Meet the Historians: Professor Barbara Bombi

This week our Q&A guest is Professor Barbara Bombi who teaches medieval history in the School of History and the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Here she discusses her roles at Kent and why the Middle Ages continue to be relevant in the modern world.

What’s your role in the School of History?

I am Professor of Medieval History and Director of Research / REF coordinator for the School of History at Kent. I joined the University of Kent in 2006 and never left it. I have been very happy here, a great town with a strong connection to medieval history and fantastic colleagues!

What led you to become a historian of the medieval period?

Well, that’s a good question! I am Italian by birth and was brought up in a place where history was all around me. I enjoy reconstructing the past, as a detective would do, and trying to understand why things happen, I guess. I am fascinated by the Middle Ages since they are a period which is pretty different from our time, though there are a lot of issues in the Middle Ages that are still very topical nowadays.

What are you currently researching?

I have just finished a new book on medieval diplomacy, which explores the relationship between the papacy and England at the time of the Hundred Years’ War: Anglo-Papal Relations in the Early Fourteenth Century. A Study in Medieval Diplomacy (Oxford University Press, 2019). Treaty-making and diplomacy are quite a thing, given the Brexit negotiations and all that…

What’s the best book in your field you’ve read recently?

I am interested in the medieval church and papacy, so I would say David D’Avray, Medieval Religious Rationalities (Cambridge, 2010). Not so recent, but still an important and thought-provoking contribution to the field.

What’s the most common misconception about your field?

That popes had absolute power, that they were “infallible” and could make policies. They almost always reacted to events and had no power whatsoever to implement their decisions, despite big claims. A bit like a lot of our politicians…

What advice would you give a budding historian?

Please, do not give up if you are determined to become a professional historian, no matter how hard it may seem. Check your evidence and ground your argument on it… that’s more than one piece of advice, sorry!

What’s your favourite module to teach?

Currently my stage 2 module “Popular Religion and Heresy, c. 1000-1300”. In the past, I’ve loved teaching my special subject on Francis and Clare of Assisi (“The Coming of the Friars”), though I haven’t had the chance to teach it for a few years now!

What’s the best part about being a member of the University of Kent’s School of History?

My students, undergraduate and graduate, and my colleagues. There is a vibrant sense of community and always time for a good joke! The campus and its setting are also unique – fantastic views of Canterbury Cathedral!

If you could have dinner with one person from the past, who would it be?

My favourite pope, Innocent III… I know, it is quite a sad answer, and the menu could be an issue as well, though we would be both Italians at least!