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