Monday, 28 May 2012

Job vacancy in ASNC

The Faculty is seeking to appoint a part-time (0.6 FTE) Network Facilitator in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic with effect from 1 August 2012, or as soon as possible thereafter, for 15 months. The appointee will assist the Principal Investigator on the Leverhulme Trust-funded International Network ‘Converting the Isles’ in the smooth running of the logistical and academic elements of the Network.  The Network will consist of three colloquia and up to two workshops held in various locations within and outside Cambridge, dissemination of their proceedings via a website, blogs and podcasts, a number of associated outreach activities, and will culminate in two edited volumes for publication.

Further particulars available here.  The closing date is 15 June 2012.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Anglo-Saxon Coinage c. 600 - 1066

It never rains but it pours ... with good news.

Congratulations to Dr Rory Naismith, who has just been awarded a three-year Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, to work on Anglo-Saxon coinage in the period c. 600 - 1066. Rory outlines his research project here:

This project is aimed at the preparation of a new volume in the series Medieval European Coinage, published by Cambridge University Press and inaugurated – with support from the Leverhulme Trust - in the early 1980s by Professor Philip Grierson (1910–2006) and his first research assistant Mark Blackburn (1953–2011). Volumes so far published have dealt with early medieval Europe as a whole, along with parts of Spain and Italy. My own volume will be focused on England in the period c. 600–1066. It will contain a fully illustrated catalogue of some 2,500 coins in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, as well as a new commentary and introduction. The gold and silver coins of these centuries illustrate the slow metamorphosis from sub-Roman gold shillings, made when Christianity was freshly arrived in England, to the famously sophisticated late Anglo-Saxon coinage, one of the most impressive monetary systems in tenth- and eleventh-century Europe. They show the development of kingship, Christian culture and a dynamic economy, often more vividly than any other source. The coins therefore constitute a resource of critical importance to many branches of scholarship, including archaeology and history as well as numismatics. My goal is to provide a fresh and authoritative survey of the full range of Anglo-Saxon coinage, embracing new research and innovative approaches, as well as the impact of numerous new metal-detected finds. It will be the first survey of the whole period to be published in several decades, and the first in more than a century accompanied by such a broad and representative collection.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Letter to Demetrias (British Academy Post-docs Part II)

Following on from our news of Dr Paul Gazzoli's British Academy Post-doctoral Fellowship to work on the Life of Anskar, we also wish to congratulate another ASNC, Dr Alison Bonner, who has also been awarded a British Academy Post-doctoral Fellowship. Ali will be departing for Oxford University, where she will be working on Pelagius' Letter to Demetrias, and she outlines her project here:

My research project is to create a critical edition of a work by the first known British author, Pelagius, famous for his defence of human free will; in his Letter to Demetrias he made a comprehensive case for human free will. Pelagius was excommunicated in 418 AD because of his statements that human nature was inherently good and that human free will was a necessary component in God’s justice. Pelagius’ Letter to Demetrias occupies a special position in his surviving canon because it can be securely attributed to him, and also because it presents a summation of his thought written at a crucial time in his career, when he was aware that he was under attack for maintaining that the principle of free will was integral to the Christian message of salvation. No critical edition, based on a wide comparison of manuscript copies, has ever been made of this Latin text; scholars have had to use a text that was created from just a few manuscripts, has no critical apparatus, and thus has no real authority. As a result scholars have been unable to draw from the letter definitive conclusions about Pelagius’ thought or style. The large number of surviving copies testifies to the influence of Letter to Demetrias throughout the Middle Ages. A critical edition will present the data on the number of surviving witnesses to this text. I will also seek to ascertain whether or not Pelagius was read more widely in Britain than elsewhere in Europe.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Dafydd Jenkins (1911–2012), scholar of medieval Welsh law (inter plurima)

Dr Paul Russell writes:

Professor Dafydd Jenkins, legal historian and the doyen of medieval Welsh law, died in the early hours of Sunday 6 May at the age of 101. Born on 1 March 1911, he lived long enough to have had at least four careers. He was born in London to Cardiganshire parents, attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he read Natural Sciences followed by Law, and was called to the Bar in 1934. He then worked as a barrister in Carmarthen and in 1938 was secretary of the campaign to have the Welsh language recognised in Court. A conscientious objector during the war, he bought a farm at Trawsnant in Ceredigion and farmed that in the forties and fifties, a farm he still owned at his death. He was influential in Welsh agricultural circles and was instrumental in establishing farming co-operatives in Wales. In the forties and fifties he conducted evening classes on agricultural topics for the Extra-Mural Department of the University of Wales College, Aberystwyth, and from 1965 lectured in the Law Department at Aberystwyth, eventually holding a chair in Legal History and Welsh Law, (1975–1978), until his retirement. 

            All his work on medieval Welsh law was carried out in these latter years, and it is extraordinary to think that when I got to know him in that context he was already retired and in his early seventies. He published widely throughout his life having learnt the art of printing when co-editing Heddiw with Aneirin Talfan Davies while still in London, and he retained to the end a fine sense of page-layout and typography. One of his most famous early works was Tân yn Llŷn (Aberystwyth, 1937), a forensic account of the trial of D. J. Williams, Lewis Valentine, a Saunders Lewis for the burning of the bombing-school in 1937. His other publications included the travel books, Ar Wib yn Nenmarc (Aberystwyth, 1951) and Ar Wib yn Sweden (Aberystwyth, 1959), Y nofel: datblygiad y nofel Gymraeg ar ôl Daniel Owen (Cardiff, 1948), Law for Co-operatives (Oxford, 1958) and an edition of Gwilym Hiraethog's Helyntion Bywyd Hen Deiliwr (Aberystwyth, 1940). The long stream of publications on medieval Welsh law only began in the seventies but continued until 2010; they include Cyfraith Hywel (Llandysul, 1970), Celtic Law Papers (Brussels, 1973), The Law of Hywel Dda: law texts from Medieval Wales (Llandysul, 1986), and editions of Llyfr Colan (Cardiff, 1963) and Damweiniau Colan (Aberystwyth, 1973), and a Conspectus of the Manuscripts of the Cyfnerth Redaction (Cambridge, 2010). In addition he contributed numerous essays to other volumes, including The Welsh King and his Court (Cardiff, 2000), and Tair Colofn Cyfraith: The Three Columns of Law in Medieval Wales (Bangor, 2007). All scholars bring to their work the accumulated experience of their lives, but Dafydd’s life experiences were so rich, varied and relevant that they shine through in everything he wrote. His work was characterized by a detailed and intimate understanding of law, by a marvelous control of Welsh, and in particular by a deep understanding of the law of the land derived from his years of farming it. In 1986, at the age of 75, he was honoured with a Festschrift, Lawyers and Laymen (Cardiff, 1986), and few would have believed he still had so many productive years ahead of him. I worked with him as an editor on some of these volumes and even at the age of 99 he would not let you get away with anything; an absolute stickler for the precise legal terminology, all proofs came back annotated in pencil in a tiny italic hand which, however small, was perfectly legible and ruthlessly clear in its intent.
            One of his great achievements was the establishment of Seminar Cyfraith Hywel which meets twice a year to discuss matters of Welsh law and over the years has been a remarkably productive source of volumes of essays and edited texts on various aspects of medieval Welsh law, such as the laws of women, suretyship, the laws of court, the Three Columns (on homicide, arson and theft), and another one is in the making on the Law of Wild and Tame. He continued to attend the meetings until recently, and on 6 March 2011 we held a special meeting to celebrate his 100th birthday on the previous St David’s Day. He was unable to attend the last few meetings of the seminar, and there was, and will continue to be, a Dafydd-shaped gap in the front row.
            He is buried next to his wife at Capel Penrhiw, Joppa, next door to his farm at Trawsnant.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Life of Anskar (British Academy Post-docs Part I)

We are delighted that two members of the Department have recently been awarded British Academy Post-doctoral Fellowships, a particular achievement given the stiff competition for awards this year. In this first post, Dr Paul Gazzoli outlines his proposed research project:

Rimbert's Life of Anskar is our most important document of life in Viking-Age Scandinavia. Unlike most of our written evidence for the period, which was either written centuries later or by people who had never been to Scandinavia, both the subject and the author of the life had spent time in Denmark and Sweden as missionaries. It is also unusual as a piece of hagiography as it devotes a good deal of space to describing the workings of pagan societies without recourse to the normal stereotypes. Despite this, the Life of Anskar has not received the attention it merits, a situation not helped by an old and inaccurate English translation and an edition of the Latin text that does not give enough attention to the different versions of the Life. A falsified version was produced around 1100 at Bremen for political reasons, and it was this version that was known in Germany and Scandinavia for the rest of the middle ages. The chief aim of my research will be to produce a new edition with a full translation and commentary encompassing not only the original Life but also its later development. This new edition will give more attention than the previous one (published in 1884) to the version of the Life produced around 1100. The edition will be accompanied by a new edition of the anonymous Life of Rimbert (again last edited in 1884 and never translated into English).

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Communication and Cultural Contacts in the North Atlantic Community

Several members of the Department journeyed to Oslo last week to participate in a seminar and workshop on the broad theme of ‘Communication and Cultural Contacts in the North Atlantic Community 1000-1300’, hosted by Professor Jón Viðar Sigurðsson. The focus of this particular event was bishops, saints and Church organisation. Detailed evidence was presented from areas ranging from Ireland to Iceland via the Isle of Man and the diocese of Sodor (and many more besides). In many of the varied contributions, links between both religious and political centres of power were to the fore, Dr Sarah Thomas demonstrating the central role played by Bishop Mark of Galloway in key political negotiations. Such connections were also explored in the accounts of Church organisation in Ireland, Iceland and Norway presented by Dr Colmán Etchingham and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson among others, points of comparison being particularly revealing. The universality of saints, as well as their differences were highlighted in contributions by Professor Ásdís Egilsdóttir and Dr Fiona Edmonds, the latter illuminating a layered nexus of saintly connections crossing the Irish Sea. Such networks facilitated transfer of texts, the influence of some of which we saw at work in the depictions of Icelandic bishop-saints, as well as in the portrayal of St Knud by Dr Jonny Grove. Two days of intense, profitable discussion underlined the importance of analysing the evidence from these areas in tandem. The productive debate will continue in a series of further seminars to be arranged.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Return to Anglo-Saxon government?

Dr Levi Roach writes:

Anglo-Saxon government—and specifically assemblies—have received some interesting coverage recently. The self-proclaimed ‘Mercian witan’ in particular has been promoting the idea that modern democracy needs to return to its ‘Anglo-Saxon roots’. Implied in all this, of course, is that all got much worse in 1066 and that the period before was a veritable golden age of democracy.

Unfortunately, however, it quite patently was not so, as Professor Matthew Innes and Dr Ryan Lavelle rightly pointed out when consulted about the matter. Although it would broadly speaking be true to say that the Anglo-Saxon period saw a greater degree of equality than the later Middle Ages, the difference is only one of degrees. Anglo-Saxon society was at no point truly egalitarian and from the first arrival of these peoples in what was to become England we have good evidence for local chieftains and aristocrats; the rich and powerful, just like the poor, have always been with us. Moreover—and perhaps more importantly—all evidence suggests that the inequalities within English society were growing, not shrinking during the Anglo-Saxon period. Thus if the Normans made things worse, they were treading the same path taken by many English aristocrats and noblemen before them.

This is not, however, to say that there was no ‘grass roots’ consultation in the Anglo-Saxon politics. In an era before large-scale taxation and standing armies governance was a matter of ‘self-rule at the king’s command’. Indeed, large-scale royal assemblies (or ‘meetings of the witan’)—which, it should be noted, continued to be held under the Normans—were a regular feature of politics and it is clear that kings and aristocrats sought to work with, rather than against the people whenever possible. Kingship was dependent upon consensus and this gave the people some say, even at times at a local level. Nevertheless, this was not democracy as we know it: local assemblies were run by aristocrats and larger assemblies by the king. At every level those with greater wealth and influence had more say. What we are witnessing is not an ideal system from which modern government might learn, but rather the constraints placed on rulers before bureaucratic means of governance had developed in earnest. Or, put differently, if Anglo-Saxon rulers were less oppressive than their Norman successors, it was certainly not for want of trying!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Churches of Pictavia, and other Hughes-related matters

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, in association with Hughes Hall, was delighted to welcome Dr Alex Woolf, of the University of St Andrews, to deliver the 2012 Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture on Monday 30th April. To a packed audience, on a lovely sunny evening (after several days of relentless rain), Alex gave a succinct, engaging and up-to-date overview of scholarship on the nature and structures of the Church in the Pictish kingdoms up to the end of the ninth century. Having brought the audience into his intellectual fold, he then proceeded to make some very stimulating - and, to my mind, convincing - arguments regarding some sources for the iconography of late Pictish ecclesiastical art, and we certainly look forward to seeing those arguments developed in print next year.

 Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 197B - a Northumbrian gospel-book whose stylistic influence is visible on many Pictish inscribed stones (image courtesy of the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College)

And speaking of things in print, we were pleased on Monday evening to celebrate the publication of two previous Hughes Memorial Lectures, in the presence of their authors, namely Professor Marie Therese Flanagan (Queen's University, Belfast), Reform in the Twelfth-Century Irish Church: A Revolution of Outlook? (the 2010 Hughes Memorial Lecture), and Professor Thomas Charles-Edwards (University of Oxford), St Patrick and the Landscape of Early Christian Ireland (the 2011 Hughes Memorial Lecture), which are now available to buy from the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic for the princely sum of £5 each.