So this Thanksgiving weekend is the first roadtrip I've taken in years. Lots and lots of driving, but well worth it. We went to Our Nation's Capital -- the first time I've been there for the museums and not for things like job interviews (the AHA was there three years ago). We went to the Sackler gallery and saw the Bible exhibit. On the way, we spent hours talking about teaching and historiography -- and teaching historiography -- and World History and other such things.
Seeing finds from Qumran and Nag Hammadi and Oxyrhynchus all in the same place really helped to separate them all in my mind in ways that they hadn't been before. There were also several Syriac and Georgian mss, which were very interesting. Of course, for me, the coolest things were the Carolingian and A/S exhibits. There wasn't much, but what there was, was wonderful in that it represented a good cross-section of 7th-9th century texts and decoration, including an ivory codex cover from Chelles. There were also a couple of things that made my head fuzzy and confused in a "Charles the Straightforward" kind of way:
- There were big maps depicting Europe and the Near East in the 9th c. The area that encompasses what I have always thought of as Francia was called "Carolingia."* Um. I'm a Carolingianist. Or so I thought. But I did not get the memo on Carolingia. Am I frakkin' ignorant? What is going on? Did you all know this and not tell me?
- One of the explanatory panels implied that Christianity became the official Roman religion under Constantine.
- The exhibit was advertised as mss before 1000 CE. There was a Coptic ms dated to ca. 1400 CE. The text mentioned it as being one of the earliest such illuminated Coptic mss. Ruh?
- Boniface was everywhere! Gospels glossed in Boniface's own hand (probably)! Gospels sent by Eadburga to Boniface (possibly)! But despite discussions of the Palace School and Alcuin (but not Aachen), and the development of Carolingian miniscule and the importance of Carolingian scriptoria, they only mentioned Rheims, and not Fulda! I don't really like Boniface, but how can there be any sensible discussion of Carolingian education that does not include Fulda??
- There was an elderly man there who explained to his daughter at length that Charlemagne was a huge supporter of education and brought Alcuin (pronounced AL-sue-in) to France, but was himself quite ignorant and uneducated. Um. Because I am a polite person, I muttered very quietly to one of my friends that that wasn't exactly what Einhard said ... but did not offer my opinion to the world at large.
But anyway, wow. I don't know how it affects you all, but there is something really astounding for me to see things that make the people I study and write about so very tangible and real. It's not that I don't think of them as real in the first place, but there's a difference between seeing "stuff from time period X" and "stuff that was commissioned by Y from monastery Z at the time that N was abbot." And in my part of the world, getting a chance to experience that with the MA or LA or Classical world is rather rare. Besides the inherent grooviness of the exhibition, it was also just so cool that my friends enjoyed it, too, and had interesting things to say about what the exhibit said about material culture. After the exhibit, we grabbed a bite, and girded our loins for a weekend of preparation for next week.
*I could understand "Carolingian Empire," but that's not what it said. Carolingia???