In July 2015, two medievalists met at one of the social spaces of the International Medieval Congress at Leeds. It must have been a reception, with wine flowing as usual, as the two medievalists who did not know each got talking freely and established that, despite their different backgrounds (one of them being an Arthurian scholar and the other a Byzantinist) they still have a medieval interest in common: horses. Sadly, the theme has been largely neglected since the publication of Ann Hyland’s influential books on ancient, medieval and early modern horses. Even the International Medieval Congress, one of the biggest and arguably the most glamorous event in medieval studies, did not have a single session devoted to horse history. The two historians decided to amend this shortcoming by organizing at least one horse session.
Having written the call for papers and published it at all the likely venues, they waited anxiously to see if anyone would apply, determined to speak themselves if there would be too few applicants. They need not have worried, as they have received enough responses to organize three sessions of three speakers in each. At the first sessions in 2016, the audience consisted mostly of speakers themselves and their friends. However, the following year saw a major breakthrough, as not only the organizers were overwhelmed with paper proposals for the sessions, but attendance of some of the sessions was such that people had to stand!
It was also at IMC 2017 that the organizers negotiated the Medieval Institute Press, which was eager to publish a comprehensive volume on horse history, The Horse in Premodern European Culture – the first publication dedicated to different aspects of pre-modern equestrianism since Ann Hyland’s The Horse in the Middle Ages in 1999!
It took just under three years to gather contributions, based on papers from IMC 2016 and 2017, as well as invited authors from outside the IMC, review the articles internally, then send the monograph for external review. The MIP did an admirable work, reviewing the manuscript in very sensible time and being supportive throughout the process of negotiations and publication.
It took only two years from the signing of the contract to the printing of the volume, which is the first publication devoted to different aspects of horse history in pre-modern Europe in over twenty years! The chapters in the volume reflect the variety of the contributors’ disciplinary approaches, covering a variety of spaces and chronological periods. From the Carolingian Empire to Byzantium, from experimental archaeology to post-humanism, from hippiatric writings to dressage manuals, to legal codices… The volume is rich and diverse, illuminating different aspects of the horse’s centrality to premodern European culture.
Over the following weeks, I will be publishing short quotations from the volume’s chapters, followed by my own commentaries as the volume editors on what reading and editing each chapter meant to me and how it contributed to my understanding of horse history.