Challenging perceptions on Columbanus and Jonas of Bobbio - an interview with Alexander O'Hara and Ian Wood

Posted on February 22, 2017 by Heather Gallagher

Perceptions on the life of Columbanus, Jonas of Bobbio and hagiography itself are changing in the eyes of historians. We interviewed Alexander O'Hara and Ian Wood, authors of the highly anticipated Jonas of Bobbio to find out more. 

 Jonas of Bobbio

How long have you been working on Jonas of Bobbio? Have you encountered anything surprising in your research?

O’ HARA: What has amazed me is the interest and pride taken in these long-dead figures by the local communities such as in Bobbio and Luxeuil where it is very much living history and part of their civic identity. The slow work of translating Jonas’ Latin gave me a greater appreciation for his skill as a writer and for the subtlety of his approach. Unknown to me, Ian Wood had also been working on a translation and we started to collaborate on the volume in 2013 following a meeting at a conference in Bobbio and the collaboration has been very fruitful.

WOOD: I first started working on the Vita Columbani in 1974, and my first article which dealt with the text was published in 1982, although I had already published on sixth- and seventh-century monasticism in 1981.  Since then I have published over a dozen articles on the text, which was also the focus of one chapter of my book The Missionary Life (2001).


Jonas of Bobbio is best known as the author of the Life of Columbanus and his Disciples, what is the importance of this work today?

WOOD: The Life of Columbanus is one of the great works of hagiography, and it dominates modern interpretations of the seventh century – although one can question whether those modern interpretations have made adequate allowance for Jonas's own intentions.

O’HARA: As well as being one of our principal sources for Columbanus and the monastic movement he initiated in Francia and Lombard Italy, the work is important as a historical source for the history of Europe at this time. It tells us a lot about travel, monastic foundations, politics, and new forms of religious life during this key period of transition. 


What part does the genre of the text play?

WOOD: The genre of the text (i.e. the saint's life, hagiography) determines the parameters of Jonas's narrative, but at the same time there are novelties about his text, not least the creation of a second book, on Columbanus's disciples.

O’HARA: In the case of Jonas we are fortunate that the work was composed only 25 years after Columbanus’ death so he had to remain faithful to the historical outlines while editing some more controversial aspects of the saint’s life. It is pretty easy to detect what is genuinely historically accurate from what is spurious thanks to having the corpus of Columbanus’ own writings and other historical sources which act as a kind of control to Jonas’s account.


The book may be described as a ‘travelogue’ through Western Europe, could you explain more about this?

O’HARA: One of the exciting things about the work is that it reads like a religious odyssey through Western Europe at the turn of the seventh century because it follows the travels of a holy man from Ireland through France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, to Italy where Columbanus died in 615. Jonas is a master storyteller who weaves monastic foundation narratives, adventure, drama, intrigue, and conflict into his narrative of this headstrong holy man.

Wood: I have an article in the latest Antiquité Tardive that looks at this question in detail, but, leaving aside the spiritual nature of the travelogue, which has been dealt with in a fascinating article by Bruno Judic, Jonas tells us more about travel in western Europe in the seventh century than any other text.

O’HARA: He knew the places he was writing about and he had met and talked with the men and women who had known Columbanus personally. One of the important aspects of this work is that it is the work of a near contemporary. 


What is the importance of the monastic foundations of this period?

WOOD: By the end of the seventh century around one third of Western Europe was in the hands of the Church.  Although much of the property was obviously given to bishops and episcopal churches, the development of monasticism was a major factor in the ecclesiasticisation of Europe.

O’HARA: We see a radical transformation in the seventh century in the ways monastic groups and secular elites co-operate and the ways religious norms begin to influence court culture and the exercise of power.  The new Frankish elites became patrons of this new monasticism, endowing monasteries with vast amounts of land and wealth from their own resources. These new monastic centres were plugged into royal and aristocratic networks and functioned as places of intercessory prayer and cultural memory.


The book reveals that Jonas was heavily influential on perceptions of Columbanus. Why are we beginning to realise that this is the issue?

WOOD: In general, hagiography was regarded as rather unreliable evidence until the 1970s: there followed a period in which hagiography was considered much more seriously, but the importance of the input of the hagiographers themselves is, in general, a relatively recent historical observation – I think I am right in saying that my article of 1982 was one of the first historical pieces to put Jonas, rather than Columbanus, at the heart of an argument.

O’ HARA: My view is that Jonas mirrors many of the concerns and issues that were important to Columbanus. Jonas was of course influential in shaping the perception and image of Columbanus, but he relied on the Bobbio tradition and on eyewitness reports. If we read Columbanus’ writings and Jonas’ account together I think they are compatible in many respects. He could not make it all up because many of the people who knew Columbanus were still alive and he was writing in part for them. One of the key aims of Jonas was to revindicate the reputation of Columbanus in the face of attacks on his legacy from members of the Frankish communities. In many ways I see Jonas as a conservative reactionary to the crises that had erupted in the Frankish communities in the years following Columbanus’ death.


You can find Jonas of Bobbio: Life of Columbanus, Life of John of Réomé, and Life of Vedaston along with other texts in our Translated Texts for Historians series on our website

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New Series Editor for Liverpool Latin American Studies

Posted on February 21, 2017 by Chloe Johnson

Liverpool University Press is delighted to announce the appointment of Matthew Brown as the new Series Editor for Liverpool Latin American Studies.

Matthew Brown is Professor in Latin American History at the University of Bristol. He is the author of several books on aspects of Latin American history, and is the Principal Investigator on two current Arts and Humanities Research Council grants, 'Tying Quipu's Key Knots' which carries on the research of the Quipu Project ( an interactive multimedia documentary about the experience of forced sterilizations in 1990s Peru, and 'Peace Festival: Creative methodologies for unearthing hidden war stories' which seeks to bring into dialogue the experiences of creative projects engaging with histories of violence and the prospects for peace in Colombia and Peru.

Matthew commented, 'I am delighted and honoured to be taking over from such a distinguished predecessor as Series Editor as Professor Catherine Davies, and continuing to build the reputation of the series begun by Professor John Fisher. I published my first book, Adventuring through Spanish Colonies, in this series back in 2006, and am very pleased to be coming back! The series has a well-earned reputation for serious, engaged scholarship in Latin American Studies. It has a brilliant back catalogue featuring work by major scholars such as John Fisher, Catherine Davies, Adrian Pearce, Caroline Williams and Michael Goebel, and great new books from emerging voices such as Juan Luis Ossa.'

Chloe Johnson, Commissioning Editor for the series, said, ‘Beginning with the publication of his first book by LUP, Matthew Brown has emerged as a dynamic and internationally regarded scholar in Latin American Studies. He is an obvious choice to edit one of the leading series in its field.’

We will be looking to continue this well-earned reputation, and to publish more groundbreaking research in historical, political and cultural studies of Latin America. Do get in touch if you have an idea for a proposal.

Matthew Brown is on Twitter at @mateobrown
You can keep up to date with LUP at @LivUniPress

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Classical sculpture and the modern world - an interview with Elizabeth Bartman

Posted on February 13, 2017 by Heather Gallagher

Author of the newly released catalogue The Ince Blundell Collection of Classical Sculpture, Elizabeth Bartman, discusses the history of the collection, sculptural restoration and how the qualities of the collection transcend into modern life with Chrissy Partheni of the World Museum, Liverpool.



You have described yourself as an archaeologist of the storeroom, can you explain what that means?

Unlike most archaeologists who literally dig beneath the ground to find the remains of now-dead people, I explore museum basements and galleries, studying works of art for previously overlooked evidence of the past.

When and how did you become interested in Henry Blundell’s collections?

Almost 20 years ago I met Jane Fejfer, a wonderful Danish archaeologist who had been working on Blundell’s ancient statues; there were quite a lot of them and she suggested that I might also want to study them.  One trip to Liverpool convinced me that the collection was a treasure, largely forgotten by scholars.

What three words sum up Henry Blundell’s collections of classical sculpture?

Under-appreciated, immense, encyclopaedic

How do Blundell’s collections relate to other 18th century collectors of antiquities and practices of restoration?

Blundell’s ancient statues represent a cross-section of what was being excavated and collected in the 18th century by English gentlemen making a “Grand Tour” to Italy: they are Roman works made to decorate houses, villas, and public spaces in the first centuries CE and so represent mainly gods, goddesses, and mythical heroes.  Many of them would have been found in a damaged state, but because Blundell and contemporaries wanted them as works of art to ennoble their own houses, they were restored into complete figures by skilled Italian sculptors before being sent home to England. Blundell was not as wealthy as some of the collectors with whom he competed for works, so he may not have been able to afford some of the most famous finds of the period.  But he does seem to have had a passion for the antique that not all of his peers shared—he returned to Italy multiple times and continued to add to the collection over 30 years.  Ultimately he ended up with some pieces that today we would consider rare masterpieces.

In your book the descriptions and personal appreciation of different busts or statues reflect the process of your research. Can you talk about the stages and processes involved with researching the collections? Where has the research taken you, were there any particular highlights?

When I began this project nearly 20 years ago, I thought it would be a straightforward catalogue of about 100 ancient Roman statues that examined their date, style, and meaning.  Some other scholars, mainly Italian, had recently made great strides in discovering where statues like Blundell’s had been found in the 18th century, and the possibility of contextualizing these works was very exciting.  However, at the same time, I realized that although these statues had started life as Roman works, the restoration they had undergone had given them a second life and that they were as much artworks of the 18th century as of antiquity.  So then I wondered what meanings they had had for Blundell and his contemporaries: how did these statues relate to what was then known about antiquity from reading ancient Latin and Greek texts or modern books like Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?  Seen from this perspective, “Grand Tour” marbles such as Blundell’s document the way that people of the period thought about the past, something which in turn has affected how we today think about the past.

How do you think your book will help further research into classical sculpture and the particular collections?

By publicizing Blundell’s marbles with new photographs, my book will make accessible works that have been largely forgotten; it will be exciting to see others incorporate them into their own research. I hope also that my book will encourage the recognition that most statues belonging to what we might call the “old European collections” have been restored—here I mean not just the English country house collections like Blundell’s but also those of the Louvre, Vatican, and other museums formed prior to the 19th century.  Sometimes the restoration is so subtle as to be barely detectible, but failing to recognize it leads us to a false interpretation of the antiquity we naively believe it represents.

How do you think general visitors can engage with Henry Blundell’s collections?

Those who know something of classical mythology will recognize familiar subjects like Jupiter and Diana.  Those who don’t may appreciate the skill of the ancient sculptor who has carved figures who seem alive and poised to move out of still, “dead” marble.  Not all of the statues depict serious subjects; in fact some like the satyr wrestling with a beautiful hermaphrodite are quite playful and help bridge the centuries that separate us from the ancients.

Your work and previous role with the Archaeological Institute of America supports and encourages young researchers. What do your think are the challenges classical studies and archaeology face today?

Training to become a professional archaeologist typically requires years of education that can be long and expensive.   Although the general public has an enormous interest in archaeology, funding can be problematic, especially for those at the initial stages of their careers.  And of course the future for foreign archaeologists to work abroad in war-torn areas such as Libya or Syria is very uncertain.  As in all fields of the humanities, archaeologists need to fight increasing specialization to focus on the big issues.

Is there a particular contribution classical studies and training can make to society today?

I firmly believe that the great works of classical literature and art tackle issues that transcend the society that created them and remain as relevant today as they were centuries ago.  We may need a bit of guidance in studying them, but understanding where we as human beings come from is critical to understanding where we are today.

What is the next project/publication you are working on?

I am now working on a book about the sculptural restoration of ancient statuary.  I intend this to be a wide-ranging study that looks at the history, philosophy, and techniques of restoration from the Renaissance through the early 19th century.  It will focus on Rome, which naturally excelled in giving new life to the thousands of statues found in its soil, and will make use of some exciting new technologies such as 3-D digital modelling.


For more on the Ince Blundell Sculpture Collection visit the Liverpool World Museum website or read the blog post by Chrissy Partheni Curator of Classical Antiquities at National Museums Liverpool online.


Find The Ince Blundell Collection of Classical Sculpture on our website

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Charkin and Faber appointed to the Board of Liverpool University Press

Posted on February 09, 2017 by Anthony Cond

Richard Charkin and Toby Faber have been appointed to the Board of award-winning academic publisher, Liverpool University Press.

Charkin’s appointment coincides with the switch to a part-time role as Executive Director of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.  In a distinguished career he has been CEO of Macmillan, CEO of Reed International Books, Managing Director (Academic and General Division) at Oxford University Press, Non-executive Director at Melbourne University Publishing, and President of both the UK Publishers Association and the International Publishers Association.

An acclaimed author and former Managing Director of Faber & Faber, Toby Faber is no stranger to the university press world, having been a trustee of Yale University Press (UK) for 17 years.  Faber is Chairman of Faber Music and, as a former vice Chairman of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society, is currently an ALCS-nominated non-executive director of the Copyright Licensing Agency.

Professor Fiona Beveridge, Chair of the Board of Liverpool University Press commented, ‘Richard and Toby will bring vast experience and industry knowledge to the Board of LUP as the Press continues to grow under the leadership of Anthony Cond.  I would also like to say a very big thank you to Sue Corbett, a former Wiley-Blackwell Managing Director, who is stepping down from the Board and has provided consistently wise counsel over the past 7 years.’

Liverpool University Press won both the IPG and Bookseller awards for academic publisher of the year in 2015.


Pictured Richard Charkin (left) and Toby Faber (right).



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Announcing a new partnership between the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization and Liverpool University Press

Posted on February 08, 2017 by Anthony Cond

Liverpool University Press (LUP) has been selected as the publishing partner of the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (LLJC).


Founded in 1965 by Louis Littman and run for the past 25 years by CEO Ludo Craddock and Managing Editor Connie Webber, the Littman Library publishes around a dozen titles per annum and is widely known as a leading publisher in the field of Jewish studies.


As well as taking over print distribution, LUP will launch the Littman E-Library of Jewish Civilization, making the extensive LLJC list available digitally for the first time.


Anthony Cond, Managing Director of Liverpool University Press said: 'Built and generously supported by the Littman family, and flourishing under the leadership of Ludo Craddock and Managing Editor Connie Webber, the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization is internationally recognised for its outstanding commitment and contribution to its field.’


Ludo Craddock, who will retire as Littman CEO later this year, commented: ‘We have been thinking for some time about placing the LLJC on a firmer footing, finding ways to enhance our marketing capacity, and making our books available digitally. We are delighted to have found in Liverpool University Press what we believe to be the ideal partner for us: an award-winning press with an established reputation in academic publishing, an appreciation for high editorial and production standards, and a record of achievement in marketing and e-book publishing. We are confident that this new publishing partnership will provide stability for the Library’s future and with the greater resources available (especially human ones) enhance our visibility and sales, and provide the necessary basis for future growth.’


Littman titles will be available to buy from this website on 1 March 2017.

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