates between early modern (c.1500-1800CE) and ancient & medieval topics (up to c.1500CE). I hope you like my selections, which I've been collecting for a while.

Those of you who missed Carnivalesque 48 may have missed the announcement that medievalist Judith Bennett's History Matters: Feminism and the Challenge of the Patriarchy was to be the subject of a roundtable discussion by a series of feminist historians, with each post touching on some important questions about what it means to be a historian, what it means to be a feminist, and what it means for the two to intersect. The first discussion was hosted by Notorious PhD, and you can follow the now-complete series from there. Don't forget the freestanding comments by Magistra et Mater; the first of six is here. This excellent and substantial blogger has also recently delivered a well-deserved, commonsensical whack to that 18th-century sacred cow, "rational economic thinking."

Speaking of women in history, and neglected ones at that, did you know that Queen Zenobia hath a blog? Yes, the third century rebel against/savior of the Roman Empire in the East? Actually, it is Judith Weingarten who has the blog, Zenobia: Empress of the East, which is about that lady but includes other things as well.

Those of us who study distant but colorful eras (like Zenobia's) find our work all too often completely ignored by a public that would go nuts if they only knew what they were missing. If you write a book called Becoming Charlemagne, as Jeff Sypeck has, you are unfairly doomed to obscurity. Or are you? Go on over to Quid plura? and let Jeff explain to you why his opus should be the next pop-culture TV blockbuster series. After all, there is plenty of precedent; ancient material is very much at home on the Internet, as the alert Jennifer Lynn Jordan at Per Omnia Saecula, among others, have discovered for us.

I am a textual historian myself, but I have a lot of respect for people who deal with the material remains of the past, or reconstruct them. There are some good blogs out there on material culture. Darrell Markiewicz, a longtime blacksmith and historical metalworker talks about his work on a regular basis at Hammered Out Bits. Two of those "bits" caught my eye in the last little while. The first was where Darrell recanted his skepticism about legendary weapons made of meteoric iron. No such of a thing, he thought, until he stumbled across new evidence in the form of a wondrous weapon. I am glad he was honest enough to admit his mistake, otherwise I would never have known! He also put some time into reconstructing one of the first trademarked objects of northern European origin, +ULFBERHT+ swords. Don't miss his discussion of them.

From iron to slate: Jonathan Jarrett over at the excellent A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe reminds us once again that some Visigothic charters were written on stone, even though I don't think Jonathan's ever had the pleasure of handling such document. A good time to bring up hard copy in Iberia; at the other end of the peninsula, the most extensive inscription in the ancient Southwest Script has recently been found, which like all others on this sort was written on slate. Stephen Chrisomalis at Glossographia tells the story and supplies the links.

Will McLean at A Commonplace Book, also working at a bit of a remove from the originals, wants to know what an écranché shield was, what a targe was, and what an ecu was. Will, like me, is interested in late medieval deeds of arms, and for all I know he is building authentic shields as we speak. He is a serious reenactor and has built some amazing stuff in the past. He has worked on texts as well: this time he supplies us with a link to a fine article on German tournament rules of the 15th century.

A tournament/jousting fan? Don't miss the 16th-century Burgkmair Tournament Book at the beautiful and new-to-me booksite, BibliOdyssey. For me, however, it is hard to beat the visual impact of two photos from Kyrgyzstan, where the sports of the medieval nobility survive: Kok-boru (the same game as Afghan Buzkashi) and falconry, if that's what you call it when they use golden eagles instead of hawks and falcons. Both of these come from The Big Picture, the regular news photo blog from, one of the treasures of the Web.

One of the joys and/or torments of being a serious student of the farther past, whether as a pro or as a well read amateur, is the opportunity to try to correct popular and journalistic clichés about our favorite times. I say "try to correct" advisedly, because these things never get corrected -- there is an infinitely deep pool of misinformation, and journalists in particular seem to know exactly where it is. However, the effort of correction sometimes reaches the few people who actually care, and sometimes produces witty results.

I, for example, would never have learned about the new medieval datum about the Robin Hood legend if various intelligent bloggers had not been irritated by superficial reports of it. The superficial reports seem to focus on the idea that not everybody loved Robin Hood. no wonder the papers made such a fuss! He must be the only person in history not universally popular. But the blog Medieval News filled me in on the substance behind the writeups, and had even more. Thanks!

And did you know that the hamster wheel was a medieval invention? Well, the people over at do, and surprisingly enough they are right! At least, Carl Pyrdum at the ever-reliable Got Medieval traces it back indeed to late antiquity and Boethius' underappreciated second work on consolation, The Consolation of Owning a Pet Hamster. Even experts in illumination and sixth-century philosophy may be surprised to hear that some striking pictures from this work still survive!

Alas, not all journalistic historical discoveries and popular misconceptions are created equal. Jonathan Jarrett has a rant, a very substantial and entertaining rant on Celtic fonts and interlace. A perfect example of how a good rant can be cathartic not just for the writer for the reader as well.

Myself, sometime in the last while I was tempted to rant or at least poke fun at, costume advertising featuring the Deluxe Barbarian Queen. But then Eileen Joy came along at In the Middle and showed me that I should not; at least not without some thought. In all seriousness it was a moment of enlightenment.

To tie this up, let me mention that Paul Halsall, that benefactor of all humankind, and especially students and teachers of the past, blogs over at English Eclectic. It's usually personal observation, but it's not seldom, well, heaven on earth or something much like it.

And, oh yes! Nokes is back. Now that he has a fully-functional computer, the Wordhoard is Unlocked once more.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Karen Larsdatter's site

I know I mentioned this site long ago, but I lost track of it, and I am sure that many of my readers have never heard of it.

Actually Karen Larsdatter, one of those public benefactors like Roger Pearse, has two projects worthy of note. The first, Material Culture Linkspages for the Middle Ages and Renaissance, I will let her describe herself:
Links to material culture (stuff!) from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, including representations in period artwork. Some of these focus on garments, or surveys of occupational dress, or even animals. For a complete list of the linkspages and articles on this site, see the sitemap.

A good example is her recent linkspage on depictions of knighting ceremonies from datable manuscripts.

And if you want to keep up with her new linkspages and other interesting news, she's got a blog.

Image: The knighting of Roland as depicted in the mid-13th century.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terminology of chivalry

For the second time in two years, I am teaching a seminar for fourth-year students entitled, simply, Chivalry. In the seminar we read a lot of primary sources discussing mounted warriors, vassals, men at arms, and so forth in an attempt to figure out what the knights of the Middle Ages were like, and how they were regarded and supposed to act.

There is a problem of terminology that bothers me a lot as as we work through the material, which is entirely in English translation. If we are trying to define "the medieval knight" and "knighthood" or "chivalry," what about the fact that the figure we call a knight in modern English was called in all of the relevant European languages either "a soldier (miles)" or "a horseman (chevalier or Ritter) or sometimes "a follower (vassal)?" How can we really discuss the evolution of this figure, in a practical or ideal sense, either one, unless we come to grips with the actual terminology? To my shame, I have yet to come up with a systematic answer to this problem, beyond discussing it in class where I feel the need, which is pretty often. I once thought that that would be enough, but I'm dissatisfied.

I am now fantasizing about a seminar where the modern English word "knight" can't be used at all, but where, depending on the original word, one must say "rider," " soldier," or "follower." The use of the word "chivalry" might be even more difficult...

I had a good close look at the Oxford English Dictionary before writing this post, and under the main entry for the noun "knight" I found no definition that reflects what students of medieval warfare often mean when they say "knight:" a mounted, fully armed and armored warrior. Surely it must be in there somewhere.

Image: a symbolic knight.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Crusade! Happy Jihad!

Actually, I don't recommend either one for a roaring good time, unless your tastes run to rivers of blood. This is just my flip way of saying I had a very good time myself preparing and teaching my special topics course on Crusade and Jihad this fall. I'm not exactly done with it yet, there's a final exam to write and plenty of grading to do both before and after the exam, but all of my lectures and accompanying PowerPoint presentations are done.

Part of the enjoyment of this course has been a feeling that the students are also really enjoying it. (Course evaluations will eventually show how much they enjoyed it.) But there has been an intellectual thrill to what I personally have been doing, too. About a quarter of a century ago, when I was a new assistant professor, I taught the Crusades as part of a course on the High Middle Ages. I did a thorough and conscientious job of preparing those crusade lectures. Therefore, it was to a certain amount of astonishment that I returned to the subject in the last year or so (I begin to think about new courses long in advance) and found that the whole subject had changed dramatically in the meantime. The new interpretations of the crusading era were in part a matter of new perspectives, but some of those new perspectives were rooted in hard basic research. What a thrill to catch up with all of that stuff, and be paid for it! Even when I disagreed with the conclusions of the scholars I was reading, I enjoyed the process of engagement immensely.

As for the jihad part of the course, self-education was even more drastic. I have been teaching a course on the history of Islamic civilization for over a decade now, so I wasn't coming to the history of Jihad completely ignorant. Yet looking around for material, I had an even bigger surprise than I did in connection with the crusade scholarship. I found myself using almost exclusively books and articles that have been produced in the last 10 years. Thanks in particular to Carole Hillenbrand, David Cook, Patricia Crone, Christopher Tyerman, and Capt. John "Garick" Chamberlain, I was able to do an adequate and maybe more than adequate job of showing the differences and similarities between crusade and jihad and how the two different ideals clash d in the medieval Middle East and to some degree later. But 10 years ago almost none of the good stuff available to me had even been published. I am grateful to those scholars for stepping into the breach; and I have a nice feeling of being not so far behind the cutting edge of research, even if in this case I am entirely dependent upon secondary works in European languages. And my students have benefited -- at least I hope so.

Image: someone's take on the fall of Constantinople, 1453.

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For your holiday gift lists

Will McLean, re-enactor extraordinaire, wrote a guide to Daily Life in Chaucer's England a decade or so ago; I liked it and once used it as a text for a course on 14th century England. Now, not quite in time for Christmas (but perhaps before New Year's) the second edition is coming out. Bigger, better, and with a snappier cover.

Also maybe in time for Christmas, Darrell Markewitz, blacksmith and ironmonger, is putting out a DVD on his research trip to Denmark earlier this year. The DVD is being put together in connection with a talk he is giving at the Peterborough, Ontario SCA meeting of November 26 (Traill College, 8 pm). To get an idea of what will be included in the DVD and whether you would be interested, have a look at this post on Darrell's all-historical-ironwork-all-the-time site, Hammered Out Bits.

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A sage comment

Jonathan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe wants to remind his readers that medieval charters are more safely seen as demands for royal action, or at least royal authorization for non-royal action, than as evidence for royal policy:

People: we give kings much too much work to have done. I don’t mean to suggest that their days were idle, Alfonso[I of Aragon]’s in particular clearly not, but it’s not as if no-one did anything in these areas without the royal say-so. Most of your life as a medieval settler you’d never have anything to do with the king. By ascribing all this initiative to the king we lift it off the shoulders of the people whose lives depended on these decisions, and to whom we should allow the credit of having taken them.
If you don't know Jarrett's blog but have a real interest in how medieval historians think, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Currently on top: free wine and beer at Kalamazoo, how to eat cheap at other scholarly locales.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Jonathan Riley-Smith on the 11th c. reformation

The prominent Crusade historian in a 1993 interview at the Christianity Today Library:

In Europe today, if you drive five miles along any road, you will probably find two churches. Nearly all of those churches are built on eleventh- and twelfth-century foundations. Previously, there might have been one church every twenty miles, from which priests would go out to serve the sacraments. Eleventh-century reformers believed religion should be taken into the villages, and this evangelizing drive resulted in a great building program. This burst of construction ranks with anything the Roman Empire did. Someone in 1032 said, “France is becoming white with churches.”

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Introducing the Emperor Frederick II...

...or at least his shoes!

Do you have any idea how rare surviving medieval shoes are?

Pretty rare!

Rarest of all are the pretty ones.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why do historians study the subjects they study?

It's not just that they are faddy people, says Magistra and Mater, in a rather long (but interesting!) post:

Chris [Wickham] has contributed enormously to socio-economic history, and much of the talk was implicitly a call for this to be prioritised, in combination with archaeological expertise. Indeed Chris explicitly contrasted the fruitful relationship of history with archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s (with a historical tendency towards broad-sweep structural analysis, based on socio-economic history) with the historians’ later move away from archaeology with the linguistic turn. This meant that post-processural archaeologists in the late 1980s and 1990s found historical collaborators hard to come by.

It seemed clear to me in the talk that what Chris really wants is the 1970s back, but it’s not just structuralism that now seem as out of date as glam rock (and less likely to be revived). The big problem now is that socio-economic history provides few obvious reasons for studying the Middle Ages, let alone the early Middle Ages. Why should the economic history of the Middle Ages be of interest to anyone but specialists? My sense is that until recently there were two possible broader connections. If you were interested in grand Marxian analyses, then slave and feudal modes of production were an important part of the model to be studied. Meanwhile for an analysis of the roots of industrialisation or capitalism as a whole, late medieval England and its textile trade or late medieval Italy and its banking system were useful places to look.

The problem is that current global capitalism has advanced so far that many of the early steps look entirely irrelevant...

In contrast, other aspects of the early Middle Ages do seem to have more obvious contemporary resonance. Early medieval historians exploring theology, the construction of ethnicity, the development of the state, gender roles or the use of history as propaganda can all show connections between then and now in a way that has become difficult for early medieval socio-economic history. Archaeology can contribute to some aspects of these themes (it’s been very important for looking at ethnicity and culture, for example), but it’s not central to these issues in the same way as it is to socio-economic history.

That doesn’t mean that the study of medieval socio-economic history isn’t valuable or important in its own right, but I can’t see it returning to centre stage again. Chris ended by presenting an analysis of historical change in Palestine and Syria in the period 500-900. It was a good example of how much you can deduce from an area with a well-explored archaeological record without going to written sources. However, I’m not sure that many people apart from Chris are going to feel that the most important fact about seventh-century Islam is that it led to little change in the economy of the Levant. Arguing that archaeology should be an equal partner with history rather than its handmaiden may be a sound position, but it isn’t really going to be effective if what is offered is an attenuated vision of history where structural pattern has replaced story. [Emphasis Muhlberger.]

The bolded passage is the part that really caught my eye. Like M&M, I have tremendous respect for Chris Wickham and his work, but even without a lot of exposure to recent literary theory, my work of the last ten years has focused on why people tell the stories they do, in my case about war and chivalry.

Image: Could this come back???

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Don't believe news stories about "medieval times"

...if they depend on (a) journalists identifying when "medieval times" were or (b) journalists doing simple math.

As Got Medieval demonstrates.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Derek Neal Speaks: The Damage Done:

From Dr. James Murton:

The next talk in the History Department Seminar Series features our own gender and medieval historian Derek Neal, speaking on "Sex and the Damage Done: A Rare Prosecution for Sodomy in Late Medieval England."

Next Friday, Oct 24, 3:00 pm, Rm A224 (note the later than normal time to accommodate the Arts & Science Council Meeting).

Refreshments will be served.

Hope to see you there!

Image: The White Hart Inn in Blythburgh, Suffolk, was built in the 13th century as an ecclesiastical court venue, where such cases would have been tried.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Recreating the Middle Ages on the road to Compostella

In my class on Crusade and Jihad, we were talking about pilgrimages just today, and the difficulties associated with them came up. But I wasn't thinking about this!

This probably is relevant to the Chivalry seminar, too...

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Three interesting posts from my hiatus

I only skimmed over my blog feeds after returning from my vacation, but I am glad I did so, and didn't just delete wholesale. There was some good reading, a bit of which I am going to share with you.

To start with a post that is mainly of interest to academics, here's Michael Drout ruminating on the administrative demands made on professors. But of course it's not just profs who suffer through meetings:

When I was Chair of Ed Pol I used to joke that we needed "Meeting Dosimeters" similar to those used for people who work with radioactive materials. When your dosimeter has gone above the safety level, you simply can't do any more work with radioactivity that month. It should be the same thing with meetings and other Chair stuff: decide how much you are going to do per week, and stick to that. To quote my friend Bryon Grigsby, who is now a Provost: "Nobody is going to die based on what happens in the English department."
There might be a big market for those "meeting dosimeters."

On a more historical note, here's another brilliant and thoughful post by Jonathan Jarret on medieval agricultural economics and various ways we can understand the relations between practice and records. It's vegetable barter time!

Finally, one news item I was sorry to miss, from the Telegraph: Knights Templar heirs in legal battle with the Pope.

Here's the gist:

The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ, whose members claim to be descended from the legendary crusaders, have filed a lawsuit against Benedict XVI calling for him to recognise the seizure of assets worth 100 billion euros (£79 billion).

They claim that when the order was dissolved by his predecessor Pope Clement V in 1307, more than 9,000 properties as well as countless pastures, mills and other commercial ventures belonging to the knights were appropriated by the church.

But their motive is not to reclaim damages only to restore the "good name" of the Knights Templar.

"We are not trying to cause the economic collapse of the Roman Catholic Church, but to illustrate to the court the magnitude of the plot against our Order," said a statement issued by the self-proclaimed modern day knights.

The fate and alleged guilt of the Templars is a legitimate subject. One does wonder, however, how this Association can claim "descent" from the 14th century members of the historic Order. Simple answer: The same way everyone else does, more or less by assertion.

For more, see Wikipedia, which I would guess has tons of material on the dubious descendents of the Templars.

Images: Templars being burned for heresy and apostasy.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two useful resources for HIST 3116, Crusade and Jihad

Although I hope all my students in this fall course are enjoying the perfect weather I've been out in today, there will come a time when this post will prove useful.  I'm noting two resources, one online, one in print and in the Nipissing University library.

The online resource is Crusades-Encyclopedia, a large and varied assemblage of useful texts and commentary.  It has been lovingly compiled by the energetic Andrew Holt.  This is the place to go for a lot of things:  a historical text our library does not have, what a famous scholar said that made the scholar famous (historiography!), or a short introduction to many, many basic terms, persons, and places.    

If you need quick help on some medieval subject not obviously to be found in Crusades-Encyclopedia, and the library is handy, go looking for The Dictionary of the Middle Ages at Library of Congress class D 114.  Despite the name, it is a 13 volume encyclopedia which will be quite good for initial orientation or basic fact checking on a great many subjects, including many aspects of the Crusades.

Happy exploring!

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sea Stallion from Glendalough

Friday, June 27, 2008

The not-so-good-old days

Medievalists are are constantly being put in the position of responding to the modern connotations of the word "medieval." For many modern people the Middle Ages acts as a dumping ground for every nightmare that can be attributed to humanity. The great witchhunt of European history took place after the Middle Ages; the purges and holocausts of the 20th century put most medieval slaughters, ruthless and cruel as they may have been, in the shade. We often find ourselves pointing out such things to people who carelessly use "medieval" to mean "bad." (Indeed, my dictation software heard that last usage of medieval as "and evil" so we are seemingly in the position of fighting the machines, too.)

But we must face the fact that most of history, including the Middle Ages, were not exactly the good old days. Some scholarly blogging posts of the last week or so underline this.

Jonathan Jarrett, I believe, started the ball rolling with a post on Sex slaves in the early Middle Ages: what’s the evidence? over at his blog A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. his point was that he didn't know what the evidence for sex slavery might be and he hoped someone would enlighten him. Soon after, he found himself shocked by reflecting on well-known evidence about the prominent monastery of Cluny in eastern France. As he put it, "slaves are all through the material from Cluny [in the tenth century]." that reflection, and chance meeting with another medievalist blogger, Magistra et Mater, went into this post on trading "ancillae [slave women]."

At the same time Magistra et Mater has been writing about some subjects that might excite prurient interest, but deserve serious thought, too. For instance, how exactly were disobedient monks flogged in the time of the Carolingian kings? And somewhat less grim, were families about the same time somewhat reluctant to write off their daughters as ruined if they indulged in a little premarital sexual activity? Maybe for good practical reasons the Carolingian Franks were a little less likely to condemn such girls than some other cultures. These are all isolated points perhaps, but important for visualizing how things actually worked for individual people, like a monk about to be flogged, or the teenager worried about how dad is going to react to her little adventure.

Finally, the subject of slavery (mostly later than medieval) is discussed by Phil Paine in this post, inspired by a book on 18th century Moroccan slavery (item 16305). Conclusion: there is no "nice slavery," ancient, medieval, early modern, or current

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

What the sources say about the golden angel

With help from Will McLean and Google I am able to post what contemporary writers said about the golden angel which took part in Richard II's coronation.

First, the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, with what is supposed to be straight reportage:

The city was in every way most richly adorned, and the conduits ran with wine for three hours. In the upper end of the Cheap was erected a castle with four towers ; on two sides of which ran forth wine abundantly. In the towers were placed four beautiful virgins, of stature and age like to the King, apparelled in white vestures; these damsels, on the King's approach, blew in his face leaves of gold, and threw on him and his horse counterfeit golden florins. When he was come before the castle, they took cups of gold, and filling them with wine at the spouts of the castle, presented the same to the King and his nobles. On the top of the castle, betwixt the towers, stood a golden angel, holding a crown in his hands ; and so contrived, that, when the King came, he bowed down and offered him the crown.

William Langland, a poet, seems to include this scene (argues Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels) in an allegorical/fantastic view of the kingdom in Piers Ploughman,:

Then looked up a lunatic · a lean thing withal,
And kneeling before the king well speaking said:
`Christ keep thee sir King · and thy kingdom,
And grant thee to rule the realm · so Loyalty may love thee,
And for thy rightful ruling · be rewarded in heaven.'
Then in the air on high · an angel of heaven
Stooped and spoke in Latin · for simple men could not
Discuss nor judge · that which should justify them,
But should suffer and serve · therefore said the angel:

`Sum Rex, sum Princeps: neutram fortasse deinceps;
O qui jura regis Christi specialia regis, hoc quod agas melius Justus es,
esto pius!
Nudum jus a te vestiri vult pietate; qualia vis metere talia grand sere.
Si jus nudatur nudo de jure metatur; si seritur pietas de pietate
Then an angry buffoon · a glutton of words,
To the angel on high · answered after:
`Dum rex a regere dicatur nomen habere,
Nomen habet sine re nisi studet jura tenere.'
Then began all the commons · to cry out in Latin,
For counsel of the king · construe how-so he would:
`Praecepta regis sunt nobis vincula legis.

I am not feeling confident enough in my Latin at the moment to translate those passages in their entirety, but it seems that this passage pits the angel and the rich commons of the kingdom (or the parliamentary Commons), who are anxious to give a pious king divine power, against buffoons and lunatics who say "Since the king (rex) gets his name from guiding (regere), he has that name to no purpose unless he strives to keep the law."

Hardly relevant to today's concerns, eh?

Update: Thanks to Scott Lightsey's book (p. 46), I can now include what the Anonimalle Chronicle says:

Set up in the middle of the Cheap stood tower of painted canvas, curiously constructed, over timber support-beams; about the tower were four turrets, in which stood four damsels, exceedingly lovely and beautifully arrayed, and these said damsels threw gold coins in the direction of the prince's coming. Within the said tower had also been built a small belfry, and on the belfry stood an angel bearing a golden crown holding it out towards the said prince, to do him comfort.

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The golden angel and 14th-century robots

Given his other interests, it was perhaps predictable that Will McLean would reply to my previous post on 14th-century robots. And I'm glad he did.

First, I promote his reply to my post:

The mechanical angel at the coronation is described in Thomas Walsingham's history. I think Lightsey is assuming that Langland's angel is a reference to that, and Langland would expect his audience to make the connection.

Then he opined in a post at his own blog, A Commonplace Book:

Much as I’d like to imagine the Tik-Tok Angel of London, clockwork seems unlikely in the context. The contrivance had to perform on cue and the moment of Richard’s arrival was unpredictable, so a puppet seems more likely a clockwork automaton.

Then he tries to avoid speculating further on the blockbuster SF hit that will never be:

Evangelion Genesis Ricardus, in which a team of moody dysfunctional anime adolescents, led by young Richard II, pilot giant clockwork automata...

even though one of his commenters rightly says:

Evangelion Genesis Ricardus would be the BEST THING EVER.

But then he does something less geeky and perhaps infinitely cooler, lead us to real manifestations of 14th century SF and SF fandom:

Instead I will cherish Froissart’s Horloge Amoureuse, in which a ticking clock becomes an extended metaphor for measured and enduring love. There’s something tremendously sweet about how Froissart handled this: first the wide-eyed curiosity at the wheels and foliot and whole complex mechanism, then the immediate impulse to turn it into a love-allegory.

And he includes a translation.

Last, so far, he brings us back to the potential 14th-century audience for Evangelion Genesis Richardus, alas for their loss of what never will be, at least for them.

If you like 14th c. robots (and who doesn’t?) Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale gives us not only a brass robot horse controlled by turning a pin in its ear, but both a satire of the kind of SF where the cool technology and sense-of-wonder marvels completely overwhelm the thin plot and weak characters and of the kind of fanboy who thinks it’s like the coolest story ever, dude.

It's enough to make you intellectually drunk, really, this subject and the spin-off around it. Good as Will's contributions are, the key fact is this:

If you saw a movie in which a robot/puppet/automaton offered a crown to the boy Richard II during his coronation procession, you'd think it was some kind of ironic commentary by a hip (in his own estimation) film-maker. But no, it actually happened, and I at least must work very hard, even though (because?) I know the 14th century tolerably well, to integrate it into my picture of the actual past.

Image: a conservative choice from Google Images and Flickr. Plenty of anime/new age possibilities: search "golden angel."

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

14th-century robots

In a book review by Aleks Pluskowski of Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels in Medieval Culture and Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2007), sent me free by the TMR service , I read the following:

Scott Lightsey's Manmade Marvels is a remarkable and unique work on a neglected aspect of late-medieval society. Lightsey reveals a world of artificers and technologists, of complex clockwork devices and colourful automata: a
world where supernatural, fantastic and exotic mirabilia were pulled from the imaginary realms of romance, and--literally--brought to life for the entertainment and exultation of war-fatigued courts.Since surviving examples of these machines are incredibly rare, Lightsey draws on literary and documentary sources, complemented bya range of artistic representations.

...His first case study of automata draws on the prologue to Piers Ploughman, which describes a mechanical angel that crowns Richard II during his public coronation in London. Here, Lightsey situates this marvel within a newly established culture of aristocratic visual display; a growing tendency towards luxurious ceremonial which would come to define the Ricardian court. Indeed, this clockwork coronation is seen as nothing less than formative for Richard's own attitude to the calculated display of

I looked at a modern version of PP and I must admit that I can't see how the reader is supposed to know that it is a mechanical angel. I'll follow it up.

However, I have no doubt that this robotic messenger was possible, because as an undergraduate I read Huizinga's classic early-20th-century book, The Waning of the Middle Ages, where he talks about a lot of clockwork figures used in princely ceremonies. Yet I
must admit that despite my early exposure to this fact, I've never integrated "mechanical men" into my visualization of the Middle Ages. I suspect that few of my readers have thought about Richard II as King of the Robots (a kind of dressier Dr. Doom?).

For years I've teased friends who think that the 14th century is the bee's knees of medieval history by saying, half-seriously, that the 14th century isn't the Middle Ages at all. Now I can say, "Dude, what about all those robots?"

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Political hunting:"Fabulous beasts can only be slain by fabulous humans."

At the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress I snatched up at a very reasonable price the single display copy of Thomas T. Alllsen's The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History.

My interest was simple. I had noticed in my recent teaching of ancient history that monarchs of nearly every culture we touched on were routinely depicted as mighty hunters. I got into the habit of telling my students "here is so-and-so as Gilgamesh," referring to one of the earliest examples of such depiction. Similarly, in teaching world history I was fascinated by all the pictures left by North Indian and Central Asian monarchs of their hunting exploits and what looked like huge picnics.

I finally had some time today to look at Allsen's book and I'm glad bought it. It is an elegantly written, wide-ranging exploration of how hunting, a practical and high prestige activity through most of history, has also served as a symbol of royal control over nature, and the strength and accomplishment of monarchs. I look forward to having a chance to read it thoroughly.

The environmental historian joining our department in the fall, Dean Bavington, has worked on fishing as hunting versus fishing as modern managed economic activity. I wonder if he'd like to have this book in our collection when he gets here?

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“Once Upon a Time…” @Discovery North Bay, Saturday May 24, 1 pm: Steve Muhlberger speaks

@Discovery North Bay (100 Ferguson Street, the old train station) opens its display of medieval life and culture at 1 pm on Saturday the 24th. I will be speaking, briefly, on "Why the Middle Ages are Important."

I'm glad to be invited; it's good when Nipissing University can contribute to specifically community initiatives.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Summer books for students

I have very limited expectations that students for my fall courses are checking in on a daily basis to see what I think they should be reading this summer. But on the off chance and remembering that is not just students who drop in here, I am going to mention a couple of books that are worth knowing about.

For those who are interested in chivalry perhaps the best book on the subject, one that has been credited with reviving scholarly interest in the subject is Maurice Keen's 1984 work, Chivalry. It is one of those books that make scholarship look really good: well-organized, well-written, and full of ideas.

So you say, if this book is so darned good, why is it not on the reading list for the chivalry seminar? I'm not sure how this will sound, but when a book is this good, basing a seminar on it might be counterproductive. I'm hoping to spend most of the time in class discussing primary sources in all their variety and contradictions, rather than admiring Keen's elegant formulations based on his extremely wide reading. I am keenly (!?) aware that my students don't have unlimited funds. Our course pack and other books will cost quite enough thank you, and I'm not going to have you buy this book just because I think it would be good for you.

On the other hand, this book will be good for you, maybe, there's a good chance, so if you have it available to you, or feel like buying it, don't let me hold you back.

I have another recommendation for students think they are not going to have enough material on the Crusades in the three books required for the course on Crusade and Jihad: it's the most recent survey of all the evidence about the Crusades to the Holy Land before 1300, God's War by Christopher Tyerman. The one review I saw criticized this book for not being a suitable replacement for a 50-year-old three-volume work by Steven Runciman, whose prose and analytical skills were astonishing. That reviewer predicted that the Runciman book would continue to be assigned to students despite the virtues of Tyreman's up-to-date review of the evidence.

Me, I don't think I would recommend either Runciman or Tyerman as the primary text for an undergraduate course. Both works are just too long (Tyerman's book has nearly 1100 pages) if we really expect students to be reading a variety of materials. Nonetheless, Tyerman's work, like Runciman's, is interesting, detailed, and full of ideas. I think the real weakness of Tyerman's book, if you're thinking about a general market, is that it seems to assume a fair amount of knowledge about the general course of the Crusades to the Holy Land. This would work better as a second or third book about the Crusades than it would as an introduction.

One nice thing about Tyerman's book is that it is very cheap for a hardback of its size. If you would like to just completely immerse yourself in the Crusades, look it up at a bookseller's site and be pleasantly surprised.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Can parking fines be called "medieval?" Maybe.

A lovely post at Got Medieval.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The BBC's version of the medieval mind -- and the Middle Ages come to North Bay

Richard Scott Nokes of Unlocked Wordhoard directs our attention to a YouTube-posted trailer for the upcoming BBC 4 Medieval Season. Unfortunately, much web material will be available only in the UK. But we can enjoy this:

And in another jurisdiction,

@Discovery North Bay is pleased to announce the Grand Opening of the “Once Upon a Time…” medieval exhibit, on 24 May 2008, from 1:00 – 3:00 pm, at 100 Ferguson Street. The exhibit originates with the Bruce Country Museum and Archives, and will be in North Bay until 5 September, 2008.

More on this later...

Update: I will be speaking at the Grand Opening on "Why the Middle Ages are Important."

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The French Revolution and Canada -- laughable?

Last week I attended the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It's my favorite academic conference -- the very first conference I ever attended was an early iteration of what's often just called "Kalamazoo" and it rather spoiled me for other models. This year, despite the fact that my energy level is still not quite to previous levels, I had a very good time indeed.

I want to tell you about one incident that led me to reflect on my own historical values. On Sunday morning, the BABEL working group hosted a roundtable called, What Is the Place of the Present in Medieval Studies? I hesitate to characterize the "presentism" discussed mostly approvingly, by the members of this roundtable, but a very simple definition might be that if you're a "presentist," you see present and past issues coming together and feel compelled to comment on them, perhaps in forms and in forums where past scholarly practice would not allow such comment.

The Roundtable began with a senior and rightfully admired scholar unsympathetic to this approach commenting upon it. I rather got the impression that she was calling for a circling up of the wagons in scholarship, so that serious issues rather than faddish ones get proper attention. This rather took some of the other participants back, but it did lead to some interesting discussion. Later, the same senior scholar told a story that I believe was meant to illustrate her rejection of trivialities. She told story of walking into her department in a prominent Canadian university, seeing a poster advertising a conference called The French Revolution and Canada and finding it hilarious. And finding it even more hilarious that no one else in the department thought it was funny at all. (One gathers from this anecdote that the senior professor is not originally from Canada.)

I think the anecdote passed over a lot of people's heads, but I've heard the like before. I'm not quite sure what the senior scholar meant, but two possibilities occur to me. The first is that Canada is an inherently humorous place, perhaps one that has no real reason to exist. The relationship between a world historical event like the French Revolution and Canada is absurd on the face of it simply because Canada is not important enough to be part of the discussion of the FR. And as for what people in Canada thought about French Revolution then or since, or whether Canadians might have a unique and interesting view of that revolution, well it's hardly worth considering. The second is that the senior scholar has run into the rather pathetic efforts of Canadian intellectuals to make themselves and their country relevant in situations where those Canadians don't really believe it themselves. This is an attitude I have run into, but more often in the 70s than in any more recent decade.

I hate to think that the senior scholar has been in Canada for decades and still has a condescending attitude towards the country's very existence, but it is one held by some people born and bred in Canada. Certain people, not necessarily important ones, feel that Canada's second- or third-ratedness (in their eyes) diminishes them, and they react by taking every opportunity to slight the country, especially if foreigners are around. They would be oh so much more happy if they were part of a first-rate world power. People with great ambitions sometimes have a very bad case of this desire to disassociate themselves from Podunk Canada. Consider the cases of Lords Beaverbrook, Thompson, and Black, who bought British newspapers specifically so they could someday be members of the House of Lords. Sometimes the Canada-bashers go so far as to become politically active and attempt to incorporate Canada and their own careers in some great imperial project. A truly despicable example of this took place in the fall and winter of 2001, when "conservative" commentators in Canada went on a tear, blaming September attacks on New York and Washington on softheaded Canadian liberalism and Canada's failings as a bad ally.

I think that I came to Canada from the same country and for much the same reasons as the senior scholar, but if I ever would have found the conference about the French Revolution and Canada funny, I can no longer remember feeling that way. It's not so much that I've become Canadian over the years -- though that's part of it clearly -- but more that I have developed a world historian's attitude even if I'm mainly a medievalist. No country, or no country's people, are more inherently humorous than anyone else. They get neither automatic contempt nor automatic admiration from me. You never know where some good idea is going to come from or from where some slimy practice will creep out. If you really want to understand the human condition, you can't start by excluding part of humanity from consideration. Maybe a few people in Bhutan aren't very significant in their current attempts to implement a humane democracy in the Himalayas. But who knows? Let's check back later and see how things actually work out.

Image: Inherently humorous Canadian money.

Update: Fixed some embarrassing errors produced by using dictation software and not checking closely enough afterwards.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Medieval soldier of the month

I am currently at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo.

Yesterday I was at a session based on the online database The Soldier in Later Medieval England, and one of the directors reminded me that there is a feature called Medieval Soldier of the Month. Go here to see May's soldier, Walter, 5th lord Fitzwalter of Little Dunmow, Essex.

Back to the conference!

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Friday, April 25, 2008

More on Viking ship burial

Not so long ago, the bodies of two women were found buried at the famous Oseberg ship burial site. Here's the most recent news out of Norway.

Thanks to Dave for this tip.

Image: the discovery of the Oseberg ship in 1904. That guy on the left looks like he's about to start the Russian Revolution.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Checking out the archives of Vic

At any good university the historians insist that students use original sources. But only a few early medieval historians get to use sources like this in their original form:

The archive in question is in Vic, in Catalonia (which may be in Spain, depending on who you ask).

Also in Vic is this modern statue 11th century bishop Oliba, which symbolizes his connection to the Peace and Truce of God, which students in HIST 3116 next fall will be learning about to their complete satisfaction.

Thanks to Jonathan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe who had entirely too much fun in the archives.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mesterinde Karen Larsdatter's site

The Society for Creative Anachronism gets a lot of flak from scholars, some of it quite justified (ask an SCA member!), but in its ranks are a fair number of people who have spent 10, 20 or 30 years researching their particular interest from a re-enactor's or recreator's point of view, and these people sometimes know things no one else does.

Nowadays it's easier for such people to do research and make available the results. One of those people is Mesterinde Karen, who has put together structurally simple but very valuable pages showing representations of medieval objects. Will McLean spotted the ones showing tournament galleries and the barriers or fences that marked off listfields, and alerted me through his blog. But seems to have much more. And it's searchable.

Image: Lancelot and Gawain as imagined in the early 15th century.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Great Warming -- medieval climate change in Europe and the world

Brian Fagan has written a book called The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, about the effect that the warming period between 800-1200 A.D. had on global living standards. There's a preview of his argument on NRO Radio. He also talks about fishing!

Thanks to Scott Nokes at Unlocked Wordhoard (again!).

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The Palace of Westminster --developing before your very eyes!

A friendly contributer to the medieval history list Mediev-L has just alerted me to an online "film" of the development of the Palace of Westminster, the home of the UK Parliament and one of the most historical sites in Britain. Well worth taking some time with.

I'm not quite sure who is responsible for this site. It may be a commercial site and other such presentations may be available from the home page.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mead-evil witticism of the week

David Myers of Redstone Meadery sez:

"Mead is something that comes around like clockwork every 2,000 to 3,000 years," Myers said. "I saw the wave coming and decided to get on."
Slate evaluates the possibilities of such a wave, and is skeptical. Despite extensive and mostly pleasant interaction with the SCA, I've never really liked mead. Its ancient popularity, I think, came from the fact that really sweet foods were hard to come by. Now they aren't.

Thanks again to Dr. Nokes of Unlocked Wordhoard.
Image: Slate stereotypes mead-drinkers.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Who's the myth?

Over at Vanity Press a couple of days ago, Chet Scoville noted this story from Yahoo News, which I copy in its entirety:

LONDON (AFP) - Britons are losing their grip on reality, according to a poll out Monday which showed that nearly a quarter think Winston Churchill was a myth while the majority reckon Sherlock Holmes was real.

The survey found that 47 percent thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth.

And 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. The same percentage thought Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale did not actually exist.

Three percent thought Charles Dickens, one of Britain's most famous writers, is a work of fiction himself.

Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi and Battle of Waterloo victor the Duke of Wellington also appeared in the top 10 of people thought to be myths.

Meanwhile, 58 percent thought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Holmes actually existed; 33 percent thought the same of W. E. Johns' fictional pilot and adventurer Biggles.

UKTV Gold television surveyed 3,000 people.

Chet found this depressing, but since last year I do my best to avoid letting anything depress me, since that improves nothing. So, trying to take a more positive view, I ask myself these questions:

How, in a world saturated with fiction, can people who are not historians keep the mythical and the real sorted out?

How many historical figures do even intelligent people have filed away in their memories? How sure of their reality can they be -- if put on the spot by a pollster?

Is it amazing that people think Richard Lionheart is a myth, since most accounts (Ivanhoe-inspired) are pretty mythical?

Didn't medieval people think Arthur is real? Don't a lot of people think that now?

Isn't it perhaps understandable that someone with the poetic last name "Nightingale" associated with saintly charity, might be considered a legend?

Shouldn't literature profs be pleased that Dickens has more public reality than Churchill?

On to another myth. One spinoff of the Greatest Show on Earth is a debate about Barack Obama, and whether he's like JF or RF Kennedy. I was around for Kennedy's assassination, and was much affected by it, but have in the last 20 years or so have come to think he was mostly image. The issue of Kennedy's true standing was interestingly raised today at Ezra Klein's blog, by him and his commentators. Have a look.

P.s. My youthful Kennedy infatuation makes me very wary of discussing certain issues with people who were teenagers when Reagan was president.

Image: Mother Teresa. Or somebody.

Update: As Prof. Nokes points out, Will McLean looked farther than I did, and found the top 10 list of fictional characters believed by the public to be real. And behold, Will shows that the people who made the poll don't know their history very well.

Here's the list,

  • 1) King Arthur – 65%
  • 2) Sherlock Holmes – 58%
  • 3) Robin Hood – 51%
  • 4) Eleanor Rigby – 47%
  • 5) Mona Lisa -35%
  • 6) Dick Turpin – 34%
  • 7) Biggles – 33%
  • 8) The Three Musketeers – 17%
  • 9) Lady Godiva – 12%
  • 10) Robinson Crusoe – 5%

and here are Will's remarks. My own addendum: I'm pretty sure Dafoe modeled Robinson Crusoe off a real shipwreck survivor. Ah, yes, Alexander Selkirk.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Frankish women warriors in Muslim Middle Eastern sources

People always want to know if there were any women warriors or knights in the Middle Ages. The answer is that there is some scattered evidence of uncertain reliability.

In Hillenbrand's The Crusades: Islamic perspectives, there is translated a bit more evidence of this sort. I'm just going to quote the sources she assembles, without giving full citations.

Pages 348-9, in a section called Frankish Women Warriors:

Imad al-Din:

Amongst the Franks are women knights (fawaris). They have coats of mail and helmets. They are in men's garb and they are prominent in the thick of the fray. They act in the manner of those endowed with intellect [i.e. men] although they are ladies.

... On the day of the battle some of them come forth in the same way as the (male) knights. Despite their softness there is hardness (qaswa) in them. They have no clothing (kiswa) other than coats of mail. They have not been recognised [as women] until they have been stripped and laid bare. A number of them have been enslaved and sold.
Ibn al-Athir on Saladin's siege of Burzay, 1188:

[There was] a woman shooting from the citadel by means of the mangonel and it was she who put the Muslims' mangonel out of action.
Ibn Shaddad recording the testimony of an old man who was at Acre in 1191:

Inside their walls was a woman wearing a green coat (milwata). She kept on shooting at us with a wooden bow, so much so that she wounded a group of us. We overpowered her and killed her and took her bow, carrying it to the sultan, who was very amazed about that.

Imad al-Din drawing a moral on the battlefield of Acre, 1190:

We saw a woman slain because of her being a warrior.
Page 464:
"...according to Usama, there were [Muslim] women fighting ...during the siege b y the Isma'ilis of his home citadel of Shayzar, but as they were wearing full armour the sex of these warriors was not known until after the fighting."

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The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, by Carole Hillenbrand

I finally got around to reading this 1999 book, a thorough, and perhaps uniquely so, survey of what Islamic sources tell us about the Crusade to the Holy Land in the 12th and 13th centuries. Its chief value is that it not only summarizes sources unavailable to people who cannot read Arabic or don't have access to rare books and manuscripts, but carefully evaluates those sources for reliability and usefulness.

A second valuable characteristic is that it is profusely illustrated with visual material derived from Syria, Palestine, Anatolia, Egypt and to some extent farther eastern countries, so as to give the reader a notion of what the era and area looked like to Muslim eyes. Brilliant, even though I am sure that doing so drove up the price of this book substantially.

Reading this book confirmed my judgment (not one necessarily one Hillenbrand would agree with) that the Muslim memory of the Crusades is something that has emerged in the last two centuries. I'm not saying that it is a "false" memory (is my memory of the First Crusade, derived from European books of the 20th century, "false?"), but simply as Hillenbrand documents, not a continuous one. Back in the period of western European occupation, the importance of that occupation was not given the same evaluation by all living Muslims. Some, especially those who had been personally affected, were zealous to reclaim Jerusalem. However, the behavior of most local and regional Muslim leaders most of the time indicates that Realpolitik was their main motivation. They fought who constituted a threat or a source of profit and where there was danger or opportunity. Obviously some rulers were allied with preachers of jihad, but it wasn't an overwhelming motivation.

Hillenbrand shows that Muslim observers and scholars began to visualize the Crusades as a unified phenomenon, and a really bad period in the history of Islam, during the 19th century, when intervention in the Middle East became a serious problem. The Arabic name for Crusades was adopted from European sources, and Saladin's reputation got a big boost from his place in Christian historiography (as opposed to the reputations of Zengi and Baybars, perhaps more famous in the Islamic tradition).

This makes me feel a bit more confident in saying that when modern Muslims get upset about the occupation of the Holy Land way back when, they are probably more upset about more recent occupations of any number of Middle Eastern countries now, or at least since Napoleon landed in Egypt.

I wonder what unhappy Muslims say about the Mongol destruction of Baghdad? Now there was a huge catastrophe.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Muhlberger's courses, 2008-9

For those who missed my first post, the information is here. HIST 3116, which appears on Web Advisor as Topics in European or World History, is going to be a Fall Term offering and the topic will be Crusade and Jihad. Probable focus: Palestine and the Middle East, 1000-1300.

Those interested in the fourth-year chivalry seminar can consult the chivalry seminar posts from last year; see the tags at the end of the post.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

From "In the Middle"

In the Middle is a group blog produced by five academic medievalists. Among them they produce some provocative material. If you don't know this blog, but think you might be interested in some heartfelt reflections on the academic life, why not check out this recent entry on The Why I Teach Literature Meme?

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Medieval soldiers

Will McLean has a blog called A Commonplace Book: Deeds of Arms and Other Matters Medieval and Otherwise. His interests and mine overlap considerably, which is only natural, since we've been friends for years, sharing information and insights about the history and conduct of medieval deeds of arms.

Will has had some good posts recently. One, called Haubergeons, is a spin-off of a post of mine on "mail-shirts," wherein he spells out some features of the medieval army discussed in the first French ordinance of arms and makes some comparisons to English armies of the same century. I'll be writing on this material, too (mostly the French), so I was interested, and maybe you will, too.

His most recent post springs from his discovery of an on-line data base called The Soldier in Later Medieval England. I know there are people out there who will be as pleased to see this as I was, and Will's own comments are worth reading.

Image: borrowed from the Amazon site for this book.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Medieval Manuscripts on video

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes has posted links to two YouTube clips on his blog Unlocked
they are the product of one Raul Quintanilla from Nicaragua.

Raul's videos feature images from medieval manuscripts and the music of Hildegard von Bingen. The first shows many pictures of how such manuscripts were produced.


Image: Bede at work on a manuscript, borrowed from Medieval History.

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