Material worlds of the Mediterranean coming soon

Traditional dress from Bari, Apulia

Traditional dress from Bari, Apulia, 19th century, Museo Civico

I recently received the happy news that my article, ‘Material Worlds: The Shared Cultures of Southern Italy and its Mediterranean Neighbours in the Tenth to Twelfth Centuries’, will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Al-Masaq. Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean, published by Routledge. It will appear in the third issue of volume 23 later this year.

I wrote the article based on a paper I gave at the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean conference in Exeter in July 2009. It compares the dress and textile cultures of southern Italy, Fatimid Egypt (through the Genizah document archives) and the heartlands of Greek Byzantium. Several points of similarity and affinity existed between the vestimentary systems of the ‘consuming classes’ of the Mediterranean in the central Middle Ages but there were also notes of difference that are illustrated in some of the comparisons I make. I argue for a more social anthropological approach to be taken with descriptions of dress and textiles and suggest that the Mediterranean does work as an heuristic device for such an exercise. We lose sight of comparisons when we only work within our disciplinary traditions, in this case, ‘western Latin’, ‘Byzantine’ and ‘Islamic’.
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Catalogues of medieval coins

Half follis of Justinian, Portable Antiquities Scheme

Of real benefit not just to numismatists but to medievalists who deal with material culture, economy, politics and more, are the three catalogues of Byzantine and medieval coins (including those of Ostrogoths, Vandals and Lombards, plus later coins from Thessalonica, Trebizond and Nicaea) by Warwick W. Wroth (see my delicious links on the right hand side). They are all now well out of copyright and you can at least read them via the Internet Archive which leads you to Google Books. They are allegedly available for download but I cannot seem to achieve this. I wonder if there is some residual rights problem as facsimiles of these volumes have also recently been published? However, you can at least consult them here. The quality of the reproduction is at least as good as the originals and so perfectly suitable for research purposes:

Catalogue of the imperial Byzantine coins in the British Museum (1908), vol. 1

Catalogue of the imperial Byzantine coins in the British Museum, vol. 2 (1908)

Catalogue of the coins of the Vandals, Ostrogoths and Lombards, and of the empires of Thessalonica, Nicaea and Trebizond in the British museum (1911)

Shared cultures in the medieval Mediterranean

View to the Mediterranean from Bari, Apulia

View to the Mediterranean from Bari, Apulia

I am currently writing up a paper based on two pieces of research which compares material culture from southern Italy with that of its central and eastern Mediterranean neighbours (e.g. Sicily, Greece, Egypt, North Africa). It is based on a conference paper I gave last July, at the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean conference at the University of Exeter, on the shared cultures of dress and textiles in the eleventh to tweflth century, and on a research paper I most recently gave on earrings in the Mediterranean, mainly dating to the seventh to eighth centuries, to the Islamic Art and Archaeology seminar at SOAS. Both papers problematised the idea of using the Mediterranean as an heuristic device (a framework for investigation) for studying material culture and both attempted to use basic anthropological techniques to question whether the elements of description and style we identify as being similar would have been recognised by those who made and wore these items. Do our typologies and philological designations do justice to the variety of experience and taste that objects held for their contemporaries?

Of particular inspiration has been the work of anthropologist Michael Herzfeld and the conceptual masterpiece, The Corrupting Sea by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell. Whether or not you agree with the latter’s approaches to Mediterranean history, there is no doubting its importance in making scholars question their own disciplinary boundaries. From a medieval southern Italian viewpoint, it has been quite liberating to centralise the region in this geo-historical space, rather than fight against its peripheral situation in the wider historiographies of medieval Europe, Byzantium and even the early Islamic world.

I am thinking of calling it ‘Material Girls in their Material Worlds: The Shared Cultures of Southern Italy and its Mediterranean Neighbours’. You’ll just have to read the paper when it is out, for more.

What makes a medieval topic important?

As another academic year turns, so do I. This time, to emerge from the provinces and from behind my charters and museum objects, and join in London’s medieval scene. This evening’s first seminar of the European History 1150-1500 series was a discussion led by David Carpenter and Miri Rubin entitled What Makes a Medieval Topic Important? A very keenly attended seminar, we all squeezed in anticipation into the modest Low Countries Room at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, in Bloomsbury.

Prof. Miri Rubin began with the most deft and breathless exposé of intellectual movements that have had great impacts on medieval history writing. From the Annales School establishment of social and economic histories of the longue durée to the Marxian approaches of late Prof. Rodney Hilton and the history of peasantry, to radical gender historians of North America, historians of ethnicity, identity and the mandala of fields and sub-fields which have resulted from these, we were reminded that it was this question, what is important? that has been asked over and over by historians who have wanted to change our thinking of the past, and by extension, of us today. All of this was gold-threaded with the idea that historians in the last century began to want to know more about European ‘peoples’ than its institutions. In other words, those affected by big decisions, rather than the decision makers. In in a current climate of political activity on ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeans’ (and the prospect of a President Blair–Il presidente del popolo, presumably) this point was made even more apposite.
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Exhibition reviews on Creative Spaces

I thought about using Past Thinking as the place for exhibition and book reviews on museumy subjects that interest me, but instead I would like to contribute to content creation on Creative Spaces (National Museums Online Learning Project) particularly when the reviews related to items in the nine museum collections it hosts.

I have recently contributed two reviews, and added them to two groups I run. The first is a short response to Shah ‘Abbas at the British Museum and the second is in response to Byzantium at the Royal Academy.

Read response to Shah Abbas in the Iran and Persian Culture group.

Read response to Byzantium in the Medieval and Byzantine Objects group.

Please note: For some reason my paragraphing is not preserved and so the Byzantium review might be a little hard-going. If you happen to read it and would prefer to read it in a more sensible format, please leave a comment here, or on Creative Spaces.

I like Creative Spaces

Creative Spaces does. No poking, no sheep throwing, no nonsense.

The two posts below and the several comments are enough to set out the different views of Creative Spaces, or the National Museums Online Learning Project. I am not going to respond to the various criticisms leveled at the project as they do a good job of speaking for themselves. This is about my experience so far, over the last two weeks or so of actually using the site. Many of the buggy features have already been pointed out by Tom and by and large I agree with those (strange URLs and registering procedure, the lack of a big fat button to JOIN and the lack of an advanced search are probably my immediate problems).
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