Perhaps the single most important thing here is the authorial willingness to define terms and exercise a realistic parsimony of interpretation with the evidence. For instance, her exhaustive treatment of treaties and their related vocabulary (pax, foedus, deditio, amicitia) usefully demonstrates that the frequent scholarly attempts to normalize the semantic content of that vocabulary are completely untenable; so too is reading back a normative definition from Procopius and Jordanes into the fourth and earlier fifth century. Such observations are not wholly new, but actually applying their analytical insight to the narrative evidence exposes the role that fixed definitions of Roman treaties/foedera play in traditional narratives of Gothic history--thus producing a spurious aura of inevitability stretching from 382 to the settlement of some Goths in Aquitaine forty years later and on into the sixth century. In a similar vein, Delaplace correctly notes that Alaric and all the barbarian generals and condottieri of the late fourth and fifth centuries were primarily leaders of armies; their royal status was secondary, indeed often quite notional, and rarely a meaningful factor in their power. In this approach she strengthens Guy Halsall's demonstration that only Roman military office and magisteria constituted success for such people. To fall back on claims to royalty signified failure. Perhaps the most insightful part of Delaplace's account of the early fifth century follows from the recognition that--whether or not you read Alaric's following, or those of other barbarian leaders of the time, in ethnic terms or instead as relatively heterogeneous mercenary armies--you cannot read them in terms of external diplomacy, or foreign foes. The more precise historical analogy is the late Roman Republic, when the Senate had to deal with rival armies loyal primarily to their generals rather than the state. Mutatis mutandis (for "Senate," read "imperial court"), the endless back and forth of 395 to 418 operated according to the same dynamic. Ethnic difference, still less "foreignness," are not what was at issue. The book's systematic successes are in a similar vein. A ruthless refusal to retroject later evidence means that the Gothic settlement in Gaul is judged at its correct worth: there was nothing new about 418 that had not been at least implicit in the treaty of the king Wallia and the magister militum Constantius in 416. Wallia's (and then Theoderic I's) Goths were in effect a mercenary army, contracted by the Roman state because they were less likely to slip into the usurpation to which rebellious Gallic armies had long been prone. The Gothic zone of action effectively displaced the western Rhine limes south to the Loire, where, from Aquitaine, the Gothic army could operate in any direction necessary, against barbarians and potential usurpers alike. Thus, there was no kingdom of Toulouse for the better part of a century. There was a Gothic rex (who very rarely used that title) and there were sortes Gothicae, but there was no regnum till the fifth century had run its course. Again, Delaplace has a firm grip on later fifth-century events. In particular she rejects the lionisation of the general Aëtius as "the last of the Romans," a sort of incomparable bulwark against the encroaching barbarian tides. Aëtius, she demonstrates, fundamentally weakened the Roman state, perpetuating constant rivalries in Gaul and Italy that militated against coherent policy. She shows how the "Gothic wars" of the 430s and 440s should not be read as a Roman defence against aggressive barbarian expansion, but rather as an extension of the civil war that brought Aëtius to power, the initial rivalry of Boniface and Aëtius, allied respectively with Theoderic and the Amal Berimond, was perpetuated in the next generation by Sebastianus (son of Boniface) and Witteric (son of Berimond), supported respectively by Theoderic and Aëtius. The peace of 439 is not a Romano-Gothic peace, nor a taming of the unruly federates by Rome, but rather a final settlement of two decades of rivalry: Sebastian was expelled by Theoderic, Witteric disappears from the pages of history (murdered, one imagines), and Aëtius married a daughter of Theoderic, having repudiated his second wife Pelagia, herself the sister of Berimond and widow of Boniface. ... The book concludes with a more cursory survey of the period from 477-531, but here too, the guiding principles are correct. In particular, Delaplace considers the battle of Vouillé as a stage in the sorting out of post-imperial factions that characterizes the earlier sixth century, rather than as a caesura in Gothic history. Greater detail in this section would have been welcome, but that was not the author's primary goal. One would not have thought it possible to write a strikingly novel history of the last century of the western empire, but that is precisely what Delaplace has done. It is a grand accomplishment.Think of Attila as John Hawkwood!
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
I return to my old interest in Late Antiquity today, thanks to Michael Kulikowski, who has written an illuminating review of Christine Delaplace's La fin de l'Empire romain d'Occident for the Medieval Review. A boring title, says Michael, and one would not be surprised if the interpretation offered was a hundred years out of date. Ah, but it's not. Says Michael:
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Keen-eyed reporters at the Globe and Mail became aware that a lot of sexual assault cases in Canada were being dropped as "unfounded." Unfounded is supposed to mean that nothing happened. That sometimes 40% of complaintants, people who went to the police knowing that such complaints often go nowhere, were being turned aside and not believed -- this made the reporters suspicious that the category "unfounded" was being misused.
Sure enough, a large-scale investigation has established just that. Likewise the Globe and Mail's efforts have cast new light on the issue of consent. Well worth reading.
Sure enough, a large-scale investigation has established just that. Likewise the Globe and Mail's efforts have cast new light on the issue of consent. Well worth reading.
Friday, March 17, 2017
The Medieval Review Flechner, Roy, and Sven Meeder, eds. The Irish in Early Medieval Europe: Identity, Culture and Religion New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Pp. 288. $39.99. ISBN: 978-1-137-43059-5. Reviewed by Alexander O'Hara University of St Andrews firstname.lastname@example.org
One needs to be wary in reading and assessing this book. There is much good in it with some fine contributions, but it is deeply flawed.The editors Roy Flechner and Sven Meeder seek to debunk so-called myths: in this case the influence of Irish monks and scholars in early medieval Europe. In a previous publication, Flechner suggested that Saint Patrick was a tax dodger, arguing that he came to Ireland as a tax exile to avoid the fiscal burdens his decurion father would have bequeathed him. Flechner manages to sound convincing despite the fact that the imperial tax system was obsolete in Britain by the time Patrick came to Ireland, while blithely dismissing Patrick's own testimony in his two surviving written accounts. We see a similar deconstructionist vein at work in this volume which seeks to present "an academization of the debate" vis-à-vis the more gullible work of previous scholars of a "bygone golden age when religious piety and intellectual endeavor could coexist happily...one would like to steer away from crippling biographical reverence and engage in some debunking of myths" (1). The first myth to be debunked is that of the image of Ireland as an island of saints and scholars, which the editors claim only gained currency from the seventeenth century onwards and which they pass off as an early modern phenomenon. This is false. Already from the seventh century Irish monks who travelled to the Continent were self-consciously shaping this image of their homeland. It can be seen in the poem on Ireland, written probably by one of Columbanus' Irish monks, which the Italian monk Jonas of Bobbio inserted at the beginning of his Life of Columbanus and in Jonas' comment that the Irish flourished in Christianity more than any other people. The perception of Ireland and the Irish as a holy island and people can be followed like a thread from Jonas to Bede's comments on Ireland at the beginning of his Ecclesiastical History to Ermenrich of Ellwangen's riff on Bede's comments in which the island is presented as an allegory of the universal Church and in the poetry of Irish religious émigrés like Colman nepos Cracavist and Bishop Donatus of Fiesole. The perception of Ireland as an insula sanctorum was not invented by seventeenth-century émigré Irish Franciscans or by nineteenth-century Catholic revivalists, but is a perception that we find already in the early medieval sources. Despite the agenda of the editors, the volume is saved by some fine contributions. The scope of the volume is comprehensive with short chapters (indeed the brevity of the chapters is one of the laudable features of the book, as is its affordable price) that encompasses communication networks, religious exile, Irish monasticism on the Continent, especially in relation to Columbanus, biblical exegesis, penance, the liturgy, science, scholarship, ethnicity, and book production. ... Meeder's bizarre statement that insular influence at St-Gall was minimal, is also found in his co-authored chapter with Roy Flechner where they write about the abbey of St-Gall that: "it does not appear that the Irish origin of their patron saint was a significant factor in the institutional identity of the abbey" (203). One wonders what sources they have been reading, given the rich hagiographical corpus on the patron saint that survives from the early medieval community. One need only read Walahfrid Strabo's Life of Gall, Notker Balbulus' Martyrology, or Ermenrich of Ellwangen's Letter to Abbot Grimald to realize that Meeder and Flechner present not only a false impression of the source material, but a skewed and inaccurate interpretation. Also problematical are their comments on Columbanian monasticism. Their statement that the Luxeuil monk Agrestius "made slanderous remarks about fellow Irish inmates" (195) is nowhere found in Jonas' Life of Columbanus--Agrestius attacked the monastic practices and the legacy of Columbanus, not the Irish monks, most of whom had left for Bobbio with Columbanus upon his expulsion in 610. Similarly: "the Gallic episcopacy is depicted as hostile both by Columbanus and his hagiographer Jonas. In the rhetoric of the hagiography and of Columbanus's letters...the Easter controversy is portrayed as a major bone of contention" (198). While this is true for Columbanus's letters, it is not true for Jonas, who mentions nothing about the Easter controversy, because it had been such a contentious issue, and is careful not to overtly criticize the Gallic episcopacy as they were now key patrons of the communities. The trajectory of Gallic monasticism prior to Columbanus gave no indication that a revolution in monastic foundation would take place in conjunction with secular elites in the second half of the seventh century and their attempts to play down Columbanus' role as a catalyst in this regard is unconvincing. While social trends and the formation of new elites at this time complimented and facilitated the new wave of monastic foundation, it was by no means an inevitable development without the influence of Columbanus and his Frankish monastic successors. Indeed, running throughout Meeder's and Flechner's chapter is subtly disguised racism masquerading as historical objectivity which can be detected in such remarks as "hard to swallow for some proud Irishmen", "we meet another proud Irishman" (205), the aforementioned "Whether originality, when it is present, can be directly linked to a scholar's Irish heritage is a matter of contention" (240), and in their attempt at every opportunity to minimize the distinctiveness of Irish influence on the Continent. Their eagerness in debunking myths leads them to questionable historiographical methodology and a failure to engage with the sources on their own terms. While there is much to recommend in this book, it needs careful handling, as I hope this review has shown.Image: I'd guess that this is a maximalist view.
For a long time, the art of royal spectacle was for other, weaker peoples: Italians, Russians, and Habsburgs. British ritual occasions were a mess. At the funeral of Princess Charlotte, in 1817, the undertakers were drunk. Ten years later, St George’s Chapel was so cold during the burial of the Duke of York that George Canning, the foreign secretary, contracted rheumatic fever and the bishop of London died. “We never saw so motley, so rude, so ill-managed a body of persons,” reported the Times on the funeral of George IV, in 1830. Victoria’s coronation a few years later was nothing to write home about. The clergy got lost in the words; the singing was awful; and the royal jewellers made the coronation ring for the wrong finger. “Some nations have a gift for ceremonial,” the Marquess of Salisbury wrote in 1860. “In England the case is exactly the reverse.” What we think of as the ancient rituals of the monarchy were mainly crafted in the late 19th century, towards the end of Victoria’s reign. Courtiers, politicians and constitutional theorists such as Walter Bagehot worried about the dismal sight of the Empress of India trooping around Windsor in her donkey cart. If the crown was going to give up its executive authority, it would have to inspire loyalty and awe by other means – and theatre was part of the answer. “The more democratic we get,” wrote Bagehot in 1867, “the more we shall get to like state and show.” Obsessed by death, Victoria planned her own funeral with some style. But it was her son, Edward VII, who is largely responsible for reviving royal display. One courtier praised his “curious power of visualising a pageant”. He turned the state opening of parliament and military drills, like the Trooping of the Colour, into full fancy-dress occasions, and at his own passing, resurrected the medieval ritual of lying in state. Hundreds of thousands of subjects filed past his coffin in Westminster Hall in 1910, granting a new sense of intimacy to the body of the sovereign. By 1932, George V was a national father figure, giving the first royal Christmas speech to the nation – a tradition that persists today – in a radio address written for him by Rudyard Kipling. The shambles and the remoteness of the 19th-century monarchy were replaced by an idealised family and historic pageantry invented in the 20th. In 1909, Kaiser Wilhelm II boasted about the quality of German martial processions: “The English cannot come up to us in this sort of thing.” Now we all know that no one else quite does it like the British. The Queen, by all accounts a practical and unsentimental person, understands the theatrical power of the crown. “I have to be seen to be believed,” is said to be one of her catchphrases. And there is no reason to doubt that her funeral rites will evoke a rush of collective feeling. “I think there will be a huge and very genuine outpouring of deep emotion,” said Andrew Roberts, the historian. It will be all about her, and it will really be about us. There will be an urge to stand in the street, to see it with your own eyes, to be part of a multitude. The cumulative effect will be conservative. “I suspect the Queen’s death will intensify patriotic feelings,” one constitutional thinker told me, “and therefore fit the Brexit mood, if you like, and intensify the feeling that there is nothing to learn from foreigners.”
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Friday, March 10, 2017
Just arrived: my review of three books concerning democracy in world history. The point I make is that all three touch on interesting facets of democratic history, but none of them are successful at looking at the big picture. But truth be told two of the three aren't intended to deal with the big picture. At least, not the big, big picture.
Journal of World History, 27:4, pp.692-8
Journal of World History, 27:4, pp.692-8
Temma Kaplan, Democracy: A world history. Oxford University Press. 2015.
Armin Mattes, Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland: The transatlantic origins of American democracy and nationhood. University of Virginia Press. 2015.
Christopher Meckstroth, The Struggle for Democracy:Paradoxes of Progress and the Politics of Change. Oxford University Press. 2015.
Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Dana Kramer-Rolls says on Facebook: Dr. Ben Carson got into some trouble by saying that black slaves were immigrants, too. But I heard poetry and wondered what Maya Angelou would have made of it. I'm not her, but here is my take. They came as immigrants, Stolen by invaders, sold by their kings. They came as immigrants, Chained in the holds of ships, the living and the dead. They came as immigrants, Sold, beaten, families torn apart. They came as immigrants, The religion of their mothers mocked and forbidden. They came as immigrants, Now the chains were broken, but they were still lynched, shot. And then it began again. They come as immigrants. Fleeing invaders, fleeing the bombs. They come as immigrants, Washed up on shores, the living and the dead. They come as immigrants, Their religion mocked, families torn apart. They come as immigrants, They think they are safe, but still they are beaten and shot. Will it ever end?
Monday, March 06, 2017
Today's Globe and Mail has an article by two Canadian professors, Aisha Ahmad and Minelle Mahtani, who say that the "Trump immigration ban ushers in an age of academic darkness. If you are an academic yourself and your research has an important international dimension (meaning that you work with and communicate with scholars in many countries) some of the stories they tell are enough to send cold shivers up and down your spine. Some stories:
For Canadian academics, attending academic conferences and events in the United States is an important part of our work. As Canadian Muslim scholars, however, this political and legal upheaval south of our border has forced both of us to pull out of our professional conferences. Our withdrawal was not intended as a political protest. The truth is, we were both very excited about attending our conferences. Our flights and hotels were booked... Aisha Ahmad, an international security specialist ...was to receive a distinguished prize for her scholarship on the economic origins of modern jihadi groups. Her scholarship, which involves tracking conflict processes in some of roughest war zones on the planet, won the award for best security article of the year. Her scholarship speaks directly to the exact security crises that these faulty immigration bans have falsely claimed to solve. For Minelle Mahtani, an Iranian-Canadian, had arranged a roundtable with other scholars at the Critical Mixed Race Studies conference in Los Angeles to speak about what it means to be mixed race in a Trump era. Her research would have provided essential context into the pressing problems of xenophobia, racism, and anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic violence that have worsened since the U.S. election. Neither of us wanted to withdraw. But we felt the situation was out of control. Consider that several ordinary Canadian Muslims, who were not from banned countries, have already been improperly detained and denied entrance by zealous U.S. border agents who clearly didn’t understand the parameters of the original immigration order. ... As immigration chaos spirals in the United States and these bizarre episodes escalate, there are serious, long-term consequences. Border officials have an enormous amount of discretion in detaining travellers and denying entrance, and denial of entrance taints a travel record. So, one dysfunctional interaction with an aggressive border official can actually impede a traveller’s freedom around the world for years. [I]it is impossible for any of us to properly calculate the risks of travelling. For academics who are principal investigators in large global projects, this is a very serious cost calculation. One unlucky meeting with a careless border guard can jeopardize the ability of a researcher to complete their fieldwork, and thus risks their commitments made to both funding agencies and global research teams. As targeted racialized academics, we knew we were being forced to accept loss and indignity. In response to our withdrawal, several of our colleagues have started lobbying for future conferences to be held in more neutral locations. Until then, as we reflect on our own exclusion, we cannot help but think of our colleagues overseas who are explicitly barred from participation, and those like Mr. Rousso, who may not be willing to subject themselves to future humiliations. This is the greatest loss of all.These stories are paralled by others from post-Brexit Britain, where immigration officials have in many cases notified "foreign" (EU-citizen) scholars that they will be deported, for the most arbitrary reasons. The authorities seem to no concept of how great a soft-power resource these people are. One wonders how many such purges (Nestorians chased from Syria to farther Asia?) may have taken placed in the later years of the Roman Empire. It seems to me that both profit and duty should motivate advanced countries to invite and support as many scholars as they can manage, if not more. Image:The library of Alexandria burns.
Posted by Steve Muhlberger at 6:07 pm
Thursday, March 02, 2017
Brexit threatens the welfare of 3 million EU citizens resident in Britain, and the government refuses to protect them from disruption. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian:
The Lords debate exposed the prime minister’s contradictory and deceitful arguments against protecting EU citizens living here. If, on this most popular and painfully human question, she will give no inch, that’s a terrible augury for how she intends to conduct these negotiations, opening with a war cry to all 27 countries: we hold your people hostage. The Mail says: “It’s the bloody-minded Brussels bureaucracy, not her, that is bargaining with family lives and happiness.” Because, of course, she is “pushing hard for a deal that upholds the rights of all expats”. This is just a “remoaner” wrecking tactic, “a naked bid to sabotage Brexit by creating difficulties for Mrs May”. As the Guardian reports heart-rending cases of threats to longtime EU residents with British spouses and children born here, Helena Kennedy gave the shocking statistic that a third of all their applications for residency are being turned down by the Home Office. Whoever knew that if they hadn’t had private health insurance in the past they could be cast out for all time?
Yet one Brexit peer after another rose to swear there was never any question of expelling them. Ministers, including the foreign secretary, have assured the TV cameras it will never happen. But if so, why not accept this amendment with good grace when it returns to the Commons?
No, they say: these 3 million people must be used as hostages – though representatives of the 1.2 million Britons in the EU say they want this amendment passed, as an act of goodwill. You can’t bargain unless you sincerely mean to carry out the threat. So which is it?
Mass expulsions would be unthinkable – May as the new Idi Amin? Besides, for a depleted police, border force and administrators, it would be a crippling near-impossibility. Are we really to say goodbye to 55,000 doctors and nurses, a million care workers and prized university students while devastating industries from agriculture to car-washing, hi-tech IT to finance, catering and tourism? Forget tourism entirely – we would become pariahs.
So which is it: they can definitely stay – in which case just accept that amendment and tell the world – or rattle a sabre you may then be forced to use, whatever the self-harm?
Wednesday, March 01, 2017
Americans have made quite a cult of the Founding Fathers, the political and military leaders who led the Atlantic colonies to throw off British rule – a remarkable achievement that often is used to support the similar idea of American exceptionalism: that America is a country unlike any other, thanks in large part to the wise choices made by the equally exceptional Fathers.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that at least some of the Fathers were pretty amazing. George Washington, for instance, had exactly the aristocratic character that was needed to lead a new republic in the 18th century. But his ability to charm and impress his contemporaries is now entirely mysterious to us. If he showed up in modern America he would have no hope of a political career. It's hard to imagine what kind of role he could find in public affairs. Aristocratic, eccentric rich guy, perhaps a shadowy investor in cutting edge tech firms?
An amazing FF that we can partially understand is Thomas Jefferson. He gets credit for a wide selection of contributions to the American character and American institutions over more than 50 years of public life. We appreciate and praise his constructive efforts, the importance of which is pretty obvious (freedom of religion); what we wonder is how he addressed all of those issues.
Kevin Gutzman may not have an answer to this question, but he gives a pretty good analysis of what he considers Jefferson's key achievements. This is not a full biography – there are good biographies and they are massive –it's a portrait. Gutzman compares Jefferson to a pointillist painter who created a political philosophy by dealing with one issue at a time. Gutzman himself has a pointillist approach in describing Jefferson, and it works for him.
Gutzman identifies five areas that Jefferson dealt with in the course of his career: Federalism (his opposition to centralized power), Freedom of Conscience (his opposition to established churches), Colonization (what might be better called Deportation, meaning the elimination of racial conflict by eliminating the slaves), Assimilation (of the Native population) and "Mr. Jefferson's University" (the most important piece in Jefferson's desire for public education). Put those 5 issues together and you find yourself treading surprisingly familiar paths through a political landscape that maybe has changed less in the past 200+ years than we might first think. I am particularly thinking of the issue of "federalism," meaning not centralism (as it does in Canada) but quite the opposite, which Jefferson supported because he believed in the legitimacy of the separate states, with their differing institutions and "values" as people say today.
One issue that Gutzman says little about is Jefferson's relationship with his slave mistress, Sally Hemmings. It's a tough question for an alumnus of Jefferson's own university, but I do have to wonder if she would have been deported, if colonization of slaves and ex-slaves had ever taken place. Is this so ridiculous a question? I think this is just one way that the contradictions of the Founding Fathers' position can be expressed.
So: a book of reasonable length, well-written, with the power to inspire serious contemplation about both Jefferson's time and America's present.