by Dr Jamie Wood

In April, over the Easter break, I was lucky to be invited to give a couple of talks about my research on early medieval Iberia at conferences in Brazil and received some funding from the Santander Universities scheme and the Organization of American States (OAS) to support the trip. It’s quite surprising that the study of the history of ancient and medieval Europe is so strong in Brazil, but the talks were really well attended and questions from the audience revealed a deep interest in and knowledge of the period.

The first (and rainiest) place that I visited was Londrina, a city in the state of Paraná. I gave a paper entitled ‘Byzantine Spain: New Perspectives’, at the I Seminário Internacional de Estudos sobre a Antiguedade e o Medievo: Ocidente e Oriente at the Univesidade Estadual de Londrina.

I presented some recent work that I’ve been doing with two colleagues, Oriol Olesti Vila and Ricard Andreu Expósito, from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona on the province that the Byzantine Empire set up in southern Spain in the middle of the sixth century. I met Oriol at a conference in Madrid in early 2016, where he presented a paper a manuscript that may provide some new information on the history of the province, known as Spania.

There’s been a lot of debate about how and why the province was established and then defended. I’ve published on the topic in the past and was intrigued to find that a new source could be brought to bear on the subject. We will be publishing a paper on the topic soon, but the new manuscript evidence supports, among other things, the idea of a more thorough administration of the province than was previously thought likely.

All of this illustrates the importance of engaging in ongoing discussion over research findings rather than considering debates to be closed. The discovery of new evidence always has the potential to transform, or at least to nuance, our understandings of long-established topics.

My second presentation was given at the University of Rio de Janeiro to the medieval history seminar. It also built on a paper that I’d given at an earlier conference and relates to a project that I’m currently doing on monasteries in early medieval Iberia called Formative Spaces.

My project looks at the relationship between written sources that tell monks how and nuns how to live in monasteries and archaeological sites of monasteries. The idea is to compare how the rules for monastic living relate to known monastic sites from the period. In my paper in Rio, I examined some monastic rulebooks written by bishops in the late sixth and early seventh centuries and compared them with an account of the life of a saint to see what they say about how nuns were supposed to be trained in the period. There are some interesting similarities and differences between the sources. For example, while the rules (sources that tell monks how things should be) present a very stark contrast between the monastery and the surrounding area, narrative sources suggest that in practice there was quite a lot of traffic across the supposed boundary. I will be exploring this difference in more detail in future papers.

Visiting Rio gave me the opportunity to visit some fascinating sites from the colonial period and afterwards, not least of which was the stunning Real Gabinete Portugués de Leitura, a nineteenth century reading room that houses more than 350,000 words, many from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Most important, though, was the opportunity to share my research with colleagues in Brazil and to make connections that will be useful for future research projects.