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Restructuring Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

(AD c.300-c.800)

Late antiquity and the early Middle Ages (AD c.300-c.800)

are characterised by restructuring and fragmentation: this

is the period in which the Roman Empire reconfigured itself

(in the East) and disintegrated (in the North and West), to

a greater or lesser extent depending on time and place.

During and after this process contemporary polities, societies

and communities responded at different levels to a variety

of significant political, economic, technological, cultural,

environmental and epistemological changes which amounted

to a wholescale restructuring of the interconnected European

and Mediterranean world, which affected its development for

many centuries to come. Variations within these processes of

change affect the classification of these periods and subject

areas themselves. The early Middle Ages is usually understood

to begin following the end of the Roman structures of late

antiquity, but this happened at different times in various parts

of Europe and around the Mediterranean. This means that AD

600 in the Italian peninsula is understood to be still firmly part

of ‘late antiquity’ (and is often studied in Classics departments),

while in northern Europe, particularly in Britain, the same period

is perceived as the ‘early Middle Ages’ (and therefore usually

treated in History departments) – even though these areas were

connected via political, economic, cultural and other networks.

Moreover, fragmentation in scholarship – by discipline,

geographical area and chronological period – tends to make it

difficult to explore this process of restructuring across periods

and regions in an informed comparative way.

These issues will be developed and expanded upon through

a series of events during 2017/18. These activities aim to

open up new debates about the ways in which people in this

period restructured the world around them, or perceived its

restructuring to be taking place, at both macro-and micro-

levels. Previous research has tended to focus on issues such

as the causes of ‘barbarian migrations’ and the collapse of

‘Roman central government’ (both problematic concepts in

themselves), but recent study of the transformations within this

period has sought to explore instead how people experienced

and negotiated these changes to create new structures for

a new, post-imperial world. Questions for discussion might

centre on issues such as the disintegration and restructuring of

knowledge and technologies; new structures and networks for

trade, exchange and communication which were built up across

Europe and around the Mediterranean; the restructuring of

ideologies as new religions – particularly Christianity and Islam –

circulated and began to take root.

The second and associated aim is to investigate the disciplinary

structures, approaches and assumptions which underpin

research into late antiquity and the early middle Ages, centring

particularly on the issue of how to bring different disciplines

together for fruitful dialogue across periods, regions and

methodologies. Scholars working in these areas tend to be

more willing to use a range of different types of evidence or

disciplinary approaches than in some other (particularly later)

periods, but even so interdisciplinary study presents challenges

as well as offering potential. Moreover, even the concept of

‘interdisciplinary research’ is taken in substantially different

ways by practitioners who operate within the frameworks of

different scholarly traditions, disciplines or departments, and

with unspoken disciplinary assumptions.

For further details about this programme of work please

contact Dr Helen Foxhall Forbes (History)

h.g.foxhallforbes@durham.ac.uk

.

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