Sunday, December 28, 2008

Medieval hero beats Stalin in national poll

The Medieval prince Aleksander Nevsky has been chosen as the most important figure in Russian history by a nationwide poll. He beat off a formidable list of historical rivals including Stalin - to win the title of Greatest Ever Russian.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dante's Inferno - the Video Game

Electronic Arts Inc. announced today that EA Redwood Shores is now working on another original property -- this one based on the medieval epic poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. The dark fiction gave birth to the Tuscan Italian dialect and is widely considered the work that has defined the western world’s contemporary conception of hell and purgatory. The poem tells the tale of Dante who journeys through the twisted, menacing nine circles of hell in pursuit of his beloved Beatrice. Dante’s tortured and tormented world is an ideal setting for this third person action and adventure of a video game, Dante’s Inferno.

Written in the 14th Century, The Divine Comedy was published and read aloud in Italian, thereby making the poem accessible to the mass public. The poem delivers a striking and allegorical vision of the Christian afterlife and the punishments of hell. In part one, known as Dante’s Inferno, Dante traverses all nine circles of hell; limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery.

“The time is right for the world of interactive entertainment to adapt this literary masterpiece, and to re-introduce Dante to an audience who, until now, may have been unfamiliar with the remarkable details of this great work of art,” said Jonathan Knight, Executive Producer for Dante’s Inferno. “It’s the perfect opportunity to fuse great gameplay with great story.”

For more information on Dante’s Inferno, please visit and sign up for the newsletter and bookmark for news, features and upcoming events.

Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times

962 words
19 December 2008
States News Service

A recently published book edited by a University of Arizona professor surveys the topic of sexuality in an attempt to understand why it has historically been and remains a highly contentious, and sometimes taboo, topic.

The book, Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times, is a collection of articles written by scholars and historians in disciplines that include sociology, literature, art, music, history, religion and spirituality. The book is not written from a medical or psychological perspective, but from one rooted in cultural studies.

"Sexuality is, of course, of great significance for every culture, for every group, for every individual," said Albrecht Classen, a UA German studies professor who contributed to and also edited the book. "And so the topic proved to be a lens thorough which we could study the widest range of topics pertaining to human life, to human society, to power structures and so forth. When you're talking about sexuality you're really talking about power."

Shifting Views on Sexuality, the Body

Published during the fall semester, the book explores the ways in which sexuality is "one of the most influential factors in human life."

In particular, the book focuses on instances of sexuality found in medieval and early modern English, German, Spanish, French and English literature, music, artwork, scientific texts and legal documents. "There are so many poems for example and so many songs and so many images that play with sexuality," said Classen, who also is a University Distinguished Professor.

Whether in private or highly public displays, sexuality has the tendency to carry a tremendous amount of social significance, he said. One of the book's contributors studied biblical scenes soldered into stained glass windows of centuries-old churches and found very overt examples of sexual overtones related to fertility. The researcher found specific images of fertility, "and these images are very explicitly sexual - in the midst of a church," Classen said.

"So," he said, "you discover sexuality everywhere and it is expressed everywhere."

Analyses of the religious order are quite popular. One contributor wrote about ways that the Christian church used propaganda to find "heretics" to be punished. "One of the most devious yet also most effective propaganda tool was to claim that the heretics practiced group sex, or orgies, and hence were responsible for creating chaos in all of Christendom," wrote Peter Dinzelbacher, a researcher from Germany.

Dinzelbacher explained that only "narrowly prescribed forms of sexuality" were allowed and that heretics were also accused of involving cannibalism in sexual rituals. The topic of sexuality is predicated on questions about the body. "How do we view the body, particularly the naked body is a huge question," said Classen, who will be speaking about chastity belts during the American Historical Association's conference in New York next month.

In one of his articles, Classen explored the issue of nakedness during medieval times, stating that it had "become a dreaded condition that everyone tried to avoid, and this more and more since the 16th century."

During that time, it was more common for people to take baths together and to sleep in the same bed without clothing, as clothes for the evening had not been invented, Classen wrote. "Only by the 16th, and much more noticeably since the 17th and 18th enturies, did this innocence concerning the nude body disappear and make room or shame," he noted. "So, you discover sexuality is everywhere."

More Than 900 Pages of Research

Within the context of sex and sexuality, contributors to the 903-page book delve into topics related to culture, the use of parody, ethical and moral norms, shame and desire, fertility, marriage, chivalry and gender.

The book also explains the shifting or evolving definitions of sexuality and sex. The book's introduction reads: "To raise this issue also provides the immediate answer because no aspect of human life is meaningless, and everything we can learn about people in the past allows us to gain a more comprehensive and more complex picture, especially if our investigation leads us into the realm of people's motifs, secret plans, hidden agendas, emotions and dreams."

Such an understanding is born from the study of laws passed, institutions established and programs enacted - all of which provide "considerable insight into the complex structures of all of human life, taking us deeper down to the fundamentals than most chronicles or official documents ever could," the introduction continues.

The book was born out of a symposium Classen hosted two years ago, having invited scholars on the Middle Ages and the early modern times to present their research on the topic of sexuality. "The topic is viewed from many different perspectives, is evaluated very diversely and controversially and therefore quickly becomes a medium for the power struggle within society," said Classen, who has held such focused themed meetings for six years at the end each spring semester. "And you're not even talking about the usual conflict between the dominant heterosexual and the minority homosexual communities," he added.

That discourse is one part of what Classen said determines the larger picture of sexuality. "I believe that in order to understand such complex topics such as sexuality it is extremely difficult to look at it from the modern perspective. It is almost impossible to answer what is sexuality today because we are stuck right here in the world," Classen said.

"We are too close," he said. "We try to understand human life, but when we look at the historical challenges we gain some degree of objectivity as to what sexuality means for individuals, society and institutions."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Medieval music brought back to life

Music from a medieval manuscript that has not been heard since the 15th century has been brought back to life, thanks to researchers at The University of Nottingham.

The project, involving collaboration with academics in Germany, has resulted in the production of a modern colour facsimile of one of the largest, oldest and most important collections of vocal music to survive from late-medieval Europe, as well as a CD recording of some of the music it contains. The St Emmeram Codex is a handwritten anthology of 255 compositions of mostly polyphonic music ( music for more than one voice ), both sacred and secular. The manuscript belonged to the Benedictine monastery of St Emmeram in Regensburg, Germany, but since the early 19th century has been kept under lock and key in the Bavarian State Library in Munich.

The three-year research project, 'The Music Anthology of Herman Pötzlinger', was supported by a £256,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council ( UK ). The work was carried out by Professor Peter Wright and Senior Research Fellow Ian Rumbold from the University of Nottingham's Department of Music, and involved collaboration with academic colleagues in Munich and Regensburg.

The codex was put together by a priest, Hermann Pötzlinger ( died 1469 ), and a number of assistants during the late 1430s and early 1440s. It reveals a strong Central European interest in the acquisition of music from Italy, France, the Dutch and Flemish low countries and England. Many of the pieces were written in Pötzlinger's own hand, and they include a large number of works by the Franco-Flemish composer Guillaume Du Fay, one of the best known composers of the early Renaissance in Europe. Most of the compositions are written in an international style, but many use musical styles and notation that are native to the region.

Such is the value and significance of the codex that both the musicologists and the Bavarian State Library felt it was vital to produce a complete facsimile which could be published to make it available to a much wider academic community, as well as to performers. The publication of this high-quality reproduction will also ensure that the extremely fragile original manuscript can be better preserved and protected.

Extensive trials with modern digital photographic techniques were carried out to decide on the best processes to carry out the reproduction of the original manuscript without damaging it and in such a way as to achieve the best results.

The publication of the resulting fine colour facsimile was followed by a recording of the works by professional singers 'Stimmwerck', now available on CD ( AE10023 ). The main findings of the project are due to be published next year in a monograph by Ian Rumbold with Peter Wright: Hermann Pötzlinger's Music Book: the St Emmeram Codex and its Contexts ( Boydell and Brewer ).

Professor Peter Wright said: “This has been a tremendously rewarding project. Thanks to a very generous grant from the AHRC, and our good fortune in being able to secure the services of the leading authority on the St Emmeram Codex, namely Ian Rumbold, it has been possible to carry out an in-depth investigation of this endlessly fascinating manuscript and its various contexts. We now probably know more about its compiler and owner, Hermann Pötzlinger, than we do about any other music scribe of the period. One of the most exciting things of all has been the collaboration with Stimmwerck, and hearing music that has lain dormant for more than half a millennium brought to life”.

An edition of the whole manuscript, which will make all of the music available to performers and students, is in preparation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Polish archaeologists find remains of three Teutonic Knights

The Associated Press and Agence France Presse report that a team of Polish archaeologists have discovered the remains of three grand masters of the Teutonic Knights, a religious order who ruled over much of that country in the Later Middle Ages.

"Taking everything into account, we see that we are dealing with Teutonic Knights grand masters," Bogumil Wisniewski, an archaeologist who spearheaded the search, told The Associated Press. "We are 95, 96 percent sure it is them."

Wisniewski said his team was convinced the men were Werner von Orseln, who led the knights from 1324-1330, Ludolf Koenig (1342-1345), and Heinrich von Plauen (1410-1413).

The three skeletons were discovered in May 2007 in a crypt under the cathedral in Kwidzyn in northern Poland -- formerly known by the German name Marienwerder -- along with pieces of silk and ornate brooches, some of which were painted in gold, which were a sign of high religious rank. Studies on the wood of the coffins confirmed that they were from the right period.

DNA tests matched their age to that of the death age of the three grand masters. They also revealed temporary malnutrition in one of the skeletons that could match the 10-year imprisonment of von Plauen.

While Wisniewski acknowledged he could only be completely certain of the identities "if I met each face-to-face and he told me his name," he said several other indicators supported the find, including wall paintings in the cathedral showing the three grand masters and historic documents saying that von Orseln and Koenig were buried there. The order ruled in the area until early 16th century.

Wojciech Weryk, coordinator for city development and promotion, said the remains will be returned to the crypt and displayed under a special glass shield, so visitors can see them. "This is such a valuable historic finding that we should show it," Weryk said.

The Teutonic Knights' order was founded in the Holy Land in 1190, during the Third Crusade. Despite its name, its members came from a handful of European regions, and not only German-speaking areas.

In 1226 the Polish Duke Konrad of Mazovia invited the knights to help him conquer the pagan population of neighbouring Prussia.

The order gradually took control of large stretches of the Baltic coast, establishing a state with its capital at Marienburg -- today's Malbork in northern Poland. The knights fought a string of successful military campaigns against their neighbours.

But their power declined after they were defeated by an army of Poles and Lithuanians in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald, which is still seen as a key moment in the history of both peoples.

New on

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Angeliki Laiou, Professor of Byzantine History

We are sad to report the passing of Angeliki Laiou, who is the Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine History at Harvard University. She died of thyroid cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital on Thursday afternoon. She was 67.

Professor Laiou was an important historian in the fields of Byzantine history, economic history and the crusades. After earning her Ph.D from Harvard University in 1966, she taught at Rutgers University, Brandeis University, Princeton and the Sorbonne. In 1981 she became a Professor of History, at Harvard University, only the second tenured woman in the department's history.

Her most important work is The Economic History of Byzantium from the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century, a 3 volume book in which she served as Editor-in-Chief and wrote seven chapters for.

Born in Athens, Laiou served as deputy secretary of foreign affairs of Greece in 2000 and as a member of the Parliament.

Her colleagues at Harvard were saddened by this loss. “She was a very strong woman, a great fighter,” said History of Art and Architecture Professor Ioli Kalavrezou. “It was a shock to all of us...although we knew she was sick, nobody believed that Angeliki would die.”

“Nothing can do justice to that woman. She was in a class of her own,” said medieval history professor Michael McCormick. “We are all infinitely poorer for her departure.”

Laiou is survived by her son, Vassili N. Thomadakis

Click here to see a full list of Angeliki Laiou's publications

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two Historians share $1 million Kluge Prize

From the Library of Congress:

Peter Robert Lamont Brown and Romila Thapar will receive the 2008 Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity in a ceremony December 10 at the Library of Congress. They are the sixth and seventh recipients since the Prize’s 2003 inception.

Endowed by Library of Congress benefactor John W. Kluge, the Kluge Prize is unique among all international prizes at the $1 million level in rewarding a very wide range of disciplines including history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, criticism in the arts and humanities, and linguistics, as well as a great variety of cultural perspectives in the world. Each awardee will receive half of the $1 million prize.

Both Brown, 73, and Thapar, 77, brought dramatically new perspectives to understanding vast sweeps of geographical territory and a millennium or more of time in, respectively, Europe and the Middle East, and in the Indian subcontinent. Brown brought conceptual coherence to the field of late antiquity, looking anew at the end of the Roman Empire, the emergence of Christianity, and the rise of Islam within and beyond the Mediterranean world. Thapar created a new and more pluralistic view of Indian civilization, which had seemed more unitary and unchanging, by scrutinizing its evolution over two millennia and searching out its historical consciousness.
The scholarship of both broadened and deepened over time as they marshaled a vast range of evidence from an expanding range of sources and a bewildering array of languages to bring a new comprehensive understanding of large questions of human development. They addressed their scholarship not only to specialists, but also intentionally shared their insights with broader lay audiences. In re-imagining familiar worlds with eyes unprejudiced by existing paradigms, they each opened large areas of human experience to new historical inquiry.

Commenting on Peter Brown, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said: "He is one of the most readable and literary historians of our time, having brought to life both a host of fascinating, little-known people from ordinary life during the first millennium of Christianity, as well as a monumental biography of the most prolific and famous St. Augustine."

One scholar reviewing nominations for the Kluge Prize wrote: "Peter Brown ranks with the greatest historians of the last three centuries." Another said: "There are few scholars in the world today who have changed their fields as much as Peter Brown has changed the study of what we used to call ancient and medieval history."

Remarking on Romila Thapar, Dr. Billington said: "She has used a wide variety of ancient sources and of languages, and introduced modern social science perspectives to help us better understand the richness and diversity of traditional Indian culture. And she, like Brown, has written a great biography of one of its giants, the Buddhist emperor Asoka."

Her prolific writings have set a new course for scholarship about the Indian subcontinent and for the writing of history textbooks in India. One scholarly reviewer said that "Thapar’s rigorous professional standards are cast against a background of her implicit appreciation of an India that accommodates civilizational diversity." Another said: "Thapar’s relentless striving for historical truth–independent of the superimposition of vacillating, fashionable theories of current sociopolitical conditions–is a landmark in the global writing of history."

As both scholar and teacher, Peter Brown has worked at the highest level of scholarly intensity and creativity for more than 40 years. His books have captivated thousands of readers, and his celebrated lectures and seminars have inspired students and younger scholars around the world. A scholarly Prospero whose magic consists in equal parts of learning and eloquence, Brown has opened up our understanding of the world of late antiquity and has reformulated the history of the Mediterranean world from the 2nd or 3rd century to the 11th century C.E., as a coherent historical period marked not by the tragic death of an old civilization but by the difficult birth of a new one.

Brown launched his career with an extraordinary biography, "Augustine of Hippo" (1967). Drawing on the massive traditions of historical and ecclesiastical scholarship, he sought to understand the experiences and sensibilities that characterized the various phases of Augustine’s life. Brown offered profound interpretations of the most demanding of Augustine’s writings, presenting his analyses in vivid prose that does justice to technical scholarly debates while still remaining accessible to non-specialists.
In 1971 Brown brought out what remains perhaps his most effective synthesis, "The World of Late Antiquity." Using a vast range of sources, visual as well as verbal, he described the evolution of pagan philosophy and the rise of Christianity as part of a single social world. Fascinated by the figures of saints who spent their lives on pillars and hermits and monks who inhabited desert sites, Brown tried to enter their worlds and empathetically to imagine the reasons for their actions. He also traced the story of late antiquity forward into the rise of new empires and civilizations in Persia, the Islamic world, and in Byzantium as well as Western Europe. Brown saw 200–1000 C.E. as a whole period that had not previously been seen as such; and he set the agenda for a new field of study and influenced many in other areas.

In a series of articles and chapters written over 25 years, Brown contemplated the figure of "the holy man," and wrote about that in the context of community networks and embodiments of the central value system of Christianity. As Brown’s knowledge of the Near East and its languages widened, he came to understand that in many ways these figures were unremarkable when seen in their context.

Brown in his "Cult of the Saints" (1981) put to rest the tendency to think of a theological elite as separate from a superstitious, pagan populace. His "The Body and Society" (1988), an extension of his work on Augustine, inquires deeply into the meanings of a life devoted to holiness, as seen in the works of great Christian thinkers. It helped create the new field of "body history," so important for psychohistory and gender scholarship. He saw asceticism not as rejection of the world but as, in complicated ways, a powerful force within it.

As Brown developed a capacity in Arabic, Persian, Syriac and Turkish, as well as in the major classical and European languages, he reconceived Western history from the sixth to the 11th century as a pan-Mediterranean era in which Islam played a fundamental role, and he saw the rise of Christianity as the emergence of a new social and intellectual world long before the Renaissance.

Brown and Thapar, who will officially receive the Kluge Prize on Dec. 10, 2008, at the Library of Congress, will both return to the Library next year to present a scholarly discussion of their respective bodies of work.

Empires of Islam in Renaissance Historical Thought

3 December 2008
States News Service

Margaret Meserve, Carl E. Koch Assistant Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, has won the American Historical Association's Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize, which recognizes the best book or article on Italy, for "Empires of Islam in Renaissance Historical Thought."

The book, recently released by Harvard University Press, surveys how 15th-century historians and political commentators tried to explain the rise and fall of Islamic empires. Drawing on political oratory, diplomatic correspondence, crusade propaganda, and historical treatises, Meserve demonstrates how research into the origins of Islamic empires arose from and contributed to debates over the threat of Islamic expansion in the Mediterranean. Her book offers insights into Renaissance humanist scholarship and the long-standing European debates about the relationship between Islam and Christianity.

Meserve, a member of the Notre Dame faculty since 2003, specializes in the intellectual and cultural history of the Italian Renaissance. She earned her bachelor's degree in classics from Harvard and both her master's and doctoral degrees from the Warburg Institute of the University of London. She has published articles on anti-Turkish polemics in the Renaissance, European knowledge of Asia in the centuries after Marco Polo, and the printing of crusade propaganda and news reports from the Orient. Two volumes of her translation of the crusading Pope Pius II's autobiographical commentaries have been published by Harvard University Press.

Genetic Diversity in Iberia - Impact of Jewish and Muslim populations from the Middle Ages

Genetic Diversity in Iberia - impact of Jewish and Muslim populations from the Middle Ages

New research suggests that relatively recent events had a substantial impact on patterns of genetic diversity in the southwest region of Europe. The study, published on December 4th in the American Journal of Human Genetics, shows that geographical patterns of ancestry appear to have been influenced by religious conversions of both Jews and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula. The study was conducted by geneticists Mark Jobling, of the University of Leicester, and Francesc Calafell, of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

"Most studies of European genetic diversity have focused on large-scale variation and interpretations based on events in prehistory, but migrations and invasions in historical times may also have profound effects on genetic landscapes," explains Prof. Jobling. Prof. Jobling and colleagues performed a sophisticated genetic analysis of 1140 males from the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands, focusing on the Y chromosome, which is passed down from fathers to sons.

The researchers found a remarkably high level of Sephardic Jewish (19.8%) and North African (10.6%) ancestry in their large sample of Y chromosomes from the modern population. The Iberian Peninsula has a complex recent history that involves the long-term residence of these two diverse populations with distinct geographical origins and unique cultural and religious characteristics.

The large proportion of Sephardic Jewish ancestry does not fit with simple expectations from the historical record. "Despite alternative possible sources for lineages [to which] we ascribe a Sephardic Jewish origin, these proportions attest to a high level of religious conversion, whether voluntary or enforced, driven by historical episodes of social and religious intolerance that ultimately led to the integration of descendants," offers Prof. Jobling.

Additionally, the prominent North African lineage in Iberian populations exhibits low diversity, which favors its arrival after the conquest of 711 AD, and the geographical distribution of North African Ancestry in the peninsula does not reflect the initial colonization and subsequent withdrawal. "This is likely to result from later enforced population movement – more marked in some regions than others," explains Prof. Jobling.

The research demonstrates that both immigration events from the Middle East and North Africa over the last two millennia and introduction of new Y-chromosome types driven by religious conversion and intermarriage have had a dramatic impact on modern populations in Spain, Portugal, and the Balearic Islands. In addition, the findings indicate that recent history should be considered when investigating the impact of events occurring during the earlier prehistory of Europe.

The number of Jews found in Catalonia was very low in comparison with other regions. Dr Calafell said that the study shed light on some of the darker passages of Spanish history. "One aspect of this study that is sad is the low number of people with Jewish links in Catalonia which means most were wiped out in the pogroms in the 14th century," he said.

Art Historian recreates 'The Mystic Ark' of Hugh of Saint Victor

5 December 2008
States News Service

When Conrad Rudolph, professor of art history at the University of California, Riverside, began exploring the complexities of the 12th century mural "The Mystic Ark," he expected to finish his work in two or three years.

Twenty years later, Rudolph has completed research that includes the digital reconstruction of a mural that is regarded as the most complex work of art from the Middle Ages.

That digital reconstruction of "The Mystic Ark" will be reproduced in life size - about 13 feet tall and 15 feet wide - and displayed this month at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Rudolph will deliver two lectures about the mural at the museum on Dec. 14 and 15.

"The Mystic Ark" was conceived by the theologian Hugh of Saint Victor, from the monastery of Saint Victor in Paris. Hugh, whose writings are compared to those of Augustine, likely painted the mural on a cloister wall to teach advanced students, Rudolph said.

The mural exists today only in the detailed, 42-page description written by one of Hugh's students. More than 80 of the parchment manuscript copies of this text have survived and recreate in words a painting that depicts all time, all space, all matter, all of human history, all of human learning, and all of human spiritual endeavor from the beginning of time until the Last Judgment.

"Hugh painted this as the basis of an advanced seminar that dealt with religious issues of a politically sensitive nature," said Rudolph, who described Hugh as positioning himself between learning that was based in religion and learning that was influenced by science. "This was that moment in Western culture when secular learning was just beginning to be taken up for its own sake, rather than necessarily being directed specifically toward salvation and the study of the Bible," he said.

"In regard to art, it was precisely at this moment that the multiplication and systematization of imagery led to the creation of the Gothic portal, the most significant, fully indigenous expression of Northern European, public figural art of the Middle Ages, an achievement that bridged the gap between literature's potential for complex expression and such expression in large-scale public art," Rudolph said. "My work shows that the actual vehicle for this was the painting of 'The Mystic Ark.' "

Both the text and the painting are among the most unusual sources we have to understand medieval artistic culture and its polemical context, he said. "The painting is an expression and projection of a very specific conception of the history of salvation, one that was at the same time used to appropriate the more prestigious - and secular - neo-platonic thought of the time."

On the basis of this manuscript, Rudolph digitally reconstructed the painting using hundreds of individual images from a contemporary work of art, images that range from signs of the zodiac, celestial choirs and a map of the inhabited world to the biblical stories of the Exodus and the Ark of Noah, the arrival of Jesus Christ, and the Last Judgment. The stylistically consisten images were then painstakingly recombined digitally - cut up, flipped, altered, joined - over a period of nearly eight years with the help of a number of digital artists, including one former student of Rudolph's who is now at the University of Cambridge.

"The more I study this the more astonishing I find it," Rudolph said.

As Rudolph began the digital restoration process nearly eight years ago, he searched through hundreds of prototypes so a digital artist in Cambridge could create images that are consistent stylistically with medieval art.

"It's been an overwhelming project," Rudolph said. "It's so big that I've already had a small 'pre-book book' come out on it, as well as a major article. I expect that there will be another small book also appearing before the main one."

Rudolph's digital reconstruction of "The Mystic Ark" is funded by a research fellowship from the UCR Academic Senate and Center for Ideas and Society, a Guggenheim fellowship and a Kress Foundation grant.

Roman and Byzantine Empires and climate change

4 December 2008
States News Service

The decline of the Roman and Byzantine empires in the Eastern Mediterranean more than 1,400 years ago may have been driven by unfavorable climate changes. Based on chemical signatures in a piece of calcite from a cave near Jerusalem, a team of American and Israeli geologists pieced together a detailed record of the area's climate from roughly 200 B.C. to 1100 A.D. Their analysis, to be reported in an upcoming issue of the journal Quaternary Research, reveals increasingly dry weather from 100 A.D. to 700 A.D. that coincided with the fall of both Roman and Byzantine rule in the region.

The researchers, led by University of Wisconsin-Madison geology graduate student Ian Orland and professor John Valley, reconstructed the high-resolution climate record based on geochemical analysis of a stalagmite from Soreq Cave, located in the Stalactite Cave Nature Reserve near Jerusalem.

"It looks sort of like tree rings in cross-section. You have many concentric rings and you can analyze across these rings, but instead of looking at the ring widths, we're looking at the geochemical composition of each ring," says Orland.

Using oxygen isotope signatures and impurities - such as organic matter flushed into the cave by surface rain - trapped in the layered mineral deposits, Orland determined annual rainfall levels for the years the stalagmite was growing, from approximately 200 B.C. to 1100 A.D.

While cave formations have previously been used as climate indicators, past analyses have relied on relatively crude sampling tools, typically small dental drills, which required averaging across 10 or even 100 years at a time. The current analysis used an advanced ion microprobe in the Wisconsin Secondary-Ion Mass-Spectrometer (Wisc-SIMS) laboratory to sample spots just one-hundredth of a millimeter across. That represents about 100 times sharper detail than previous methods. With such fine resolution, the scientists were able to discriminate weather patterns from individual years and seasons.

Their detailed climate record shows that the Eastern Mediterranean became drier between 100 A.D. and 700 A.D., a time when Roman and Byzantine power in the region waned, including steep drops in precipitation around 100 A.D. and 400 A.D. "Whether this is what weakened the Byzantines or not isn't known, but it is an interesting correlation," Valley says. "These things were certainly going on at the time that those historic changes occurred."

The team is now applying the same techniques to older samples from the same cave. "One period of interest is the last glacial termination, around 19,000 years ago - the most recent period in Earth's history when the whole globe experienced a warming of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius," Orland says.

Formations from this period of rapid change may help them better understand how weather patterns respond to quickly warming temperatures. Soreq Cave - at least 185,000 years old and still active - also offers the hope of creating a high-resolution long-term climate change record to parallel those generated from Greenland and Antarctic ice cores.

"No one knows what happened on the continents... At the poles, the climate might have been quite different," says Valley. "This is a record of what was going on in a very different part of the world."

In addition to Valley and Orland, the paper was authored by Miryam Bar-Matthews and Avner Ayalon from the Geological Survey of Israel, Alan Matthews of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Noriko Kita of UW-Madison.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rare Latin Manuscript by the Venerable Bede goes online

Rare Latin Manuscript by the Venerable Bede goes online
The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
December 2, 2008

A rare example of a Latin manuscript (De Natura Rerum) from the twelfth century, with Northumbria connections, has been digitised and place online by The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The De Natura Rerum is a scientific treatise by a Northumbrian theologian, philosopher and historian Bede. Bede (c. 672-735) was an Anglo-Saxon historian, theologian and scientific writer.

He spent most of his life at the monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow. Bede was ordained deacon in 692 and priest in 703. His scholarly works show that he had access to all the learning of his time. It is estimated the library at Wearmouth-Jarrow held between 300-500 books, making it one of the largest and most extensive libraries in England of the time.

He wrote many theological, historical and scientific texts, including Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People’) which provides the history of England from the time of Julius Caesar to 731, and which gained him the title ‘the father of English history’. Soon after his death he became known as the “Venerable Bede” , his tomb is located in Durham Cathedral. According to his own words he stated that he’d “spent all my life in this monastery, applying myself entirely to the study of Scriptures." Bede’s importance to Catholicism were recognised in 1899 when he was declared as St Bede The Venerable.

Bede was very interested in the natural world, and his formal scientific treatise on natural phenomena, De natura rerum, is an encyclopaedia of the sciences as know in contemporary medieval times. The manuscript, written on parchment, is a fine example of medieval text with many decorative Latin lettering in the margins.

'Bede was one of the great men of early English history. His work casts a light on a largely unknown period of English and European history. I'd like to think that there would be a little smile on Bede's face if he learned that his manuscripts were being copied by the national library of he Welsh and put on a medium which the whole world can read,' said Andrew Green, Librarian of The National Library of Wales.

De natura rerum surfaced in a private Library (Hengwrt) Dolgellau, North Wales in the seventeenth century before reaching The National Library of Wales in the 1920’s.

According to the Library spokesperson, Medi Jackson “The National Library of Wales is one of the greatest libraries in the world, and is a world leader in digitising its collections so literarily anybody from any part of the world who has access to the internet, can access our treasures online”

Disease in the Middle Ages - NEH Summer Seminar

NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers:
"Disease in the Middle Ages,"
5 July to 8 August 2009

Monica Green (Arizona State University) and Walton O. Schalick, III (University of Wisconsin) have received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to run a Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers in London this coming summer, July 5 - August 8, 2009. Based at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College, London, and the Wellcome Library, the seminar "Disease in the Middle Ages" will gather scholars from across the disciplines interested in questions of health, disease and disability in medieval Europe. A primary goal will be to explore how the new scientific technologies of identifying pathogens (particularly leprosy and plague) can inform traditional, humanistic methods (historical, literary, art historical, and linguistic) of understanding cultural responses to disease and disability. Guest speakers will include Michael R. McVaugh, PhD (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), Emilie Savage-Smith, PhD (Oxford University), and Anne L. Grauer (Loyola University, Chicago). Meetings will be held at the Wellcome Trust Centre in London, with trips to Bath, the Chelsea Physic Garden, and the Human Bioarchaeology Centre, Museum of London. Special emphasis will be placed on assisting participants with independent research projects relating to the History of Medicine, especially, but not restricted to, those based on unpublished primary sources. Eligibility: We encourage applications from humanists, social scientists, and basic scientists across the disciplines who are interested in exploring issues of health, disease and disability in premodern societies. Although the Seminar is focused on Europe and the Mediterranean basin, scholars wishing to pursue cross-cultural comparisons are welcome. As an NEH-sponsored event, the Seminar is open to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or foreign nationals who have been residing in the United States or its territories for at least the three years immediately preceding the application deadline. The Seminar is intended for college and university faculty in U.S. institutions, though applications will be considered from unaffiliated scholars and other academic professionals. The deadline for applications is March 2, 2009. A stipend of $3800 is provided to all participants.

For further information, contact the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS), 4th Floor, Lattie F. Coor Hall, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 874402, Tempe, AZ 85287-4402,
Phone: (480) 965-4661,
Fax: (480) 965-1681,,

For further information on the NEH Seminars and Institutes program in general, go to

Peter Jeffery and Margot Fassler join the University of Notre Dame

24 November 2008
States News Service

Peter Jeffery and Margot Fassler, a married couple who are specialists in sacred music and liturgy, will join the music and theology faculties of the University of Notre Dame, according to John T. McGreevy, I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

"Our masters in sacred music program is built on a great collaborative relation between the theology and the music departments," said John Cavadini, chair of Notre Dame's theology department. "These distinguished scholars, one in each of those departments, will bring our collaboration to the next level of excellence, to the benefit, ultimately, of our students."

Fassler has been appointed the Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Music History and Liturgy effective January 2010, and Jeffery has been appointed the Michael P. Grace Chair in Medieval Studies effective July 2009.

Fassler, a scholar of medieval and American sacred music, and the liturgy of the Latin Middle Ages, is at present the Henry Luce III fellow in theology at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, N.J. Earlier, she served for more than 10 years as director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

She is the author or editor of numerous articles and books including, "Gothic Song: Victorine Sequences and Augustinian Reform in Twelfth-Century Paris." She also has made documentary films on sacred music, including "Joyful Noise: Psalm Singing in Community."

Her recently completed book on the cult of the Virgin Mary at Chartres will be published by Yale University Press next year.

Fassler's chair has been funded by a gift from Notre Dame board chairman emeritus Donald Keough, his wife, Marilyn "Mickie" Keough, and their children. It is named for the Keoughs and Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., the University's president from 1952 to 1987.

"These are seminal appointments for Notre Dame, and we are blessed to have Peter and Margot joining us," said the University's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. "I want to especially thank Don and Mickie Keough. We are eternally grateful to them for making this possible."

The Keough-Hesburgh Professorships were established in 2006, and the first chair was awarded last year to the renowned economist William Evans.

"It was Father Hesburgh's dream, which Mickie and I share, that the Keough-Hesburgh chairs be occupied by the finest Catholic scholars in their fields," Keough said. "Margot's academic credentials speak for themselves, and we are delighted that the entire Notre Dame community will be the beneficiary of her scholarship."

Jeffery is a musicologist specializing in medieval chant and the history of liturgical music. Currently a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he was previously the Andrew W. Mellon faculty fellow in the humanities at Harvard. In 1987, he won the "Genius Award" fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Jeffrey is the author of six books and numerous articles in publications of musical, theological and liturgical scholarship. He received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 2000. A member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, he also is a Benedictine oblate of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.

The master of sacred music degree program was established at Notre Dame in 2005. Designed to prepare students for liturgical music ministry, the program follows the recommendations of "Music in Catholic Worship," a document issued by the liturgy committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It includes studies in music, liturgy and pastoral ministry, and participating graduate students choose between organ or choral concentrations.

A small number of Notre Dame undergraduates previously pursued bachelor's degrees in music with a concentration in sacred music, and numerous graduates work in leadership positions at churches across the country and abroad. The new program has greatly enhanced the University's efforts and visibility in the field.

New educational video game: Rome Reborn

Past4Ward Licenses Exclusive Rights to Rome Reborn for K–12 Game-Based Education Platform, Video Games ; Game Play, 3D Historically Accurate Ancient City to Help Students Gain 21(st) Century Skills by Making Learning Fun
24 November 2008
Business Wire

Past4Ward, LLC, an Atlanta-based startup, has licensed the exclusive rights to use Rome Reborn, an interactive 3D model of the ancient, historic city, for the first module of its game-based supplemental education platform as well as video game applications, from Past Perfect Productions srl., a Rome, Italy-based company that reconstructs archaeological and historic sites from around the globe using scientific research and cutting edge virtual reality techniques.

Past4Ward plans to incorporate the Rome Reborn 3D model into an immersive product for middle and high school students featuring game play similar to a Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) title as well as other Virtual World techniques that will be integral parts of the design, which will map to existing curriculum standards. Past4Ward plans to leverage its innovative approach to game-based learning across a number of ancient civilizations taught in K-12 schools to supplement textbook materials in the classroom environment.

Considered the largest virtual reconstruction, cultural heritage and digital archaeology project to date, Rome Reborn is an international collaboration of humanists and computer scientists inside several universities and technical companies. The model contains more than 7,000 buildings and covers more than 13 square miles using exacting scholarly research and the latest 3D modeling applications.

The Rome Reborn project was developed by a team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which contributed highly detailed 3D models of more than 30 sites in ancient Rome around 320 A.D., including the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, the Forum, the Pantheon and the surrounding buildings that make up the city. Over the last three years, the project has been further developed by Past Perfect Productions srl. in collaboration with the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia, under Professor Bernard Frischer, project leader since 2004.

Collaborators on the Rome Reborn project have included UCLA, IATH, IBM, Illustrious, Mental Images, Procedural Inc., the Politecnico and Mersive Technologies. Each has contributed creative content with computer graphic technologies that combine to deliver an interactive experience.

In November, the Virtuality Group srl. (, a partnership formed with Past Perfect Productions srl. and Parco Colosseo srl. (specialists in theatre and cinema entertainment in Italy), launched 3D Rewind Rome(TM), an interactive “edutainment” center 70 meters from the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome, based on the same Rome Reborn model. The experience will offer more than one million annual visitors the chance to travel back in time to 310 A.D. and take part in a historical adventure in ancient Rome. For more information, visit

“We are extremely excited to be working with Past4Ward in providing the historical architecture that will become a new format to teach kids about ancient Rome,” Joel Myers, CEO, Past Perfect Productions srl., said. “A video game of this nature, used in classrooms, combines a stimulating and entertaining learning process with the strengths and familiarity of communications tools students use in their everyday lives, from PlayStations to the Internet.”

In addition to developing an in-classroom, game-based learning platform, Past4Ward plans to solicit interest from commercial game publishers and developers who are interested in creating entertainment products from the Rome Reborn 3D model.

About Past Perfect Productions

Based in Rome, Italy, Past Perfect Productions srl. reconstructs and manages archaeological and historical sites from around the world using scientific research and cutting-edge virtual reality techniques, producing 3D real-time content, film clips and animations with CGI characters that breathe life back into the scenes, with strict collaboration with leading archaeologists, historians, costume designers and magical storytellers.

About Past4Ward

Past4Ward, LLC is an Atlanta-based start-up that is developing an immersive learning platform that will provide middle and high school teachers with new ways to interest, excite and educate students through single- and multi-player interactive, 3D environments that include game play. Past4Ward owns the exclusive video game rights to the Rome Reborn 3D model and plans to make the license available to game publishers and developers for commercial online game development. For more information, visit

Monday, November 24, 2008

Moravian College - Undergraduate Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Medieval and Early Modern Studies Conference at Moravian College Dec. 6
20 November 2008
Ascribe News

College will host an interdisciplinary Undergraduate Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies on Saturday, December 6, marking the third year that this notable academic conference will be held at the College. The conference and related activities have been designed to highlight the richness and interdisciplinary nature of medieval studies and early modern studies. The day-long program will showcase student scholarship and creative work, encourage students to consider future work in graduate and professional studies, provide students with the opportunity to present their work in a broader setting beyond the classroom, and to build ties among medievalists and early modernists in the region.

Students from colleges in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast region will present papers or performances related to art, history, English, music, philosophy, religion, and other disciplines dealing with the medieval and early modern eras. The keynote speaker will be delivered by Pamela J. Crabtree, associate professor of anthropology, New York University. A leading scholar on medieval studies, Crabtree's research interests include the archaeology of later prehistoric and early medieval Europe and zooarchaeology. She is involved with the archaeological study of forts of the French and Indian War period in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a cooperative project between New York University and the National Park Service. Professor Crabtree and Peter Bogucki (Princeton University) are currently editing an encyclopedia of the Barbarian world, to be published by Charles Schribner's Sons.

A member of Center for the Study of Human Origins, Crabtree is co-author of Archaeology and Prehistory ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001). Other published works include: Medieval Archaeology: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 2000.; "Production and Consumption in an Early Complex Society": Animan Use in Middle Saxon East Anglia World Archaeology, 28(1):58-75, 1996; "Zooarchaeology and Complex Societies: Some Uses of Faunal Analysis for the Study of Trade, Social Status, and Ethnicity". In Archaeological Method and Theory, Volume 2, edited by M.B. Schiffer, pp. 155-205. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990; and "Early Animal Domestication and Its Cultural Context." Pam J. Crabtree, Douglas V. Campana, and Kathleen Ryan, eds. University of Pennsylvania Museum, MASCA Research Papers in Science and Archaeology, Supplement to Vol. 6, 1989.

Opening remarks will be presented at 9:30 a.m. by Jim Skalnik, assistant dean for academic advising at Moravian, Student presentations will begin at 10 a.m. and continue until the luncheon break at 12:30 p.m. with demonstrations by Moravian Pottery and Tile Works.

The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, a National Historic Landmark, is maintained as a "working history" museum by Pennsylvania's County of Bucks, Department of Parks and Recreation. Located in Doylestown, Pa., handmade tiles are still produced in a manner similar to that developed by the pottery's founder and builder, Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930). Mercer was a major proponent of the Arts & Crafts Movement in America. He directed the work at the pottery from 1898 until his death in 1930.

The conference will reconvene at 1:30 p.m. for the keynote speech, which will be followed with an afternoon session, and a reception. The conference will conclude with a performance of medieval and early modern music by "Tapestry." The group will perform at nearby Trinity Episcopal Church, 44 E. Market St., Bethlehem, Pa.

Tapestry, a vocal ensemble founded in 1995 by Laurie Monahan, Cristi Catt, and Daniela Tosic, has established an international reputation for its bold conceptual programming which combines medieval and traditional repertory with contemporary compositions. Tapestry has won numerous awards, including WQXR and Chamber Music America's Recording of the Year and, most recently, the prestigious Echo Klassik Prize for their recording Sapphire Night. Based in Boston, the ensemble made its concert debut in its hometown with performances of Steve Reich's Tehillim at Jordan Hall; additional Boston appearances include the Celebrity Series, Harvard, Radcliffe, and Sanders Theater.

Now in its third year, Moravian College hosted its first-ever Undergraduate Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies in December 2006. The event featured a rich exchange of scholarly ideas with 28 presentations by undergraduate students from various colleges and over 200 attendees representing 25 schools. Along with conventional slide lectures, the day was filled with performances and demonstrations, including a Renaissance dance by the Moravian Star Irish Dance Troupe and calligraphy by Terese Swift-Hahn. Other events included a plenary speech by Arthurian literature specialist Kelley Wickham-Crowley, a reception hosted by the Friends of Reeves Library, and a performance (to a packed house) by members of the Baltimore Consort and Quartetto Brio.

The conference and associated activities are being organized by Sandy Bardsley, assistant professor of history, and John Black, assistant professor of English at Moravian College. A website for the conference can be found at .

Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. Visit the Web site at

Video News: Some Aspects of Daily Life in the Middle Ages

This 3 minute video from shows some interesting aspects of medieval daily life, including a game, stone sculpting, food, fighting with swords and shoes.

Video News: Return of Stolen Byzantine icon

A 14th-Century Byzantine icon stolen from a Greek monastery 30 years ago has been returned to Athens from Britain - report from the BBC

Russian museum and Orthodox Church spar over 15th century icon

Lecture to be held on Medieval Spain in Jacksonville

18 November 2008
US Fed News

Jacksonville State University issued the following news release: Dr. Anthony Lappin, former head of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and current senior lecturer at the University of Manchester in England, will offer a public lecture on the 11th floor of the Houston Cole Library on December 2 at 6:30 p.m. It will be preceded by light refreshments courtesy of Phi Alpha Theta at 6:00 p.m. All are welcome.

Lecture overview: Peter the Venerable, visiting Toledo in 1123, was introduced by the Arabic-speaking Christians that lived in the city - its conquest from Muslim overlordship was still within living memory - to one of the most popular refutations of Islam, the so-called 'Letter of al-Kindi.' From this began a remarkable project to assemble authoritative texts about Islam: the first and perhaps finest translation of the Koran (done by the Englishman, Robert of Ketton) and various Muslim historical works, which were subsequently distributed across Europe from Cluny. This paper will trace the struggle by European Christians to produce an ever-more accurate picture of their Islamic enemy through increasingly encyclopedic collections of works from those beginnings in Toledo in the early twelfth century to the monumental summaries by Alonso de Espina in the fifteenth, and, in the Protestant renaissance, by Bibliander.

Dr Anthony John Lappin is Senior Lecturer in the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures of the University of Manchester, in the north of England. His main area of research is in ecclesiastical history and literature, with a particular interest in Hispano-Latin and early vernacular. Current projects include editions of medieval Hispano-Latin hagiography and the early history of the Dominican Order. He is also monographs editor for the Medium Aevum Society. Dr. Lappin did his Doctorate at the University of Oxford.

This lecture is sponsored by JSU and the Department of History and Foreign Languages, with the assistance of Phi Alpha Theta. For more information, contact Dr. Donald Prudlo at ext. 8244.

The Canterbury Tales...Hip Hop Style!

20 November 2008
US Fed News

Baba Brinkman, hip-hop artist and medieval scholar, will perform his rap version of the "Canterbury Tales" at 4:30 pm on Monday, Dec. 1. The event is free, open to the public and will be held in the Construction and Engineering Hall at LaSells Stewart Center, 875 S.W. 26th St., Corvallis (Oregon State University).

Brinkman has performed his award-winning show at music festivals, universities and other venues around the world. He will highlight the parallels between the techniques used in modern hip-hop music and the most famous work from the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales. He also will demonstrate how this 600-year-old text anticipates current trends in rap music, including freestyle battle competitions.

Brinkman will discuss Chaucer's portrayals of the Miller, Wife of Bath, and Pardoner before performing original rap versions of each of those tales. The audience will gain a better understanding of hip-hop culture and its nuances, as well as Chaucer's text and its medieval contexts. Attendees will leave with a broader appreciation of how storytelling conventions and practices can cross geographical, temporal, and cultural boundaries. This event is sponsored by the OSU Dept. of English and Center for the Humanities

Hallelujah: the British Choral Tradition - exhibit at Bodleian Library

One Thousand Years of British Choral tradition celebrated at the Bodleian Library
24 November 2008
M2 Presswire

The Bodleian winter exhibition 2008-09, Hallelujah: the British Choral Tradition, surveys the history of choral music in Britain from Middle Ages to the present day and its extraordinary contribution to our shared cultural heritage.

The exhibition includes a wide range of music masterpieces and features a number of manuscripts written by the composer's own hand. It also celebrates four composers with anniversaries in 2009 - Purcell, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn, all of whom made major contributions to the British choral scene.

The exhibition will feature many of the Bodleian's Musical highlights including autographs of Mendelssohn (Elijah), Elgar (The Kingdom), Vaughan Williams (An Oxford Elegy), Purcell (St Cecilia's Day Ode) and Walton. Other famous music manuscripts, such as Handel's conducting score of Messiah, the beautiful 11th-century Winchester Troper, and16th-century partbooks containing John Taverner's masses, will be on display. These will be complemented by a number of notable loans from other institutions including the famous Choirbook from Eton College, and autographs of Britten's War Requiem and Tippett's A Child of Our Time from the British Library.

Besides dealing with the music itself, the exhibition also features the performing institutions involved such as local choral foundations and choral societies, choral societies in Britain, Oxford choral societies in particular, and the Oxford and Cambridge choral foundations.

There are also sections devoted to particular themes such choral music publishing, the tonic solfa movement, and music festivals. One case in particular features Coronation music through the ages, including the autograph score of Hubert Parry's I was glad.

Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director, Bodleian Library, said: 'The Bodleian has been collecting music material for centuries Through supporting scholarship in Oxford's world-class Music Faculty and through supporting the rich music performance scene in and around Oxford, the Library has made a major impact on the British choral music scene. We are delighted to showcase this contribution in this exhibition.'

The exhibition is one of the two major exhibitions that the Bodleian Library organizes annually featuring distinctive items from its world-renowned collections. Hallelujah: the British Choral Tradition will be open from 28 November 2008 to 25 April 2009, Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. in the Exhibition Room, Old Schools Quadrangle, Catte Street, Oxford. Admission is free.

The Chester Cycle of Medieval Mystery Plays - London performance

By Emma Foster
20 November 2008
Press Association Regional Newswire - London

A series of medieval mystery plays will be performed in the City of London this week. The Players of St Peter are performing The Chester Cycle of Medieval Mystery Plays at the Wren Church of St Clement Eastcheap, from November 24 to 28.

Laura Barber, the Players' publicity officer, said: "We are the only group of actors - or players - performing these pre-restoration Plays in the City of London. They date back to the 15th Century. These plays were taken from the Christian gospel but appeal to all who are interested in the theatre or, indeed, English history. We turn the fine Wren Church of St Clement's into a theatre for the duration of the performance week."

The mystery plays are an English tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. They were developed to present scenes from the bible at a time when few people could read. The Player's director Olive Stubbs said: "We will open with a prologue setting the basic theme of the creation and fall as Lucifer tempts man from original harmony with God. Our focus is then on the arrival of the Christ child into a busy imperial world with its impact felt on visionaries and local townsfolk alike. The famous Shepherds' play with its feast and fights and singing establishes the Christmas story in a local context. We then see Christ as an adult finding his identity by meeting the challenge of Lucifer and later - following his death - coming to release the good people of the past from the darkness of hell back into reunion with God. Finally Christ returns to his earthly companions to give them hope and purpose before ascending to the harmony of heaven himself in order to prepare a way for them. We hope that you will enjoy these plays as much as we do, and that they will provide a happy start to your Christmas season."

There will be two performances of each text per day in the church on Clement's Lane in the City of London at 6.30pm and 8.30pm. Tickets are priced £7.50 and £6 and there is a discount for students at the 8.30pm performance. For more information or to book tickets visit

British finding more archaeological treasures

By Vicky Shaw
19 November 2008
Press Association National Newswire

There has been a "dramatic" increase in the number of treasure finds in the last year, a report said today. The Treasure Annual Report said that 747 objects were reported in 2007, up from 665 in 2006.

The 2005/06 report showed 1,257 finds in total were reported to the British Museum, the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and the Environment and Heritage Service, Northern Ireland. Culture minister Barbara Follett, who was at the British Museum in London for the launch of the report, said that programmes like Time Team owed a lot of their popularity to the way in which treasure finds have been formalised.

She also highlighted Rolling Stone Bill Wyman as an "obsessive treasure finder". Ms Follett said: "You wouldn't think he would be an obsessive treasure finder, but he is...It's very interesting to see people from right across society going to look for their past."

Wyman has a section dedicated to archaeology on his website, which talks about how he has created his own signature metal detector. Ms Follett told how as a child she once found a coin in a field in Essex. "I remember nobody knew what we had to do," she said. "Now there is a system in place."

The Treasure Act in 1996 ruled that finders and landowners would be eligible for rewards for finds. Since then, she said, museums had reported a 10-fold increase in the treasure items offered to them. Government agency the Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) has confirmed an allocation of £1.3 million this year to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) which encourages the public to report archaeological finds, rising to more than £1.4 million in 2010/11. She said: "I am very pleased that, thanks to the hard work of all those involved in the scheme, more archaeological material is now available for people to see in museums and galleries."

The year 2006 also saw an increase in donations of treasure finds to museums, following a Government initiative to encourage finders to gift their discoveries to local museums. In 2006, 44 finders donated finds to museums, up from 25 in the previous year. The museum said today that a wide number of significant objects had passed through the treasure process in 2005/06.

They include:

- An Iron Age Torc (200AD to 50BC) made from gold and silver. It was found in 2005 near Newark, Nottinghamshire, by a man searching for a crashed Second World War aircraft. It is the first time such an object has been found in this area, the museum said, forcing archaeologists to re-think the importance of the region 2,000 years ago. Valued at £350,000, the high status object has been acquired by Newark Heritage Service and is the most expensive single treasure find in recent history.

- A medieval silver seal matrix (13th century AD) found in Swanley, Kent, in 2005. It shows the only known surviving gem portrait of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, the successor to Hadrian. It was acquired by the British Museum for £2,750.

- A large Roman coin hoard found in Snodland, Kent, and deposited around 347AD. It consists of more than 3,600 coins and was found by a digger driver during a survey. The hoard is being investigated by the British Museum.

Stolen Byzantine icon is returned to Greece

14th-century stolen icon back in Greece
19 November 2008
Athens News Agency

A 14th-century Byzantine icon stolen from a Greek monastery in 1978 and returned to Greece this month was unveiled in Athens on Wednesday. The icon, which had turned up in London five years ago, will be kept at the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens to undergo preservation work before it is returned to the northern Greek province of Serres, from where it was stolen.

Presenting the icon, Culture Minister Mihalis Liapis said it was proof of the coordinated efforts of all those striving to preserve Greece's cultural heritage. The icon would be returned to its place of origin, he added, because the ministry was determined not to encourage a form of "domestic Elginism" where displaced artifacts were retained by central authorities.

The icon would be returned after the monastery from which it was stolen was equipped with an adequate security system, he added. The stolen icon, originally painted using the Serres technique, had been cut in two by the thieves so that it could be taken out of the country and painted over before it was sold on the market. It is also considered to be two-sided, meaning that one side may still be in the hands of antiquities smugglers.

Information on the specific icon was given in November 2002 by the curator of the Benaki Museum in Athens Angelos Delivorias, after he was informed that it was up for sale by Ioannis Petsopoulos, acting as an agent for a "private collector" who had the icon in his possession.

The Greek Embassy in London had then asked the trader to assist in the investigation by sending any evidence at his disposal that would enable Greek authorities to apply for its return using legal and diplomatic channels. The affair led to the conviction of those responsible for stealing the icon and it was finally returned on November 16, 2008.

After 30 years, Greece welcomes back stolen icon: Detective work and British judges close case of missing Byzantine masterpiece
Helena Smith
20 November 2008
The Guardian

A stolen icon, considered one of the finest examples of Byzantine art, was back in Greece yesterday after decades of police work, diplomacy and, finally, a key ruling by the high court in London. The recovery of the piece, believed to have been painted by a master iconographer in the 14th century and depicting the removal of Christ's body from the cross, came 30 years after it was stolen from a monastery in northern Greece. "The battle to crush the smuggling of antiquities requires patience and toil - today this icon proves that when action is coordinated, it brings positive results," said the Greek culture minister, Michalis Liapis, at a ceremony to welcome the priceless piece.

The icon is thought to have originally been a gift by the emperor Andronikos Palaeologos to the monastery of Timios Prodromos in Serres. There it survived Ottoman rule and invasions by Serbian, Bulgarian and German forces, until looters stormed the monastery in 1978. It emerged in London in 1980 when a British Byzantinist, Professor Robin Cormack, spotted it in a suitcase in a restorer's atelier. It had been touched up by the looters to make it more saleable in the underground art market.

"It had been cut in two by the looters. Seeing what it was, Robin realised it must have been stolen and advised them to return it to Greece," said the cultural attache at the Greek embassy in London, Victoria Solomonides, who travelled with the icon to Greece. "That did not happen and 10 years later the plot thickened when he was called by the British Museum to value an icon. It was the same one."

On the advice of Cormack, curator of the Byzantium exhibition currently on at the Royal Academy of Arts, the British Museum decided not to buy the icon. Then, in 2002, a London-based Greek art dealer, representing a Greek collector in London, offered to sell it to the Benakis Museum in Athens for pounds 500,000. "When a Byzantine art historian saw what it was, the Greek authorities and Interpol were alerted, and the Metropolitan police called in," said Solomonides. Six weeks ago, the high court ruled that the illegally imported item should be returned to Greece. This time, a state of the art alarm system at the monastery will guard it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Medieval Manuscripts Impact Iceland's National Identity

Scholar To Discuss Manuscripts at CLU
13 November 2008
Targeted News Service

California Lutheran University issued the following news release: A Scandinavian scholar will discuss why old incomplete copies of medieval manuscripts have been lauded as Iceland's national treasure at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21, at California Lutheran University.

Elisabeth I. Ward-Hightower will give a presentation titled "How Medieval Manuscripts Impact Iceland's National Identity" in the Roth Nelson Room as part of the American Scandinavian Foundation Lecture Series.

Ward-Hightower, a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley, will address how moldy, non-illustrated copies of copies became, and continue to be, a part of a larger process to create a strong Icelandic national identity. Starting with why and how the sagas were first written down in the 13th century, she will follow the fate of the manuscripts through the reawakening of interest in the 17th century and the nationalistic fervor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to their role today, especially in the tourism sector.

Ward-Hightower, who is half-Icelandic, just completed a one-year American Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship in Iceland. She also consults with museums on Viking Age projects, including the Smithsonian exhibit titled "Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga."

The American Scandinavian Foundation of Thousand Oaks and CLU's History Department are sponsoring the free presentation. For more information, contact Anita Londgren at (805) 241-1051.

Medieval stained glass windows returned to Germany

Medieval stained glass windows returned
14 November 2008
Associated Press Newswires

The last panels in a set of 14th-century stained glass windows seized by Soviet soldiers after World War II will be returned soon to a German church, the government said Friday.

The six panels were taken from Marienkirche church in the city of Frankfurt an der Oder, near the Polish border, and held in Moscow's Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts for more than 60 years.

In 2002, Russia returned the other 111 stained-glass panels from the church's 65-foot-high (20-meter-high) altar that had also been taken. That batch of panels had been held in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Russia's parliament voted earlier this year to return the remaining panels, all of which make up a picture Bible -- most churchgoers of the time were illiterate.

Germany's culture ministry said they are to be handed back to the church on Monday.

Russia and Germany have long sparred over thousands of valuable objects taken from Germany in the waning days of World War II. Germany and other countries have pressed for the return of such objects, which they argue were taken illegally. But Russia has proclaimed that the art was seized as rightful retribution for the 27 million Soviet lives lost, 100 museums destroyed and utter ruin of entire cities during the conflict it calls the Great Patriotic War.

Russia has urged Germany to search for and return Russian art seized by the Nazis, and the two nations have accelerated exchanges of looted art in recent years.

More discoveries from tunnel excavation underneath Istanbul

11 November 2008
Indo-Asian News Service

The chance uncovering of 8,000-year-old human urns, ashes, clothes and utensils while digging for an undersea metro tunnel in Istanbul is a stunning find that throws new light on the historic past of the Turkish capital, say archaeologists.

As a result, heavy machines have been stopped from digging into this part of the tunnel, being built under the Bosporus or Istanbul Strait to connect the Asian and European parts of this city.

Once the seat of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul is said to be the third largest city of the world today with a population of more than 11 million.

Ismail Karamut, director of Istanbul Archaeology Museum, told the local Hurriyet Daily News the urns and other artefacts uncovered during the digging were "extremely important".

Besides the urns, the excavation has uncovered ashes wrapped in cloth, used clothes and other belongings of the dead. One urn contained the skeleton of a baby. Experts believe it was very likely that this area was a burial site, the newspaper said.

Archeologists said the findings reveal that Istanbul had a thriving human settlement much before the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

Terming them as sensational, associate professor Necmi Karul, branch chairperson for the Archeologists Community in Istanbul, said: "In Anatolian archaeology, there were no urn burials from the Neolithic Age. It is definitely a burial site because they are side by side. They date back to 5800-6000 BC, the last of the Neolithic Age".

Karamut said permission for use of heavy machines for the digging of the tunnel would be given at a later date when the excavation work was over.

Ever since work on this ambitious Turkish project started a few years ago, an archaeological treasure trove has been unearthed - like an intact 1,000-year old wooden boat. But the latest finding has surpassed them all.

The tunnel under Bosporus is being constructed to meet the heavy traffic need of this burgeoning metropolis, which has the rare distinction of being spread over two continents -- Asia and Europe.

Right now, two bridges - the 1,074-metre-long Bosporus Bridge built in 1973 and the 1,090-meter-long Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge constructed in 1988 - connect the two parts of Istanbul separated by Bosporus.

Plans are also afoot for a third bridge while the construction on this 13.7-km-long undersea metro tunnel is expected to be over by 2012. Being built at an estimated cost of more than $3.5 billion, it would be one of the world's deepest tube tunnels once completed, at 75 metres below sea level.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fordham Professor Decodes Hidden Messages in Medieval Text

A Monk and His Manuscript: Fordham Professor Decodes Hidden Messages in Medieval Text
By Patrick Verel
Fordham University
October 14, 2008

Fordham students and faculty took a jaunt through 11th century Germany on Thursday, Sept. 11, in the Center for Medieval Studies’ first lecture of the fall semester.

The presentation, “Abbot Ellinger of Tegernsee: In Exile, in Pain and in German,” given by Susanne Hafner, Ph.D., focused on details about the abbot that he himself included in one of his manuscripts. Hafner, an assistant professor of German, said she learned much about Ellinger through the medieval text, known to scholars as HRC 29.

Speaking from the O’Hare Special Collections Room in the William D. Walsh Family Library, she explained that the abbot had at one point been banished to Niederaltaich, a Benedictine monastery on the East Bavarian frontier where there was little to do but mill about the library. The reasons for his banishment are unclear, but are said to be linked to his irascible nature.

A possible explanation for his irritability may appear the margins of the Latin-penned HRC 29, Hafner said. It was there that Ellinger wrote, in his native language of Old High German, prescriptions for ailments such as stomachaches, headaches, dropsy and no less than seven different treatments for dolor testiculorum.

It is not known whether he followed all of them, as they often included hazardous substances, she said. But the fact that he used a translation that was unlikely to be mistaken showed how serious he was about the remedies.

“Ellinger, a highly educated man and abbot of one of the cultural centers of Carolingian Europe, was well versed in Latin and Greek, both of which he used in HRC 29,” she said. “But when the issue was personal rather than academic, he felt the need to verify his vocabulary.”

Although HRC 29 mostly included copies of books that had been destroyed when Tegernsee was sacked by Hungarians in 907, Hafner noted that, like Ellinger’s fellow scribes, he made a sport of adding notes—often written in code—using runes, Greek letters, acrostics, or glosses scratched into the parchment.

“Claiming authorship of his codex seemed to have been particularly important to him. In addition to the colophon, he left his name in the margins, twice, in code,” Hafner said.

Analyzing writings such as these help scholars better understand Europe in its pre-Christian, pagan heritage.

“Talking about this manuscript is a homecoming in more ways that one for me, because it was written in the monastery of Niederaltaich, which happens to be right next to the little town in the Bavarian Forest where I grew up,” she said.

Hafner found the medieval document in the archives of the University of Texas at Austin, where she worked before joining the Fordham faculty last year.

“I am still humbled by this act of divine providence, which had the codex written—for me, as I would like to think—a thousand years ago, then safely tucked away: first in a Benedictine library; then in a private collection; and then deep in the heart of Texas.”

Medieval Leper Stories Shrouded in Myth and Misunderstanding

Medieval Leper Stories Shrouded in Myth and Misunderstanding
Fordham University Press Release
November 2008

The image of a medieval leper cast into the wilds of the forest, doomed to wander alone outside of the protective walls of the city, is a popular one, and can be found in popular representations to this day.

It is also complete fiction, said Carole Rawcliffe, Ph.D., professor of history at University of East Anglia in England. Rawcliffe demolished the commonly held perception that medieval lepers were outcasts in “Outside the Camp? Inventing the Medieval Leper,” a presentation she gave on Nov. 6 at the Walsh Family Library on the Rose Hill campus.

“This idea that they were completely confined or excluded is wrong,” she said. “The provision of proper physical and spiritual services for such people—as well as for the sick in general—became a growing priority, soon to be enshrined in canon law.”

Rawcliffe, who drew upon her book Leprosy in Medieval England (Boydell Press, 2006), used overhead projections to show representations of how those suffering from leprosy, or Hanson’s Disease as it is now known, were incorrectly said to have been treated. In particular, Villagers Scrambling to Get Away from a Leper, a 1912 watercolor by Richard Tennant Cooper that shows an entire village recoiling in fear from a hooded leper, has found a receptive audience.

“[The artwork] is especially beloved of paleopathologists, who use it to provide a historical context for skeletal analysis; but it also crops up regularly in books for the popular market,” she said. “We can find it, for example, in the recent Plague, Pox and Pestilence, a glossy and profusely illustrated history of epidemics aimed at the general reader. The accompanying text observes grimly that ‘the world of the medieval leper was outside the safety of walled cities and towns, a world belonging to bandits and other wild creatures.’”

Though her research, Rawcliffe has found that in fact, in the early 1300s, there were as many as 320 houses spread around England that were built expressly to care for lepers. Although they were located at the edge of towns and in suburbs, they were far from dismal flophouses.

Some of these so-called lepers were probably suffering from diseases other than Hanson’s Disease, but Rawcliffe said she was more interested in how people reacted to what they perceived to be this affliction, which receives plenty of attention in the Bible.

“The prayers of the leper were supposed to be particularly efficacious because Christ had loved the leper. So if you wanted to set up a charitable institution and whiz through Purgatory at record speed, then a leper hospital offered you a good bet,” she said.

“It’s also easy to forget what dominant landmarks they were in the urban geography. They were what you saw when you entered a city, and they’re advertising the fact that they’re not trying to drive the leper away,” she said.

When the Bubonic Plague swept Europe in the late 13th century, apprehension about possibly infectious lepers developed, but Rawcliffe said that even then, those cast out of communities were often scapegoats on the socioeconomic fringes, and not limited to those actually suffering from leprosy.

In that regard, she compared it unfavorably to the recent scares affiliated with AIDS and cancer, the former of which she came across often while working on her book.

“So much of the writing on AIDS at the time referred to it as being like the new leprosy, because over and over again, victims of the disease would say we’re like the new medieval leper. And I thought, ‘If only you were, because you’d get a much more sympathetic attitude,” she said.

“We have this tendency to see the medieval as somehow superstitious and retrograde, but a lot of modern responses to disease are much less sympathetic than those in the Middle Ages,” she said. “That element of reflective-ness about disease is gone. People today tend to see disease in a very mechanistic fashion.”