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Wittgenstein Week 2007

Early Medieval Identities

May 17-22, 2007

The Wittgenstein project “Ethnic identities in early medieval Europe” (which started in the beginning of 2005 and will end in 2009/10) has started two years ago. It is time for a first presentation and discussion of the on-going research that it has made possible, and for reflection on our further work. At the same time, we would like to put our research that mainly deals with ethnic identities in perspective, and reflect its implications on related problems and projects. The idea was that if we ask many of the leading early medieval scholars to attend the mid-term meeting of the project, we could use the opportunity to bring up two further topics to offer a more varied panorama of the field. In the course of this ‘Wittgenstein Week’, participants in any of the three events are free to choose whether they want to come for one, two or all of them according to their interests, give papers, respond or just listen and discuss. In sum, this should create an open forum to discuss the topic of early medieval identities from different angles, but involving roughly the same group of early medievalists who can think creatively along these lines, and bringing together senior, mid-career and junior scholars. The lists of participants given below are of course provisional.

Programme

I. Thursday, May 17th and Friday, May 18th:

Formation of Political Identity in the Carolingian World (Workshop)
This is a workshop following from a project at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) in 2005/06 organised by Mayke de Jong. The common research of the group concentrated on the reign of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious as a time of experiments, change, high ambition and increasing conflict about the political identity of the Carolingian Empire. The workshop is intended to discuss the results of the project and its implications and draw the results together. It should also explore areas of common interest with the Wittgenstein project and consider the relationship of the formation of political identities in the first century of Carolingian rule with the transformation of ethnic identity in the Frankish realm in the period.

II. Saturday, May 19th and Sunday, May 20th:

Mid-term meeting: Advisory forum
This is a forum in which the Wittgenstein project group will present the results of their work for advice and discussion, and hope for input from the external participants. Instead of appointing a formal advisory board, we chose an open form including junior scholars, and whoever wants to join from among the participants of the workshops.

III. Monday, May 21st and Tuesday, May 22nd:

ego trouble: Authors and their identities in the early middle ages
(Public symposium)
This symposium should complement the work done in Vienna largely on ethnic and other forms of ‘collective’ identities, and take a look at what we can find out about early medieval individual identities. Can we speak of ‘individual’ identities at all between, say, Augustine and Abaelard? And if so, did individuals after Augustine have the capacity of self-reflection, and could they consciously deal with themselves in relation to their environment? The best, and perhaps the only way to access individuals’ ideas about themselves and their position in the world is through authors and their writings. The workshop will therefore deal with a number of more or less prolific writers between the 5th and the 11th century. However, it should not simply re-evalue their biographies or deal with aspects of their literary production. Contributions should collect and assess traces of self-identification in their writings as systematically as possible (and, if available, in the writings of others about them). What did they write about themselves, and what expressions of self can be found in their texts? This can regard anything between Augustine’s unique Confessiones and his Retractationes as extraordinary documents of styled self-reflection to autobiographic anecdotes or chance remarks. What was these authors’ sense of belonging, who was ‘us’ for them, when do they implicitly or explicitly present themselves as members of a community, a group of people or a broad category? Who are the ‘others’, from collective enemies to envied insiders, and how are they being judged? Does their specific sense of belonging and of distance change over the years, and where are the tensions in that landscape of loyalties and differences?

Many writers of the period were in fact ‘difficult’ individuals who had trouble to belong, who felt excluded or superior, lived through crises or conflicts of identity, viewed themselves and their problems with irony or anger, or followed an idiosyncratic agenda in their writings. It is through these tensions and difficulties that we can best get an idea what individual and social identities meant. That identities should not be seen as natural categories into which individuals were born and raised but rather results of constant efforts of identifications, both by the self and others, becomes apparent where these identifications were difficult, failed or created problems of loyalty. Conflicts of identity and the corresponding textual strategies therefore can give us glimpses at the construction of ethnic, religious and social groups, and of perceptions of gender. Identity can be seen as a complex interface between the individual and society, with considerable individual space for different identifications. Some of the texts that early medieval authors have left behind are traces of their negotiations of identity in specific contexts, and in some cases the authors seem to have been quite conscious and self-reflective about their ‘ego troubles’. Perhaps the result of the symposium will be that ‘the individual’ was not quite as unknown in the early middle ages as many historians believe.

Programme (PDF)