Since September 2017, I am a Research Assistant at Trinity College Dublin. My PhD project, supervised by Dr. Immo Warntjes and funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (project code: WILL17), bears the working title ‘Beyond Mission: Willibrord as a Political Agent Between Early Medieval Ireland, Britain and Merovingian Francia (AD 658-739)’; cf. below for a brief abstract.

Generally, my research focuses on the history of early medieval Western Europe (c. 500-900). I am furthermore interested in the development of medieval and archaeological studies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Europe and the continued impact of traditional interpretations (or ‘master narratives’) on aspects such as ‘Germanic’ identity, early medieval warfare and religious change across both disciplines and different cultures of research. In my MA thesis, I analyse the development of the German concept of Gefolgschaft (‘warband’ or ‘retinue’), created as a translation of the term comitatus used by Tacitus in his Germania, from its nineteenth-century origins to its reception in recent studies on the early medieval period.

I am moreover interested in late antique and early medieval archaeology and its current debates, especially in the use of ancient DNA to retrace group movement and identity.


  • Since 2017: PhD, History, Trinity College Dublin. Project funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (AFR grant)

  • 2017: MA, Medieval History, University of Freiburg

  • 2014: BA, History, University of Freiburg

Work Shared in CORE


Other Publications

Book Chapters

Summer, Michel, ‘”Vassal” or “political player”? Towards a re-assessment of Willibrord’s political activity in Merovingian Francia (AD 690-739)’, in S. Kubisch and H. Klinkott (eds), Power of the Priests: Considerations on the Political Use of Religious Knowledge (Berlin: De Gruyter, forthcoming).

Summer, Michel, ‘Early medieval “warrior” images and the concept of Gefolgschaft‘, in G. M. Berndt, L. Sarti, S. Esders and E. Bennett (eds), Early Medieval Militarisation (Manchester: Manchester University Press, forthcoming).

Conference reports

Summer, Michel, ‘Bericht über die Tagung “Archäologie, Geschichte und Biowissenschaften: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven”, Freiburg 2015’, Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters, 43 (2015), pp. 178-80.

MA Thesis

‘”Gefolgschaft”: Interdisziplinäre Untersuchungen zu einem zentralen Begriff der Frühmittelalterforschung’, unpublished MA thesis, University of Freiburg, 2017.


PhD project (since 09/2017)

The aim of my PhD project is to re-assess the political role played by Willibrord (658-739) during his time on the continent between 690 and 739 and to place his missionary activity within the ecclesiastical and political links that existed between Ireland, Britain and the Frankish kingdoms in the seventh and early eighth centuries. The activity of Anglo-Saxon missionaries in the Frankish kingdoms during this period has traditionally been portrayed as the first systematic cooperation between religious and political powers in early medieval Europe. Historians continue to hold the view that Willibrord, Boniface (c. 675-754) and their companions, in contrast to the Irish and Frankish missionaries before them, adapted a more ‘professional’ strategy by allying themselves with the ancestors of Charlemagne. Following the established scholarly narrative, their cooperation not only rapidly advanced the ‘Christianisation’ of Frisia and Saxony, it furthermore established a lasting link between the papacy and the Carolingians, thus paving the way for the formation of the Carolingian Empire.

Since the 1990s, several studies have applied the label of ‘political player’ or ‘agent’ to Willibrord and stressed both his complex cultural background and his involvement with a wide range of factions within the Frankish kingdoms and its border regions. Willibrord is thus no longer seen as an exclusive supporter (or ‘vassal’) of Pippin II (c. 635-714) and Charles Martel (c. 688-741), nor as a representative of the Anglo-Saxon Church only. However, his involvement with other groups besides the family of Pippin II is still rarely discussed and, as James Palmer put it (Anglo-Saxons in a Frankish World, 107), the ‘precise nature of [his] political role […] is unclear.’

By re-considering Willibord’s agency as a political actor, the extent of his ecclesiastical and political networks and by detaching both aspects  from a teleological framework, which follows the establishment of the Carolingian Empire, the potential arises to reconsider the factors according to which missionary work was carried out in Merovingian Francia at the beginning of the eighth century.

Michel Summer

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