Re-reading The Lands of Saint Ambrose
Ross Balzaretti, University of Nottingham
Understandably, most authors are fascinated by what readers make of their work, and I am certainly one of those authors. I have found the comments on The Lands of Saint Ambrose published here (and elsewhere in re-views) to be enlightening and thought-provoking. It is reassuring to know that a book which took far too long to write is of interest to others. I have been writing it in my head ever since I first encountered the Milanese charters at the suggestion of Wendy Davies and Chris Wickham in 1985.
Having been converted by Wendy to early medieval history as an undergraduate — my final year “Special Subject” was a comparative course on Wales and Brittany — I was originally intending to study the charters preserved at Piacenza but because that archive was “closed for restoration” (a very Italian phrase which puts fear into the heart of the researcher), I changed to Milan. Milan suited me well as my father was born in a small village south of the city, to be precise Inverno (PV) which was, as I later learned, an early medieval royal estate associated with the palace at nearby Corteolona.
I had (and have) relatives in Milan and thereabouts, so the PhD thesis became in one way an exploration of a far distant aspect of my own personal history. I looked at all the documents in manuscript in 1986, a time long before digitization, and my imagination was captured above all by the lives of the people in the villages which they documented, some of whom signed these texts. The book which finally emerged from that far off thesis is inevitably much changed, both expanded — as one reviewer rather brutally put it “two books in one” — and significantly developed. In particular it is much more methodologically grounded than the thesis as the result of a lot more reading and as importantly many conversations with my students and colleagues at the universities of Nottingham (and later Genoa), who helped me to discover the value of archaeological, ecological, gendered and micro-historical approaches to the past.
In the rest of this response, I consider the different arguments put forward by my four interlocutors namely the nature of urban life at Milan (Santos Sala-zar); the relationships of patronage which developed around the monastery of Sant’Ambrogio (Rapetti); my micro-historical approach as evidenced in the Valtellina case-study (Albertoni); and my ideas about how charters should be read (De Angelis). As can be seen, Igor Santos Salazar and Anna Rapetti focus on two very specific themes of the book, while Giuseppe Albertoni and Gianmarco De Angelis focus a little more broadly on methodological issues. After this I conclude with some reflections on how the subject has already developed since publication and how might be further developed in future years.
Read Full Text: http://www.rmojs.unina.it/index.php/rm/article/view/8041