The Norman Edge: Identity and State-Formation on the Frontiers of Europe

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: History

Abstract

One of the most distinctive features of the period between the mid-eleventh and early thirteenth centuries was the migration of Normans from their northern French homeland to the frontiers of Christian Europe. The conquest of England in 1066 is only the best known example of Norman conquest, settlement and state-building, and must be seen as part of a wider phenomenon beginning in the 1030s and continuing until about 1200. Normans established themselves in northern England and southern Scotland as a consequence of the conquest of England; in southern Italy and Sicily through involvement in local power struggles; and in Syria and Palestine initially through participation in the first crusade and subsequently as part of the creation of new western states in the region. Norman expansion was both strategic, as in the conquest and settlement of northern England, and opportunistic, as in southern Italy and in the eastern Mediterranean.

The proposed research will investigate the salient characteristics of Norman expansion, and its significance for a fuller understanding of medieval political communities and state-building. Preliminary work comparing Norman elites in southern Italy and Normandy suggests that an important factor in the construction of new Norman polities was the capacity of settlers in the diaspora to maintain connections between themselves and with the 'homeland' of Normandy. This project will extend the analysis in order to produce for the first time a systematic study of the relationships between different parts of the Norman diaspora. The nature of these relationships took different forms, involving networks determined by political patronage, social loyalties, kinship and spiritual affinities. In some cases, these relationships are shaped by familial or feudal ties, and can be seen clearly in the presence of members of the same kin group in each of the three parts of the diaspora, and in the resources available to Normans from one region to another. In each area of new settlement, Normans faced established local elites with whom power had to be either contested or shared. Moreover, the ethnic and religious composition of the native peoples differed across and within these regions, and included Muslims, Arabic-speaking Christians, Greeks, and English- and Celtic-speaking inhabitants. The challenges posed by this diversity to Norman political and ethnic identity will provide a crucial dimension to the research.

The fundamental questions underlying the research thus concern the meaning of Norman identity: what did it mean to be a Norman; how did Normans express consciousness of this identity; and how did membership of the 'Norman people' contribute to the process of state-building on the margins of Europe? Furthermore, how long did self-perceptions of Norman identity last over the whole period, and how were such perceptions affected by contact with native peoples across the diaspora? The responses to these questions will have major implications for two models currently employed to explain mainstream historical developments in the period c.1050-1200: namely, one which focuses on the dynamic interactions between centre and periphery in establishing methods of rule; and another in which the expansionist movement of people built networks out of which a characteristically 'European' Europe emerged. The project will thus contribute to a new understanding of how ethnic identity in the Middle Ages was articulated and maintained, and how the process of state-building was affected by the migration of peoples.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Over the course of the project (2009-12), the Department of History at Lancaster University hosted five symposia and a three-day conference at which 36 research seminar papers were given by internationally recognised experts in medieval History. Focusing on regions at the margins of Norman rule in Britain, south Italy and Sicily, and the Crusader States during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the seminars presented conclusions in both new and emerging research fields: the historiography of the Normans; the transmission of narrative chronicles; charters, notarial practice and diplomatic; territorial organisation, power and patronage, memory and identity; onomastics; kin-groups and marriage alliances, socioreligious dynamics and the cults of saints, as well as questions of law, lordship and authority. The methodologies were consciously interdisciplinary with an emphasis on primary source materials and the documentary record. Conclusions drawn from the research undermined and overturned many traditional understandings of a coherent 'Norman World' by showing how its marginal regions were characterised by diversity to the extent that it was only possible to see 'Normanness' in a limited number of spheres, and for a limited (but inconstant) period of time in each area. On the other hand, our study of the Norman 'diaspora' has led to a better understanding of the shifting subtleties of medieval identity in terms of their polycentric, contingent and ambiguous nature. New light was shed on the identity of 'the Normans' as a historical construct by understanding it as a function of both medieval and modern historiography. Some of the most far-reaching research findings concerned processes of state formation. These were particularly complex and varied in each of the regions, inviting further research. Indeed, all members of the Lancaster History team are now engaged in specific funded research that applies the Norman Edge research findings and methodologies to new, but region-specific periods and peoples. Dissemination of the Norman Edge research is primarily in the form of a monograph on Norman identities, two volumes of collected essays written by invited researchers in addition to a website, and a series of journal articles and book chapters written by the team at Lancaster.
Exploitation Route The research findings from The Norman Edge: Identity and State Formation on the Frontiers of Europe project serve to add an authoritative historical dimension to current debates about regional identities and state formation in the modern period as each area of study is presently undergoing significant political change. Our research highlighted the importance of the relationship of 'Middle Britain' in the Norman period to both England and Scotland, while in the near future we will decide the question of Scottish independence and/or further devolution. What were once the Crusader States with their Christian kings and Norman princes are now in the uncertain aftermath of the 'Arab Spring' with sectarian, ethnic and religious violence and population displacement affecting the demography of the wider region. For its part, the Norman kingdom of Sicily is now fractured into several politico-cultural spheres, each with very different identities: mainland south Italy, the regionally autonomous island of Sicily, and the independent nation state of Malta, though all lie within the European Union. On the other hand, the Norman kingdom of 'Africa' presently comprises Tunisia, eastern Algeria and western Libya, all of which are now unstable Arabic-speaking, Muslim regions outside EU frontiers, and all have uncertain and changing relations with the 'Latin' Christian 'European' states to their north. As such, our studies of Norman expansion and its contribution to the development of an independent Scottish monarchy or its role in Christian-Muslim assimilation or conflict have much contemporary resonance and usefulness.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Leisure Activities/ including Sports/ Recreation and Tourism,Government/ Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.lancs.ac.uk/normanedge
 
Description Arabic Documents of Norman Sicily: The Monreale Census Lists
Amount £99,228 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2011 
End 09/2012
 
Description Arabic Documents of Norman Sicily: The Monreale Census Lists
Amount £99,228 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2011 
End 09/2012
 
Description Multilingual and Multigraphic Manuscripts from East and West? 
Organisation Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences
Country Spain 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Conference
Start Year 2011
 
Description Conference: Power and Acculturation in the Norman World, 15-17 December 2011 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The audience, including members of the regional community and attendees from as far afield as Canada and Japan, improved their understanding of the Normans and their worlds in line with the main aims of the Norman Edge project.

Participants reported favourably on the Conference, and nearly all the speakers agreed to work up their papers for publication in one or other of the two volumes of collected essays to be edited by members of the Norman Edge project team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Symposium: Approaches to Understanding Norman Identities, 18 December 2008 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A fundamental scene-setting event for the Norman Edge project

This was the first Norman Edge symposium, and served to formalise a core team of senior and junior scholars with shared interests in the key themes of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
 
Description Symposium: Charters and the Language of Power, 6 July 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The papers and round-table discussions brought new insights to bear on charter sources and their uses for understanding the dynamics of Norman expansion.

A notable aspect of the Symposium was the participation of PhD students and other younger scholars.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Symposium: Colonial Mentalities, 16 December 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The thematic and geographical range of the papers and the accompanying discussions provided an excellent opportunity for comparative discourse and understandings.

The sessions resulted in a clearer understanding of 'Norman' identities and how such might be modified or adapted by cross-cultural encounters in diverse environments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Symposium: Life on the Norman Edge, 14 December 2010 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Younger scholars were prominent among the speakers, and were given the opportunity to share their findings with senior scholars and members of the public.

The younger scholars who gave papers were better prepared as a result for future participation in public engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Symposium: Local Boundaries and National Frontiers of the Norman 'Worlds', 10 July 2010 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The broad geographical scope of the papers stimulated much productive discussion.

A clearer understanding of the nature of 'frontiers' was achieved.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010