Document Actions

Professor Matthew Innes

Vice Master and Professor of History

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room B.07
28 Russell Square

: @matt1nnes


  • I studied History at the University of Cambridge, where I took a double-starred first in 1991 and went on to complete a PhD in 1996. After academic posts at Cambridge (Junior Research Fellow at Peterhouse, 1994-7), Birmingham and York, I joined Birkbeck as a Lecturer in History in 1999 (subsequently promoted to Senior Lecturer (2002), Reader (2004) and Professor (2006)).
  • In addition to working as Professor of History, I am currently Vice-Master of Birkbeck: see A full academic c.v. briefly outlining my current academic and professional activities is available here. Prior to my current role as Vice-Master I have also filled a wide variety of leadership roles within the college including Head of Department and Dean, as well as serving as being elected onto the college’s board of Governors by Academic Board (2005-9). In 2008 I was made Pro-Vice-Master with responsibility for strategy, in which capacity I was responsible for academic development and resource allocation within academic Schools and professional service departments.
  • Growing up in a West Yorkshire milltown in the 1980s, it was sheer brute luck that gave me the opportunity to benefit from a University education in a way that was impossible for many of my school friends. That experience has meant that I have always believed above all in the transformative power of Higher Education to raise horizons and expand opportunities, and it is no accident that I settled at Birkbeck with its unique mission of providing the highest quality education to working people.

Research and teaching

  • Research interests
  • Matthew’s research has ranged widely over the history of western Europe from the end of the Roman Empire to the eleventh century. He has published on intellectual and political history, particularly of the Carolingian Empire which dominated western Europe in the eighth to tenth centuries; but his particular specialisms are in the history of economic and social transformation, and the cultural history of the ways in which communities utilise the past to make sense of the present. His publications and research cover post-Roman western Europe, and Anglo-Saxon England, as well as the Carolingian and post-Carolingian periods in continental western Europe.
  • One current theme of my current research is the collapse and then reassertion of social hierarchies in western Europe’s early medieval centuries. The immediately post-Roman period is more or less unique as a period in recorded history, because it saw a decrease in social stratification, with the gap between rich and poor growing smaller, albeit in the context of a general decrease in economic exchange and social specialisation. The Carolingian and post-Carolingian periods, on the other hand, saw social stratification vigorously reassert itself. My research is increasingly interested in identifying the human agencies behind this pattern of development, as well as locating it more broadly in comparative terms a phenomenon distinctive to western European history. This seems to me to open up more three dimensional ways to understand a period normally discussed in more depersonalised and implicitly elite-focused terms of migration, invasion and ethnogenesis, conversion and Christianisation.
  • A second current research interest is in the methods and philosophy of early medieval history. Much recent work by myself and others has drawn on early medieval legal documents (often known as charters, recording property transfers or court cases) to elucidate social structure. This documentary evidence survives for modern historians only because of historical processes – processes of production, storage and retrieval, archival codification and survival, and finally modern criticism and edition – and these historical processes were themselves shaped by power relationships. Understanding the forces shaping the contours of writable history poses fundamental questions about the methods and philosophy of history, as well as raising the intriguing possibility of studying now ‘lost’ documents whose existence is known through earlier annotations or through reference in surviving texts.
  • PhD supervision
  • Matthew has supervised MPhil and PhD supervisions to completion on a wide range of topics in late antique and early medieval history, ranging from the city of Narbonne in late antiquity to the social and political history of the Christian-Muslim frontier in tenth to eleventh century Catalonia. Several former students have published their doctoral work in book and article form, and two hold academic posts at UK Universities.


  • Books
  • State and SocietyUses of the PastIntroduction to Early Medieval Western EuropeDocumentary CultureCarolingian World
  • Journal Articles
  • Matthew has published over 30 articles in learned journals and edited collections. For a full listing see his academic c.v. here
  • ‘Rituals, rights and relationship:some gifts and their interpretation in the Fulda cartulary, c.827’, Studia Historica. Historia Medieval 31 (2013).
  • ‘Historical writing, ethnicity and national identity: Medieval Europe and Byzantium in comparison’, in S. Foot and C. Robinson, eds., Oxford History of Historical Writing vol. II: 600-1400 (Oxford, 2012), pp.539-74.
  • ‘Charlemagne, written law and justice’, in A. Rio, ed., Law, Custom and Justice in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (London, 2011), pp.155-204.
  • ‘Property, politics and the problem of the Carolingian state’, in W. Pohl and V. Wieser, eds., Das Europaische Staat im frühen Mittelalter (Vienna, 2010), pp.299-315.
  • 'Economies and societies in early medieval western Europe', in E. English and C. Lansing, Blackwell Companion to the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2009), pp.9-35.
  • ‘Framing the Carolingian economy’, Journal of Agrarian Change 9.1 (2009), pp.42-58.
  • ‘”Immune from heresy”. Defining the boundaries of Carolingian Christianity’, in P. Fouracre and D. Ganz, eds., Frankland. Essays for Dame Janet Nelson (Manchester, 2008), pp.111-135.
  • ‘Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire', in M. McCormick and J. Davies, ed., The Long Morning of the Middle Ages (Aldershot, 2008), pp.247-67.
  • ‘Land, freedom and the making of the early medieval west’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 16 (2006), pp.39-74.
  • ‘Charlemagne's government’, in J. Storey, ed., Charlemagne (Manchester, 2005), pp.71-88.
  • ‘”A place of discipline”: aristocratic youth and Carolingian courts’, in C. Cubitt, ed., Court Culture in the Early Middle Ages (Turnhout, 2003), pp.59-76.
  • ‘”He never even bared his teeth in laughter”: the politics of humour in the Carolingian renaissance’, in G. Halsall, ed., Humour, History and Politics (Cambridge, 2002), pp.131-56.
  • ‘People, places and power in the Carolingian world’, in M. De Jong and F. Theuws, eds., Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages (Leiden, 2001), pp.397-437.
  • ‘Keeping it in the family: women and aristocratic memory, 700-1200’, in E. van Houts, ed., Medieval Memories: Men, Women and the Past, 700-1300 (London, 2001), pp.17-35.
  • ‘Kings, monks and patrons: political identity at the abbey of Lorsch’, in R. Le Jan, ed., La royauté et les elites dans l’Europe carolingienne (Lille, 1998), pp.301-24.
  • ‘Memory, orality and literacy in an early medieval society’, Past & Present 158 (1998), pp.3-38.
  • ‘The classical tradition in the Carolingian renaissance: ninth-century encounters with Suetonius’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition 3 (1997).pp.265-82.
  • ‘Charlemagne’s Will’, English Historical Review 112 (1997) pp.833-55.
  • (with Rosamond McKitterick) ‘The writing of history’, in R. McKitterick, ed., Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation (Cambridge, 1994), pp.193-220
  • Lectures
  • Matthew has given invited papers to diverse audiences in Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Turkey and the USA, as well as in Birmingham, Brighton, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton and York in the UK.


Honours and awards

  • Matthew has won a wide range of prizes for his research, including a Philip Leverhulme Prize for Outstanding Research, the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone History Book Prize, Birkbeck’s Ronald Tress Prize for Outstanding Research, and the Prince Consort Prize and Seeley Medal (University of Cambridge). In addition he played a central role in the work which led to the award to Birkbeck of a prestigious Times Higher Leadership and Management Award (THELMA) for the Outstanding Management Team of the year in 2011, and the college’s shortlisting for the University of the Year award in 2010.