Last week was by most metrics a horrendous week. Just as you thought it couldn’t get any worse, so it did. Day after bleeding day. I’m glad to report this week was a bit better, but didn’t undo any of the Trump- and Brexit-related horrors. So, for a bit of context:
- One way or another, given the current political situation and more, the UK is fucked right now.
- It was the end of the men’s football World Cup, England had been surpassing expectations and, yeah, I was kinda drunk for a lot of it.
A lot of the following was dreamt up on the way back from the pub. But at its heart is stuff that’s been months/years in the making. As I’ve intimated before, I have a stack of part-done posts waiting in the wings. One of the key motivations for Surrey Medieval has always been to share interesting stuff for free with the wider online world. Having MASSIVELY neglected the site over the past year, I could have just done the bare minimum to get each one up to scratch and hit the Publish button to send the world a series of missives from my mind as it was back in Spring/Summer 2017.
But certain circumstances have changed considerably, both personally and politically, and so simply bashing out “content” just to cross some things off a list ain’t going to cut it these days. For anyone with a conscience and at least a toehold in medieval studies, there’s been a lot of reflection and action (albeit not enough of the latter in some key quarters) about issues of race, politics and representation in the field. This piece by Mary Rambaran-Olm does a great job of summing up most of the issues and things that have gone on in recent years, with particular reference to Anglo-Saxon Studies, a sub-field in which a lot of what I have researched/am researching could be placed (although I purposely do not identify as an “Anglo-Saxonist”, for multiple reasons).
In the wake of the Trump shit-show departing Europe following that meeting in Helsinki, I’ve seen and read quite a lot about the philosophy/movement of Eurasianism and its main progenitor, Alexandr Dugin. The former is complete horseshit and the latter is a special kind of wacko. Special not only because his philosophy is repugnant but also because, to a greater or lesser extent, he has the ear of Vladimir Putin and considerable overlap with the Russian president’s ideas for the future of his country. Apparently, he also has the influence and quite possibly the cash with which to fund far-right groups in Europe and so disseminate his message far beyond Russia.
When I read Dugin’s exhortation that ‘We need to return […] to the New Middle Ages – and thus to the Empire, religion, and the institutions of traditional society (hierarchy, cult, domination of spirit over matter and so on)‘ it made me shudder, for two reasons. Firstly, for all my fascination with the period, that I can’t think of anything worse than living in the “Middle Ages” (other than living in Prehistory, but even that’s relative). Second, it’s predicated on a profoundly outmoded and distorted view of what the medieval period was like, rooted in heavily-nationalistic and more often than not racist 19th- and 20th-century scholarship.
We live in a world where it feel like there are no universally-accepted truths. That nothing means anything anymore, and anyone can say something one day and then, with nary an apology, say the precise opposite a day or two later, apparently with equal sincerity. And then further muddy the waters by appearing to row back on that recantation not long after. (Then again, it helps when you’re able to manipulate the facts and distort the truth in order to lessen the discrepancy between your contradictory statements). But – putting some necessary distance between the case in point I’ve been using in this paragraph and what follows – not saying anything at all is perhaps an even worse course of action. And if I don’t feel like I can talk about many things with any great degree of authority, I sure as hell do feel capable of pointing out some of the many reasons why a “New Middle Ages” is a really, really stupid and dangerous idea (and the same goes for the other medieval-touting ethno-nationalist ideas that have set root in some quarters).
Somehow, this site still gets a healthy number of daily visitors despite the obvious lack of new content. Clearly, people are finding it by searching for things online (I see the searches, at least so far as Google’s privacy restrictions allow) and so I think it’s important that good research is made readily available, either directly or in discussion, instead of being hidden behind a paywall or in the pages of a book available to buy from the Brill website for well in excess of 100 Euros. So, while continuing in the same vein, we’re going to do things a bit differently around here for the foreseeable. Turns things on their head. Stir things up. And post more regularly!
I can’t promise anything truly clever, like this bit of psycholinguistic excellence, and nothing I do will make any great difference of course – I’m a lowly local authority archaeologist (of sorts) who researches and writes stuff on the side. All I can offer is work that not only pushes understanding of medieval Surrey forward, but at the same time might chime with other, broader themes about how we understand the past in all its crazy, wonderful complexity. To this end, expect to see between now and the end of the calendar year most if not all of the following:
- How my recent trip to Cambodia made me excited about studying the medieval period again, and how people the other side of the world were doing things (better) in comparison to people in Surrey/England in, say, the 10th or 12th centuries.
- A first stab at a new reading of the archaeology of post-Roman Surrey that I hope will go some way towards skewering tired, trad conceptions of “Saxon Surrey”.
- Why a lot of “popular” works published about British history, place-names and such like aren’t just embarrassing because they’re so bad – politically, they’re wilfully dangerous.
- A look at why we’re still so far off where we should be in terms of a successful interface between the study of archaeology and place-names, but that some recently-published research has provided glimmers of hope for the future.
- The joys of suburban history, with special reference to the queen of the south, the London Borough of Merton.
There’ll be some other stuff, too. I’m halfway through reading a David Dumville chapter that so far has been weirdly off-beam and I’d love to spend some time telling you why. Only I’ve dropped out of studying for a PhD, so expect instead my “quiterary” moment explaining that decision. Hell, I might even do that post on the early medieval topography of Sunningwell I’ve been bleating on about for over a year now. But its moment feels like it’s passed. We’re onto bigger and better things.