New Blog written by Harry Mawdsley:
On the 11th of December, the project’s Sheffield contingent – Julia, Dirk and I – travelled to Vienna for the “Linking the Mediterranean” international workshop. The theme of the workshop, as implied by its title, was regional and trans-regional interactions during late-antiquity 300-800 AD. Given the persistent academic debates concerning the impact of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, there was much scope for discussion. And so, eagerly anticipating the conference papers, we arrived at Manchester Airport (very!) early that morning.
After a relatively straightforward journey, notwithstanding our slight confusion when navigating the Viennese transport system, we reached at the hotel by the afternoon. This gave us a few hours to do a spot of sightseeing before the evening’s keynote speech. It was my first time in the city and I was impressed – the architecture was ornate, grandiose and, above all, imperial.
We arrived at the academy building at around five o’clock. Professor Bryan Ward-Perkins opened proceedings by introducing his current research; a major five year project that will investigate the origins and development of the cult of the saints. Like our Clerical Exile project, it will produce a searchable database freely available online.
On Friday morning we were feeling more rested and ready for a long day of a discussion. A wide variety of topics were addressed by the speakers, the full programme can be found here; The followers of our project’s twitter feed were provided with a running commentary as I dutifully tweeted from the audience. In the second session Julia herself presented on the relationship between exile and monastic confinement during the fifth and sixth centuries. Far from indicating shrinking political horizons, Julia instead argued that the growth of monastic confinement represented a new method of social control. These issues will receive fuller treatment in her forthcoming book – Prison, Punishment and Penance in Late Antiquity – but it was great to hear Julia give the first paper linked with the project.
The papers continued on Saturday, including one from our Sheffield colleague Dr Katie Hemer who works within the Department of Archaeology. Using stable isotope analysis to examine the remains from an early medieval cemetery, Katie had found surprising evidence for population movement from the Southern Mediterranean to Western Britain. This brought out one of the central themes of the workshop; rather than a collection of static, parochial societies, the post-Roman west was a highly inter-connected world in which goods, ideas and individuals moved across large distances and political borders. Of course, this is something that I hope to demonstrate in my own research on exile in the barbarian successor states.
By the afternoon the conference had concluded; our gracious host, Dr Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, then gave us a highly informative tour of the city. There was even time to visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where we marvelled at the impressive late-antique collections as well as at the (surely exaggerated?) prognathism of the Habsburg portrait busts.
After a final night in the hotel we were ready to depart. During the journey home I reflected on the last few days. It was the first conference that I had attended, and before arriving I felt slightly intimidated at the prospect of meeting so many distinguished academics. However, these feelings were soon overcome due to the friendly atmosphere, and the genuine interest showed by fellow attendees in my own research. The conference itself was highly stimulating, with the speakers approaching the issue of connectivity from a variety of disciplines and approaches. This made the experience truly worthwhile, and I returned to Sheffield with a renewed enthusiasm for our own project. For that I owe thanks to everyone who made the event possible, in particular its organiser Dr David Natal.