Author Spotlight: David Parnell

This week, in our Author Spotlight, learn more about a recent contributor to Medieval World: Culture & Conflict - Dr. David Parnell.

What have you contributed to Medieval World?


I contributed an article entitled “The Emperor Did Not Rule Alone: Justinian, Theodora, Belisarius, And Antonina” for issue 8.


Tell us a bit about your background as an historian (education or otherwise). What edge do you think it gives you as an author and as an historian?


While my research focus is on the sixth-century Byzantine Empire, I trained as a graduate student as a general medievalist, and took a minor field in ancient Roman history. I think this educational background gave me a useful advantage in both teaching my students and reaching out to the general public about medieval history, because I am able to better situate and contextualize the sixth century in the longue durée of the ancient and medieval Roman state. 


For most of my career, I have been a pretty traditional academic historian: writing articles for specialized academic journals and a first book that was a revision of my dissertation. However, in late 2021, I made a major pivot to trying to be more involved in public history: I became a consultant for a documentary about the general Belisarius produced by @EpicHistoryTV on YouTube. This helped me to start thinking about how to share my academic research with the broader public. Ever since I have been captivated by the idea of not merely publishing research into traditional academic venues but also trying to broadcast it to a wider audience of those interested in history.

Do you have a favourite event or figure or object from Middle Ages? 

I think my favorite event of the Middle Ages has to be the entry of Belisarius and the Roman army into the city of Rome on 9 December 536. This was an event of extreme significance, for Rome had not been ruled directly by a Roman emperor since 476. Our witness to the event, Procopius of Caesarea, wrote rather movingly that “after a space of sixty years Rome again became subject to the Romans.” We can only imagine the sense of wonder that Belisarius, Procopius, and the soldiers with them must have felt as they entered the city. The momentous feeling must have been increased by the fact that this was a completely peaceful occupation. The elites of the city had sent to Belisarius, inviting him to bring the army to Rome. As Belisarius and his army approached, the Ostrogothic garrison of the city withdrew. So Belisarius and the Roman army had to do no fighting whatsoever, and likely marched into the Eternal City to a rapturous welcome. 

What sparks your initial interest in writing an article? 


My decision to write an article for Medieval World came from several directions. First, I was expecting the publication of my book, which just so happened to be on the same subjects as this issue of the magazine. Second, as I already mentioned, I am keenly interested in presenting my research outside of academia to the public who might want to know more about sixth-century history. Third, I was invited to write an article for the magazine, and it was an opportunity too good to pass up because of the first two reasons.


What do you find most valuable about this new magazine? 


I think what I appreciate most about Medieval World is that it is a magazine designed for those with a general interest in medieval history and literature, and that it conveys to those people the most cutting-edge research of experts in the field. It is a great medium to allow those of us with knowledge and expertise to share that with those who are interested in learning more!


What book(s) are you currently reading? 


I am currently reading The Making of the Medieval Middle East: Religion, Society, and Simple Believers by Jack Tannous (Princeton University Press, 2018).


And make sure to check out Dr. Parnell's new book: Belisarius & Antonina: Love and War in the Age of Justinian, just published with Oxford University Press this summer.




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