There has been a long silence here, and perhaps you, the reader, have been wondering what is happening with the Rethinking the Medieval Frontier project. Indeed, although this has been a quiet period in terms of activity, there have been plans being made, so this is just a short update about what those are, and also about how perhaps you (yes! You!) could get involved. We can group our plans under two heads, basically, one being future activity and the other (of course) being publication of what has already been said.
To take the latter first, this project has now been running, in some form or other, since 2015, and in that time we’ve coordinated the presentation of thirty-three papers (and only three of them were mine…). Publication of most or all of these papers has always been the plan, but the question is how. The conventional essay volume has its strengths but also its weaknesses: you must, like me, have experienced frustration with conference volumes in which two or more participants have conflicting views, but in which no dialogue happens between them, in which indeed there is not even any acknowledgement that they disagreed. Yet, one feels, they were all there and must have talked; what did they say to each other, and wouldn’t it be more useful to have that in the volume? There are some essay collections which attack this problem by adding editorial comment; most just try to do it in the introductions and conclusions of the volumes, which rarely satisifies.1
So it has always been my hope to combat this in the publication of the Rethinking the Medieval Frontier project, and at the close of the first phase in 2016, that was my first priority. Unfortunately, for employment reasons I won’t trouble you with, it couldn’t remain my first priority for very long, and so as yet it hasn’t happened, but the plan was (and is!) to publish an essay volume of two parts, one being the papers as presented, with all suitable reflections and modifications incorporated, and then the second a set of thematic chapters addressing things that came up in several of the papers at once, such as how late antique and medieval states set and established frontiers, how the local populations could respond to this, and so on, co-written by the various authors who were concerned with them. This remains an aspiration, at the time of writing, rather than something that’s happening, but I still think it’s worth trying.
So the first priority is now to reactivate that essay volume project. Delightfully, but maybe surprisingly, I have been approached by no fewer than five publishers about this, so we have good hopes of being able to deliver a volume in the form that we want. As soon as that volume is well into the process, we will start work on the second, which will contain a selection of papers from the 2018 conference and, again, some synthetic content that will represent our common interests and the discussions that went on outside the actual papers. Just as we decided on the strategy for the first volume in collaboration, however, so will we with the second, so I won’t try to say now what form that synthetic content may take. But it will happen! And I will announce progress here.
Important though it is to publish the results of research so that people can actually use it, this is also not a finished project; our plan was always that it continue after this phase, and eventually reach a kind of synthesis of its own. In order to do that, we need to continue to broaden the reach of the project, to begin to involve scholars from other disciplines and ultimately to start communicating with people outside the Academy. Some of this we can do on academic goodwill, but serious work will require more money, and the funding bid for this is in formation. The actual shape of the plans involved has three parts, as follows:
- most immediately, a new round of sessions at the International Medieval Congress for 2019, for which a call for papers will shortly follow;
- secondly, a rebuilding of our network, allowing people who have contributed all that they have to contribute to step down and bringing new people on board;
- thirdly, then, with the new network in place, a further conference, this time (I hope—but it is for the network to decide!) also involving scholars from other disciplines such as geography, political science or anthropology;
- and maybe then still further iterations, as we work towards that ultimate synthesis of what we think can be thought with and about the medieval frontier!
Now, probably it is already obvious to you that all of these things, but most obviously the IMC sessions and the adjustment to the network membership, should, nay, must involve people from outside. Since you’re reading this, you’re obviously an interested person, which leads me to ask: could you be one of those persons? Might you offer a paper, or might you just want to be part of giving shape to this great endeavour? If so, please get in touch! I know that we still don’t have working comments on this site, but you can reach me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and I would love to hear from you!
1. The best example of one of this modified approach to essay volume editing that I know is The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: New Directions in Early Medieval Studies, ed. by Jennifer Davis and Michael McCormick (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), where the essays are in five sections, each of which has a headpiece by McCormick and a synthetic conclusion by a further scholar. I would still rather see the authors themselves responding, however, which is what we hope to achieve. The best examples of the conventional introduction-and-conclusion approach are undoubtedly the essay volumes produced by the so-called Bucknall Group, The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe, ed. by Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), Property and Power in Early Middle Ages, ed. by eidem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), and The Languages of Gift in the Early Middle Ages, ed. by eidem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), but that is not least because those volumes’ contents, introductions and conclusions included, were actually written in the process of regular meetings and conversations between the authors, which is sadly just not possible in a more normal environment.