Category Archives: conference

‘I, Dado’: the politics of commemoration in Verdun

Today, the eastern French city of Verdun is best known in Britain for its role in the First World War. That association is even stronger in France, where the Battle of Verdun occupies the symbolic place equivalent to that of the Battle of the Somme in the UK. As such, the town is at the heart of the current state-supported programmes of commemoration.

But Verdun has of course a longer history – and what’s more, the politics of its commemoration go back a lot further than the twentieth century, as I’ll be talking about at a conference in Gent later this week, on ‘Bishops in the Age of Iron’.

In particular, I’m going to discuss a remarkable document written in the year 893 by a bishop of Verdun named Dado (you can read my  English translation of it here as a pdf). Known as the ‘Memorial of Bishop Dado’, it’s a short first-person account of Verdun’s history, and of Dado’s place in it. In other words, it presents an early medieval bishop’s own view of history, both personal and institutional.

Bishop Dado’s text is fascinating for what it has to say about the importance of aristocratic family consciousness in the early Middle Ages, and for the prominence of Carolingian kings too. Dado was proud that he was the nephew of the preceding bishop of Verdun Berhard (‘my uncle’, he reminds the reader several times), and in a short text he manages to cram in six Carolingian kings, all mentioned by name.

But Dado’s text is also interesting for what it doesn’t say. The absence of the treaty signed in Verdun in 843 that broke apart the Frankish empire is maybe understandable, since Dado only begins his account with Hatto, Verdun’s bishop from 847. But the lack of any reference to Bishop Hatto’s close involvement in the royal divorce scandal that rocked the Frankish world in the 860s is more striking.

Bishop Hatto had been closely involved helping King Lothar II secure his divorce so he could marry Waldrada, for which the king amply rewarded him with lands. But when things began to go awry in the divorce process, the bishop seems to have reassessed his priorities, building bridges instead with the fiery pope Nicholas.

A generation later, Bishop Dado celebrated Hatto’s success in acquiring property for the church of Verdun, but he evidently preferred not to mention the political context behind it. And he doesn’t mention popes at all – not because they hadn’t had an impact on Verdun, but because that impact didn’t fit the story he wanted to be told. Nor for that matter does Dado mention the contested circumstances of his own election (the details, as a result, are rather murky).

Dado, in other words, was choosing what he thought should be publicly remembered about Verdun, and skirting round a difficult past. His text may be short, but it’s a carefully fashioned remembering nevertheless, notable for what it misses out as much as for what it contains.

Really, that’s not surprising:  commemoration – that is, remembering in its organised forms – is always a bit about forgetting, if only because you can’t emphasise all of the past at the same time. It may seem ironic that today’s symbol of official remembrance, the poppy, chosen for its links to the battlefields around Verdun,  is also the plant that produces the drug most closely associated with obliviousness – but in another sense perhaps it’s quite appropriate.

National commemorations are of course important, and in this case a fitting tribute to the tens of thousands of men who died in the battlefields around Verdun. But there are different ways of remembering the past, and different pasts to be remembered.  Dado’s Memorial reminds us not only of the city’s longer history – a history that inevitably tends to be overlooked – but also of how the act of commemoration itself has a deeper history to be explored.

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Translation of Bishop Dado of Verdun’s Memorial (pdf).

Image: Richard de Wassebourg’s edition of Dado’s text.

The Transformation of the Carolingian World – a comparative workshop

With the support of the Humboldt Foundation and SFB 923, ‘Threatened Orders’, Professor Steffen Patzold and I are organising an international workshop in Tübingen on Friday 2nd – Saturday 3rd September.

The workshop aims to shed fresh light on the ‘transformation of the Carolingian world’ by taking a discrete set of issues and comparing them in the ninth and eleventh centuries. Married priests, the place of the papacy, the role of bishops, and heresy and peace movements: how should we best plot the changes in social order between the Carolingian and the Gregorian ‘reforms’? The workshop will explore this question through a series of short, informal presentations.

Venue: Tübingen, Hegelbau, Room 228

Programme

FRIDAY 2nd September

2pm introduction – Steffen Patzold/Charles West

Session 1. 2.30pm – 3.30pm. The Papacy
Clara Harder (Cologne) and Kriston Rennie (Dresden/Queensland)

3.30pm – 4pm coffee break

Session 2: 4pm–5pm Nicolaitism
Marco Stoffella (Tübingen/Verona) and Steffen Patzold

SATURDAY 3rd September

Session 3. 9.30am – 10.30am Bishops and the World
Charles West and Fraser McNair (Brussels)

1030am – 11am coffee

Session 4: 1100am – 12noon Peace and Heretics
Miriam Czock (Duisburg-Essen) and Warren Pezé (Tübingen)

12 noon: Conclusion.

Religious Exemption and the State 400-1300, 14th-16th April 2016: call for papers

*** For the conference programme and other relevant information, see the conference website ***

Call for Papers (deadline Friday 19th September 2015)

Throughout history, religious groups across the world have claimed exemption from their rulers’ demands, with a considerable degree of success. Such exemptions were prevalent in the pre-modern world, from Buddhist monks’ accumulation of tax-free lands to Latin clerics’ assertion of ‘benefit of clergy’ and Islamic charitable waqf. Although the particular forms of exemption varied according to religious practices and the nature of the political systems in which they operated, a common set of core similarities is apparent.

A full appreciation of these exemptions’ significance in the pre-modern world has however been impeded, on the one hand by their embedding in traditional narratives such as the rise of the modern (Western) state, to which they are often represented as obstacles, and on the other by the conceptual difficulties posed by the categories at the historian’s disposal, such as ‘religion’, ‘secular’, and indeed ‘state’, when applied to the pre-modern period.

This conference, supported by the AHRC, seeks to engage with these problems as a contribution to developing a comparative global historical understanding of religious exemption from state demands in the pre-modern world. Confirmed participants include R.I. Moore (Newcastle), Naomi Standen (Birmingham), and Andrew Wareham (Roehampton).

The conference, held at the Department of History in Sheffield from Thursday evening  (14th April 2016) through to Saturday morning (16th April 2016), will address three key questions. Firstly, how common were these exemptions on a global scale, and what kind of commonalities did they share? Secondly, what kind of structural role did these exemptions play: did they weaken the states that conceded them, or did they rather – as some recent research has suggested – strengthen them, whether by providing legitimacy or by supporting the informal networks underpinning the formal exercise of power? Thirdly, how should the demarcation they created best be conceptualised in an age thought not to have been structured by the modern secular/religious distinction?

We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers addressing these questions, whether on the basis of case studies or through critical engagement with specialist historiography, with a preference for studies concentrating on the period 400-1300 CE. Speakers will be requested to pre-circulate their papers in March 2016 in a form accessible to non-specialists, and we are in discussions with a  journal for post-conference publication. Limited travel funds are available, and accommodation for the duration of the conference will be provided for speakers.

Paper proposals and all other queries to c.m.west@sheffield.ac.uk, by Friday 19 September.