Staffordshire Hoard…need I say more?

September 26, 2009

Alright, we’ve all been rather excited about this for a couple of days. 1500 new (to us, anyway) items to salivate over and study. I just thought I might put down some of my observations after looking through the initial hand list of objects. This can be found, in its 108 page entirety, by following the links on the Anglo-Saxon Archaeology Blog, whose own link can be found to your right. Remember, these are only initial responses. 

The dating of the hoard, based on stylistic elements of some of the objects, is roughly c.650-750. The location, coupled with this putative date, places this find in the context of the Mercian conflict with Northumbria or East Anglia. My first guess would be after 676, when Aethelred turned his attention from his raid on Kent to targets further north. Of course, if this is not the spoils from a single battle or campaign, if it was, as Kevin Leahy points out, the collected treasure “of a long military career,” then some of the pieces could well have come from Kent (Leahy, 6). First glance analysis points to Kent as the possible place of manufacture for a few pieces. This would at least put the beginning of the collection in Wulfhere’s reign, 658-675, or maybe a bit before. I like the “collection” idea, even though I have no idea why it was ultimately planted. Still, we cannot discount the idea that these objects represent the fruit of a single campaign or battle. If this is indeed the case, perhaps the hoard was hidden in response to a pursuing army or force.

I am struck by the absence of coins. I have been through the entire hand list  and found not a single coin. That really puzzles me. Archaeologists, however, have yet to uncover the artifacts from over one hundred “earth lumps.” Jonathan, if you read this, do you have any thoughts on the matter? No coins might seem to lend credence to the collection theory. A few coins would certainly aid in dating the find more firmly. 

Enough for tonight. Be forewarned, as this topic will be taking up a lot more space on this blog. Hopefully, it will drive me to finally learn how to post photos as well!

Leahy, Kevin. Staffordshire Hoard: Discovery and Initial Assesment. (Why won’t my italics work?) URL forthcoming.

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The Thrill Of The Chase!

September 24, 2009

I just wanted to post quickly on the new Anglo-Saxon treasure find in Staffordshire. Over 1500 items were uncovered, making this much larger than Sutton Hoo. There are some interesting aspects to this particular find and I will follow with a longer post after I have digested the reality of this incredible discovery. I have only read the Guardian article announcing the find and have seen the breathtaking photos of some of the pieces. If any of my English friends have more info, or know where to find it, I would really appreciate it. Back shortly!

A Quick One While I’m Away

September 15, 2009

I guess it is that time again. No, not school, though I have plenty there to keep me busy. This appointment might be far worse. Yesterday, in my U.S. History II class, one of my students asked me if I was going to get THAT book. I asked which book he meant. “The new Dan Brown book,” he replied. I had forgotten it was even coming out. Yipes. I remember what I went through with the last Dan Brown book…The rational part of me looks upon this as an opportunity to educate, and for that I want to thank Brown for stirring up people’s interest in history. The cynical part of me wonders if anyone even wants to learn the truth when faced with the showy, exciting, and false world of hero Robert Langdon, and for that I want to curse Brown for stirring up people’s interest in “history.” Magistra et Mater has recently posted a nice series on historical fiction. I won’t go into it here, because I want you to check out her site (you will find the link in my blogroll), but she has some interesting things to say on the subject. Me? I won’t be reading the book anytime soon, if at all, but I will gamely answer the queries of my friends and students, explaining once again that the truth is far more exciting than fiction, and go back to the solace of reading Michael McCormick’s “The Origins of the European Economy” for my thesis. Who says history is boring!

Just Wondering…

September 3, 2009

It might be a few days before I can post something more substantial than this. The semester just started and I am trying to readjust while discovering how busy I will actually be. I do have a request, however. I wonder if someone out there might know of any academic work, journal articles, etc., concerning the Prittlewell Prince. I have yet to find anything and I want to use the case in my thesis. If you run across something, please let me know. I want to thank everyone who has commented on, wished well, or even just visited the site. You have made me feel welcome, indeed. Back in a jiff!

Sherlock Holmes: Medievalist!?

August 30, 2009

This is a medieval blog, but occasionally I will indulge myself with a post on another passion of mine, Sherlock Holmes. Serendipitously, today’s post references both Holmes and the Middle ages. Sherlockiana is the study of all things Holmes, with the conceit that Holmes was a historical figure. Many learned tomes have dealt seriously, in a scholarly fashion, with questions surrounding the world’s first consulting detective and his partner, Dr. John Watson.

A close reading of the canon, those stories written by Watson and edited by his literary agent, Arthur Conan Doyle, show that among his many other interests, Holmes was a scholar of diverse medieval subjects. For instance, in “The Adventure of the Three Students,” published in 1904, but taking place in 1895, we find Holmes on the campus of a great English University researching, what else?, early English (Anglo-Saxon) charters! Controversy rages over which university Holmes visited, but my guess would be Cambridge. (No, really, controversy rages.) Nevertheless, Holmes’ study produced some provocative results, though Watson never tells us what they were. “The Bruce-Partington Plan,” a case from November of 1895, just a few months after “Three Students,” opens at the tail end of Holmes’ two week intensive study of medieval music. Perhaps he was transposing medieval songs for performance on his beloved violin. This curiousity is not limited to 1895. In 1888’s “The Sign of Four,” the second novella in the canon, Holmes mentions his study of miracle plays and medieval pottery.

Holmes’ hobby is not surprising when one considers the intellectual and patriotic climate of the late nineteenth-century. The 1870’s saw the publication of the majority of Stubb’s work on English constitutional history, including a volume on A-S charters. By 1895, it was in its eighth edition. In 1895, England was gearing up for the millenial observance of the death of Alfred the Great, a fine figure with whom to celebrate Empire. This was also the era of Maitland and Harmer, and many other gentleman scholars to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. It is a shame that Holmes’ pen would leave no monograph detailing his findings like the one he wrote explaining the properties of various tobacco ashes. Ah, well, maybe, just maybe, deep in Watson’s tin dispatch box, where he kept the manuscripts of his writings, we might someday find a treatise in Holmes’ hand explaining, in rational, dispassionate prose, the answers to all those questions that vex so much today’s student of the Middle ages.

A Question of Cooperation

August 25, 2009

I mentioned in my last post my position as the only early medievalist in the history department of my university. As a professor this would be lonely enough, as a grad student the isolation is even more intense. I do, however, find opportunities. I am currently working on a project with one of the three (3!) early medievalists in the English department. My role is history based, contributing a short bio on Alfred the Great, but I am enjoying the interdisciplinary nature of the thing. The project focuses on the vernacular translation tradition of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. I have been reading a fair amount of scholarly studies concerned with Alfred and his translation program and I am struck by some of the current arguments. For instance, Malcolm Godden, in both a recent article in Medium Aevum as well as the introduction to volume 1 of The Old English Boethius  argues an extreme view that Alfred really had nothing to do with the “Alfredian canon.”  Of course, the traditional view places a certain number of works in the kings hand. A third school offers a more conservative approach- Alfred, while maybe not translating anything himself, certainly commissioned and approved the final products.

The argument is not my point. I’m not really qualified to discuss the literary merits of the evidence on any side, where thorns and ashes fly like arrows at Agincourt, but it did get me thinking. How could a historian use a debate like this and why aren’t they? What could we say about the historical Alfred if, indeed, he wasn’t involved? How would it change the history books? First, I guess, we must explore why he did not actually participate in these translations. Well, saving Wessex from the Vikings seems like a fair enough answer, but is it?  Next, we could cast our academic gaze at those who used Alfred’s name to further their endeavours. Why? And from there…where? Which is kind of where I need guidance.  I don’t know how it is at other institutions, I have to assume it is better, but at mine no one seems to be trying to build a bridge we can all cross. I suppose this blog is my way of trying to build that bridge.  I do know that Guy Halsall had something to say about this at Leeds. If anyone has notes or an abstract of that paper, “Dialogue, Interlocution, or Just Plain Cultural History?: What (If Anything) Do We Mean by ‘Interdisciplinarity’?,” I would love to read it.

Hello world!

August 22, 2009

Welcome to the Heptarchy Herald! My name is Michael and I started this blog for a couple of reasons. First, for the past two or three years, I have been a fan of academic blogs, particularly A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, Another Damned Medievalist, Magistra Et Mater, Per Omnia Saecula, and Unlocked Wordhoard. I enjoy the posts and I have learned alot from these blogs, but I have things I would like to discuss, sometimes, dealing with my own interests in the early Middle Ages. Second, I am a master’s student at a middle Tennessee university known more for its Southern and Public history programs than anything medieval. This presents some problems as I am the only person in the department studying the EMA. We do have a medievalist on the faculty, but he works on late medieval/Renaissance Italy. He is a great professor and does the best he can, but, as an Anglo-Saxonist, I often find myself confronting problems with no one else to talk to. It can be lonely. Hopefully this blog will give me a platform with which to engage others in constructive dialogue.  Please be patient, I am not the most technologically gifted person. I will have a blogroll, as soon as I figure out how, and will be playing around with the look of the page. Also, if you have something of interest to discuss, by all means, bring it up on the comments. I will be happy to talk about the Middle Ages with you.