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IMC 2016: Sessions

Session 411: Annual Early Medieval Europe Lecture: Who are You? - Identifying Individuals in the Early Middle Ages (Language: English)

Monday 4 July 2016, 19.00-20.00

Sponsor:Early Medieval Europe
Introductions:Marios Costambeys, Department of History, University of Liverpool
Simon MacLean, Department of History, Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge
Speaker:Paul E. Dutton, Department of Humanities, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia

Several times on his way to Jerusalem, the pilgrim monk Bernard had to acquire proofs of identification, writs of safe passage (amān) that described his appearance and the purpose of his journey, before he could proceed, and he had to carry those documents with him on his journey at all times. It should not surprise us that he did not fully understand Muslim identity papers, for nothing quite like them existed in western Europe at the time. Why? How did people identify and describe each other in the early medieval west? How did they avoid mistaking one person for another? Identification and identity should not be conflated, for the former is a determination made by others, while the latter belongs to the possession and development of the self or, more simply, the movement from 'you' to 'I'.

The modern world is filled with manifold techniques of identification, but there are over seven billion of us and global society has an interest in the precise identification or separation of individuals, which begins at birth and follows us throughout our lives. The early medieval west may have lacked such precise forms of identification, but its various ways of identifying people deserve closer examination since they belong to and describe particular societies. Imposture, for instance, is a problem that runs through the Merovingian history of Gregory of Tours but is relatively rare among the Carolingians. Bernard may have required official papers only outside Europe, but even Carolingian estate holders needed to be able to identify and account for the people on their lands. Dreamers needed to be able to distinguish between one saint and another in their dreams and foreign emissaries needed to know whom they were to meet. Mistakes were made, awkward social moments arose, and repairs required. Exploring all of this has much to tell us about early medieval society and the ways in which it understood itself, its people, and their relations with each other.

The journal Early Medieval Europe (published by Wiley) is very pleased to sponsor the Annual Early Medieval Europe Lecture at the International Medieval Congress. By contributing a major scholarly lecture to the Congress programme the journal aims to highlight the importance of the Congress to scholars working in early medieval European history and to support further research in this field. Early Medieval Europe is an interdisciplinary journal encouraging the discussion of archaeology, numismatics, palaeography, diplomatic, literature, onomastics, art history, linguistics and epigraphy, as well as more traditional historical approaches. It covers Europe in its entirety, including material on Iceland, Ireland, the British Isles, Scandinavia and Continental Europe (both west and east). Further information about the journal and details on how to submit material to it are available at (the full url is All those attending are warmly invited to join members of the editorial board after the lecture for a glass of wine.

Please note that admission to this event will be on a first-come, first-served basis as there will be no tickets. Please ensure that you arrive as early as possible to avoid disappointment.