To those of you who follow A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe this will be old news. To the rest, it’s a nudge towards a couple of blogposts by Dr Jonathan Jarrett of the University of Oxford.
Jonathan’s areas of teaching and research touch on many of the topics that pop up here at Senchus. Many of you will recognise his name from a number of posts to which he has contributed via the comment thread. At his blog A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe he has recently posted two items that I recommend to anyone who has an interest in early medieval Scotland. One is a book review; the other a report of a seminar paper.
The reviewed book is James E. Fraser’s From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795, the first volume in the series The New Edinburgh History of Scotland from Edinburgh University Press. Those of you who are familiar with this book will find Jonathan’s review a useful commentary. Fraser has produced what I regard as an essential text, even if chunks of it don’t chime too well with my own views of the period. Some of his theories about the Britons, for instance, are seriously at odds with what I’ve written in The Men Of The North, particularly on key topics such as Rheged, Catraeth and the Maeatae. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend Fraser’s book as the best currently available guide through the swirling mists of the fifth to eighth centuries. It’s a bold attempt to draw all the bits and pieces together into a narrative after testing their validity against a rigorous set of criteria. The result isn’t going to please everyone, which is no bad thing in itself. But don’t take my word for it: read what Jonathan says and get an insightful perspective from academia.
The seminar paper was presented last year by Alex Woolf to an audience in Oxford. Woolf is the author of From Pictland to Alba, 789-1070, the second volume in the EUP series mentioned above and another addition to any list of essential reading on early Scottish history. His paper at the Oxford seminar considered (among other things) the influence of socio-economic factors (i.e. trade) in the shift of political power from early centres such as those in Argyll and Galloway to newer ones primarily in the East. Jonathan gives a synopsis and mentions that these ideas are likely to be incorporated into a new book in which Woolf will deal with the period before 800 previously covered by Fraser. This means two books on the same topic, by two leading scholars. The one is unlikely to duplicate the other but will rather give the reader two perspectives that can then be compared, contrasted and critiqued. When this happens, we shall consider ourselves well-served indeed.
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