The Legacy of Alfred the Great: A Winchester Chat

 

Dr Katherine Weikert, Dr Ryan Lavelle, Prof. Barbara Yorke, and Prof. Michael Wood at the Winchester Discovery Centre, 12 Sept 2018

Dr Katherine Weikert, Dr Ryan Lavelle, Prof. Barbara Yorke, and Prof. Michael Wood at the Winchester Discovery Centre, 12 Sept 2018 (photo courtesy of Mike Hall)

The launch of the 2018 Heritage Open Days in Winchester provided the opportunity for an evening of reflection between Winchester medievalists and the eminent historian and broadcaster, Professor Michael Wood. On the agenda were ‘Why do the Anglo-Saxons Matter?’ and ‘Extraordinary Women’.

The sell-out evening at the Winchester Discovery Centre lecture theatre featured the History Department’s early medieval historians Dr Ryan Lavelle and Dr Katherine Weikert, along with Professor Emerita Barbara Yorke. Ryan and Katherine give their thoughts…

Michael Wood opened proceedings with his thoughts on the long legacy of the Anglo-Saxon world, its cultural richness and its diversity. Since his BBC series, In Search of the Dark Ages hit TV screens in the late 1970s and 1980s, Michael has held a reputation for making the deep past come alive to an audience, and this was certainly apparent in the discussion. Equipped with his own deep knowledge of the period, Michael asked us about what makes us passionate about this period, drawing down to how this links to our research specialisms—for Ryan this is the way the landscape beneath of feet links to a dramatic historical record; for Katherine this is the way the stories of the period are told and retold, helping form the identities of generations during the medieval period across what is sometimes wrongly seen as a ‘dividing moment’ in 1066.

Linking with the Heritage Open Days’ theme of ‘Extraordinary Women’, we also nominated some favourites: Barbara suggested Æthelflæd, daughter of King Alfred and ruler of the midland kingdom of the Mercians until her death 1100 years ago in 918; Ryan ran through the twists and turns of the life of Emma of Normandy, who was married first to Æthelred ‘the Unready’ and later to Cnut ‘the Great’ (subject of Ryan’s new biography in the ‘Penguin Monarchs’ series), and who was the mother of two English kings in the 11th century; Katherine, whose interests in the ‘Anglo-Norman’ period will result soon in a new examination of the places of women and men in residences of the aristocracy, nominated one of the most important women of the 12th century, the ‘Empress’ Matilda, who drew on her links to the Anglo-Saxon royal family to emphasise her right to rule the English kingdom in a bloody civil war.

Though we had been more than a little nervous about the prospect of ‘chatting’ in front of a packed house with such a learned and well-respected host and in the company of the wonderful Barbara Yorke, the evening proved to be relaxed and enjoyable. We received great feedback from the audience who had been entertained but who had, we are told, also learned much about an early medieval period of English history. We learned much too, both about ways of thinking about history itself, and about the ways in which an expert such as Michael can make even obscure details accessible and enjoyable beyond the academy.

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Trip to the National Archives – Student Perspectives

For many historians, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the profession is trawling through the archives finding hitherto undiscovered gems or re-examining well known documents in a new light. This is what our discipline is built on and for those of us lucky enough to teach the subject to a group of enthusiastic students the opportunity to allow them to see and handle the original documents themselves is always one to be taken.

On 20 March 2018 two Winchester historians – Dr James Ross and Dr Gordon McKelvie – took a group of their final year Depth Study students who have spent the academic year studying the Wars of the Roses or the Hundred Years War on a trip to the National Archives. The visit introduced students to a range of archival sources relating to kingship, propaganda and money in their respective topics. The Depth Study is a year of intensive study on a particular historical topic relating to the lecture’s research expertise, which is a vital component of a B.A history degree.

Like all of our field trips at Winchester, the trip was designed not merely as a nice ‘add-on’ but as a way of enhancing the learning experience of our students by employing additional methods beyond the traditional lecture. But you don’t need to just take our word for this. Three of the students who went on this field trip kindly agreed to provide a short testimony of their own experiences of the trip.

 

Alex Moore

“As a student currently studying History and the Medieval World, at the University of Winchester, the opportunity to visit the National archives was incredible.  Not only was the whole experience fun and engaging, the chance to come into direct contact with original medieval documents, brought out from the archives, was a privilege. During the day we were given a gentle introduction into the methods and cataloguing behind the archivist’s process, before we were presented with an array of 13 individual primary sources to explore. These included, Indentures, Muster Rolls, Court documents and even an original seal which had been partly restored. The sheer volume and variety of the sources was enlightening, and each item was addressed by a member of staff who gave detailed narratives, explaining the context and merit of each of the documents. We were invited at the end of the session to examine all the pieces on display and were able to appreciate the true importance of the documents up close. The session was a very useful and rewarding experience which helped give insight into the role of the national archives, shed light on the real primary sources used by historians, and has given me something else to include in my exam answers! I would like to thank all the members of staff who were involved in the trip and its undertaking, as well as the staff at the National Archives who helped to give us a wonderful experience!”

 

Amy-Jane Humphries

“It was a trip tinged with nostalgia. Piling onto a coach early on a Tuesday morning was delightfully reminiscent of school trips during primary and secondary school. With watery almost-spring sunshine filtering in through the tinted windows, the coach careened up the motorway towards the National Archives. Many of us in the Wars of the Roses depth study had never been to the National Archives, myself included. I was imagining endless corridors stacked high with shelves bursting with old scrolls tied in the middle with string. The last thing I expected was to see council documents and Parliament rolls laid out on tables, there for us to peer at with a mix of awe and confusion as if they’d been there all along. It seems almost clichéd to say so but in the documents, the last year came alive. It all made sense. Seeing the pages where Richard, Duke of York had signed his name alongside the scrawl that we were assured was the Earl of Warwick’s signature was astonishing. It’s easy to imagine we’re learning a great fairy-tale when studying medieval history. It all seems just a little bit fantastical until you see the ink, the seals, and the documents: the real mechanisations of the state. It was a reminder that these people were real human beings, not caricatures, and that the Wars of the Roses were more than just a moment in time we review as historians but something that was lived and suffered through. I am incredibly grateful to Dr James Ross, Dr Gordon McKelvie, and to Dr Sean Cunningham at the Archives for organising what was truly an incredibly special trip. It’s one I will never forget.”

 

Austin Pritchett

“We recently visited The National Archives as part of our Hundred Years’ War module. A member of staff, Dr Sean Cunningham, gave us a brief talk about the types of documents available in the archives and how we can find, access and study them. This was both extremely useful and informative, but naturally the highlight of our trip was when we were then given access to a select group of documents.

These ranged from indentures of military service, which detail the composition and wages of late medieval armies, to drawn-out records of law cases, of which few were ever solved. It was fantastic to be able to handle these documents (the parchment upon which most of them are written is far more durable than expected) and to see the signatures of important individuals who we have studied for several years. The thought of Duke Richard of York sitting down to sign the document you are holding is, at least for the medieval historian, a source of immense excitement.

The trip gave the group insight as to how scholars have studied these sources in the past and transferred that raw information into the secondary material which we study today. It also highlighted the difficulties of doing so, including the linguistic hurdles and issues of material survival. The trip was both very informative and entertaining and I highly recommend this experience to any students of history.”

 

The department would like to thank Alex, Amy and Austin for contributing to our blog.

The department would also like to thank Dr Sean Cunningham of The National Archives for helping to facilitate this trip and sharing his expertise with our students.

 

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Studying History and the Medieval World at Winchester: A Student’s Perspective

[In this blog Austin Pritchett, a final year BA student coming to the end studying for his degree in History and the Medieval World has kindly agreed to publish a reflection on his time with us in the History Department at Winchester]

I am coming to the end of my final year of studying History and the Medieval World at the University of Winchester. My overall experience of the degree has been an extremely positive one. I chose this course in particular because my main area of historical interest has always been the Middle Ages. However, the module choice for medieval students is not limited only to medieval topics. I have studied plenty of other periods such as Ancient Rome, British India and even Old English as a language. The course title guides the focus of your studies and what period your third year dissertation will cover, but it does not limit what modules you are able to study throughout.

Tutors consistently provide informative and engaging lectures, while opening up the floor for discussion during seminars. I have yet to attend a lecture or seminar which has not both interested me and made me think thoroughly about the topic of discussion. Tutors have also regularly demonstrated that they are willing to go above and beyond to help their students. I have always received support and feedback when I need it.

There have been plenty of educational experiences available. I have been able to study local Hampshire records, handle Saxon artefacts at the British Museum and most recently explored Hundred Years’ War documents at The National Archives. I highly recommend these enriching experiences to all medieval historians.

Socially, there are plenty of clubs and societies which cater to various interests and hobbies, all the way from sports to politics. The History Society (don’t let the name deceive you) hosts great socials, including its infamous white shirt pub crawl at the start of each year. Cliché aside, it’s definitely true that you find your friends for life at university. The messing around in the flat, the nights out, the deadline stress – it all forges great friendships with people you would not have met otherwise.

Having almost completed my time at Winchester, I know I will be able to look back on so many fond memories. The course, the city and the people here have all made this the best experience of my life, and I certainly feel ready for the future.

[The History Department would like to thank Austin for agreeing to write this blog and his kind word].

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Book launch for Mad Dogs and Englishness – House of Commons, Westminster,  5 Feburary 2018

Book launch for Mad Dogs and Englishness – House of Commons, Westminster,  5 Feburary 2018

[By Dr Carey Feliner – Senior Lecturer in Classical and Medieval History]

My chapter, ‘‘Rosy, Won’t You Please Come Home:’ Family, Home, and Cultural Identity in the Music of Ray Davies and the Kinks’’ (in Mark Donnelly, Lee Brooks and Richard Mills, eds., Mad Dogs and Englishness: Popular Music and English Identity. Bloomsbury Press.  2017 ) is the outcome of a similarly titled conference paper that I gave at  St Mary’s University College, London, 21 June 2013, coincidentally Ray Davies’s birthday. An account of that conference is somewhere on the History Department blog (submitted in 2013).

Back in December 2017, we were all contacted by one of the editors about the book launch, scheduled for February. One of the contributors (who also wrote the preface) had moved careers from the time of the conference (lecturer in sociology at Kingston University) to the time of publication (MP – Rupa Huq, (Ealing Central and Acton). So she arranged our book launch to be held at the House of Commons.  The editor said that there would be a round table discussion in addition to general mingling, so I wrote to him immediately and asked if I could be considered for one of the panellists. No immediate reply, but about a week before the launch, Richard Mills told me that they’d decided I’d be a good fit with the other panellists. So I got an invitation:

And I RSVP’d in agreement. The meeting was well-populated; probably about 75 people in attendance, journos, writers, MPs, and celebrities. When I was asked my opinion about the war between Blur and Oasis, I had to confess that I’d pretty much missed pop music in the ‘90s as I was out of action doing my PhD work. Ian Paisley’s son told me ‘You haven’t missed much.’

I checked to see if they wanted us speakers to have any opening statements or comments prepared, and was told, ‘Nope, you’re fine, just come along.’ Moments before we were herded to the table at the front of the room, Rupa took me to one side and said that after the introductions, she wanted me to take 15 minutes or so to introduce the book, its main themes, and a bit about my own contribution. I’m told what I said was erudite and witty, and that it set a good tone for the panel to launch with.

It was a bit hectic to be put on the spot like that, but this was fairly mild in comparison to being told that an additional, last-minute addition had been made to the panel. My chapter was on the Kinks and how they were received and marketed as ‘English’ in both Britain and abroad; fortunately there was an actual Kink on the panel (the last minute addition) to confirm my assertions.

Much of the talk was dominated by Paolo Hewitt and Stephen Millinder, but during the milling about part afterwards, quite a number of women came up to speak to me about how the two women in the panel didn’t get much of a chance to speak. So it was a good opportunity to continue the conversation afterwards.

Richard Mills, one of the editors, is a long-time colleague, and we discussed the possibility of a sequel: between the time we held the conference and the time of the book launch, Brexit, of course, happened – it and its subsequent impact have rendered a number of our chapters positively quaint. It would be nice to have a follow-up conference, maybe at Winchester this time around, if there is interest and pocket money to be found to help support it.

Some other photos from twitter:

  1. This one shows Richard Mills making some closing statements. At the table, me on the far left; Bob Henrit of the Kinks on the far right.

 

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Thanks to our chair @RupaHuq and panellists Carey Fleiner, @PaoloHewitt1, @StephenMal and @TheKinks drummer Bob Henrit for such a stimulating and informative discussion of Englishness and Pop at our book event last night @HouseofCommons

 

  1. Picture by Richard Mills, me talking to lead off the proceedings. You can tell I’m saying good things because I’m making important hand gestures.

 

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Mad Dogs & Englishness is in full flow at the House of Commons #MadDogs #HouseofCommons #Englishness

 

  1. Me looking dubious as Rupa introduces the panel

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A book, co-edited by three of our senior lecturers, was launched at the @HouseofCommons last week. Find out more https://www.stmarys.ac.uk/news/2018/02/commons-englishness-book …

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WRAP Project on Memory and Environment in Late Medieval England

One of the unique opportunities afforded to students at Winchester is the opportunity to develop their employability skills by assisting academics in their research. Oliver Bumby is one such BA history student who took up this opportunity earlier this year, working with Dr Gordon McKelvie on a project on ‘Memory and Environment in Late Medieval England’, which looks to develop some of the findings from the AHRC-funded ‘Mapping the Medieval Countryside’ project which was formerly hosted in the department.

Oliver has been kind enough to share his thoughts and reflections on this opportunity for developing his CV and why future students should consider applying for such projects.

“The WRAP projects gives any student to gain new skills that are much sort after by employers, but it also gives you the opportunity to experience what goes into producing much of the texts that are used throughout your degree.  All of the research’s take part in the WRAP projects are researching new and important areas of their field and this opportunity allows you to see if this is something you might want to go into after the end of your university career. Whilst the fact the Wrap projects are paid is always a factor that draws people in and it is a big advantage for any student, it also shows future employers that the work you underwent was something that was important and valuable to the researcher. Meaning that this internship is even more impressive to future employers. Practical skills are now one of the biggest things that employers look for in graduates but it is also one of the hardest things to come by for new graduates. The Wrap project gives you the opportunity to gain some much needed real-world experience whist still at university, this kind of experience is one that many employers are really looking for from new graduates. The WRAP projects are one of the best ways to improve you CV and get involved with some real research at the University of Winchester and is an opportunity not to be passed up.”

[The department would like to thank Oliver for his contribution to our blog.]

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Medieval Studies Day 2017

On Thursday 27 April 2017 the University of Winchester will hosted its third annual Medieval Studies Day as part of the university’s Research and Engagement week. Twelve scholars from various stages in their career from three separate departments presented aspects of their research to a large audience consisting of staff, students and members of the public with an interest in various aspects of medieval studies.

The one thing that came out most strongly was the wide range of topics that were covered – from the nature of carved cadavers in Britain and Ireland, to ideas of chivalric masculinity to the ‘natural’ evidence of prophetic animals such as wolves and ravens that crop up in Old English and Old Norse literature, to a discussion of Henry VII’s Chamber Books (part of a large research project hosted by the department). It was this diversity of topics and approaches that really made the day!

The department would like to thank all of those who attended and participated in this enjoyable day and we hope to host a similar event next year.

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New Work on the Kinks by Winchester Historian

Carey Fleiner has recently published an academic study of the 60s rock band The Kinks and the society that produced them, entitled The Kinks: A Thoroughly English Phenomenon. Though perhaps not as well remembered as some of their contemporaries such as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, The Kinks were one of the great bands to come out of Britain in the 60s, producing 24 studio albums between 1964 and 1996. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a Lazy Sunday Afternoon should thank the Kinks for this.

The book also considers the influence of the Kinks in their broader cultural terms as an act that was quintessentially English and a mirror of and counterfoil to nearly five decades of British and American culture.

The book has received several positive reviews, including one from the Washington Post. As part of the publicity for the book Fleiner was interviewed on talk radio Europe, a link to which can be found here:

http://www.talkradioeurope.com/ondemand/Talk_Radio_Europe_in_Spain_2017-03-29_16-00-00.mp3

The interview with Carey Fleiner begins at 16 minutes 20 seconds.

Congratulations are very much in order for Carey for publishing this excellent book.

For those interested in the book further detail can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kinks-Thoroughly-English-Phenomenon-Littlefield-ebook/dp/B01MRM2NSS

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