Dark Ages: Borne On The Backs of Woman

I am going to loiter further in the deep past, presenting some sources in a rather terse manner from 7th century Ireland and the West of Scotland. Modern nationalist naming convention is highly misleading for this period and awkward when the concept of such a state is yet to exist.

Source material for this period is highly fragmentary, and like the law of the Innocents the text themselves are most often composite documents, retrospectively written, in some cases multiple times, in differing historical contexts.

The subject is advanced in a contemporary setting by thesis,argument and review (1).

For the moment I am going to look at altering descriptions of female status and identity in early Irish legal codes. One text is ecclesiastical, one from secular law.

The thesis I am most interested in suggests that the law was a tool aggressively deployed in cases of dispute. I think its the most attractive thesis we have at the moment as a means of explaining the large scale shifts in language and identity that are not sudden but gradual alterations in the North British landscape.

Look at potential alterations in female identity. The clear differences between the secular and ecclesiastical codes, as well as the difficulties involved in drawing conclusions from these terse and highly fragmented bodies of texts.

Difficulties aside, the texts should demonstrate the basic mechanism through which law functioned in Europe at this period and in how Irish society organised itself.

It seems likely that the key to the paradox lies in the fact that this phenomenon is not a single locatable, transformation at all…. The various transformations that we perceive in history and prehistory are, perhaps, part of a continuous process of readjustment and modification of the ways in which the interaction between land and people is organised and expressed.”

But with these types of issues it is important to remember that historians are not innocently asking questions and the potential for movement  from a kin based, linage system to a land based state system may be motivating and animating historical thought and selection of source material and interpretation. Alex Woolf’s remarks also a reminder that the processes under study themselves are organic and fluid and may differ from the moments of watershed and rupture that punctuate our perceptions of the past and order our relationship with it.

A traditional way of attempting to alter a situation in Northern Europe to fit you’re own perspective would be to to select a specific group at a particular moment in time and alter its identity accordingly.

In this case I have selected women.


(1) In my case I presented an undergrad thesis on the subject, which managed to pass under the critical eye of one of the experts on the subject unscathed. But that was sometime ago and whilst it presented my own ideas on the alteration of female identity in an a monastic setting, I was unfamiliar with the secular legal codes and my perspective particularly in relation to ritual and vocal performance are entirely my own and are entirely untested, aside from being flagged and discussed as a possible avenue of enquiry.

(2) I lack stock footage of Mel Gibson swathed in tartan and covered in woad to illustrate the period with historical accuracy, so will have to stick to pictures instead of the environment in which, the material is collected in and constructed.

The organic development, composite nature and multiple contexts in which these texts are deployed is the chief difficulty involved with description. Which gives me a tenuous and retro excuse to include entirely unrelated subjects which I enjoy shooting.


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