I thought I'd go ahead and throw out some paper topics that have been rattling around in my mind for the past few weeks. One of the biggest differences between being an undergraduate and being a graduate student is in the amount of writing that is required of you. In sense, we have less writing, considering that we have fewer total papers to write than undergrads, but of course the papers that we are required to write are thirty, forty, fifty pages, not counting the thesis, which we are theoretically supposed to be working sporadically on for the next two years. The big project for my historiography class is a paper comparing the differences in method, theory, and approach to historical writing of two historians, examining especially how their own historical time periods shaped them and how their biases or their their time periods' biases shine through in their works. Our professor encourages any historical comparisons, but the idea of the project is to compare a historian that we've actually read in class with someone in whom we're personally interested. He also advocates choosing historians that belong to different historical eras and different nationalities as this highlights national as well as periodizational comparisons. In any case, most of the class seems to have settled on a topic and while I haven't exactly, I have a couple of ideas that I feel merit further exploration:
A Jungian Analysis of the Archetypal Hero in Eusebius' Life of Constantine and Einhard's Life of Charlemagne
To me, Eusebius and Einhard, though they don't demarcate any bookends in terms of historical writing, both write about figures who did bookend a historical period that truly demonstrates the emergence and culmination of the Christian Romano-German synthesis and the creation of a distinct European culture. Eusebius certainly belongs to the ancient world even if he was a Christian writing for a primarily Christian audience, and, like Augustine and Jerome, he certainly bridges the gap between ancient and medieval: he relies on the rhetorical style of writers like Cicero but is philosophically grounded in Christian thought (though, interestingly, he held a moderate position between Orthodox and Arian Christianities). Einhard is certainly a typical medieval chronicler but by virtue of his proximity to the Emperor Charlemagne, he had recourse to write about a man who was arguably the most powerful Christian ruler on the Continent since Constantine. Many scholars, Henri Pirenne, Alouis Reigl, and notably the inimitable Peter Brown, have remarked that the tripartite periodization of European history into ancient, medieval, and modern eras is obviously simplistic and does not account for the transitional politico-religious realignments, but replacing these ossified categories is a difficult task even for the most of eminent of historians. Brown argues for the use of a "bridging" period between the 2nd century imperial crises and the Islamic conquests through the 8th century. Norman Davies, in his monumental general history Europe divides the ancient (Roma) and medieval (Medium) periods with his Origio on the cultural birth of Western civilization rising from the ashes of the Greco-Roman world, and it is telling that he dates this period from 330 (the founding of Constantinople) to 800 (the coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor). In any case, politically, Constantine and Charlemagne provide convenient markers on either side of the "late antique divide" that one could point to as cohesive Christian polities unifying vast culturally and ethnically diverse landscapes, the latter consciously modeling on the former. In terms of the historians who wrote on these figures, I'm interested in looking at the archetypal models on which Eusebius and Einhard based their "characters" of Constantine and Charlemagne and whether or not, for example, they used Biblical precedent and/or the ancient Greco-Roman biographers of the kings, consuls, and Caesars (Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, etc.) Since Jung himself compared the idea of "archetypes of the collective unconscious" to the Platonic world of forms, it seems fruitful to also examine the impact of Platonic thought on these compositions, especially because Eusebius was likely familiar with his work and Einhard was not (I'm actually not sure of this supposition; it's just an educated guess).
Pirenne and Brown: The Problem of Periodization in Late Antique and Early Medieval Historiography
Following the aforementioned difficulty in historiographical periodization, another related topic which very much interests me is that of the origins of the Middle Ages. This may strike any casual reader as a purely academic debate (and it is), but it is certainly important from a historiographical standpoint insofar as it is the in this period that what think of as Western civilization is really born--a messy combination of Roman law and institutions, Germanic and Latin-based languages, Germanic customs, and the Christian religion. The traditional date for the beginning of the Middle Ages is often marked as 476, the year of the deposition of the ironically named Romulus Augustulus and the end of the Roman Empire as completely independent from Germanic kings. In most general history books, the Middle Ages typically starts ca. 500 because it is a nice round number and because the year 500 in much of Europe is certainly quite different politically from the year 400 or any other "round number" from this era. Two historians have been at the forefront--one in early 20th century and one in mid to late 20th century--of a movement to change this traditional view. Brown, who I have mentioned, is among the popularizers of the "Late Antquity" model, positing a distinctly different time period between the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the Islamic conquests and reorganization of Europe into feudal kingdoms. Pirenne, who wrote earlier, was among the first historians to really challenge the 18th and 19th century enlightenment/positivist viewpoint of the Middle Ages as a dark time in Western history with little to no progress of any sort. The famous Pirenne thesis argues that the true beginning of the Middle Ages is not until the late 8th century after the Islamic conquest of the Middle East, North Africa, and Iberia cut off Europe from the major trade routes of the Mediterranean, and Pirenne gives ample evidence of continued trade throught the 6th and 7th centuries when merchants and traders saw their life change little and in some instances may have actually seen improvement. Both these points of view are endlessly debated and considering that both these historians challenge long held tenants of Western historiography, I think a comparison of their approaches to defining the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the medieval would be interesting.
The Church and Science: Late Twentieth Century Reassessments of the Draper-White Conflict Thesis of Medieval Science
This is the paper I'm currently leaning towards. This is a topic that has really driven my historical interest in the Middle Ages for the last couple of years, and I think it is among the most current and important modern issues in the historiography of science. I've written about the debate elsewhere and won't get into the details. Suffice to say, from a historiographical standpoint, this debate is very applicable to our current cultural climate where science and religion are pitted against one another as mortal enemies. The 19th century in general is such a bipolar age with regards to this topic in that the century saw both the rise of secular education and the belief, especially among European intellectuals, that empirical rationalism would soon supplant religious faith. It is also important to note that the late 19th century also witnessed the birth of Christian fundamentalism as we know it today. Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper both wrote of the great war raging between science and religion and of the modern triumph of enlightenment ideas over the superstition of the Middle Ages. It would take nearly a century for modern historians such as David C. Lindberg and Ronald Numbers to really argue against this viewpoint. It is certainly still very much popularly believed to be the case today. If I do end up writing on this topic, I'll be sure to post my research.