Between 15 and 17 November seventeen PhDs and Research Master students gathered in Paris at the École Normale Superieure to discuss their on-going research of early medieval texts and material culture. Despite the lack of a unifying theme of the conference, some topics were recurrent in the talks. Among them were the focus on materiality of the manuscript and archeological evidence; and the strong awareness of narratives as a means of constructing identities and standpoints.
The Text and Identities group has met for the first time in 1997 in order to promote cooperation between five centers of the study of the early Middle Ages – the Universities of Vienna, Cambridge, Leeds, Paris and Utrecht. For young researchers the conference has become a perfect occasion to discuss new ideas with others and meet important researchers and professors in the field.

Materiality as the key

Materiality was the leitmotiv of many papers presented, so let me pick up a few for illustration. Zachary Guiliano (Cambridge) talked about the rapid dissemination of the Homiliary of Paul the Deacon, a massive collection of sermons which was compiled in the late eighth century and for which we have over 100 witnesses from the ninth and the tenth century alone. Although it was produced on the order of Charlemagne, it could not be produced at a single place, but rather had to make use of information networks in the empire that allowed the major intellectual centers to quickly acquire, copy and share the new text. Adrien Bayard (Paris) discussed the archeological evidence for the continuity of military settlement in Aquitaine during the eighth and the ninth century. Local elites responsible for the maintenance of the strongholds in the area displayed their loyalty to the kings and emperors by participating in the local defense lines in times of crises. Evina Steinova (Utrecht) showed how texts could be ‘censored’ by adding annotations into their margin. Rather than attacked directly, texts disseminating dangerous ideas could be debased indirectly in this manner and at the same time added to the prestige of the annotator who marked them in this manner.

Narratives to persuade and denigrate
The role of narratives as a means of shaping the perspectives was another central theme in the talks. Eleni Leontidou (Cambridge) discussed how the treatises written by St. Cyprian in the fourth century against the Donatists, a religious separatists in North Africa, were used by the sixth-century popes to quell the separatist tendencies in the Roman Church at their own time. Michael Burrows (Leeds) treated the episode of the pseudo-Christ of Bourges in Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks. He discussed how the narrative about a local prophetic figure reflected the rivalry between the neighboring cities, Bourges and Tours, in the sixth century. And Kivilcim Yavuz (Leeds) showed how the story of the fall of Troy was incorporated into Frankish history in order to support the Trojan origin of the Franks, the leading power in the early medieval Europe.

As the organizers of the conference said themselves, it was very inspiring to hear about the new research trajectories and trends in the early medieval scholarship. Many of the presenters are just beginning their PhD research, others are well under way towards finishing their dissertation, and thus it will be worthwhile to wait (a year, two, or more) to see how the research trajectories outlined this year in Paris are going to materialize in form of papers, articles and books.

Evina Steinova, Utrecht University/Huygens ING