My half-year senior seminar on early medieval chronicles is coming to an end. We’ll have one more class meeting with a hodgepodge of readings — the final book of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, an excerpt from the Life of Alfred and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for Alfred’s reign (871-901). It may seem haphazard, but those items have been carefully chosen to reinforce several themes in our course and recall the different types of histories they’ve read.
It really does come full circle. I started the class with a handout from the Chronicle — a carefully selected passage from the conquest year which appeared bland enough at first reading. But then we pulled it apart and winnowed out evidence for a much more complex reading — what was the viewpoint of the author? How did he characterize the battle? Which side did he support, taken from a closer reading of his phrasing? How did he mark time? How did his choices affect our interpretation of the events?
Next week, we’ll return to the Chronicle and ask the same questions for these different selections. I’m hoping that they’ll be able to offer some of that layered reading, themselves, this time. Each of them will take responsibility for one year (yes, I know, some of them will seem to come off easy — but having to speak at length on a three line chronicle entry isn’t a joyride) and providing an opening interpretation.
I look forward to this. It’s been a good term and a good group (barring today’s rather lacklustre discussion of the first four books of Bede). Their seminar papers are progressing nicely on ambitious subjects inspired by a variety of seminar sessions and readings that ran the gamut from Ammianus Marcellinus to the Anglo-Saxons. I can’t wait to see what they bring to the table in our last class.