New AHRC Network: Noblesse Oblige?

‘Barons’ and the Public Good in Medieval Afro-Eurasia (10th-14th Centuries)

Conference and Call for Associate Membership

This network is a forum for the re-evaluation of ‘baronial’ government and the common good between the tenth and fourteenth centuries across different Afro-Eurasian polities. By bringing together emerging and established international scholars, it challenges the traditionally Eurocentric approach to this problem and uses new methodologies to reassess our framework for studying the medieval period, leading to a fundamental reappraisal of the teleological narrative that has previously explained the rise of modern states.

The story of the medieval barons is commonly a negative one. Because aristocracies have been almost universally eclipsed by centralised states in the modern world, they are often cast as regressive forces whose self-interest held back ‘progress’. Nor is this exclusively a European narrative, though the historiographical attention paid to the ‘rise of the State’ has privileged the Latin Christian experience of political formation and shaped the way in which non-royal élites are seen in other historical contexts. As a result, ‘private’ rulers such as lords, amirs, kshatriya, and samurai are often assumed to have been at odds with the needs of the wider society. 

This network is challenging this understanding of the role of ‘barons’ in their relation to public good in two important and complementary ways. First, we are exploring case studies of how these non-royal élites conceived and implemented responsible government, whether for themselves or for others. Second, we are comparing these case studies in a bold transnational framework, reaching from western Europe to China, that spans the collapse of major centralised imperial projects in the ninth century to the destabilising experience of the Great Death in the fourteenth. 

We have brought together international scholars in two online working groups, followed by an international conference in order to discuss, debate, and disseminate interpretations of the ‘public’ role of the baron in an Afro-Eurasian Middle Ages. The two working groups are organised two major axes of research: ‘Barons and the Public Good in a Transnational Context’ and ‘Minority Élites and Government in a Transnational Context’ which will work separately before uniting in a three-day conference in 2023 to share their findings.


This conference will take place in Oxford between the 25th and the 27th May 2023 – 5th week of Trinity. We would like to welcome any who might be interested in our research to join, though spaces are limited. In order to express interest in attending, please email The full programme will be announced in the coming weeks, though all network members on the website will be giving a paper, and there will be a keynote speaker as well.

Call for Associate Members

In addition, we would like to open our network to associate members: this is especially aimed at early career academics or students interested in questions of governance, elites, and the common good in this period. Associate members will be invited to all future events, and they will be encouraged to share their research on our website and at these events. We intend to apply for further funding so that these associates can be made full members of the network in future.

Preference will be given to those whose research covers areas not already well covered by our network members, but even those with substantial cross-over will be considered. Any student or ECR interested in joining as an associate member should email with a CV and short personal statement on their research and what they would contribute to the network.

We look forward in future to sharing our research at Leeds IMC 2023 and 2024 as well, and if any seminar organisers in Oxford would like to collaborate in order to invite these speakers again, or to keep them in the UK longer to give another talk, they should not hesitate to get in touch.

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