Thoughts on cultural difference courtesy of Charles Zika

Belated follow-up to my last post about ANZAMEMS. The closing plenary on Saturday gave us the pleasure of hearing Charles Zika speak – I had never encountered Zika before, but by all accounts he’s something of an institution in Melbournian and indeed antipodean historical circles. I have one piece of advice: if you have the opportunity to hear Charles Zika speak, on any topic, ever, do so

The plenary, which was on the topic of early modern representations of a. witches and b. the Witch of Endor, and how the latter influenced artistic concepts of the former, began with Charles Zika giving a very personalised introduction to his methodologies. He spoke of his childhood as a refugee child immigrant in Australia, and his consciousness at a young age of cultural and religious difference. This, he said, made him ‘intellectually but also emotionally predisposed to engage with stories that speak of otherness’. Then, also interestingly, he spoke of a fascination with ‘strategies that close off understanding… or even feign misunderstanding’ between cultural and religious groups.

That awareness is, I think, critically important to the study of the past. It doesn’t have to come by the hard-earned personal route – I have little claim to experience of otherness myself, unless you count the odd dislocated place which antipodeans tend to occupy in Anglo-American cultural spaces (eg: European history; the Internet) – but I do think it is in the interests of Knowledge at Large if those hard-won personal knowledges and interests are allowed to enter into even apparently unrelated academic space. Who knows what we might find?

Zika then went on to demonstrate, if I understood him correctly, a pattern in northern European images of the Witch of Endor to follow certain exemplars. Alongside that, he showed generic images of witches following these images as their models, and, in one case, an example of reverse influence. He didn’t speak in the lecture itself about why it is that most of his evidence is northern, but in conversation afterwards he said he sees two possibilities: either he hasn’t found the southern evidence yet, or for some reason northern artists were particularly interested in the Witch of Endor imagery. You could tell he was leaning toward the latter conclusion, especially since one of the exemplar pictures was Italian, and copied by Dutch artists who had worked in Italy – but only after they returned to Northern Europe.

By and large, the lecture was about art history, and about ideas of how witchcraft operated (the Witch of Endor illustrations tended to show her with magic circles, books, and other accoutrements of masculine magic). Where the cultural difference comes in is in what witchcraft treatises – in which these images are found – were trying to do.

Zika takes a long view of the development of ‘canonical’ witchcraft theories – he asserted that they were still accumulating in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Witchcraft treatises, then, are ways of assembling information and putting forth certain views and explanations, not necessarily universally codified beliefs. And what they’re assembling and interpreting is a vast range of folk belief and practice – most of it culturally distant from the authors, if not in space then in vertical culture (wealth, class, religious training). The expectation of a universal witchcraft then required elaborate theories for unifying these diverse beliefs, and that seems to be where Zika’s witch-pictures come in: the Witch of Endor, as the only biblical witch, provided a grounding for witchcraft theories, an imagined past which might possibly connect the diverse present.

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Conference frivolity

It’s been remarked by persons other than I that the dress code at Leeds varies widely by discipline – Arthurianists tend to be well-dressed, Celticists either well-dressed and floaty-garbed or somewhat scruffy, early medievalists vary from shambolic to neat casual, and only archaeologists and anthropologists are liable to wear safari suits. Meanwhile, last ANZAMEMS it seemed to me that antipodeans clustered by institution – Auckland being particularly casual, and Sydney notably not so (due, largely, to the sartorial trend-setting of two British expats among us).

By this year, I can report that the antipodean medievalist community seem to have become sartorially homogenous. ‘Office casual’ seems to be the order of the day. Skirt-and-blouse or trouser-and-blouse combinations abound; sleeved dresses (often with button-down-fronts, for some reason) were plentiful; and I’m given to understand that a deliberate shopping expedition was made to find a lightweight summer dress suitable for one heat-afflicted denizen of the northern hemisphere. I myself acquired a cropped cardigan and a cropped short-sleeved jacket, the blazer I brought with me having turned out to be both too warm and too formal.

Women seem to dress up more than men, but then it’s hard to say with men’s business-casual clothes. Few suit jackets were in evidence, many buttoned shirts, but few ties. The suit jackets which were to be seen were quite likely to be paired with jeans, especially on younger chaps.

Best dressed institution award this year must surely go to UWA, who boast not only well-dressed scholars and postgrads, but a cluster of honours students whose ability to dress up far exceeds my own ability to dress like an adult at that stage of my life. Special mention must go to the scholar who stood out in neck-to-knee purple and carried it off most elegantly.

Non-conclusive thoughts on the relationship between medievalism and European cultural hegemony

Hello, internets. I’m at ANZAMEMS. It’s delightful! Constant Mews, in opening the conference, spoke heartily and fondly of the strong sociability which characterises antipodean research communities for early European study. He’s right, and though the conference is much smaller than Leeds it’s diverse and vibrant and very very friendly. There are people here I haven’t laid eyes on since last ANZAMEMS and it’s delightful to see what’s become of them in the meantime.

But that’s not what brings me back to the internets. It’s a puzzling point which Constant raised in his opening comments. We had been given a Welcome to Country, and a thought-provoking few words on the importance of culture, heritage, and listening to the experience of others, by Aunty Diane Kerr, a leader from the local indigenous community. Constant then spoke about something I’ve seen few medievalists* talk about in relation to our discipline: the expansion and veneration of European culture and history as part of the colonial process.

Constant spoke of the ANZAMEMS theme, ‘Cultures in translation’, as embracing ideas of fluidity, transition, and moving away from the dominance of the European historical narrative as brought out to Australia from mostly the UK, with seasoning from Europe and the US. He spoke of this as something ANZAMEMS really wanted to be doing.

… but how? I don’t know what ANZAMEMS may have been doing or attempting to do**, but when I look at the program, it’s European history. There’s only a very little about Europeans interacting with other places and cultures. I think Constant did well to remind us of our troublesome place as people who have chosen – many of us in contexts where other options were available – to specialise in, devote our energies and our teaching to, the history and appreciation of European culture.

I don’t know that ANZAMEMS this year lives up to Constant’s hope of going beyond the dominance of European history. What I do think is that there is something useful to be done not beyond but within that tradition: not expanding, but fragmenting. I notice, especially with these themed conferences where everyone tries to bend the theme their way, that we often end up talking about inter-cultural exchange within Europe. About dominant and excluded perspectives within Europe, and the ways which different cultures rubbed up against each other throughout our period. England, of course, is a wonderful example; as is the Anglo-French cultural zone, or for that matter, even the slightest brush with pre-revolution France.

It seems to me that there are two particularly damaging myths built into a system which preferences European culture and history: a myth of a European monoculture*** and a myth of cultural progress. The latter allows you to view any evidence of cultural variance within Europe as a stage in the past, a building block on the way to monocultural modernity.

This, I think, is something medievalists can and should easily counter; and as medieval studies is often experienced as safely alien, buffered from the present by the safe barrier of the early modern, I think collaboration with early modernists is particularly useful here. It’s very often poor historical work to approach ‘medieval Europe’ as a monolith – although we sometimes have to, for expediency’s sake.

And I do believe we should resist the urge to read the past as the origins of the present or the historical narrative as a consistent progression toward the ‘civilised’. That’s usually poor history, as well as politically Euro-centric. For instance, in a series of papers on emotions associated with crime and execution, one paper looked at early modern English customs of ‘benefit of clergy’ and the emphasis on mercy and redemption in thought surrounding that practice. We might have moved on from death penalties, mostly, but one would be hard put to say that the principle of mercy is less commendable than the patterns of punitive justice which underpin the current system.

That’s not enough, not by a long shot; real change needs far more than that. But it’s not worthless, either. I think a sharp awareness of the changeability of social systems, value systems and intellectual systems is critically important to… well, to any critical thinking about modern society, and that is something that cannot be supplied by modern history and anthropology alone. Then there’s the immense commonality of humans over time: consistent experiences like sex, childbirth, death, grief and suffering, which are embedded in vastly different social systems and shouldn’t be treated as ahistorical and are so easily recognised. That, too, is valuable, for if the past is alien and yet recognisable, then so to ought the cultural variance of the present be accessible if one pays attention long enough to find the point of common interest.

*coughs* Here endeth the lesson for today.

~

*Here. I understand it’s a problem which most people teaching introductory world lit or world history courses in the US have to wrangle with, on a broader scale.

** Things a conference or organisation could do, if they wanted to broaden their purview in this way, would be to organise and sponsor panels on cross-cultural topics (bonus points if you move beyond the crusades…); dedicate travel bursaries to people working in particular fields; dedicate travel bursaries for delegates from Asia, Africa, the middle east or South America. Advertise calls for papers well outside of the usual medieval places. Seek keynotes, etc etc. For all I know, ANZAMEMS may have tried some of these methods.

*** And with that often comes a laughably narrow definition of ‘white’, which is treated as synonymous with ‘civilised’ and thus with Europe. Ask me about how the White Australia policy didn’t consider Italians to be white. Or most Germans. GO ON, ASK ME.

Arthurian Images and Iconography, or, how to mix post-modern theoretical papers with traditional close readings

Getting back on the recapping report – perhaps my favourite session at the IAS was a Monday session entitled Arthurian Images and Iconograpy: Theorizing Lost and Invented Geographies and Monuments in Arthurian Literature. It was an immensely popular session – people sitting on the floor again – and immensely fascinating for the number of different methodologies across the four papers, which the session participants managed to hold together more or less cohesively. My preference was, by far, for Michael Twomey’s close-reading, historically grounded approach, but all four papers were interesting and it was an excellent case study of how seemingly disparate approaches can hang well together and inform one another.


A view from Cadbury Hill

Not Actually Camelot - view from Cadbury Hill, facing away from Glastonbury. Taken on an IAS excursion.

Kathleen Coyne Kelly began with “The Eco-Tourist, The Heritage Industry, and Arthurian Legend”. She talked about our desire to seek out the past by actually going there, and noted that what we seek is ‘historical fantasy’, not either the present or past reality of the site.1 She called it ‘a kind of nostalgic eco-pornography’. Her theoretical grounding was in current work on nostalgia; she talked about sites associated with modern authors as well as a series of places associated with Arthurian legend (a particularly good combination of the two is Merlin’s Cave, a backformation from Tennyson into the Cornish landscape). She discussed current debates about ‘heritage’ tourism – commericalised bogus history?; she noted that often association with a mythical or historical figure results in revitalisation rather than preservation; and that such desire for the past is often linked with a desire to connect with the natural world (but that these ‘natural’ experiences are equally artificial).

This paper raised a whole bunch of interesting ideas for me, but as you can probably tell, I connected better with the concrete parts – the examples of places; the discussion of current debates on heritage management – than the theorising. Also apparently we’re now all post-tourists? I had barely begun to be a tourist!


Next up, Michael Twomey gave a paper entitled “Sir Gawain and the Green World”. You’d think that everything there is to be said about the forest in SGGK has been said, and said, and said again, but in this case, Twomey was arguing that Bertilak’s castle is not an uncivilised outpost in an isolated wilderness. Rather, he argued, the environment is heavily managed – the hunting scenes, in particular, tell us of a local lord who is engaged with and carefully manages the forest parts of his domain. The poem, according to Twomey, is ‘ultimately anthropocentric’ – and Gawain is no more in the wilderness at Hautdesert than is a modern tourist at a heritage-managed site.

Twomey talked in great detail about forest law, which mediated conflict between the king and the nobility over rights to the forest and its produce, particularly game, but also timber and other products. Now, I have apparently taken down a bunch of technical information, like a glossary of terms for forest management, but not the key points of the argument. However, I have a note here saying that the Wirral had been disaforested at the time of the poem’s composition (i.e., it was no longer legally a forest, and thus not subject to forest law). I think Twomey may have argued that Gawain’s passing out of the Wirral and into Bertelak’s domain is passing out of the wilderness and into human domain. He also noted that, if Bertelak holds the land from Morgan le Fay, then either it is her royal forest, or she and Bertelak both are squatting on Arthur’s territory: this ambiguity is never cleared up in the text.

I liked this paper, with its pleasing mix of historicised landscape study (landscapes seem to be the It Thing right now! What gives?) and close-reading. I could see connections to the previous paper, and the overall theme of tourism, but I think to really draw them out you’d need to work with both studies of managed and unmanaged landscapes in ME romance, and something historiographical. If Gawain isn’t in the wilderness after all, why do we all want to think he is? You could tie that back to nostalgia very easily, I think, but Twomey didn’t go far down that road.

On the other hand, he has himself been an SGGK tourist.


View from Caldy Hill to Wales over the River Dee

View from Caldy Hill to Wales over the River Dee

Third up was Gillian Rudd, with a paper entitled ‘The Wilderness of Wirral in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. Much has been said about the Wirral and will be said many times over yet, I’m sure: but Gillian herself is a resident of the Wirral! She began with a description from visitwirral.com:

Wirral Peninsula is placed between the River Dee and the River Mersey, overlooking both the Welsh Hills and the spectacular Liverpool skyline. Well connected to the rest of the country, Wirral is the ideal location for those wanting to get away from it all.

And then – after some commentary on nostalgia on which I haven’t got coherent notes – we set off to ‘get away from it all’ with Gawain – into the Wilderness of Wirral. Rudd filled us in on some information which I gather originally came from J.A. Burrow – the Wirral was a well-known refuge for ‘malefactors’. However, its disaforestation in 1376 removed the legal protection for outlaws. Does Gawain know this? Which of those two facts does he know?2 Are we, the audience, in Gawain’s mind, or someone else’s? “What is the space,” Rudd asks, “and how can you act in it?”

At this point my notes become a bit incoherent and focus on facts that seemed fun to me: Gillian Rudd thinks that the word “freke” at this point in Middle English is starting to pick up the connotations of “freak” – I’d really love to see that explored further!; she talked about shifting boundaries between the real/unreal, and the possibility that Gawain might be fighting off the terrors of the Wirral in his head rather than reality; she posited that the ‘twist’ is that you think you’re in another world but you’re not.3 The question of why Gawain sees no animals in the forest came up: clearly they live there, but he doesn’t see any. Does he want to believe he’s in an untouched landscape?

Finally, or at least, last among the things I wrote down, Rudd asked us if Gawain could be recast. Is he the hero going into the Otherworld, or the Other entering Bertelak’s court?


Arthur Uther Pendragon celebrating solstice at Stonehenge

Arthur Uther Pendragon celebrating solstice at Stonehenge

The final paper – and by far the most amusing – was Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Schichman, with Arthur Pendragon, Eco-Warrior. There is absolutely no way I could reproduce this paper: so much of it relied on the fabulous photographs, on powerpoint, of Arthur Uther Pendragon, a gentlemen much concerned with ecogological preservation (because the king and the land are one), and strongly opposed to English Heritage, who restrict and market access to sites of national importance, such as Stonehenge. Finke and Shichtman talked about the heritage industry’s dependance on the idea that the past is done and should be preserved, as opposed to Arthur Uther Pendragon’s desire to live the past, and in fact his claim to be the past, living. ‘In Arthur’s view, past and present are mutually constitutive’, I have in my notes.

This paper was well constructed: Shichtman discussed Arthur Pendragon’s life and career, and Finke provided commentary and theory-informed insights. I found it far better than the first paper, in terms of the tight relationship between facts and theory: I felt that here, it wasn’t just that links were being made between fact and theory, but that each illuminated the other indispensably. Of course, by the time we got to this paper I had the benefit of all three previous papers’ touching on the same theoretical concepts, so that helped. Regardless, it was a presentation which sparkled with humour and oddity, but also genuine engagement with Pendragon and his goals, as well as broader social issues.

~

1. Mea Culpa. Interestingly, when in New Zealand I zealously avoided LOTR-related sites, preferring to keep Middle Earth in my head; but evidently I am not content to keep the past in the past!
2. Another question worth asking, which neither Rudd nor Twomey did, is: does the forestation, or disaforestation, of the Wirral even -apply- in Gawain’s ‘verse? I am all down with Arthurian legend being used to work out real social concerns of the contemporary audience, but my gut instinct is that one of the features of the fantasy-past is that resemblances to the present are serve one of two purposes: because you need the similarities there in order to work out whatever it is your anxiety is; or because the -absence- of that feature would force you/ your audience too far out of their comfort zone. I’m not sure that particular legal status of the Wirral at the time of writing fits into either category (although the legal connotations of ‘forest’ certainly could fit one or the other).
3. This point intrigued me, since it’s the polar opposite of my friend and colleague Kylee Nicholls’ argument, which she trotted out in a paper at ANZAMEMS, that Gawain’s problem is that he walks out of the “real” world and into the world you find in romances -about- Gawain, and cannot figure out what on earth he’s supposed to do or be. I lean toward Kylee’s theory, but I’d like to see more of Gillian Rudd’s logic: I expect that the two arguments have much in common in the building-blocks.

IAS update #2 – Gawain and Guinevere, my two favourite Arthurian peeps

[Note: both these papers, and my recaps of them, deal with encroachment on personal and physical autonomy; the second in particular covered some distressing gendered violence in the narrative structure.]

The first paper I went to at Bristol was on what might just qualify as my favourite subject – the objectification (or, in this case, commodification) of Sir Gawain, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Warning against the wyles of women – David Sweeten

This paper moved very fast, especially in the middle, so I missed chunks of it, but I really look forward to reading a hard-copy version at some point

David began with this quote:

Medieval MSS llustration - couple embracingFor were I worth al the wone of wymmen alyue,
And al þe wele of þe worlde were in my honde,
And I schulde chepen and chose to cheue me a lorde

Þer schulde no freke upon folde bifore yow be chosen.

[ll. 1269-71,75; Tolkien & Gordon 2nd ed. (ed. by Norman Davies); my quotation, not David Sweeten’s.]

Gawain, or Gawain-as-husband, is something which can be purchased with appropriate wealth. David went on to argue that Gawain’s honour is also a commodity to be bargained for: he read the bedroom scenes not as Lady B’s attempt to sleep with Gawain (or purchase sex from him), but an endeavour to get him to accept the girdle. She takes her time setting up the appropriate stakes: first offering a too-high price (sexual favours for his honour) in order to make the lower price, the girdle, more acceptable. The values of the items in question – Gawain’s honour, and the girdle, seem slippery: Lady B. can reduce Gawain’s standing by questioning his identity; and her revelation of the properties of the girdle forces him to re-value the item within the context of the exchange.

As well as this reading, which was fun in its own right, David offered some historical context. He argued that the poem is both rooted in its NW Midlands homeland, and closely tied to London politics of the day. SGGK’s anxiety about women’s commodification of male honour he linked to contemporary anxiety about the position of influence held by Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward III. The nobility of the NW Midlands relied heavily on direct royal patronage: Alice’s strong influence over Edward threatened that relationship.

I really liked this paper. But then, I really like most things which have to do with someone bossing poor Gawain about.*

Next up, I missed the first five minutes or so (but enjoyed the rest of)….

The Queen was in her Parlour: Guinevere and Space – Kristina Hildebrand

This paper was in a session (“Women in Arthurian Literature”), which, perhaps due to its snazzy content and perhaps due to its respected moderator, Bonnie Wheeler, was so jam-packed that people (myself and David Sweeten included) were sprawled on the floor around the edges of the room.

Kristina argued that Guinevere marks out and defines royal space; her presence identifies civilisation in the text. This power is not to be confused with political clout, but it seems to be impossible to rule England without her.

Gwen, with crown

Guinevere is a stable figure at the centre of the court (for the most part), when compared to, say Iseult, who comes and goes from her husband’s court. She has a defined space, her personal chamber: Kristina talked about the stress in the social fabric of Malory’s Arthurian world caused by differing values placed on the queen’s space. To Arthur, he alone should have access to it; Gawain argues that because the queen has a public function as rewarder of knights, her chamber is a public space.

With this framework set up, Kristina talked about Guinevere in Meleagaunt’s castle: her space grows smaller and smaller; she attempts to defend a single room, and in the end she cannot even maintain control over her bed. This is a pretty distressing situation by any measure, but the framework Kristina set up around it, in which Guinevere’s space is not just about her person but her identity as queen, the whole process sent chills up my spine. Not-good chills, except insofar as I admire the careful authorial choices necessary to produce such effects.

Guinevere, then, is under constant threat: she is most safe inside Arthur’s court, but never entirely so. Kristina drew in Igraine, here, who was not safe even within her husband’s court; and then she asked if the convent to which Guinvere retires is a safe personal space at last? There, she has authority, and ought to be able to prevent male encroachments on her territory. However, Lancelot ignores her command and tries to see her. Kristina noted that Guinevere is saved, in the end – by death. Only God can protect her; and even then, only terminally.

I liked this paper! It was Relevant To My Interests, even if it was about Malory. Totally worth scrunching up on the floor for.

~

* I feel I ought to specify, since apparently many people assume otherwise, that I do not personally wish to shag Gawain! Boss him about, sure. My feeling on Gawain is that he should be my big brother, and his life would be much better if he had me to tell him how to run it.** And many other people’s lives would be improved because I would be bossing Gawain about, and not them. What, you mean you don’t all have fictional characters you want to adopt? *sidles off*

** I have a feeling the Maiden With Small Sleeves shares my feelings on Gawain, too.

IAS update #1

It seems that I finished off the Leeds posts: but I was not done there, oh no; in fact, the conference which was my primary excuse for being in England in the first place was the International Arthurian Society’s Triennial Congress, at the University of Bristol.

I liked Bristol! I liked the city (I have a worrying fondness for scruffy port towns), I liked the university, and I liked the villages up above the city in which the university is nestled. I enjoyed the company of the IAS’s most excellent members – although, without the benefit of pre-forged internet acquaintances, I found Bristol much harder going than Leeds so far as social anxiety goes.

Reward for information leading to the return of lost marblesTo add to it, I was on the end of my trip, and the end of my energy supply: two very lovely friends of mine each took me under their wing for a day in Oxford prior to the IAS, but from the time I woke up on Sunday morning I was scrabbling to keep track of where and when and why I was. I missed my train to Didcot, but, fortunately, caught the next one and made my original connection. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I hadn’t, of course, but the powers that be had seen fit to reserve my seat Didcot>Temple Meads at a table-seat, and to arrange for me to share it with two excellent individuals whom I had previously met at ANZAMEMS in Dunedin. When we all piled off the train we ran into a scholar from UWA, and sallied forth in the one taxi in search of our respective accommodations.

I then commenced with what turned out to be my policy for the week: not knowing where anything was, or what I was supposed to be doing, and flinging myself upon the tender mercies of Gareth Griffith, and the somewhat more intimidating beneficence of Elizabeth Archibald in search of the answers to these questions. This tactic paid off: I recommend it for the terminally confused!

Monday morning saw me:

– miss breakfast

– select a cafe, which proceeded to be my breakfast-eating, tea-drinking and paper-writing home base for the rest of the week

– getting lost between said cafe and the university

Three cats on a manhole cover– adopted by a tiny, fuzzy, enthusiastically affectionate black kitty in a steep pedestrian alleyway behind a church. Kitty loved me! Kitty was quite determined that I not be allowed to stand back up after bending down to pet hir, and certain that my job in life was to be nuzzled and purred at and climbed upon.

Accordingly, I wandered into the conference venue in a state of lateness, where I ran smack bang into the aforementioned Gareth Griffin. I posited that lateness to conferences is entirely acceptable when one has been adopted by a wee black kitty, and he concurred.

After that, I went to some papers! And I might even tell you about them when I am not running late for something else!

Leeds Report #7, or, more fun with Middle English

Lest I turn into the inestimable Jon Jarrett and wind up posting recaps six months or more after the conference in question… on with the recaps!

Because I have my priorities straight, I’ve already reported on one paper from session 1314,  ‘English Romance, Nation, and (Obscene) Scribal Innovation’: it had speculations on the sex lives of bishops.

You might be interested to know that the rest of that session was interesting and intriguing, too!

Medieval - a woman readingFirst, Michael Johnston talked about The Circulation of Middle English Romance.

  • He began by talking about increase in book production in London in the late 14th century, where, he noted, romance was largely left out of the flourishing literary culture. London manuscripts  exhibit a continuity of format, style, and genre, and they’re just not so fond of romance. This was demonstrated with reference to several Chaucer and Langland MSS.
  • A number of romance manuscripts, on the other hand, have strong ties to particular provincial households. Johnston presented several examples of particular traceable manuscripts. Then, drawing on similar data to that which Gareth Griffith was using in his paper, he talked about the general presentation of romance manuscripts, and noted that those which come with fancy script and decoration usually contain more ‘elevated’ genres (typical of London book production) in addition.
  • Why is romance not favoured by London book producers and/or buyers? Johnston wants to know; he didn’t have concrete answers for that at this stage, but he noted the need to look at Middle English genres in socio-historical context in order to find such answers.

Anglo-Saxon shieldNext up, Hiroki Okamoto gave a paper entitled Contesting English History: From ‘here’ to ‘ferd’ in Havelock the Dane. I found it a little hard to follow, but I look forward very much to seeing a printed version one day.

  • He looked closely at the use of the terms here and ferd, both words for an army. The Havelock-poet never uses the more common noun host, and Hiroki Okamoto argued that here and ferd are loaded terms – that here in both OE and ME is usually used for invading forces, whereas ferd usually connotes Anglo-Saxon royalty.
  • Before Gottrich’s speech (an Englishman, who rails against the disorder and general evilness of Danes), the terms here and ferd are used in that pattern, with Danish forces being a here. However, Hiroki Okamoto argued – and I had a little trouble following this, since it’s been a while since I read Havelock and also I have scrappy notes in my conference notebook so bear with me – that Gottrich’s speech is deliberately overblown: that it’s not meant to make the audience hate Danes, but to see Denmark as a disorderly place needing to be put in order by Havelock.
  • After that speech, though, something changes: the word ferd becomes more common, and Havelock’s forces – which are invading England! – are a ferd now.
  • Hiroki Okamoto is convinced that the poet is deploying these words deliberately; and that the use of loaded terms, especially ferd, with its royal connotations, contributes to a revisionist idea of English identity, and is perhaps closely linked to the Scandinavian cultural presence in Lincolnshire.