". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Long-Haired Kings + Cuba

     . . . . I find myself missing writing here.  I've been too busy, on too many fronts simultaneously, to think of stringing together sentences that make minimal sense about my reading and watching. Too busy even to watch anything, for that matter.

For instance for the last 10 days I've spent just about every day between 12:30 PM and 5 PM shopping for all the people in Cuba who need things they can't get there, things for us that we or the Travelers may need and which are hard if not impossible to get there, especially when constantly on the move.

And I still haven't started packing for myself!  We leave here at the preposterous hour of 3 AM on Saturday in order to get to the airport, through security etc. and make a 6 AM flight.

I've watched very little television  All this walking in this topsy-turvy temperature winter, carrying so many heavy bags, standing in long, slow lines at check-out -- because the customers and / or the technology have massive melt-downs, all at the same time, all the time now, it seems --my back hurts so much, and I'm so so stiff and sore that after making dinner and getting things cleaned up, sitting with my feet up and reading about the Merovingians is about all I can manage.

Depiction of Battle of the Catalaunian Fields (Chalons), where a coalition of "barbarians" defeated Attila the Hun's forces.

Yah, I'm still riding that hobby horse.  I have been keeping rather extensive notes, and we've been talking about this in Another Place with others who are as ignorant as I am, but have gotten interested from my notes and so now are reading books as well.   I do know more now than I did before beginning this project to educate myself at least a little in four centuries about which I knew little to nothing -- but I still know very little.  It doesn't help that every historian of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th century will say at some point -- at many points -- "this is doubtful . . . we don't know much, if anything about" whatever it is.

Warriors, and Long-haired Kings: 5TH Century Rome and Frankia 

As long hair was the signifier of a Merovingian man of distinction, combs were valuable personal property, often found in grave sites of important men.  They were also important commercial goods, with manufacturies for combs (which took an average of 50 hours of skilled labor to make).
One of the things I've learned is that the the communities that study these centuries are as divided as historians are about our own history.  The primary dividing line is: the Western Roman Empire declined and fell sometime in the 5th century which ushered in four centuries of barbarian invasions, no taxation and no commerce, the end of cities and civilization which were replaced by endless warfare vs. the Western Roman Empire that transformed, regenerated and transitioned into something new, dynamic and vital, incorporating the forms and structures of the old western empire while creating new things that better suited itself.  Nor were there great barbarian invasions beyond, perhaps that of Attila's, which was defeated by a coalition of Other Barbarians who had transformed quite some time ago into Gallo-Romans -- and commerce and manufacture boomed particularly in the north, east and south to the Black Sea and Bosphorus, which brought luxury, expensive goods and coins (as well as mints) to all these cities that didn't lose their populations.

One of the players in this history field, James J. O'Donnell,  characterizes this division of the field of Late Antiquity - Early Medieval History as the Reformers vs. the Counter-Reformationists. * The Counter-Reformationists believe the Western Roman Empire fell and ushered in the Dark Ages.  The Reformers look hard at material history and what archeology has revealed in the last 50 years, particularly in the more northern reaches, including both the British Isles and the Nordic regions, and see a burgeoning of trade and commerce, and cities neither losing population and, in fact new cities founded to deal with their trade.

When it comes to American History I have positions on many figures and issues that have evolved out of  life-long, deeply researched work.  But in this history I am a novice, so I don't / can't  have a position on this matter, only a leaning. I lean toward the side of the Reformers.  We'd have guessed that would be the case as the Counter-Reformationists have accused the Reformers of shilling for the marxists and, more lately, now, catering to political correctness.

The books I've read or am reading about these centuries in Europe in the order I've read or am reading them:
Charlemagne by Derek Wilson -- this is outside the purview, but it was reading this biography last summer that put me onto the Merovingians in the first place;
The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History by James J O'Donnell;
The Long-Haired Kings by J.M. Wallace-Haddrill;
Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography 640-720 by Paul Fouracer and Richard Al Gerberding;
Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered by Peter S. Wells -- he's an archeologist and definitely a Reformer.
We're reading aloud to each other this one:
The Merovingian Kingdoms 450 - 751 by Ian Wood -- this has been the narrative political history of the subject for quite some time;
El V's reading this book himself, which focuses on the 'real' middle ages, with only a short summary of roughly 100 pages out of  the 526 of these previous centuries that concludes with the chapter, "Consolidation of the Kingdoms" post Charlemagne's coronation as "emperor"  (though he does partition it again among his sons!):
The Middle Ages by Johannes Fried (translated by Peter Lewis); Fried is a semi-Counter-Reformationist.
I am also reading assorted, occasional articles from journals online and JSTOR.

A friend in Another Place is reading these -- the second two are Counter-Reformationists, and the first is a firm believer in the Dark Ages, though he blames Mohammed and Islam rather more than northeastern barbarians. The author was a practicioner of philosophical / pattern history, which I intensely dislike.  Thus, the conversations there are quite lively:
Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade; and,  Mohammed and Charlemagne by Henri Pirenne, in which exposits his famous Pirenne Thesis -- which, among many others, I too have a difficult time accepting as Pirenne's focus is the south and the Mediterranean.
The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins;
The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History by Peter Heather. 
I am reading other books too, but those are mostly about female personages in the era of the War of the Rebellion and in the Age of Horrors, er, the Gilded Age / Age of Innocence,  and the history of the Ottomans, particularly in the 15th and 16th and 17th centuries. More about this later, probably a lot later, after returning from the Caribbean.


*   James O'Donnell himself lines up on the Reformers side of the division.

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