British Academy Small Grant



Applied for a BA Leverhulme/Small Grant -- applied, but did not win.

Commemoration, Competition and Classical Reception in the Carolingian Court: the Poetry of Ermoldus Nigellus (c. 829).

This study addresses several inter-connected research questions. One is how can we reconstruct the social and political experiences of a member of a minor Carolingian court? What does Ermoldus’s experience reveal about communication (through court poetry) in the Carolingian world? How does Ermoldus’s verse reflect his audience’s sense of cultural identity – did they identify as Franks, as Christians, as Romans, or as some combination of all three? How did they distinguish themselves from their neighbours? What does Ermoldus’s exile reveal about travel in the Carolingian world? About migration and integration? Whilst there are a number of questions here, they are all inter-linked; Ermoldus’s poetry and his role as an ostracised, well-educated clerk at the centre of court serves as the medium to connect these themes. How Ermoldus interpreted the world around him as he navigates through Carolinigian social and political life has resonance in the current world – social media has replaced poetry, but still serves as a means of communication; East-West relations are as relevant in current cultural relationships as they were in the poet’s era, and how we interact and integrate into societies in a world currently preoccupied with migration and Brexit is mirrored in Ermoldus’s ninth-century verse.Whilst this research will also inform an academic monograph and conference paper, an important and dynamic result of the work will be disseminated through a multi-media website called ‘The World of Ermoldus.’ This public-facing part of the project will include the podcast, and additional resourcesl such as interactive maps, a blog of the process of the research, and contemporary and comparative modern images. The project overall will address questions of not only about the contemporary world in which Ermoldus operated, but also to draw parallels to and reflect on the differences and similarities between Carolingian communication, identity and integration as one travels across the kingdom, travel and movement.The means to answer these questions will be through qualitative and observational research and study. The programme planned for this project includes a close read of the original source material (Ermoldus’s poems in the context of their original manuscripts, which also include marginalia and illustrations – communication complementary to the purpose of the contents of the poems themselves). This will include a new translation of Ermoldus’s poems which will allow a close read of vocabulary and coallation of the source material the poet uses to shape his imagery. The juxtaposition of Roman texts and imagery in Ermoldus’s early medieval society is an interesting one: part of the study here is to see when Ermoldus describes his subjects as distinctly Frankish and when he chooses to use Classical imagery – and if these occasions for a significant pattern: when and why is Classical imagery appropriated? Most of the previous scholarship on Ermoldus focused on his abilities as a poet and his flattery as he appeals to the emperor, rather than a consideration of, for example, his courtly audience. Hence this part of the research will examine themes of court life, aristocratic culture and competition, the role of education in communication and administrative travel, and the search for definitive characteristics of ‘Frankishness’ amongst this particular focal point of Carolingian society (especially as Ermoldus addresses men and women, secular and religious, locals and foreigners, and high and low-born members of the court). The reading here will be supported by complementary contemporary texts as well as current scholarship. This part of the programme’s research will be supported by visits to archives (in particular the British Library, the Bibliotheque Nationale, and the Vienna State Library). The results from part of the programme will appear as a monograph (contract in hand with Liverpool University Press) and in a conference paper on the humour found in the verses, to be given at the International Medieval Conference in Leeds in July 2019 (the proposal is currently under review Sept. 2018).The second part of the planned programme includes observational research to complement and augment the qualitative research. This research will be conducted via an extended research trip (approximately 30 days, although it can be broken into two halves of 14 days each) through France and Germany. The cities/areas and a number of the chosen sites come from a selection of places and sites mentioned in Ermoldus’s verses; he describes not only the local region or palace site in which a major event occurs, but also several times describes journeys undertaken by Louis during his early reign, ‘city-hopping’ as he travels from, e. g., his palaces at Aquitaine to Aachen. Laid out in the Plan of Action is the itinerary for this research trip: it includes going to major Carolingian centres (such as Aachen, Mainz, Ingelheim, and Orleans), sites and shrines mentioned by Ermoldus, and museums with contemporary artefacts (there are some challenges here, as much of the architecture and physical presence of the Carolingian world doesn’t survive except in a few concentrated areas). Whilst a dozen or so city-stops in 30 days seems ambitious, it would be pointed out that Louis moved his entire court up and down the same region, stopping and starting. So as this part of the programme gathers data to support project on the contemporary era, it also serves as a means to study how one has to move through and deal with new places, isolation/ staying in touch, languages, and travel logistics in our own era.Thus the programme examines Ermoldus’s poetry in a new light from previous scholarship: not his abilities as a poet, but rather what his verses can tell us about Carolingian communication, identity, travel, migration and exile. The methodology used to gather data will be both qualitative and observational. The qualitative aspect of the research includes a close read and new translation of the text and an exploration of Ermoldus’s sources and influences. This reading is supported by archival and library work and will result in re-evaluation of the poet’s depiction of the Carolingian court complementary to previous studies by, for example, Peter Godman in the 1980s and ‘90s, and will complement current scholarship on Carolingian culture and society, such as that of Janet Nelson, Mayke de Jong, Stuart Airlie, and Valerie Garver. The observational aspect of the research is the data gathered by on-site visits to key places noted and described by the poet; this will serve both to augment reading and archival work and also to enhance the study with physical engagement with Ermoldus’s environment. The resulting outputs will include a monograph and a conference paper.The public face of this project will take the form of a series of 20-30 minute podcasts that will be underpinned with examples from the poetic works of Ermoldus and other contemporaries, as well as other relevant literary sources, illustrations, material/archaeological remains, and site visits. These podcasts will engage with the material at a more general level than the scholarly monograph and allow a wider audience amongst students and others interested in history to reflect on the relevance of the poems’ medieval themes that still resonance in modern life, drawing comparisons between, for example, issues of national identity, migration, social media/communication & the power of the word, and women’s role in public life and politics. The website will provide an enriching, reflective experience for the site-visitor – whether if s/he is an armchair, virtual tourist or someone thinking themselves about visiting these sites. My audience would learned about the conscious shaping of the historical record, but then and now: what is included and what is excluded. Another overarching theme is how Ermoldus’s work might inspire the modern visitor to reflect on the effects of globalisation on a single state – as with Fried’s work on Charlemagne, this study of the world of Ermoldus has to consider the boundaries of Louis the Pious’s empire, who the Franks’ neighbours are, and how they interact and communicate with ‘outsiders.’ Ermoldus as exile is a reflection of current issues on migration and isolation, of integration and identity. Yes, it would be anachronistic to describe the Carolingians in the same terms as one might apply to the interconnectivity of modern trade and political alliances, and I do not make such comparisons here. Instead, an investigation and reconstruction of Carolingian activity, culture, and society here is a relevant to understanding not only the contemporary era but also where we might see parallels in communication, social media, and identity, in migration and integration, in the roles of women in the public eye. Study of commemoration and memory remains a popular theme in Classical and medieval scholarship, and scholarship on Ermoldus’s poems will join others to provide a thoughtful template on critical reads and reconstruction of the narrative of those individuals who have become overshadowed by what they symbolise. This re-evaluation of sources and events against the context of globalisation may well be the next exciting step in these studies.The funding requested here will help to support the research and collection of data for the overall project and its outputs: the archival visits, the conference, and the fieldwork across the Carolingian sites in France and Germany.
Granting OrganisationsBritish Academy