Ohio State University
President: R. Dean Ware,
University of Masachusetts, Amherst
Friday, October 12, 1990
3:15 - 4:15
3:15 - 4:15Session I
Audience and Function of the Vita Wandregiseli (ca. 700)
and Reality in the Image of Charlemagne
of Massachusetts, Amherst
of Massachusetts, Amherst
Discussions of Indulgences for the Dead in the Thirteenth Century
4:30 - 5:15 Session II (Graduate Student Papers)
Liberties in the High Middle Ages: A Case Study in the Eastern Pyrenees
Families in Early Fourteenth-Century Genoa
Perspectives on Muslims and Jews in Christian Spain
Relations and the Church on the Frontiers of Latin Europe
10:00 - 10:30
Kantorowicz: The View from the Empire State Building
Robert E. Lerner, Northwestern University
Medieval English Hermit as Entrepreneur
Symbol, and Financial Transactions among the Twelfth-Century Cistercians
Myth or Middle Ground? The Hiberno-Latin Exegetical Texts Reconsidered
Publica Sacra or Nefandissimi Graeci: Western Attitudes
Toward Byzantium, 400-900
"They like gin.”
Such was the paternal advice offered by Joseph Lynch,
our host at The Ohio State University, when he telephoned me a couple
of weeks previous to the meeting. I was seated in front of my older
son’s Nintendo, joystick in hand, doing research on a proposed paper:
“Mediævalism and Gender in Videogames: Pac–Man Meets Grendel’s
Mother” for the North Dayton Jutish Studies Symposium, when the telephone
rang. Joe had discovered that I was buying the liquor for the Saturday
night party to save Dean Ware the trouble of carrying it all the way
from Massachusetts. The entire collective achievement of the Midwest
Mediæval History Conference over the course of a generation—or
at least Professor Lynch’s opinion thereof—was summarized in those three
words: “They like gin.”
And so, my van loaded with cases of gin, whiskey, rum, beer—and a few jugs of antifreeze for the graduate students—I arrived at the Lane Avenue Holiday Inn in cosmopolitan Columbus for the 29th annual Midwest Medieval History Conference. This was to be a landmark meeting. Dean Ware planned to nominate me for the post of Secretary–Treasurer, since Michael Altschul wished to resign. As a bribe, Jim Murray, the Program Chairman, offered actually to accept a paper on any topic I wished. Although a Conference stalwart since 1969, I had never ventured to submit a paper to so august a company, little knowing that it was for the gin, not the papers, that they attended. Despite various choking noises made by Murray, I decided to summarize the first three chapters of my current book.
The Friday afternoon sessions are traditionally devoted to papers by graduate students. Kevin Lyons‚ of Rutgers University, discoursed on the Vita Wandregiseli, a saint’s life from the Merovingian Æra. Specialists on this period tell us that as pagans, the Frankish nobility often traced their descent to pagan gods. After the conversion to Christianity, noble Saints took the place of the gods. Mr. Lyons did not propose to challenge collective wisdom on this subject, but merely to point out that the Vita Wandregiseli was not a hagiographical tract written to glorify a noble clan. It was not intended for public consumption, and not propaganda for a cult of an aristocratic saint. Rather, the writer aimed it at his fellow–monks. And so the exception, as occasionally happens, ends by proving the rule. Jane Ourand, of the University of Massachusetts, using, among other sources, the Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, written ca.1140, observed that the distinction between the “historical” and the “legendary” Charlemagne is not necessarily a real one. Charlemagne, an instinctive propagandist, created much of his own legend. Robert Shaqren, of Notre Dame, noted that until the 13th century, no one attempted to form any systematic theory of indulgences. Then and only then did theologians begin to discuss their validity and usefulness. In the second graduate session, David Blanks‚ of Ohio State University, rushed in where Mr. Lyons had feared to tread. Committing the dread sin of innovatio, Blanks pointed out that those antique gods, Marc Bloch and Henri Pirenne, held that the Mediæval manorial system gradually broke up in the 12th and 13th centuries because of the agricultural revolution and demographic growth. Since the 1930s, their theory has been gradually modified. Personal freedom did not necessarily mean a higher standard of living, and political oppression could be replaced by economic oppression. Nor was the manorial system universal—there was more allodial land in the High Middle Ages than previously thought, and manorialism was unsuited to mountainous terrain. “Mountain air makes free,” “not “city air.” The assembled company began to draw more shallow breaths, perhaps waiting for a meeting somewhere in the Rockies. Finally, James Everett, of the University of Illinois, spoke of family solidarity among the tradesmen of late Mediæval Genoa. This was maintained by husband and wife teams of artisans, and joint business enterprises among adult siblings—brothers, and to a lesser extent, sisters. But there is also evidence for family fragmentation. Some sons from the artisan class did not follow in their fathers’ footsteps, and some daughters married without their fathers’ consent.
The next day dawned amidst growing tension on my part. Would my nomination for the Secretary–Treasurership carry? How would my paper be received? The program had been cleverly constructed by Professor Murray so the dominant theme was relations among various groups in the Middle Ages. Professor Mark Meyerson‚ of Notre Dame observed that Muslims and Jews were quite different in their relations with the dominant Christian culture of the late-Mediæval Iberian Peninsula, though Christians tended to view both as “malevolent others.” (Aha! An excellent phrase to incorporate into my own presentation.) Muslims were a potentially more hostile community. Because there was no Jewish state, Jews were far more dependent than Muslims on their hosts. Jews thus tended to make themselves more useful, and to acculturate and assimilate more easily. Robert Bartlett‚ of the University of Chicago has accumulated a large body of evidence indicating that people in the Middle Ages were far more aware of racial and ethnic differences than previously supposed. Where different Christian ethnic groups lived in close contact, the Church itself became the arena for ethnic conflct. Demands for bilingual priests to hear confessions and preach, ethnic rather than territorial parishes, and general xenophobia were widely reported. Finally, Robert Lerner‚ of Northwestern University, after being introduced and eulogized by his student, James Murray of the University of Cincinnati (also Program Chairman), lectured upon the fascinating career of Ernst Kantorowicz, a modern example of a Jew who was so acculturated that he flirted with extreme German nationalism, and whose biography of Frederick II was one of Hitler's favorite books.
The elections came after a pleasant luncheon during which I could scarcely conceal my apprehension. John van Engen of Notre Dame made the transition from Vice-President to President, Jim Sefton of the University of Kentucky was elected Vice-President, Kay Slocum of Capitol University and Jim Murray of the University of Cincinnati received the collective nod for Councillors. I was not sure whether to be elated or depressed when I was elected Secretary-Treasurer because no one else wanted the job. For those who were not there last year, there is no truth to the rumor that a coed was led from the room screaming something about my discussing Suetonius' Life of Tiberius with her after she turned me down for a date.
Lunch over, we turned again to the business of scholarship.
Ann Warren‚ of Case-Western Reserve University dispelled the traditional
notion of hermits as solitary recluses. To the contrary, at least in
England, hermits were economically active. To be sure, a few lived lives
of true isolation, but most earned their living by mundane work, also
helping the poor. However, activities of hermits were attacked when
they conflicted with the livelihoods or prestige of others. Neither
hermits nor their opponents were loth to take their disputes to court,
and this led Professor Warren to recount an amusing lawsuit involving
workers' trampling a hermit's garden when beating the bounds of a parish.
The hermit maintained that the latter was merely a pretext for the former.
Constance Bouchard‚ of the University of Akron--no
At last came the moment for which I had waited 21 years! I was to make my scholarly debut before the Midwest Medieval History Conference. My own paper, dealing as it did with relations between two linguistic-cultural groups in the Middle Ages (Latins and Greeks) had been gradually swelling as I plagarized well-turned phrases from papers in the morning session. I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that you would have had a memorable presentation . . . until I looked at my watch. We were running behind schedule! I had but seven (count'em--seven!) minutes to make my spiel. What followed was a chaotic jumble of disjointed ideas delivered at triple speed. My mind was not on what I was doing. The crowd was growing impatient. Every moment I expected to hear the rhythmic stamp of feet as the assembled scholars, eagerly anticipating the upcoming traditional Saturday evening party, chanted “We want gin!” We shall mercifully draw the curtain here and proceed to the banquet, which was concluded by an address by Robert Benson.
There remained now only the party. What can be said of this? One can but repeat the memorable words of Joseph Lynch, the Sage of Ohio State, which began these Minutes: “They like gin.”