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Medieval Studies: News

2016 Medieval Studies Lecture

"Caliph, Traitor, Soldier, Spy: The Life and Death of Sayf al-Dawla and his Andalusian Caliphate"

Anthony Minnema (Valparaiso University)

Thursday, March 10
3:30 pm, Alumni Board Room (Commons Annex)

In twelfth-century Spain, an exiled Muslim prince, Sayf al-Dawla, served the Christian king of Castile for fifteen years as a diplomat and general, often fighting other Muslims. But when Muslims in southern Spain requested his assistance to expel the regime that exiled him, he left his king to help lead the rebellion. After a year of fighting, he called upon his Christian allies for support, but they turned on him and assassinated him. Dr. Anthony Minnema (’05) answers the questions of why Sayf al-Dawla died and why his story matters for our understanding of interfaith politics, past and present.

Anthony MinnemaAnthony Minnema earned his BA from Calvin College, where he studied history, medieval studies, and Latin, and an MA in Medieval Studies from Western Michigan University. He completed his doctorate in European History from the University of Tennessee. He is currently a Lilly Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer at Valparaiso University. His areas of research and teaching interest include premodern Christian-Muslim relations, Arabic-to-Latin translation movements, and the history of information technology. His book manuscript, Algazel in Latin Christendom1150-1600, is under contract with Amsterdam University Press. The monograph examines the European audience of a Latin translation of an Arabic philosophical work, The Intentions of the Philosophers, by the Muslim theologian al-Ghazali. This project uses this work as a lens to see the rise, decline, and recovery of the Arabic philosophical tradition in premodern Europe. The book redefines Arabic philosophy’s role in the European intellectual tradition and reverses the standard narrative of European history in which humanism triumphs as an advance over a narrow scholasticism.


Calvin's unknown rare art treasure

Calendar for DecemberCalvin College owns one medieval manuscript, made up of seven leaves containing a liturgical calendar. Prof. Frans van Liere recently took a closer look at the manuscript and the history of how it ended up at Calvin. He shares some of his findings in a recent blog post on Historical Horizons, the newly launched blog of the Calvin College History Department.


Medieval books and social media?

Medieval book historian Dr. Erik Kwakkel brings medieval texts into the modern age through social media. His popular Tumblr blog is dedicated to "post[ing] images of medieval books and shar[ing] with you what's special about them." He also posts to Twitter, and has been called "one of twitter's hidden treasures."

Read an interview with Dr. Kwakkel about his work, his favorite medieval book find, recommended blogs for fans of medieval books, and more.


Prof. Frans van Liere awarded IAS Fellowship

Frans van Liere has been appointed a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for the academic year 2012-2013. The PrincetonIAS is one of the world's leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. It was founded in 1930 by philanthropists Louis Bamberger and his sister Caroline Bamberger Fuld. Past Faculty have included distinguished scientists and scholars such as Albert Einstein, Kurt Gödel, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Erwin Panofsky, Kenneth Setton, and George Kennan.

Professor Van Liere will use his time at the IAS to do research into a central concept in the history of medieval Christian Hebraism, the idea of the Hebraica Veritas. This is the belief that the Hebrew Bible, as it was transmitted in rabbinical circles in the first centuries of the common era, was the "original" Old Testament text, and that to recover the original text, one needed to turn to the Jews, who were guardians of both the sacred text itself and of the language in which it was written. The history of medieval Christian Hebraism has been relatively neglected; textual critics of the Hebrew Bible are usually more interested its early period of transmission, rather than its medieval history.

Originating with the church father Jerome, the Hebraica Veritas was a potentially problematic idea in Christian belief, because it admitted that Jews, not Christians, were God's first elected people. As a result, medieval Christians had a decidedly ambivalent attitude towards Judaism: on the one hand, the Jews were seen as carriers of God's truth; on the other, they were seen as blind to that same truth and obstinate in that blindness. The history of Christian attitudes towards Jews in the Middle Ages is a testimony to this ambivalence. Read more.

British Library raising funds to purchase St. Cuthbert's Gospel
St. Cuthbert's Gospel

The manuscript of the Gospel of John, created in the north of England in the late 7th century, is one of the best preserved and earliest intact books in Europe. It was buried with St. Cuthbert on Lindisfarne in 698 and found later when the saint's coffin was transferred to Durham in 1104.

Says the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, “This wonderful book links us directly to Saxon Christianity of the north of England, and to the north’s best-loved saint, Cuthbert himself. . . Like the Lindisfarne Gospel Book, the Cuthbert Gospel speaks powerfully about Northumbria’s golden age, whose spiritual vision, intellectual energy and artistic achievement continue to inspire us today.” Read more.

The Staffordshire Hoard

A harvest of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver so beautiful it brought tears to the eyes of one expert has poured out of a Staffordshire field - the largest hoard of gold from the period ever found.

Gold band with Latin inscriptionThe weapons and helmet decorations, coins and Christian crosses amount to more than 1,500 pieces, with hundreds still embedded in blocks of soil. It adds up to 5kg of gold - three times the amount found in the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial in 1939 - and 2.5kg of silver, and may be the swag from a spectacularly successful raiding party of warlike Mercians, some time around AD700.

Zoomorphic gold handleThe first scraps of gold were found in July in a farm field by Terry Herbert, an amateur metal detector who lives alone in a council flat on disability benefit, who had never before found anything more valuable than a nice rare piece of Roman horse harness. The last pieces were removed from the earth by a small army of archaeologists.

Read the full story and see the pictures here.

Guide to Medieval Sources

FInding your way through the many printed and electronic collections of medieval sources is not easy. The Bodleian History Department at Oxford University has published a new guide to medieval sources with assistance to students and teachers alike.

President Obama Awarded National Humanities Medal to Medievalist

UCLA’s Teofilo F. Ruiz, an internationally recognized historian whose work focuses on medieval Spain and Europe, was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama. Calvin history professor Kate van Liere spoke at the January 2015 AHA meeting in New York City in a session to honor Ruiz.

A scholar who specializes in the social and cultural history of late medieval and early modern Spain, Ruiz was selected for his “inspired teaching and writing,” according to the announcement issued by the White House. “His erudite studies have deepened our understanding of medieval Spain and Europe, while his late examination of how society has coped with terror has taught important lessons about the dark side of Western progress,” the statement read. Read more.

Benevento manuscript

Medieval Manuscript Looted in WWII Returned to Italy

During the chaos of WWII, someone took a valuable medieval manuscript from Benevento Cathedral in Italy, and it ended up in the British Library. The Library wanted to return the manuscript, but British law prevented them from doing so. Then an article in The Art Newspaper started a ten-year process to change the law, so the manuscript could be returned. "For the Italian city, the UK’s decision toreturn the 12th-century missal has a symbolic significance, since its cathedral was destroyed by British bombs during the second world war."
Read the whole story.


Danevirke: The Viking Wall in Germany

The Vikings were well known for their pillaging, but they were also the builders of "the largest earthwork in northern Europe." Archaeologists recently found the gate in this nineteen-mile long, ten-foot thick wall that was built in the 8th century to protect an important trade route. See pictures and read more about the Vikings.


"Robbery of the century": Codex Calixtinus stolen from Santiago de Compostela

The Codex Calixtinus, a priceless 12th-century manuscript, "contains a kind of travel guide to the famous pilgrimage way of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. . . . an archivist found the safe which held the Codex unlocked (with the key still in the locking mechanism) and the manuscript missing." Only three people had access to the safe. Because of the value and fame of the codex, police think it may have been stolen by organized crime for a private collector. Read more. See images from Codex.