A Preface to Walter Ullmann, Part 2(b) of 2 (Canning)

The first half of our treatment on Ullmann can be found here, and the prelude to this two-part series can be found here (and the forerunner to the prelude [!] is here); in the six (a through e; 2a is here) parts of this second post, we’ll cover the way that his students, admirers and critics have presented the outline of his thought, and the faults they have found with it. 

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A Preface to Walter Ullmann, Part 2(a) of 2 (Ozment)

The first half of our treatment on Ullmann can be found here, and the prelude to this two-part series can be found here (and the forerunner to the prelude [!] is here); in the six (a through e) parts of this second post, we’ll cover the way that his students, admirers and critics have presented the outline of his thought, and the faults they have found with it. 

I began to draft this over two years ago, but let it go, pursuing other projects; I release it here roughly as it has been sitting for the past two years, with the full admission that, as it stands, it is little more than an obscenely bloated compilation of the opinions of others — Ullmann’s direct or indirect students, for the most part, but all the leading English-language scholars in the field of medieval thought and politics. I have an entire box of notes and books and articles that make what is represented here look like a mere sampling of post-it notes on a manuscript compared to what I have (post-it notes which themselves need trimming!), but, knowing that I won’t get to it soon, it needs to be released as-is. I hope that it will be helpful, as a long list of extracts, for individuals who are preparing to read Ullmann, so that they will have a sense of how his students and professional historians who were indebted to him (and who hold sway within the field) read him; this should give readers of Ullmann a sense of what to gather, and what to leave behind as they read him. Looking back, it seems that a collection-of-the-opinions-of-others approach was my intention two years ago, so I hope this cut-up post, while it certainly falls egregiously far short of the high watermark I had intended for it, nonetheless has, basically, enough of the material any interested party could wish for to gain a foothold. 

Finally, I also hope that the impression it leaves is not uncharitable, and that people will not deny Ullmann a generous and open-minded reading on account of it.

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The Burden of Unfinished Things

Things that are unfinished are like abandoned things in a number of respects; they accumulate, and occupy spaces that could be free for other items or projects; they can also become the house for an entire ecology of thoughts to grow –and self-development to occur– that might not be possible otherwise. They are unlike abandoned things insofar as there is still living intention to finish them, and insofar as they have not grown into disrepair.

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A Preface to Walter Ullmann, Part 1 of 2

I mentioned Ullmann in a post about the ends of political power in Gregory the Great (Pope Gregory I) just over a month ago; I then addressed him more directly in a post about an experience of reading one of his books last week. I said that I was going to cover mostly the secondary literature on Ullmann, and this mostly by Ullmann’s students, to get a profile of the man mostly from those who knew him; originally I had intended not to look at Ullmann’s own writings much for this exercise, despite knowing that this is bad academic practice — not far from journalism.

I broke my rule, however, and looked at some of the man’s own writings. I found this passage in one of his works, describing one class of people who research “the institutional machinery of the papacy” in a way that makes their research dismissable:

remaining as they do on the surface, untouched as they are by contact with the sources, and relying as they do on secondary literature, they have little else but their own purely subjective-moral evaluations with which their presentation is interleaved. When one knows no sources, except perhaps those conveniently selected in well-known compendia, one virtually must take refuge in moralising judgements; how else is one to paint a picture? [1]

Perhaps it was a reader-response reaction, but I felt like the man was talking about me, to me. Below, after an initial overview, we shall survey what I have been able to uncover about Ullmann’s life, then cover the contours of his personality as it is revealed in what people have written about him.

In the next (second and final) post, we shall review the general outline of the better-known elements in the schema of Ullmann’s thought, and then review the criticisms that have been leveled against him.

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A Prelude to a Preface to Walter Ullmann

In the middle of the summer of 2016, I was plowing through books on Marsilius of Padua (ca. A.D. 1275–ca. 1342) and the figures and the history leading up to him. One professor I spoke with suggested that I look into the history of Roman law –rather than to principles found in Benedictine monasticism— to explain some of the cultural features that would make sense out of some of the positions characteristic of Marsilius.

So I started to tear through books on Roman law. I read through Stein, and acquired many of the primary sources found in the end-of-chapter bibliographies; I bought Harries, and picked up Jolowicz. I began carefully to read my way through several sections of Justinian’s InstitutesStein I was reading together with CanningKing, and Black, among others; in Canning’s and King’s works, in some of the choicest footnoted section, I kept running across references to a work titled Law and Politics in the Middle Ages by Walter Ullmann. Ullmann taught several of the members of Monty Python, Nederman wrote, and several ideas of his (again, so I was told) are expressed in their movies, and in their radio and TV shows — so he must be fascinating and entertaining! Ergo, I picked up a copy of Ullmann’s Law and Politics, and started reading through it.  Continue reading