Lombards: Latecomers to the Migration Period. A glimpse into archeological data and a risky trend

Gabriele Zorzi, Associazione La Fara

The first part of this contribution may sound pedantic to those who already are familiar with the Lombard theme, but, I think, due to the subject’s peculiarity, it is not as well known as others. In Italy, attention has only started being paid to Lombard history in the last few decades and, to this day, the Lombard period still suffers from the Roman-centered approach to Italian historiography. In fact, talking about Lombard history in Italy still means discussing “barbarian invasions” and not the “migration period”. We all know the weight words can have in these cases. Despite  this, from the second half of the twentieth century, Lombard studies, in particular the ones focusing on rich grave goods, have had their moments of fame and interest.

In this context, the peculiar provenance of our association, La Fara, was surely something we have benefitted from. Our association in fact, although it has members from several Italian regions, is based in Cividale del Friuli, the capital of the first Lombard dukedom. It was home to one of the oldest and most traditional reigns of Lombardy, and, most importantly, residence of the oldest and richest national archaeological museum on the subject which gave us access to first class sources from the beginning .

Before I start talking about archaeological finds and their relevance to the practice of reconstruction, allow me to take a step back and give some context to these “long-bearded people”. The year of the Lombard arrival in Italy is traditionally recognized as 568 C.E., as described by Paul the Deacon – the same Lombard historian who, in the eighth century, wrote the story of his people and placed their original native land in the (then almost mythical) Skåne. The migration was a relatively late one if compared to the Visigoths in Spain at the beginning of the fifth century and the Franks in Gaul, again in the fifth century. It is closer to what we know about the Bavarians, a population having a tight relationship with Lombards themselves.

Generally identifiable with a Germanic population with an eastern language (although scholars do not always agree on this point), the Lombards were known to the Roman world since the second century, becoming more and more involved in the affairs of the Eastern Roman Empire as time passed. The gradual tightening of their relations with Byzantium meant that the Lombard exercitus (i.e. troops) became part of the Byzantine army during the Greek-Gothic war that took place on Italian soil.

Lombardian relationships with Constantinople must not have been entirely consistent, and even today, analyses of the historiographical sources debate the real motivation of the Lombard descent into Italy and its legitimacy.

What is known is that the Lombard reign in Italy was never seen as legitimate either by the Pope or Byzantium. In 568, the Lombards descended into an Italy that was weakened by 30 years of Greek-Gothic war and the plague. They settled in the area without encountering a significant opposition and without the need of an armed confrontation with the local population.

Conquering the peninsula, although never completed, would keep Lombard kings and dukes busy for the next few decades. However, it seems like the creation of the first Reign in northern Italy did not require a largemilitary effort. The population which arrived in Italy from its last settlement in Pannonia (modern Hungary) brought its own mix of pagan tradition and an in fieri Christianization process, still very far from being completed and described in terms of Arian heresy.

Pre-Christian clothing, especially regarding burials, are now our main source of information regarding the material culture of this population. The grave goods, dated to the end of sixth and the beginning of the seventh century, provide us with plenty of information regarding metal working, textile culture, bone and wood working, eating habits and, along with the most recent DNA studies, a glimpse of what seemed to have been a cultural rupture with the preceding situation of Gothic Italy.

The context I briefly mentioned pushed what remained of the heart of the Roman Empire into a new kind of balance, most like what was already happening in the rest of Europe. In Italian history schoolbooks, this two century period, ending with the Franks beating the Lombards in 774 AD, has become a footnote in history, dismissed in a few lines of text. Despite the fact that it was a founding element for the subsequent political situation in the Peninsula and the foundation of the art commissions known as “Rinascenza Liutprandea” by which Carolingian art would be strongly influenced.

So we are looking at two centuries of deep and sometimes traumatic changes that involved everybody, both the locals and the newcomers.

Although, centuries after , some noble families would still define themselves as “Lombards” or “following the Lombard law”, it is important to note that already at the end of their reign, the Lombards that settled in Italy must have been much different from their close ancestors. An example is the abandoning of Germanic languages for Latin, both in official papers (for example the Rothari Edict (Edictum Rothari) in the seventh century) and possibly in the spoken language since modern Italian only preserves a few Lombard words in its otherwise strictly Neo-Latin structure.

As re-creators we are mostly interested in the first immigrate generation and their first descendants. This focus is due to the Lombard’s still highly relevant tradition of burying their dead with rich grave goods, with the radical change in building techniques and the appearance of housing structures of a more “barbarian” tradition, such as partially interred houses known in field literature as grubenhauser. So, we are facing elements that break preexisting traditions and new techniques that are not going to disappear and will contribute in the formation of a new, fast changing landscape (img. 1).

Image 1 – Necropolis around a “little Capital”, Cividale del Friuli (This and all images by La Fara)

But what are we talking about when we mention Lombard grave goods?

We are talking of elements that can widely vary from grave to grave, as the ethnic make-up of the Gens Langobardorum seems to have done, due to its constant contact with continental Europe’s populations. To make things more manageable, we can simplify and divide grave goods based on gender and social status. Male graves are frequently dominated by the military element: we find swords – usually pattern welded (img. 2), scramasax, spears, shields (some of them heavily decorated), axes, arrows, bow components and, most of all, belt fittings.

Image 2 – Pattern-welded sword

Based on wealth, the number and quality of these elements varies significantly. It also does this based on the time frame. Graves from the late sixth and seventh centuries show differences in decoration style and features. Along with the aforementioned elements, we can also find everyday objects such as fire steels, flint, tweezers, horse-riding related elements, game pieces and glass (img 3).

Image 3 – Finds from the grave of “Gisulfo”

In female graves, we find a large number of belt hangings such as amulets, scissors, some sea shells, amber and glass bead necklaces, and of course radiated head fibulae (img. 4), as well as the famous “S” brooches (img. 5). Bone combs and small knives are common regardless of gender and social status.

Image 4 – Radiated Head Fibula
Image 5 – “S” Brooches

This is, of course, a rough simplification – a glimpse that can help us contextualize the main archaeological sources that we can refer to in the re-creation field. However, there are, of course, cases that do not fit the description. One of the best examples of this is the so-called “Goldsmith’s grave” in Grupignano, which has no military element but just a silver belt buckle and three small anvils (img. 6). These exceptions give us the chance to ponder about living history and storytelling in relation with these peculiar figures that, for now, do not seem to belong in this context.

Image 6 – Silver belt buckle and 3 small anvils

Alongside the single pieces, especially at the end of twentieth century and in the beginning of twenty-first, organic elements that escaped corruption are gaining relevance and becoming irreplaceable reference points. Here, I am talking about wood fragments of sheaths, handles and shields that provide interesting data about what kind of wood was used for each task. For example, when professor Rottoli studied tomb 40 from the “Ferrovia” burial site in Cividale del Friuli (a grave dated to the first quarter of the seventh century that La Fara is currently reconstructing), he identified the woods as willow for the shield, ash for the spear, and alder for the sheath.

Similarly, the textile elements preserved by mineralization in contact with metal components of the belt give us valuable information in terms of fiber (wool or linen) and weave-pattern. In grave 40, for example, we have diamond twill, which you can read about in  Irene Barbina’s blopost.

Having now roughly contextualized the Lombard theme, we can discuss the re-enacting and re-creation aspect.

In Italy, the Lombard and early medieval scene is relatively young. In 2010 when our group was officially founded, there was only one other Lombard group who mostly focused on historical fencing rather than grave recreation. Over the next three years the situation did not change much, but a couple of other groups focusing on fighting had formed. From 2013 to the present day, we have witnessed an explosion and, to my knowledge, there are now more than 15 “Lombard” groups.

Such a quick increase, along with the mistakes every young group is bound to make, creates two dangerous tendencies: 1) mixing recreation and ideology and 2) perhaps more worryingly, the unquestioning involvement of supposed re-creation groups in contexts related to museums or the academy.

I will try to explain myself a little better.

The first of these tendencies does not need much explanation, I think, since I suppose it is a common problem in every re-enacted era and at every latitude. If we want to describe its aspects we can still say that some of the younger groups use cultural identity, antidemocratic and macho ambition to inspire cohesion among the members.

The legitimacy of those theories is not the subject of this discussion, but you can easily imagine how the presence of these ideologized contexts has a negative influence on the quality of the re-creation work and the authenticity of information that reaches the public, as materials and sources are cherry-picked and manipulated in order to support ethnical and spiritual belonging feelings of the groups. Members of the public involved in these groups’ events are usually at risk of being taught historical and archaeological facts that are bent to support, not actual data, but the political wave of the day.

The second of the aforementioned tendencies is, possibly, the most dangerous for the whole scenario and implicitly allows the first to prosper. If in the first 10 years of the twenty-first century entering a museum was almost a utopia for a re-enacting group, the scenario has witnessed in the past few years an inversion powered by trends and the necessity of some institutions to gain visibility in the field.

The beginning of this change in an early medieval context began with a few virtuous cases in which La Fara played a role. Our event, “Anno Domini 568” (img. 7), is organized with the direct involvement of the Cividale National Museum and has been hosted on the museum’s premises for the past 5 events, placing archaologists and recreators side by side with the purpose of bringing Lombard history and archaology to a wider public.

Image 7 – La Fara’s event, “Anno Domini 568”

In this very context we met Marco Valenti (img. 8): an archaeology professor, expert in open-air museums and a re-creator himself who might be the most active and motivated builder of connections between the re-creation world and academia. Valenti is in fact the mind behind the only early medieval open-air museum in Italy: the Archaeodrome in Poggibonsi (img. 9).

Image 8 – Marco Valenti
Image 9 – Italian open-air museum Poggibonsi Archaeodrome

The Archaeodrome is a Carolingian village built just a few steps away from the original site, on which a Lombard village used to exist, by the same archaeologists who dug the site. This makes it an excellent example of how re-creation and communication can be done based on solid academic data.

In the past few years professor Valenti invested in connecting universities and re-creators, for example organizing seminars and editing books about the subject, also with the contribution of La Fara members. At the same time others moved in a similar direction, like Valentino Nizzo, manager of the Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia. Over the past few years, he has tried to create this kind of opportunity and, as museology professor at Udine University, has allowed us to teach alongside Dr Borzacconi, manager of the Cividale National Museum, using our event as an example of museum communication.

Up to this point, the trend seemed positive, strengthened by other similar experiences involving re-enactors of different ages but, as usually happens in Italy, the trend has become popular and in a very short time it became important to involve re-enactors in museum activities in order to increase visibility on media platforms without really evaluating their preparation and suitability for this prestigious context.

I suppose it is clear how responsibilities lie on both sides in this situation. On one side, re-enactors, who are longing to prove themselves worthy of the context, re-invented themselves as re-creators by changing their group’s description (but not their approach to the subject) and proposing their group as a resource for museums and institutions. On the other side, some of these institutions, following the ones that did it first but with greater care and after rigorous evaluations, uncritically opened their doors to groups who had nothing to do with re-creation.

Recently, La Fara was requested to be a part of the opening of a very prestigious international exposition but, while we were invited by one of the scientific managers, a local group that did not even re-create the same era found its way in, by proposing they be “extras” and management approved their participation in the event. The result was an embarrassing jumble of precise recreations, materials from a different age, and fantasy elements.

I am not using this as an example for personal purposes but to show how the consequences of this kind of behavior can be deeply negative. The public, unfamiliar with the context, is often unable to tell the difference between the groups and is consequently “educated by sight” and getting the wrong information. Secondly, these “extras” are usually incompetent about history and end up either giving the wrong information or playing the part of the silent mannequin, often making it more difficult for the competent ones to be considered as reliable by the public.

Moving towards the conclusion of this glimpse into the early medieval re-construction context in Italy, I will say that historiography and archaeological sources for this era are rich, stimulating and only partially explored by re-creators. The scene is lively and rapidly evolving, and often gives us the chance to participate in international discussion and exchange. The early middle ages and its Germanic graves are becoming the common thread linking nations and individuals, in how to better approach re-creations and better communicate with the public. However, the combination of potential and the relatively young age of the scene puts it at risk of being manipulated and degraded even in an official context.

I do not believe it is possible to stop these negative tendencies from happening and, on the contrary, I think their chances to manifest are increasing. What I want to believe, though, is that there will be a chance to educate the public, giving the right tools to chose which events are worthy of taking part in and further chances for re-creators and institutions to cooperate as we did in Malmö during the conference and event: Medievalism, Public History, and Academia: the Re-creation of Early Medieval Europe, c. 400-1000.

Textile Reconstruction: a Methodological Approach

Irene Barbina, Associazione La Fara

The following metholodology is based on my personal experience with textile reconstruction with the living-history group “la Fara”, my experience of teaching at the Siena University Summer School, and la Fara’s cooperation with Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Cividale del Friuli, whose support was fundamental for some of the described reconstruction steps. This method can be applied in other contexts, but it is not, obviously, the only possible one. Moreover, new data, new studies, and new necessities strongly influence its development.


The described methodological approach answers the specific, living-history related need to produce garments fulfilling certain conditions. We aim to create a plausible reconstruction, consistent with the data in our possession, and able to visually convey didactically useful information. We often underestimate the value of information given at a glance by the combination of clothing, posture and accessories, and the ability of the beholder (even if they are not “educated”) to memorize the information gathered in that single glance. It is then every re-constructor’s responsibility to avoid inventive solutions and shortcuts, to be influenced by his or her personal taste and to be aware of the distance wrongly given or received information can cover in a relatively short time.

While considering the procedure’s complexity, we must take into account the lack of  intact finds and sources and the resulting necessity to date these items, connecting information in our reach in order to build a plausible image. While doing this, it becomes vital to comply with a series of  “good practices”: beneficial behaviours for an appropriate approach to scientific reconstruction, while avoiding shallow or simplistic solutions.

In my opinion, a key approach is to stick to what can be considered as a plausible choice, endorsing solutions able to satisfy common and everyday needs instead of reconstructing a specific, exceptional find. Unless your goal is to reproduce a specific item for a specific context, the aim of didactical reconstruction is, in fact, to represent an “average”, to give a perception of what was common in a given moment in time and geographical location. For the same reason, it is important to avoid depriving a find of its exceptional nature by producing a large number of copies of said item, “flooding the market” with objects whose uniqueness will therefore be lost. In addition, source handling becomes of the utmost importance. It is proper to be careful, establishing a possible chronological and geographical “range”, keeping it as consistent as possible with the reference background.

Once a satisfying amount of information is gathered, it is important to “tune in” with the right mental approach towards materials and production, focusing on the suitability of practical and technical choices and on the need of treating the materials as precious goods, avoiding waste and being respectful in order to learn as much as possible from the practical reconstruction process. Moreover, we need our approach to be incisive and above all consistent in terms of time, geographical and cultural context, social class and so on. For example, no one, not even nowadays, would wear formal garments while doing heavy chores. We also need to keep in mind the always existing connection between fashion, economy, and historical and social contexts.

An historical garment must be thought of and treated the same way we treat our everyday clothes, and must respond to the same need of comfort, movement range, durability, and so on. While testing a reconstructed kit, we must be able to perform every activity an individual from the represented status would have performed without the garment tearing apart or being a nuisance.

As re-constructors we are forced to ask specific questions about clothing in our reconstructed time, and it is our duty to find answers to those questions without setting aside an element we find uncomfortable to wear. Every reconstruction hypothesis needs then to be tested “in the field”, to identify conceptual and structural faults that will be corrected in the following versions in order to keep getting closer to the originals.

A CASE STUDY – Grave 40, Railway Burial Site, Cividale del Friuli

The one experience that, more than others, allowed me to test the approach described above is the reconstruction of the tunic from grave 40, Railway Burial Site. The starting points of this research are represented by the study of the finds, written sources, and iconography, and the comparison with extant findings consistent in time and space with the one I was going to reproduce (img. 1).

Image 1 – Drawing of the tunic from grave 40, Railway Burial Site, by Damiano Avoledo

The Finds – textile analysis

The burial has been dated to around the mid-seventh century. It contained a remarkable 23 inlay decorated belt elements surrounding the male human’s hips. The materials the belt is made of, the number of its pieces, and their position around the body allow us to gather a series of information about the possible proportions of the garments and its materials and to hypothesize the presence of multiple textile layers around the body. A closer examination of the belt-hanging piece 14-b (img. 2) can give us the following data.

Image 2 – Belt hanging piece with visible stratification of mineralized organic material. Drawing by Damiano Avoledo

The piece shows multiple stratification of organic material (fabric), mineralized on the interior side of the plate, the one facing the body. The position of the textile suggest its being related to a garment worn under the belt, allowing us to rule out a mantle or a shroud.

Further observation made us notice a diamond shaped pattern on the mineralized surface, pointing us towards a class of textiles widely used in the early middle ages: diamond twill (img. 3).

Image 3 – Diamond Twill

Diamond Twill is a variation of “twill”, a weaving pattern featuring relieved diagonal lines in a wide range of variations that can change based on time, area and social status. It is still one of the preferred ways to weave wool.
Other versions of twill weave are known in the Germanic area during the early middle ages. Among them I could mention: herringbone twill, rautenkoeper, rib twill (group of variations showing weave-like patterns), rose twill, spitzkaro (“goose eye”), rippenkoeper and more variations of the aforementioned diamond twill.[1]

Although at the moment an in-depth analysis of the mineralized material is not available, the presence of twill weave and the thread thickness allows us to hypothesize it might have been wool.

The position taken by warp and weft threads in the weave, in fact, brings some threads (always the same ones) up, allowing them to be frictioned and fulled and therefore enhancing the overall insulating power of the garment, making it ideal to be worn over another layer of clothing.

Further visual analysis of the find shows another layer of mineralized material on the bottom right of the plate, yellower in color than the twill (pictured in blue) on which a much finer tabby weave pattern is quite visible. The difference in weave and thickness suggests it belongs to another clothing layer, worn underneath the twill and possibly in contact with the body. The refined weave, the thread diameter and the tightness of the fabric suggests that it might have been a linen tunic, used as an undergarment.

Other factors support the idea of this second garment having been made out of linen. The first is the relatively scarce resistance to friction that makes linen fray easily when rubbed for a long time. When using tabby weave instead of twill the friction is better distributed on the surface, allowing the garment to last longer.[2] Another factor that has to be considered is the insulating abilities of the linen–wool combination, whose employment is widely documented throughout history and allows the wearer to maintain a relative comfort regardless of the weather due to the water absorbing capacity of linen and the insulating ability of wool.

This combination has been tested for years by la Fara and we can personally assure the reader that the overlaying of the two garments is comfortable even during the summer, provided that both garments are worn first thing in the morning so the body can adapt.

The feeling is, of course, different from the one you can get wearing a cotton t-shirt but not much less comfortable, all things considered. I also feel the need to emphasize that, even if in modern times wool is usually associated with cold weather and wintertime, the material itself can be worked into very thin and fine fabrics, such as the ones used for male formal clothing, that can be worn even during the summer.

Written Sources

Historia Langobardrum by Paulus Diaconus offers a pretty specific description of Lombard costume: Vestimenta vero eis erant laxa, maxime linea, qualia Anglosaxones habere solent, ornata insitis latoribus vario colore contextis. What we gather from this description is that the garments were wide, often made out of linen and similar in style to the ones Anglo-Saxons used to wear. They were also ornate, with wide colorful bands, possibly woven into the tunic or in various colors.

There are other elements of the Lombard costume that are mentioned in the book, such as their habit to wear white leg wraps (this apparently being a specific tribal custom), to wear their hair parted down the middle and to shave the back of their heads. As tempting as it is to take this source literally, we must not forget that Paulus lived during the eighth century and did not personally witness the events he wrote about.

Iconographical Sources

It is important to identify the basic criteria for choosing the most appropriate sources. We need sources close to the time, culture and geographical area we are willing to picture, keeping in mind the importance of cultural exchange and influence in the early middle ages.

What I consider to be the closest visual source is the Isola Rizza plate, found near Verona. Its style, technique and choice of portrayed characters suggests it was made in the eastern areas of the Roman Empire. Visual analysis of the details  suggests a date around the end of the Greek–Gothic war (mid-sixth century) and it can be safe to suppose that the two figures depicted on the plate are a Byzantine and what is safely defined as an “eastern German” (probably not a Lombard).

The Germanic warrior wears a tunic which is depicted in excellent detail and very close to the description Paulus would give two centuries later: it has long tight sleeves; it is wide and reaches almost down to the knee. It also has decorative woven bands with the distinctive “lozenge and dot” pattern which seems to have been widely disseminated throughout Europe (and the middle east) at the time.

The woven bands’ position is peculiar and not meaningless, as we proved during the practical phase of the reconstruction. At this stage, though, it is enough to note the position of the bands on the shoulders and especially around the upper arm which will prove to be related to the structural integrity of the tunic as well as its aesthetics.

Another interesting source can be identified in the Rodchis’ seal ring from the Lombard burial site of Trezzo sull’Adda, dated to the seventh century and showing the figure of a bearded man with his hair parted in the middle, the hand lifted in a blessing gesture and a tunic whose decorations match very closely the ones pictured on the Isola Rizza plate (img. 4).

Image 4 – Detail of the Germanic warrior on the Isola Rizza plate

Other sources, as the Stilicho Stone (fifth century), the Tours Bible (sixth century, img. 5) and the later Stuttgarter Psalter (ninth century), picture tunics that are remarkably similar in structure and sometimes decoration to the one depicted in the Isola Rizza plate and so do mosaics from Tunisia  and Israel, giving us a glimpse of the wide geographical distribution of that specific decoration style.

Image 5 – Detail of clothing from the Tours Bible (6th century)

Comparable Findings

When searching for more substantial finds, we still need to follow the aforementioned criteria of time, geography, technical development and culture relation although the scarcity of findings in continental Europe, due to the composition of the soil, forces us to search in a wider time span in order to be able to identify common patterns and solutions.

The most famous example of intact tunic find is, probably, the Thorsberg tunic (img.6), dated to around the second century CE. It has a very simple pattern: a straight bust with a narrow neck opening and long, tight sleeves.

Image 6 – Thorsberg Tunic (2nd century)

Another famous one is the Bernuthsfeld tunic (img. 7), whose exceptional features deserve a more in depth analysis than the one I am going to give for the strict purpose of this article.

Image 7 – Bernuthfeld Tunic (7th century)

The tunic is made joining together 43 pieces of different fabrics but its shape is not different from the ones we already discussed about: it is wide and long, with long and relatively tight sleeves. Its features, along with the fact that it was worn without trousers, makes it somehow link-able to the ones pictured in the rural scenes of Tours Bible.

While trying to define the outline of an high status, seventh-century century Lombard tunic, we must not overlook the influence of Byzantine fashion on Germanic culture and, especially on those members of Lombard elite that might have had taken part in the Greek- Gothic war as Byzantine foederati. A brief look at extant Mediterranean tunics show that they tend to be extremely wide with short and tight sleeves beginning around the elbow and reaching down to the wrist.

This shows an interesting shifting of the shoulder seam which moves away from the joint and down along the arm, allowing the sleeve to be tight without compromising movement range an structural integrity of the tunic itself.
It also gives a possible explanation of the position of the woven bands on the Isola Rizza plate, making them both useful and decorative.

This reconstruction hypothesis has been put to test during the following steps of the experiment.

Actualization Steps

In order to begin the actual production of the tunic, we need to first define its features in detail. We are looking for a long and wide tunic, with a bust to sleeve ratio capable of showing some Byzantine influence, with applied decorative bands (img. 8).

Image 8 – Drawing of the reconstructed tunic by Damiano Avoledo

As mentioned while discussing the original find, the original fabric was (probably) a woolen diamond twill, its “diamonds” ranging from 1.2 cm to 1.5 cm in height. We managed to find a loom-state, undyed and unbleached fabric having almost the exact features of the original.

The tunic was entirely hand sewn with wool thread and a bronze needle compatible with contemporary finds. The sewing techniques and stitches were chosen among the ones documented since the Iron Age: backstitch, overcast stitch and blanket stitch, plus a filler thread. I avoided basting, which might have implied a loss of time and a waste of thread, but kept the fabric in place using a total of four bronze pins. Both pins and needle tended to lose their sharpness, making the use of a sandstone essential for good progress.
The underarm seam was moved down and placed roughly around the biceps.
The tunic body is sewn with backstitch, leaving a seam allowance around 1 cm wide, which was then secured to the fabric of the body with overcast stitch while adding a filler tread to protect it from fraying. This technique allowed me to reduce to a minimum the fabric waste, avoiding the otherwise needed folding of the seam allowance (img. 9).

Image 9 – Filler thread technique

As for the woven bands, I decided to use the same fabric of the tunic, and dye it with walnut husks. Dye choice was mostly related to our group’s resources, having foraged them in the group’s headquarters’ garden. It also allowed me to avoid mordanting the fabric which would have added one more rogue variable I was not comfortable with at the time of this experiment. The result was a deep, warm brown I was satisfied with.

The brown bands were applied to the tunic where I expected the friction or seam tension to be more intense: around the neck, hems, wrists, shoulder and underarm seam placing them flat and sewing them with blanket stitch to avoid fabric bulks. To add more strength to the band seams, I overlayed them with a thin strip, handwoven with linen thread which also worked as an additional decorative element.

The tunic proved to be a sturdy garment, capable of maintaining its structural integrity over a few years of performing everyday, living-history tasks and activities, while the dyed facings kept their brightness in spite of being repeatedly exposed to the sun. We are overall satisfied with the experiment’s results (img. 10).

Image 10 – Version 1 of the reconstructed tunic worn by a re-enactor

A Fancier Version

In 2017 we decided to rise the stakes and to make a richer version of the tunic, basing on newly achieved skills in dyeing and recently gathered information.

For the new tunic, our target was to portray a higher status while keeping the structural characteristics that have proven to be solid during the previous experiment. We based the garments on the same burial, deeming it rich enough for the new version, picking a compatible diamond twill wool from a different seller since the original one was not available anymore.

For the dye process we decided to go as far as my ability would take us and opted for a double dye with weld and woad in order to achieve a bright green.
The dye process took therefore four steps: mordanting (done with alum), preparation of the weld dye bath (slowly cooking the weld stalks in hot water and then filtering it in order to obtain a clear, bright yellow dye bath), weld dye and then woad dye.

For the facings we decided to search for an extant example of a period brocade showing the “lozange and dot” pattern so frequently represented in contemporary iconography. Thanks to the priceless help of Wulfheodenas’ member David Huggins (himself on a quest for a seventh century brocade pattern), we found an almost perfect candidate: the fabric of the St Madelbert Shrine in Liege (Belgium) (img. 11).

Image 11 – Fabric of the St Madelbert Shrine in Liege (Belgium)

The fabric, woven in red and yellow, shows an intricate motif of leaves and flowers and, what is most important to us, the monogram of emperor Heraclius (610 – 640 AD) which places the fabric in the same time-frame of the burial.

The result manages to convey, in my opinion, both the richness of early medieval Germanic textiles and the influence Byzantine fashion might have had on the upper classes in Lombard society. It represents to me a good starting point for further developments in my research in the field.
In the end, one of the most important characteristics of reconstruction and experimental archaeology is their being describable as a “direction”, along which we move without the illusion of an existing destination.

My wish and goal for the next part of this journey is to work closer with the National Archaeological Museum in Cividale del Friuli, with which we have an ongoing formal cooperation, to create a more comprehensive overview of  Friulian Lombard textile findings. Thus, we will gather more valuable information to support further experimentation and to make more data available to scholars and fellow living historians (img. 12).

Image 12 – A re-enactor wearing version 2 of the Lombard, reconstructed tunic

[1]Different sources can show different names, depending on the priority being given to the final look of the fabric instead of the used technique and shaft sequence

[2]This, of course, does not exclude the use of linen twill by people from a higher social status or in different climate conditions.


Re-imagining Medieval Dublin and the role of the Guide in Public History

Laura Fitzachary, Dublin Castle


Fig. 1 – Dublin Castle (image provided by OPW – Dublin Castle)

It is of interest to those who examine the public’s experience with medieval history to acknowledge the role of the tour guide. Their position can generate an interest in medieval history, establish historical authority through the authenticity of their information and deliver it effectively to an audience. This study focuses on working in public history to identify an establishment of historical authority and validity, defined by the interaction of the general public and the guide within a museum setting. Drawing from working as a guide at Dublin Castle, this study attempts to debunk the idea of ‘publish or perish’ and highlights how museum professionals are entrusted with deciding what information is presented to the general public outside of an academic setting. By doing so, the guide must also recognize important developments in the field of medieval history.

Re-imagining Medieval Dublin

The role of the guide ranges from generating an initial interest in history to creating an atmosphere where history becomes more relatable to the visitors. This can be a challenge where in certain cases the subject of medieval history on site must be almost entirely re-imagined. In my case, Dublin Castle is a former Viking settlement which subsequently from 1204 until 1922 served as the seat of English, and later British rule in Ireland. Though currently a remnant of a 17th and 18th century Georgian palace, due to a fire destroying the medieval bastion, only a Viking defence wall remains beneath the foundations of a powder tower.[i] The guide in this case must reveal the layers of the site and educate those visiting on what originally stood. A typical tour at Dublin Castle begins with the medieval section to introduce a visitor to the former Viking settlement that once stood there, and then the later Anglo-Norman castle, designed under a mandate by John I in 1204. With one small cross section of a Viking wall, the guide creates, through their narrative, an image of the former settlement and how it fitted into Viking Dublin as a whole. This area is on show as to a result of extensive archaeological excavations which were carried out at Dublin Castle between 1985 and 1987 in connection with a major rebuilding programme.[ii]  Beneath a rebuilt tax office, visitors are brought down to what is referred to as the Undercroft, in order to show the level of defence an Anglo-Norman structure can offer and to begin the narrative of the site. The pre-castle deposits found from the Hiberno-Norse town were excavated outside the north-west corner of the moat, within the Powder Tower of the castle itself and just inside the adjacent north curtain wall.[iii] According to Manning & Lynch the defensive bank within the Powder Tower is the only in situ Viking-age monument in the city of Dublin which is on display to the public.[iv] The outer face of a north/south stone-face bank was built on the shelving rocky shore of the Poddle Estuary, made of clay, stone and without mortar with a short stretch of post-and-wattle fencing found in front of the southern section of the bank which probably served as a breakwater.[v]

Figure 2 – The Undercroft (image provided by OPW – Dublin Castle)

From this sliver of a bank, the guide generates a sense of the Viking settlement through their narrative, discussing how they lived and how they settled in this area. An insight into pre-Norman Dublin sets a precedence for what is to follow, another 1200 years of history condensed into a 60 to 70-minute tour. By starting in the medieval section, the guide then also stresses the importance of the medieval history of the site in order to talk about later structures. Highlighting the importance of the site’s medieval roots has generated a keen interest in the era. This result has been noted through a continuous hike in visitor numbers with an interest in the field of medieval history at Dublin Castle.[i] I suggest that a continued focus on medieval history be applied at other sites where this compartmentalisation of eras occurs, or where medieval history forms the basis of a site serving a different function today. The role of the guide is then to present a tangible sense of the past, by striking correlations with the site as it is at present.

Historical authority and the authenticity of that history

In order to promote an interest in medieval history, the narrative must be factual. Thus, a problem faced by the guide includes establishing historical authenticity without being based in an academic setting. However, the question is posed, are academic settings based solely in universities and research centres, or can such a setting be produced at a historical site where professionals engage daily with the public and history? This study will propose that the latter is the case, and that a guide can engage with the immediate public and use their position to highlight aspects of medieval history relative to the site. This is not confined to the site itself but allows the guide to discuss the importance of the site in terms of time-frame and location, expanding the net wider to Dublin, Ireland and Europe. The visitors on tour also rely solely on the guides’ information in tandem with any written resources available, thus creating a sense of historical authority for the guide. The academic field surrounding the subject is absolutely not ignored; it forms the basis for narrative and, as noted previously, a lot of narrative at Dublin Castle comes from the publications of the archaeological reports by both Manning and Lynch.

It is also the case that by engaging daily with the public, the guide can retain recurring questions on specific elements of medieval history and incorporate them into their own narrative. This practice in turn creates an authentic tour based on their experience with the public and the public’s interests. This level of authenticity can thrive at a site that does not use a script – like Dublin Castle. This also creates an atmosphere amongst the guides of conducting research, whether that is utilizing that which has already been published in the field or in the case of Dublin Castle, generating their own publications based on primary sources available on site. It is necessary to note that not every site has archaeological reports or letters to hand; however, a publication developed from the site itself and not through a university or research centre can hold just as much merit in the field of medieval history.

Thus another question is posed, is it actually necessary to publish aspects of a tour that are deemed authentic by being new pieces of information? I argue that it is not absolutely necessary to create a plethora of publications whilst working with the public daily. The idea of ‘publish or perish’ is only to validate the role of an historian. However, that can be someone who interprets a site, conducts research and develops public interest in history – in this case medieval history. By reinventing the role of an historian then a guide can be viewed as one; in that 60 to 70-minute tour, they are the figures establishing historical authority. It is not the intention of this study to diminish the importance of publishing as it is absolutely necessary to the field of history. However, by working as a tour guide, enough validity as an historian should be generated to ensure one does not ‘perish’.

The guide as an educator

The role of the tour guide at Dublin Castle is not just restricted to daily tours. This is the result of another restriction: the medieval section within a wider timeline. The guides at Dublin Castle are also museum educators, which is beneficial to a site with no education department. As a museum educator, the guide can focus aspects of their tour into researched and specific tours or workshops to expand on personal interest or from the interests of the general public. These focused tours are made available to the public, educational institutions and other organisations. By creating specialised public events, the guide must also break down the information to not just suit their own interests but to ensure that anyone, at any age, could learn about the site and engage with the information. Thus, the role of educator becomes a bridge between the site and the public. There are two aspects of interacting with the public; selecting information suitable to the audience, and determining how that information is shared.[ii]

This interaction with the public is where the guide as an educator holds an important role on site. As all research is carried out by the guides at Dublin Castle, the deliverance is also based on their ability to communicate and this in turn is also based on the audience. The role of the guide is also to provide a learning experience for any visitor who decided to attend the tour that day.[iii] This role involves not just supplying information about the site but ensuring that the audience understands what is being said. The importance of communicating information is an attribute of an effective tour guide. Thus, the public gains a greater understanding of medieval history by being taught about what has been published in the field, in a way that is more accessible.      

As an example, I have created a workshop focused on Norse mythology, after a request was made by a primary school teacher to incorporate ‘Dublin and the Vikings’ into a workshop geared towards nine year olds.  The result was a Viking raven workshop that introduced the pupils to the initial arrival of the Vikings to Dublin and the subsequent assimilation of some of these Vikings into Irish society. In order to create a level of understanding, I linked Norse assimilation into Irish society with a classroom-like scenario in the present day, by comparing diversity in the classroom to shifts in cultural identity. The correlation created tangibility of the subject and was delivered to a young audience in language they understood. Thus, this method would allow a guide to convert an historian’s (or indeed their own) theories into more accessible pieces of information to be understood by their audience – in this case, 9 year olds

Fig. 3 – A ‘viking’ raven (author’s own image)

The human aspect of the guide and the digital nemesis

Although I have proposed that the benefits of a human guide can generate greater interest in medieval history and maintain it by creating specialized workshops or tours to encourage returning visits, there is a problem facing the tour guide. A guide can identify a visitor’s connection with a site and can provide more focused information of interest, whereas a written or even digital resource produced for mass consumption cannot. Thus, this speaker would also argue that the value of the guide is to observe and promote a connection between interest and the site itself.  However, there is the threat of a ‘virtual’ replacement. The virtual tour guide could provide information but not necessarily gauge the level of understanding amongst the audience or mould any narrative around specific interests or personal links a visitor has with the site. It is worth noting that technology in the museum space is not going to cease, and guides should not necessarily fear the development of the ‘interactive experience’ at museums. Currently, I am incorporating advancements in technology into my narrative by developing a virtual reality tour to enhance audience experience whilst using my own narrative.

As mentioned above, a guide must promote the re-imagining of Dublin Castle when discussing the former Viking site, but of course this is to reflect the ‘ideal tour guide,’ not every guide wants to deliver an eruditely written lecture which they can convert and tailor to specific audiences. There is also the entertainment factor associated with tour guiding. As mentioned previously, to generate interest and hold it depends on the credulity of information and its deliverance. This combination does require some sort of flare stemming from the guide’s own interest in the history they are relaying, in turn educating the audience. Therefore, the entertainment aspect could cause a sense of a lack of validity on the part of the guide. Instead of interpreting this as damaging the guide’s historical authority, it should be reinterpreted as an alternative way of relaying history by promoting the constant relevance of the theoretical development of medieval history. Thus, even the potential to hold historical authority is enough to not ignore the role of the tour guide.


Although digital recreations of the site are available online, I argue for the benefit of being walked through a heritage site. The guide recreates the past through their ability to hold interest, provide historical authenticity and strike some tangibility of a past when little visual reminders remain. The guides at Dublin Castle are also all museum educators, designing their own scripts and developing a setting which encourages new research to support any claim of authenticity. The responsibility to educate visitors and provide site interpretation is also challenged daily with a varied audience and a diverse general public. The guide must consider who is visiting and strike a balance between accommodating local, national and international visitors and bridging any gap between an interest in public history and an understanding of it.

In conclusion, the guide can provide historical authenticity and generate the words,

‘You know I never knew that, and I’ve lived down the road all my life.’

By interacting with local, national, international, elementary, high school and university level visitors the ‘general public’ net could not be any wider. By generating their own historical authority, the guide’s role is not to solely catch interest in medieval history but to promote and develop it. The role of the guide should be representative of and more interactive with the experts in the field of Irish medieval history as they maintain an authority of their own. By being the front line in a museum setting they are the border between information and the public whilst having knowledge of their questions and interests. Thus, it is important when discussing public history that the guide’s role must be considered.


[i] As museum educators, the guides as Dublin Castle record the amount of people in attendance of any specialised tours or workshops in order to determine interest in the subject of medieval history.

[ii] Laura Fitzachary, “Working in Public Archaeology.” Trowel, Volume XVI (2015): 84.

[iii] Ibid., 84.

[i] “History |Dublin Castle,” Dublin Castle, Last modified October 30, 2018, http://www.dublincastle.ie/history/

[ii] Ann Lynch & Conleth Manning, “Excavations at Dublin Castle, 1985-7,” in Medieval Dublin II, ed. Seán Duffy (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001), 169.

[iii] Ibid., 172.

[iv] Ibid., 202.

[v] Ibid., 182.


Fitzachary, Laura. “Working in Public Archaeology.” Trowel, Volume XVI. (2015): 83-87.

Lynch, A., Manning, C. “Excavations at Dublin Castle, 1985-7.” In Medieval Dublin II, edited by Seán Duffy, 169-205. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001.

“History |Dublin Castle.” Dublin Castle, Last modified October 30, 2018. http://www.dublincastle.ie/history/

Medievalist Temporalities

Stefan Nyzell, Malmö University

Just as my title indicates, I will discuss two things:

1. Medievalism,


2. Temporality.

Medievalism is the field of study in which I am currently conducting a research project – on the re-creation of medieval pasts in the present. What I study is such things as:

  • historical re-enactment, living history and historical role-playing;
  • depicting medieval pasts;
  • medieval pasts (note the plural) in the present.

As can be seen, the study in itself is very much about temporality, i.e. the theoretical aspects of time. I am a historian and as I see it, it is the job of a historian to do just this, to think deeply about the aspects of human life in and over time, and to think about time itself. Something we perhaps, as a professional community, tend to do less often than we should.

When I turned the focus of my research – which has been primarily in the field of contentious politics studies – into the field of medievalism it has led me to think much longer and harder about time itself. One real inspiration in my research has been the American scholar William Sewell. He has stated – quite correctly I think – that what really defines history as an academic field is its dedication to temporality (Sewell 2005: 2-6). At the same time, however, Sewell asserts that they (that is we historians) tend to do this without giving the theoretical concept of time much real attention. We work with time without giving it much thought.

Once again, I think Sewell is quite correct. Historians are trained from early on in their studies to analyse continuations and changes over time. But NOT to think about and theorize time itself. Most academic studies of temporality I have read have been done in fields such as sociology, cultural studies, or literary studies. Sewell, for example, is a sociologist. However, I think that we (once again the “we” here is for we historians) could really benefit from giving this much more attention. So here we go!

First, though, we need to go back to the concept of medievalism. Louise D’Arcens defines medievalism as:

…the reception, interpretation or re-creation of the European Middle Ages in post-medieval cultures (D’Arcens 2016: 1).

While Medieval Studies takes on the the Middle Ages (the time period between 500 and 1500), in itself medievalism is primarily interested in HOW the middle ages have been depicted in the 500 years since it ended. D’Arcens goes on to say that there are two fundamental ways to study the Middle Ages:

1. the found middle ages, i.e. the actual traces from the middle ages, sources, artefacts, etc.

2.  and the created middle ages that…

…are imaginative in their impulse and founded on the ideas of ’the medieval’ as conceptual rather than a historical category (D’Arcens 2016: 1).

Another scholar in the field, Leslie Workman, has expressed this idea as follows:

‘Medievalism is the continuing process of creating the Middle Ages’ (as quoted in Sturtevant 2018: 2)

Ideas of the medieval have been created and recreated many times over. The two most influential of these ideas in the post medieval era has been that of the:

1. grotesque middle ages,

and the…

2. romantic middle ages.

The first is an idea from the renaissance, i.e. the time period just after the middle ages, which wanted to see itself as the ancient time reborn, discarding the time period in between as a dark and barbaric era. This has had consequences. As medievalist David Matthews says:

the Middle Ages had to serve as the barbarous ‘other’, the dark age from which the reformation had liberated a newly renascent culture (Matthews 2015: 3).

The second idea, that of the Romantic Middle Ages, is the child of the early nineteenth century, from which we have the notion of the middle ages as a time of primarily heroic knight and beautiful ladies. There are more competing ideas, but these are the two most influential.

A mix of these ideas can be seen in most pop-culture depictions of the Middle Ages. From Ivanhoe to Game of Thrones, these are examples which include it all.

So this is my current field of study – to look into these competing and shifting ideas of the Middle Ages and the many ways in which they have been interpreted, be it novels, plays, TV-series, movies, festivals, or whatnot. As you can see the Middle Ages is NOT something entirely stable as to WHAT it is.

What, then, about WHEN it is?

Well I have just stated that the Middle Ages is the era between 500 and 1500. But I do not think that it is as simple as that. Indeed some scholars within the field of medievalism have argued that the WHEN in the Middle Ages is not something entirely stable either. In theorizing time, historians most traditionally have worked with two basic concepts for conducting research:

1. We stop time and go deep into a specific context. This is called the synchronic view.


2. We see continuations or changes over time. This is called the diachronic view.

What the cultural turn since the 1990s has taught us is that, in both the synchronic and the diachronic views, we ALWAYS also have the present-day view looking back in time. Thus, it frames HOW and WHAT we see.

This is very much the medievalist’s work-mode. That is, the HOW and WHAT, and even WHEN, looking back into the past tend to be a result of the constantly shifting present. Thus, the Middle Ages is indeed something different in the view of the 1820s, 1880s, 1920s, 1980s … and even in the view of 2018.

Here I want to end with a theoretical aspect of time that has been advocated by the American literary scholar (note not a historian) and medievalist, Carolyn Dinshaw, that is inspiring my own work just now. In her When is now? Dinshaw argues for the asynchronic view…. stating that:

Time is lived; it is full of attachments and desires, histories and futures; it is not a hollow form […] that is the same always” (Dinshaw 2012: 4).

She defines the asynchronic as: “different time frames or temporal systems colliding in a single moment of now”. (Dinshaw 2012: 5). This is more or less what Raphael Samuel said in his Theaters of Memory from 1994), stating that history:

is a social form of knowledge […] drawing not only on real-life experience but also on memory and myth, fantasy and desire (Samuel 2012: x).

I think this is I key concept here – our desires about the past. When talking to re-enactors this seems to be very important. In fact, many of them agree that one of the most desirable moments as a re-enactor is when the past and the present (if only for a short moment, even the blink of an eye) seem to be as one.

To really be there.

The presence of the past in the now.

So can the Middle Ages really be now?

Yes, it seems so.

And even in the future.

Indeed many visions of the Middle Ages do indeed put it in the future, as a vision of some kind of utopia, or as a vision of horrors to come. (See for example: Wollenberg 2018). Here, once again we see both the romantic and the grotesque Middle Ages as visions in the present for the future.


D’Arcens, Louise, “Introduction: Medievalism – Scope and Complexity”, in D’Arcens, Louise (ed.), The Cambridge companion to medievalism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016.

Dinshaw, Carolyn, How soon is now? Medieval texts, amateur readers, and the queerness of time, Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2012.

Matthews, Medievalism: a Critical History, Boydell and Brewer Limited, 2015.

Sewell, William H, Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005.

Samuel, Raphael, Theatres of Memory: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture, Verso Books, London, 2012.

Sturtevant, Paul B., The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination: Memory, Film and Medievalism, London, 2018.

Wollenberg, Daniel, Medieval Imagery in Today’s Politics, Arc Medieval Press, 2018.

Reflections on Public Medievalism

Plenary speaker, Jane Malcolm-Davies, University of Copenhagen

The delight of this conference was that all the presentations were pleasant, passionate, and powerful. The emphasis of the programme was on public history and the recreation of the past. We heard a lot of different reflections on medieval material and how it is reconstructed by or presented to the public. Over the two days, there were stimulating ideas about public history, guiding, interpreting the past in general, and re-creating, constructing and imagining the medieval past in particular.

The programme began with Paul Sturtevant talking about his experiences of “Making Medieval History Powerful and Meaningful without Losing your Soul (or Mind) in the Chaotic Contemporary Public Square” followed by Jane Malcolm-Davies (me) presenting “Character or caricature? Evidence for the educational impact of costumed interpretation at heritage sites”.

My personal passion in life is the arrangement of data to discover new knowledge. Data doesn’t have to be quantitative and shown in a graph (the way I presented it in my keynote) or powerfully anecdotal to illustrate principles as in Paul’s key note presentation. But for data to be influential it needs to be available for analysis.

Everyone who presented over the course of the conference had collected data. It was all very interesting and enjoyable to hear about. But how can we analyse what was presented through the conference to create new knowledge?

We need a research methodology which would allow us to gather all the experiences we have heard reported here and a framework for analysing them. Is it possible for us to formulate a theoretical framework against which we can study public history (if there isn’t one already)?

Many of the presentations directly referred or indirectly alluded to intangible aspects of the past as inspired by the study or presentation of an item or a range of items (for example, Paul Mortimer’s exploration of eye imagery on weapons, armour and ornaments from the 6th and 7th centuries in northern Europe, and Peter Johnsson’s reflections on swords). And this extends to objects and experiences produced more recently than during the medieval period such as reconstructed Viking ships (Sara Ellis Nilsson), the creation of Old Norse Worlds in comics (Martin Lund), or the recreation of Lombard life (Gabriele Zorzi).

As an interdisciplinary team, the conference participants have the imagination to move the interpretation of items to the interpretation of ideas. And since we don’t know for certain what the ideas of the past were (we offer only one interpretation of the past rather than The One True Interpretation, as Hannes Napierala said about “constructing a reconstruction” of buildings in southern Germany), we can explicitly empower the visitor to a heritage site or the user of history to make their own interpretations too. Mari Wickerts talked about encouraging school children to do this in the context of field archaeology and recreating Viking burials from Skändla. But might this be dangerous?

Paul Sturtevant showed us horrible examples of what happens when people make their own interpretations of the medieval past for political ends. Runes are suffering the same fate as Andrea Freund, who also explained how visitors to Orkney are “engaging with the past indiscriminately”. So here then is a need for visitors’ empowerment to be facilitated by expert tour guides who interact and inter-react with visitors by understanding where they are coming from – geographically, culturally, and philosophically as Laura Fitzachary outlined.

So – our new theoretical framework would include something about the use of source materials and how they are extrapolated by joining the dots (as Irene Barbina explained she did in her reconstruction of Lombard dress) or by stitching images together (as Carolina Ask does in her 3D photographic modelling), and the process of dating (discussed by Thomas Småberg with his example of the Long Viking Age), and the link between items and ideas.

We could have a catalogue of these criteria against which we classify examples of public history – and one of the most important criteria would be the treatment of gender, which Simon Trafford suggested is embodied by warrior women or portrayed as hyper-masculinity in pop culture.

We might also consider how the archaeological and historical material complements rather than conflicts with visitors’ experience of asynchrony, the presence of the past in the present, as Stefan Nyzell discussed as Medievalist temporalities.

Thanks to Sofia Winge’s guided tour, we were all able to consider the challenge of presenting the medieval past on our visit to Uppåkra.

The conference organisers are to be congratulated for bringing together speakers with interlocking themes and providing the perfect atmosphere for them to reflect on each other’s contributions.

Opening remarks on the conference, Medievalism, Public History, and Academia: the Re-creation of Early Medieval Europe, c. 400-1000

The conference’s opening remarks, on the conference theme and the role of the Department of Society, Culture and Identity in this field, were given by Stefan Nyzell and Thomas Småberg, Malmö University.

Stefan Nyzell:
This is an important conference!

In the late nineteenth century, when history became a formalized discipline within academia, borders were drawn between the professionals – and with this, I mean the professionally trained historians within academia – and those in the public field outside academia that nevertheless were closely engaged with history in one way or another.

These borders are still there.

In his Theaters of Memory, from 1994 Raphael Samuel, argued that:

history is not a prerogative of the historian […]. It is, rather, a social form of knowledge […] drawing not only on real-life experience but also on memory and myth, fantasy and desire.
(Samuel, Theatres of Memory: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture, Verso Books, London, 2012, p. x)

History is so much more than the academic discipline!
At the same time, I do have a great love for the academic discipline! I am after all a historian by profession.

What I do think is that it is important to engage in discussions across the borders of academia and the public fields of history. I think people from both sides of the border can learn from each other. As medievalist, Richard Utz has stated in his Medievalism A Manifesto, from 2017,

It is important for the academics to ”reconnect with the general public that has allowed us to become, since the late nineteenth century, a rather exclusive clan of specialists communicating mostly with each other.”
(Utz, Medievalism a Manifesto, Arc Humanities Press, Kalamazoo and Bradford, 2017, p. ix)

We, the organizers of this conference, have a similar agenda. Our purpose is to address these boundaries between public history and academia – and to make them into border crossings.

Thus, at this conference, we have gathered a lot of people from both sides of the border – and taken together a huge amount of knowledge about the Middle Ages, that I for one can’t wait to learn more about!


Thomas Småberg:

On behalf of the organizers, I would like to welcome you all to our conference entitled Medievalism, Public History, and Academia: the Re-creation of Early Medieval Europe, c. 400-1000 hosted by Malmö University in cooperation with Uppåkra Archaeological Centre and financed by The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences.

At the department of Society, Culture and Identity at Malmö University, we have worked on critical cultural heritage for some years now. We have, for instance, an online course focusing on cultural heritage pedagogy in which our partners, which include museums all over Skåne and a few international institutions and scholars as well, are invited to give guest lectures and seminars. We also work closely with museums in Skåne on their educational programs and their upcoming exhibitions. We have also compiled a few research reports for Region Skåne on cultural heritage pedagogy. Together with a select group of universities, we were also invited to give a course for cultural heritage educators by the organization Sweden Museums. 

On the academic side of things, we decided a few years ago to launch a series of workshops, seminars, and conferences to bolster cooperation between actors in the cultural heritage sector such as reenactors, museum educators, and researchers. The first two were held in Swedish and the topics mostly focused on Scandinavian fields of research. The first, held in 2015, involved a broad chronology and was entitled Cultural heritage and historical reenactment. The second workshop was held in 2017 on the topic  Recreated Viking Age: Public archaeology and scientific pedagogy. This year, we are hosting our first international conference in the series: three days of interesting presentations and good discussions.