Seminar I: Introduction

This session will begin with an outline of the course and of the various types of textual source for the study of medieval society. The seminar will go on to examine the crucial role which the sub-disciplines of palaeography (the study of writing and scripts) and codicology (the study of books and their construction) play in medieval history. The script, the book’s construction and its afterlife (its history and travels with and from one owner to another) can all hold vital evidence for understanding the purpose, uses and agency of the texts which they contain. Many manuscripts are the products of complex processes of manufacture, involving several scribes and various ‘campaigns’ of activity, sometimes stretching across decades and even centuries. Indeed, it is a common experience to find that manuscripts are ‘unfinished’, especially when it comes to their illuminated initials and other elements of the artistic scheme. It is important to understand how these details combine to provide useful data.

Topics for Discussion (or rather, to be discussed throughout the course)

  1. The range and variety of textual materials for pursuit of medieval history.
  2. The problem of their relationship to their Greco-Roman ancestors.
  3. The importance of books and documents as historical and cultural artefacts as opposed to their role as containers and conveyers of texts.
  4. The characteristics peculiar to documents transmitted in manuscripts, and the problems which they present for the historian of the Middle Ages. What should the historian watch out for when confronted with a manuscript?
  5. The ways in which medieval texts are transformed when they are edited by modern scholars and converted from their manuscript form(s) into the forms in which they are to be found in printed books. To what extent can historians trust the printed versions of medieval texts? How do modern ‘critical’ editions try to give their readers a full impression of the manuscript evidence?

Useful Preliminary Reading

Some Helpful Guides to the Classical Background

  • Blockley, R. C., The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire: Eunapius, Olympiorodus, Priscus and Malchus, 2 vols., ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs, 6 and 10 (Liverpool, 1981–3). Vol.2 contains text, translation and historiographical notes. XFHC.
  • Bowersock, G. W., P. R. L. Brown and O. Grabar (eds), Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (Cambridge, MA, 1999). Has a few useful essays, e.g. A. Cameron, ‘Remaking the Past’ (pp. 1–20).
  • Breisach, E., Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern (Chicago, 1983).A good general survey of different species of historical writing.
  • Burrow, J. W., A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century (Harmondsworth, 2009). Stands a long way back from the evidence, but a useful point of entry.
  • Grafton, A., G. W. Most, and S. (eds), The Classical Tradition (Cambridge, MA, 2010). This encyclopaedia is full of useful essays, even though many vault the Middle Ages as though the classical tradition ceased to have any influence for the thousand years between Antiquity and the Renaissance!
  • Kraus, C. S., and A. J. Woodman, Latin Historians, Greece and Rome New Surveys in the Classics 27 (Oxford, 1997). XIH. An excellent brief introduction to the major Roman historians.
  • Marincola, J. (ed.), A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography, Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World (Oxford, 2007).
  • Marincola, J., Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography (Cambridge, 2003). ACLS Humanities E-Book.
  • Marincola, J., Greek Historians, Greece and Rome New Surveys in the Classics 31 (Oxford, 2001). XIH.
  • Mehl, A., Roman Historiography, Blackwell Introductions to the Classical World (Oxford, 2007). On order.
  • Potter, D. S., Literary Texts and the Roman Historian (London, 1999). XIH.
  • Samuel, A. E., Greek and Roman Chronology: Calendars and Years in Classical Antiquity, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft I.17 (Munich, 1972). XD.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, A., Suetonius: The Scholar and his Caesars (London, 1983). XJ.S944.
  • Wiseman, T. P., ‘Introduction: Classical Historiography’, in C. Holdsworth and T. P. Wiseman (ed.), The Inheritance of Historiography 350-900, Exeter Studies in History 12 (Exeter, 1986), pp. 1–6. L43.
  • Wiseman, T. P., Clio’s Cosmetics: Three Studies in Greco-Roman Literature (Leicester, 1979). XDK. Pages 3–53 are fundamental for anyone interested in rhetorical historiography.
  • Woodman, A. J., Rhetoric in Classical Historiography: Four Studies (London, 1988). XDS.
  • Woods, D., ‘Late Antique Historiography: A Brief History of Time’, in P. Rousseau (ed.), A Companion to Late Antiquity, Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World (Oxford, 2007), pp. 357–71. LVL.

< Seminars