First History and Heritage Research Seminar for this academic year!
Dr Ed Roberts (University of Liverpool) joined us on Wednesday 12 October (MHT Building, MC0024 from 4.30pm to 6pm) to talk about:
‘An ‘age of iron and lead’? Reassessing intellectual culture in the tenth-century West’
In continental western European history, the tenth century – long dismissed as an unsavoury ‘dark age’ – has recently seen a revival of interest which is leading to major reassessments of the period’s social and political history. Re-evaluation of tenth-century intellectual and cultural life has been comparatively lacking, however. Here the period still seems ‘dark’ next to the heady days of the Carolingian Renaissance and the apparent renewal of learning after the millennium which culminated in the advent of scholasticism and the ‘discovery of the individual’ in the twelfth century. Can the tenth century’s intellectual standing be salvaged, or was this really a dismal era of cultural malaise?
Ed’s paper examined two case studies of two of the period’s most learned but ‘idiosyncratic’ figures – Flodoard of Rheims (d. 966) and Rather of Verona (d. 974) – which might be useful to reframe the intellectual history of the tenth-century West. Ed argued that these individuals operated within a distinct and innovative intellectual community, which reflected changing attitudes towards scholarship and composition.
The paper was thought-provoking and it was followed by a lively debate. Staff and students asked about the criteria of selection of these two case studies and the extent to which they should be regarded as representative of their period; how ideas of intellectual networks within the Ottonian context reflected similar trends across Western Europe; as well as whether and to what extent the personal intervention of Rhather of Verona in his chronicles could be read as an ‘autobiographical’ statement and how this might help historians to answer questions of authority and reception of his work.
Ed also suggested that considering the political changes which followed the emergence of Ottonian power and the geographical shift of most ‘learned centres’ towards Lotharingia is extremely important when trying to answer some of the aforementioned questions. However, whether places like Rheims and Italy could be considered as ‘peripheries’ by the 10th century is highly debatable and this was something which we continued discussing after the seminar…over a pint!
Many thanks to Dr Roberts for providing food for thought!