“I have a dream someday”...
‘After Rome...Before the Normans’ – history course (undergraduate and/or graduate)
Two excellent texts for both undergraduate and graduate Southern Italy: After Rome...Before the Normans history courses:
Barbara M. Kreuts’ Before the Normans – Southern Italy in the Ninth & Tenth Centuries (1991,University of Pennsylvania Press)
Patricia Skinner’s Family Power in Southern Italy – The Duchy of Gaeta & Its Neighbours, 850-1139 (1995, Cambridge University Press)
Kreuts’ book is a unique combination of meticulous and voluminous source and secondary documentation with a narrative that reads like a popular novel. Kreuts is not only an amazing scholar but she is also an excellent writer. Her book would be very appropriate text for an undergraduate history course.
Skinner’s is a much more technical and challenging ‘source document’ narrative. This book would probably not be good as a student text in most undergraduate programs especially community college. However, from the book a creative teacher could develop fascinating lecture material, and parcel out selective parts of the book’s text for student reading material.
Nevertheless, Skinner’s book should be required reading at the graduate level where the pedagogic objectives (I should think) would include not only learning the facts of history; but also developing understanding and skill in the process by which the facts about the past are ascertained (i.e. what Marc Bloch called “The Historian’s Craft”).
These two texts uniquely complement one another.
By way of a biology analogy:
Kreuts’ book is ‘like’ a botany text; describing and explaining the fauna in an ecosystem. The descriptions and explanations are in terms of gross observations. A botany text may, for example, describe a plant in terms of its leaves, roots, bark, flowers, etc. Also, the general environment (ecosystem) where the plant flourishes (fauna, climate, etc.)
Skinner’s book on the other hand is analogous to a microbiology botany text with descriptions of the microscopic aspects of a plant, which determine how the plant functions in the general environment.
The botanist describes ‘the tree’ and it environment context. The microbiologist describes the tree’s ‘tissues and cells’, and how they determine the way the tree behaves in its environment.
For example, Prof. Kreuts writes the following about Gaeta:
“In the ninth century Gaeta had come to seem ambivalent toward the Muslim world...was concerned about papal dominance...seemed in some ways to remain deeply Byzantine...Byzantine imperial dating continued to be used in Gaetan indications. Many witnesses to Gaetan charters continued to sign their names in Greek letter, and Gaetan notaries proudly noted their competence in both Greek and Latin.” (p. 72)
Note: Gaeta per se is the subject of the discourse. It's described in terms of its social ‘environmental’ characteristics: “state relations”, “imperial dating”, “charters”, “language”, etc. This type of description may be thought of as analogist to a botanist describing the characteristics and environment of a given plant.
Now consider Prof. Skinner’s writings on Gaeta during the same century:
“In 867 Docibilis appears to have taken control of Gaeta and his family dominated the castle and its territory for some 150 years...Docibilis held courts to settle a dispute between the bishop of Gaeta, Ramfus, and two inhabitants of the castle, Mauro the cleric and John...In the 870s pope John VIII handed over control of papal patrimonies to Docibilis...the pope threatened excommunication against Docibilis...” (p27-29)
These descriptions of Gaeta are not of the town as a whole, rather individuals in Gaeta are the subject of the discourse, and how they affected Gaeta as a whole. Skinner has put Gaeta under a microscope, so to speak, looking at the micro characteristics that determine the macro.
Whereas, Kreuts makes general reference to papal dominance , Skinner describes the behavior of particular individuals such as pope John VIII threatened excommunication against Docibilis.
Carrying the botany/microbiology analogy one pedagogic step further: Just as one may find reading a botany text meaningful without having a formal education in the subject, a microbiology text is not very comprehensible without the guidance of a microbiology teacher. One for example may find a library botany book meaningful reading; but generally a microbiology text would be obscure.
Similarly, as noted above, the Kreuts’ book is a good read for both the general public and especially undergraduate students; but the much more technical Skinner book would take the guidance of a good and creative history teacher.
More generally the substance of the respective books may be gleaned from their tables of context:
Before the Normans – Southern Italy in the Ninth & Tenth Centuries
Barbara M. Kreuts
The book consists of nine chapters:
1. “The Beginnings” – the sixth to early ninth century especially Charlemagne
2. “The First Arab Impact” – especially the “846 Arab Sack of Rome”...
3. “Carolingian Crusade” – Louis II’s failure, Arabs in South...
4. “Firming the Elements” – Pope John VIII, Arabs in Campania, Byzantium...
5. “Amalfi in Context” – 902 and 915, Trading with the Arab World...
6. “Salerno’s Southern Italy in the Tenth Century” – through 960s...
7. “Late Tenth Century and South Italian Structures
8. “ Campania and its Culture in the Tenth Century”
9. “The Eleventh Century and After” – Byzantium, Autonomous States
Family Power in Southern Italy – The Duchy of Gaeta & Its Neighbors, 859-1139
Part 1: “From the beginnings to the Eleventh Century” – three chapters
Part II: “A time of Change: The Eleventh Century and Beyond” – two chapters
Part III: “The Economic pf Power” – two chapters
Both books have enormous amounts of footnoting and bibliographies, excellent maps, and comprehensive indices. Both are must reading for anyone interested in the fountainhead of the Partria Meridonale history and culture.
In sum: Italian American teachers and professionals
If ever a college or university develops a ‘South of Rome’ Curriculum, the period between the fall of Rome and the arrival of the Normans no doubt would constitute a very essential course within that curriculum, and Kreutz's and Skinner's books would be required reading.
Why the history and culture of Italy south of Rome is so completely and categorically ignored, when all manner of national and ethnic social histories are taught from middle school through graduate school, is a fascinating sociological phenomenon.
No doubt there are many factors affecting this state of affairs. At least one very and perhaps the most important factor is the complete and categorical indifference of the Italian American teachers and professionals who determine what is taught in schools.
Unless and until the literati and prominenti become committed to a southern Italian curriculum – it will not happen. However, when and if they do become committed – it most definitely will happen.
“I have a dream someday...”