Innovating Knowledge: Isidore’s Etymologiae in the Carolingian Period


The so-called Carolingian renaissance (second half of the 8th – end of the 9th century) was the first of three periods of major intellectual flourishing that shaped Europe before the Modern Era. This period of rapid innovation was not a result of a top-down implementation of royal orders, but stemmed from the interaction between various scholarly centers that formed a network. The dynamics of innovation and the behaviour of these networks reveal the general factors that stimulated or impeded intellectual growth in the period. They are lenses through which the conditions essential for an efficient spreading of new ideas and their long-term survival can be observed. I propose a new method of mapping the Carolingian intellectual networks and of analyzing the dynamics of innovations by examining various forms of rewriting of the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville, the first medieval encyclopaedia and the most important and most widely spread knowledge corpus available in the Carolingian period. This work was omnipresent in Carolingian monasteries and cathedral schools and covered all major areas of early medieval knowledge. At the same time, it was a highly dynamic text serving as a repository of innovation, and therefore it can be used to trace the spreading of innovations. Between the seventh century, in which it originated, and the end of the Carolingian period, the degree of its rewriting was significant enough to allows us to assess how, where and when new ideas or perspectives may have been born, how they spread and became either more widely accepted or rejected. The aim of this project is to study this dynamic aspect of innovation in the Carolingian renaissance: which factors stimulated the emergence of novel practices or traditions in this period, and what were the mechanisms and media for their dissemination in the Carolingian intellectual network?


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. E. Steinova

Affiliated with

Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Huygens Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis

Team members

Dr. E. Steinova, Dr. E. Steinova, Dr. E. Steinova


20/02/2018 to 31/08/2020