Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion

MECOMA — Memory and Communities in the Early Middle Ages

Piloté par :

  • Charles MÉRIAUX, Professeur d’histoire médiévale – Université de Lille 3 - IUF 2011, Directeur de la Faculté des Sciences historiques, artistiques et politiques, Membre du conseil de laboratoire de l’Institut de recherches historiques du Septentrion - UMR CNRS 8529 Lille 3 IRHiS.

Partenaires :

  • Université catholique de Louvain
  • Ghent University.

a. Objectives

In a short term, the MECOMA project aims at launching a joint research project about early medieval history, in a long-term perspective (from late Antiquity until the 12th cent. AD), associating three research institutes of the Universities of Louvain, Lille and Ghent. It also aims at promoting exchanges between Master students in history and between PhD students. The relevance of such a bi-national project is based on the fact that North Gaul was then a homogeneous administrative and ecclestiastical area (the County of Flanders), crossing the contemporaneous borders.

From the scientific point of view, in a medium term, MECOMA intend to reconsider the reflection on the communities of the Early Middle Ages which was long blocked by the idea that there would have been autonomous communities in their practices and representations only with the emancipation of the seigneurial domination from the end of the eleventh century. The works of Chris Wickham and Wendy Davies have shown, however, that forms of co-operation have appeared outside the seigniorial framework for much longer. Among the criteria for defining the community are not only singular social institutions and practices, but also, and above all, the more or less widely shared representation of a common history.

The phenomenon has been highlighted in recent years with regard to the formation of the barbaric peoples of the early Middle Ages, which was based on the writing and appropriation of a narrative of their origins between the 6th and 9th centuries, as well as the considerable efforts undertaken by the Carolingian rulers and their entourage to write a common history of the Empire. The writing of history has been the subject of recent and numerous works on the representation of the past within the religious communities, monasteries and chapters. But the writing of the history of more local community remains a blind spot of research. However, this phenomenon is not absent from the sources of the Early Middle Ages. Among many examples, the story of Archbishop Hincmar of Reims in the history of the parish of Folembray (in the diocese of Laon), in two letters addressed to Pope Hadrian II in 870, or the account of the translation of the relics of Saint Landoald de Wintershoven, in the diocese of Liège, as far as Ghent in 980, which opens on the history of this domain between the 8th and 10th centuries.

The MECOMA project therefore aims at exploring the sources that give a view of the history of a community (charters, hagiographical narratives, figurative documents). It also seeks to highlight the role of certain actors inside and outside the community as well as the moments when their history emerge. As an example, it should be recalled that recent works have clearly highlighted this privileged moment represented by the consecration of the local church and the way in which the memory of this event was written down. It can also be seen that these accounts come at a time when the definition and functioning of the communities were problematic. It is possible to deal with the way in which local history is grafted onto a history of regional dimension (that of an encompassing community: the monastery or the seigniory) or even "national", or is linked to that of Christianity as a whole . Finally, we will explore how history draws a certain community project, or, as Walter Pohl put it, how "the past is a resource that has a future".

  • Charles MÉRIAUX, Professeur d’histoire médiévale – Université de Lille 3 - IUF 2011, Directeur de la Faculté des Sciences historiques, artistiques et politiques, Membre du conseil de laboratoire de l’Institut de recherches historiques du Septentrion - UMR CNRS 8529 Lille 3 IRHiS.

  • Paul BERTRAND, Professeur d’histoire médiévale, Université catholique de Louvain, Président de la Commission de programme d’histoire – HIST, Président de la Commission doctorale UCL du domaine Histoire, histoire de l'art et archéologie

  • (EDT56), Membre de l’Institut de recherches Religions, Spiritualités, Cultures, Sociétés – RSCS.

  • Steven VANDERPUTTEN, Full professor (hoogleraar), History of the Early and Central Middle Ages at the Department of History, Ghent University.


  • Lille 3 : Esther Dehoux, Klaus Krönert, Thomas Ledru
  • Louvain-la-Neuve : Paul Bertrand
  • Ghent : Steven Vanderputten

Previous cooperation

Our universities are each developping strong competence centers and skills in the early medieval history. Our project intends to reinforce the exchange dynamic between students and searchers on one hand, and to strenghten ties between historians.
The project is based on several previous cooperations such as the project Conventus. Problems of religious communal life in the High Middle Ages (2009-2013), a scientific eesearch network of the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO, Belgium).
Its aim was to coordinate and stimulate research on religious communal life in the Southern Low Countries and Northern France between circa 900 and 1200. The participants to Conventus were : Steven Vanderputten (Ghent University), Brigitte Meijns (Catholic University of Louvain), Georges Declercq (VUBrussels), Charles Mériaux (Université Charles de Gaulle - Lille3), Benoît-Michel Tock (Université Marc Bloch - Strasbourg), Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld (Tilburg University) and Diane Reilly (Indiana University).
An other previous cooperation was the meeting organised by Charles Mériaux and Steven Vanderputten : ‘Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium’. Mémoire et identité en Basse Lotharingie au début du XIe siècle (Université Lille 3, 15 novembre 2013) and the publication of eight papers in Les représentations de l’autorité épiscopale au XIe siècle : Gérard de Cambrai et les Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium, numéro spécial de la Revue du Nord, t. 97, n° 410, avril-juin 2015 (M. Sot, P. Byttebier, O. Huysmans, J. Lisson, S. Janssens, J. Exarchos, N. Ruffini-Ronzani et P. Chaffenet).

Planned activities
Two workshops are to be held in Lille and Ghent (or Louvain-la-Neuve) in 2018. This is a very first important step in bringing students, young searchers as experts together, usualy working on each side of the Belgian-French border, in very contrasted academic and scientific organizations, despite their common research goal. Such meetings are thought as an exchange platform between people working on memory and communities in the Early Middle Ages.
The cooperation with already existing doctoral schools and contact groups in each national sphere will also be enhanced, in a european framework, such as with the international project “Communautés” driven by Régine Le Jan and Geneviève Bührer Thierry (universities of Paris 1, Padoue, Tübingen and Venice among others). It is desirable that the universities of Lille, Ghent and Louvain take their place together because of a long tradition of research in the Early Middle Ages.