This project and its conference is a forum for the re-evaluation of ‘baronial’ government and the common good between the tenth and fourteenth centuries across Afro-Eurasian polities. By bringing together emerging and established international scholars, it challenges the traditionally Eurocentric approach to this problem and uses new methodologies to reassess our framework for studying the medieval period, leading to a fundamental reappraisal of the teleological narrative that has previously explained the rise of modern states.
The story of the medieval barons is commonly a negative one. Because aristocracies have been almost universally eclipsed by centralised states in the modern world, they are often cast as regressive forces whose self-interest held back ‘progress’. Nor is this exclusively a European narrative: the historiographical attention paid to the ‘rise of the State’ has privileged the Latin Christian experience of political formation and shaped the way in which non-royal élites are seen in other historical contexts. As a result, ‘private’ rulers such as lords, amirs, jun and kshatriya are often assumed to have been at odds with the needs of the wider society.
This network is challenging this understanding of the role of ‘barons’ in their relation to public good in two important and complementary ways. First, we are exploring case studies of how these non-royal élites conceived and implemented responsible government, whether for themselves or for others. Second, we are
comparing these case studies in a bold transnational framework, reaching from western Europe to China, that spans the collapse of major centralised imperial projects in the ninth century to the destabilising experience of the Great Death in the fourteenth.
Sessions will be in the Ursell Room, Pusey House, and refreshments in the St Cross Room, St Cross College.
This series features in the following public collections: