New work: Kingston upon Thames revisited

Nowadays, you’ll find me in Kingston upon Thames maybe four times a week as it’s my main place of work. However, save for a driving lesson in 2003 when I passed through but didn’t actually set foot in the town, my first proper visit to Kingston was in June 2017, for a Surrey Archaeological Society Medieval Studies Forum day which focused on the later medieval town, and also to a lesser extent on its earlier medieval origins.

Kingston stands out so far as this blog is concerned because it is one of the few place in Surrey that can be said to have been of national (or equivalent) historical consequence in the early medieval period. (See also: Chertsey, Farnham if I’m being generous, possibly the great assembly and battle site of Acleah if the relevant records pertain to the same place and it was situated in Surrey.) Its prominence rests on it being the coronation place of three tenth-century kings: Athelstan, Eadred and Æthelred II (it has been claimed – and too often accepted – that four or maybe even five other Kings were crowned here despite the evidential basis for these assertions being extremely weak). Moreover, a number of extant charters were promulgated in the course of royal assemblies convened at Kingston in the same period. It also has an earlier documented history as the site of an important council meeting held in 838.

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A plaque with the names and coronation dates of the Anglo-Saxon kings crowned or reputedly crowned at Kingston, on the facade of a building at the north-west corner of the town’s Market Square

This substantial recorded history may point to Kingston being a prominent, distinctive place, but, thanks in the main to important work produced over the past 30 years by Dr Jill Bourne, we know it has a name that is indicative of royal associations of an altogether more run-of-the-mill kind. In a chapter in her recent monograph, Bourne set out to square the implications of Kingston upon Thames’ name and documented functions in the ninth to eleventh centuries CE. While the case she makes is admirably interdisciplinary in nature, in the end I don’t think she cracks it – in part due to some faulty readings of crucial pieces of evidence.

Having already half-read Bourne’s book at the time of my visit (but being very familiar with her previously-published research into Kingston-type place-names), I duly succumbed to writing up some thoughts both old and new about Kingston. To assist in this process, I amassed a far greater body of published relevant archaeological data than has been presented in previous studies – of which there have been a fair few in recent decades. As a result, while I don’t claim to have proved anything (other than some errors made by previous authors), I am happy that the end product, and above all new model of post-Roman settlement development in the Kingston area proffered within, makes the best use of the various types of evidence available at the present time, and can be tested against future archaeological discoveries made in Kingston town centre and its hinterland.

Read the entire essay by clicking here. Members of the Medieval Studies Forum received an earlier but more or less identical version of it with issue 14 of the Forum Newsletter in May 2018, edited by me. A quick word to the wise first; it is very long. I would have chopped it down to size but I kept on coming across new references and the whole thing was starting to take over my life, so I used editor’s privilege to say enough’s enough and issue it at a clearly-excessive 20+ pages. I suppose the good news is that there’s more in there now than in a shorter, sharper piece, and I’m happy for it to be mined as a compilation of data and references. I’m just glad it’s done and it’s decent.

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Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Charters, Folklore, History, Landscape, Latin, Old English, Place-Names, Pottery, Ritual, Thames, Topography, Trade | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surrey Medieval, the rest of 2018 edition

Last week was by most metrics a horrendous week. Just as you thought it couldn’t get any worse, so it did. Day after bleeding day. I’m glad to report this week was a bit better, but didn’t undo any of the Trump- and Brexit-related horrors. So, for a bit of context:

  1. One way or another, given the current political situation and more, the UK is fucked right now.
  2. It was the end of the men’s football World Cup, England had been surpassing expectations and, yeah, I was kinda drunk for a lot of it.

A lot of the following was dreamt up on the way back from the pub. But at its heart is stuff that’s been months/years in the making. As I’ve intimated before, I have a stack of part-done posts waiting in the wings. One of the key motivations for Surrey Medieval has always been to share interesting stuff for free with the wider online world. Having MASSIVELY neglected the site over the past year, I could have just done the bare minimum to get each one up to scratch and hit the Publish button to send the world a series of missives from my mind as it was back in Spring/Summer 2017.

But certain circumstances have changed considerably, both personally and politically, and so simply bashing out “content” just to cross some things off a list ain’t going to cut it these days. For anyone with a conscience and at least a toehold in medieval studies, there’s been a lot of reflection and action (albeit not enough of the latter in some key quarters) about issues of race, politics and representation in the field. This piece by Mary Rambaran-Olm does a great job of summing up most of the issues and things that have gone on in recent years, with particular reference to Anglo-Saxon Studies, a sub-field in which a lot of what I have researched/am researching could be placed (although I purposely do not identify as an “Anglo-Saxonist”, for multiple reasons).

In the wake of the Trump shit-show departing Europe following that meeting in Helsinki, I’ve seen and read quite a lot about the philosophy/movement of Eurasianism and its main progenitor, Alexandr Dugin. The former is complete horseshit and the latter is a special kind of wacko. Special not only because his philosophy is repugnant but also because, to a greater or lesser extent, he has the ear of Vladimir Putin and considerable overlap with the Russian president’s ideas for the future of his country. Apparently, he also has the influence and quite possibly the cash with which to fund far-right groups in Europe and so disseminate his message far beyond Russia.

When I read Dugin’s exhortation that ‘We need to return […] to the New Middle Ages – and thus to the Empire, religion, and the institutions of traditional society (hierarchy, cult, domination of spirit over matter and so on)‘ it made me shudder, for two reasons. Firstly, for all my fascination with the period, that I can’t think of anything worse than living in the “Middle Ages” (other than living in Prehistory, but even that’s relative). Second, it’s predicated on a profoundly outmoded and distorted view of what the medieval period was like, rooted in heavily-nationalistic and more often than not racist 19th- and 20th-century scholarship.

We live in a world where it feel like there are no universally-accepted truths. That nothing means anything anymore, and anyone can say something one day and then, with nary an apology, say the precise opposite a day or two later, apparently with equal sincerity. And then further muddy the waters by appearing to row back on that recantation not long after. (Then again, it helps when you’re able to manipulate the facts and distort the truth in order to lessen the discrepancy between your contradictory statements). But – putting some necessary distance between the case in point I’ve been using in this paragraph and what follows – not saying anything at all is perhaps an even worse course of action. And if I don’t feel like I can talk about many things with any great degree of authority, I sure as hell do feel capable of pointing out some of the many reasons why a “New Middle Ages” is a really, really stupid and dangerous idea (and the same goes for the other medieval-touting ethno-nationalist ideas that have set root in some quarters).

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Sunset at Pre Rup, Cambodia: brick-built and known to have been dedicated in 961-62 CE. How many late Anglo-Saxon-period churches can we say equivalent things about?

Somehow, this site still gets a healthy number of daily visitors despite the obvious lack of new content. Clearly, people are finding it by searching for things online (I see the searches, at least so far as Google’s privacy restrictions allow) and so I think it’s important that good research is made readily available, either directly or in discussion, instead of being hidden behind a paywall or in the pages of a book available to buy from the Brill website for well in excess of 100 Euros. So, while continuing in the same vein, we’re going to do things a bit differently around here for the foreseeable. Turns things on their head. Stir things up. And post more regularly!

I can’t promise anything truly clever, like this bit of psycholinguistic excellence, and nothing I do will make any great difference of course – I’m a lowly local authority archaeologist (of sorts) who researches and writes stuff on the side. All I can offer is work that not only pushes understanding of medieval Surrey forward, but at the same time might chime with other, broader themes about how we understand the past in all its crazy, wonderful complexity. To this end, expect to see between now and the end of the calendar year most if not all of the following:

  • How my recent trip to Cambodia made me excited about studying the medieval period again, and how people the other side of the world were doing things (better) in comparison to people in Surrey/England in, say, the 10th or 12th centuries.
  • A first stab at a new reading of the archaeology of post-Roman Surrey that I hope will go some way towards skewering tired, trad conceptions of “Saxon Surrey”.
  • Why a lot of “popular” works published about British history, place-names and such like aren’t just embarrassing because they’re so bad – politically, they’re wilfully dangerous.
  • A look at why we’re still so far off where we should be in terms of a successful interface between the study of archaeology and place-names, but that some recently-published research has provided glimmers of hope for the future.
  • The joys of suburban history, with special reference to the queen of the south, the London Borough of Merton.

There’ll be some other stuff, too. I’m halfway through reading a David Dumville chapter that so far has been weirdly off-beam and I’d love to spend some time telling you why. Only I’ve dropped out of studying for a PhD, so expect instead my “quiterary” moment explaining that decision. Hell, I might even do that post on the early medieval topography of Sunningwell I’ve been bleating on about for over a year now. But its moment feels like it’s passed. We’re onto bigger and better things.

Posted in Being organised, News, Politics, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Surrey Medieval is alive and well

I really didn’t mean to leave it so long.

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Panoramic pic of a snowy Farnham Castle taken on 16th March, during the SyAS Medieval Studies Forum study day in/about Farnham. If you hadn’t guessed from the snow, taking this while stood atop the remnants of the late 12th-century shell keep was unbelievably cold. Proof if proof were needed of my continued commitment to medieval studies!

Surrey Medieval has been going for several years now, and in that time I’ve seen numerous great (or could-have-been-great-if-only-their-authors-had-stuck-at-it) blogs come and go. I think this is the longest I’ve left it between posts; even if it’s not, a gap in excess of half a year is nothing to be proud of. So, to confirm a few things:

(1) Surrey Medieval is still a thing, it’s not dead – it’s just been sleeping while I did things like get a full-time job and learn how to manage my anxiety and depression.

(2) Actually, it’s not been completely dormant around these parts; I added a brief note under the Puttenham tab just before Christmas about a new history book covering Puttenham church and the three others churches in its united parish.

(3) I have a stack of half-finished draft posts waiting in the wings, covering some really interesting (and in one or two cases, pretty important) topics, so where would the sense be in jacking it all in?

(4) I still think Surrey Medieval serves a purpose for me as an outlet for my research and interests; the number of daily views hasn’t dipped much in the intervening months, which suggests the various posts and pages I’ve produced to date are proving useful to people somewhere…

Writing this post won’t be accompanied by promises to have something else done and published within X number of days or weeks. It’s fair to say I’ve learnt better than to do that. What I will do is break a promise I made last year – to write up the second, more general part of my take on the 2017 Leeds International Medieval Congress. Too much time has passed and too many significant discussions and developments have taken place since July for there to be any practical value in such an endeavour. However, if it’s any consolation, I’m still determined to make good on another suggestion for a future post, summarising the day’s fieldwork in and around Sunningwell in Oxfordshire that informed the case study culmination of my IMC paper. Much better photos to go with it, too.

Back again soon(ish)!

 

Posted in Being organised, Excuses, Farnham, News, Surrey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The past couple of months in medieval studies: a reading list pulled from my phone

Here’s a quick post gathering together some of the online outpouring of exciting pieces of writing that have catalysed, reported or critiqued the debates and changes currently afoot in the world of (academic) medieval studies. They focus on issues of race, racism, far-right extremism and the geographies of contemporary medieval studies. All have been published in recent weeks, although it almost goes without saying that they are among the latest in a much longer line of contributions (here’s a pivotal one allied to a pivotal event – please click through on all three things below the Contents subtitle). Don’t worry too much if you feel like you’re playing catch-up – in some of the pieces listed below you’ll find links to important earlier contributions to the debates.

Please be aware this is far from a comprehensive reading list; it’s merely an annotated list of the tabs I’ve kept open on Safari on my phone with a view to sharing eventually in one way or another. Some readers may be familiar with most (or maybe even all) of the following items already, but I’m doing this in particular for folks who don’t do social media – or at least don’t make a habit of checking things regularly – and are interested in medieval studies but perhaps aren’t keyed-in to its latest developments. I hope that the abiding impression is one of a field experiencing a challenging but thrilling and long-overdue period of self-reflection, inspiration from new disciplines, sometimes impassioned debate, and most of all the early stages of a shift towards genuine change for the better in many aspects.

EDIT: It was pretty remiss of me to publish this initially without any statement thanking the authors of the following works for the time and effort they put into writing them. I laboured enough with writing the opening and closing paragraphs of this post, so I really do applaud each and every one of the authors for the length and quality of their pieces. 

Medievalists of Colour, ‘On Race and Medieval Studies’ – Let’s begin with the most important piece; a collective statement ‘that advocates for a more inclusive, productive, and world-improving medieval studies’. Vital reading, and the roadmap to the future of the field.

Jeffrey J. Cohen, ‘On Pushback, Progress and Promise’ – A concise, encouraging contribution stressing that change has occurred and will continue to progress despite resistance from certain quarters.

J. Clara Chan, ‘Medievalists, Recoiling From White Supremacy, Try to Diversify the Field’ – A very important report distilling the main points of controversy arising from this year’s Leeds IMC, as well as more generally the major issues at stake.

Brandon Hawk, ‘Diversifying SASLC’ – a long read but a really decent pulling-together of a lot of the key issues, including a wealth of links to other relevant stuff online.

David M. Perry, ‘White supremacists love Vikings. But they’ve got history all wrong’ – If one of the main reasons for why medieval studies has found itself in its present state of reflection and change (still) needs explaining to anyone, this article should do the trick.

Otávio Luiz Vieira Pinto, ‘Peripheries of the Middle Ages’ – A timely insight into the lives and work of medievalists in South America and other regions away from the geographical centres of contemporary medieval studies.

drdarkage, ‘a thread w/ research on medievalism & white supremacy’ – A phenomenal tweeted thread-cum-list linking a lot of essential reading (some of which may be among the pieces listed here, but with a host of ace additional items).

Daniel Remein, “ISAS should probably change its name” – A paper from this year’s K’zoo ICMS that gained renewed relevance in the run up to the biennial meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS) held very recently in Honolulu, Hawai’i. I guess the subject matter of my research makes me an “Anglo-Saxonist”, but I have major problems with the label and consequently I strive to avoid using it at all costs, so a lot of this paper is music to my ears.

Adam Miyashiro, ‘Decolonizing Anglo-Saxon Studies: A Response to ISAS in Honolulu’ – A for the most part spot-on critique written and published in the run-up to ISAS 2017 in Honolulu, about its poor approach to issues of racism and colonialism in view of its Hawaiian location. Read the comments too.

Mateusz Fafinski, ‘The Obama Moment of Anglo-Saxon Studies’ – A ‘straight out of the oven take’ on the changes happening to ISAS agreed/announced at the end of its recent biennial meeting. Slightly hyperbolic, but understandable given the circumstances in which it was written.

Thomas Bredehoft, “Anglo-Saxonists” – Something of a counterpoint, written by an eminent Germanic philologist. Given the subject matter “Anglo-Saxonist/-ism” is a disciplinary umbrella term that encompasses much more than language, this blog mentions “Germanic purity” a little too often for my tastes; such a concept is acceptable from a philological perspective but is deeply problematic in terms of archaeology, for example. Indeed, one of the impressions I’m left with from reading this post and some of the stuff coming out of the ISAS conference is that the label “Anglo-Saxonist” isn’t being treated as applying to all those scholars who study the period, with archaeology/archaeologists in particular largely overlooked.

I could attempt to synthesise the implications of all of the above, but I’d rather each reader has their own look through the pieces and draw their own conclusions. (I’ll say a bit more of substance as to my own views in my next post.) Things continue to move apace, with new pieces taking things forward appearing frequently. I especially recommend checking in on the In The Middle site on a regular basis (there’s so much more to read than the couple of pieces I’ve linked). Also, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, make some time to read through the brilliant (and ongoing) series of essays in the ‘Race, Racism and the Middle Ages’ strand on The Public Medievalist website. Medieval studies as a whole (as hard as it is to group it together thus) is rarely at the vanguard of the latest shift changes in thinking/praxis/behaviours, so to have all this happening right now and in such an exciting and dynamic way is really something. Don’t bet against this being the first of a number of posts of this type I put together in the coming months.

PS. In the order in which I received them, thanks to Jonathan Hsy, Patrick Day, James Harland, and Dorothy Kim for the suggestions of corrections/improvements to earlier versions of the blog. If you spot anything else that needs amending or adding, let me know!

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Being organised, Conference, internet, News, Politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

An interrupting interruption

I’ll get straight to the point. After months of frustration, followed by a sudden stroke of inspiration and then a lot of deliberation, I’ve made the arrangements necessary to interrupt – that is, take time out from (I never know if UCL admin-speak is universal or institutional) – my doctoral studies for a period of 12 months from this autumn. And, quite honestly, I doubt if I’ll ever go back.

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It’s email offish

Okay, maybe that last sentence is my current negative line of thought talking. I’ll admit, currently I’m fresh out of positivity so far as my degree is concerned, and perhaps some time away from it will be just the tonic to revive my love for what I do and more to the point my conviction that it is a worthwhile endeavour. But it doesn’t change the fact that I no longer see this as a valid career path, one leading to a positive and profitable (in any sense of the word) outcome. Therefore, I have no motivation to complete my thesis other than for my own satisfaction, plus the interest of whoever might be interested in its subject matter. Frankly, however, I think I’m beyond the event horizon and so wouldn’t bet against me having called a stop to things for good.

I should stress again that this is not a brand new, spur of the moment decision. It’s all been lined up for weeks. Thus it was weird to sit on this knowledge for the duration of Leeds IMC, divulging the truth to one or maybe two trusted confidantes over the course of the four days, while pretending that everything was a bed of roses to anyone else I met for the first time or didn’t feel like I knew well enough to admit the reality. I had the best time in Leeds but keeping schtum about interrupting nonetheless did impinge upon my experience of the Congress.

My decision to interrupt all comes down to funding, and my failure to be awarded a full-time scholarship for the second year in succession. I know, once was not enough so I came back for a second kick in the teeth! I wrote my mum an email in the weeks after, in which I told her that things to do with the future were becoming clearer but that my studies were like an addictive drug, one that you can’t simply come off straight away. I’ve spent years training/reading/writing in support of my doctoral research, and consider myself to work at the highest standards required to do my topic justice, so you’ll understand why I’ve couched the shift away from this to something new and completely different (whatever it will turn out to be) in such stark terms.

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Bye, UCL (for the time being at least)

It hardly needs saying but, for me, this whole situation is massively annoying and frustrating. Had the chips fallen differently then no doubt I’d be all happy and keen and mapping out a future in which I tied Old English group-name and habitative place-name elements, archaeology, and history together, and blew everyone’s minds (at least a little bit) in the process. That’s not going to happen now. Ever. And it really saddens me to type those words. Someone else will have to take up the baton, whenever that might be (if that sounds like you – email me).

Perhaps it’s my fault. Perhaps it’s the fault of those who advised me on my application and gave it the green light. Perhaps it’s the fault of those who assess applications and award the funding – in the wake of my rejection, I heard some pretty “interesting” things about the none-more-opaque funding body I applied to but there’s not a lot to be gained by elaborating on that point. Ultimately, I’m an adult and so I realise that some of the responsibility (blame?) must rest on my shoulders. And you know what? I reckon I’m okay with that. I really do. I went into the process with my eyes wide open, knowing it might not turn out the way I wanted it to. At least I gave it a go – twice! – to see if it would happen for me.

Right now, I feel too old, too conflicted, too depressed, too tired to carry my research on to its conclusion. There are younger, more motivated and ambitious research students out there working in my field who can (and no doubt will) drive things forward. Maybe I don’t give enough of a shit to strive to be among their number. Three-and-a-bit degrees later and there’s a lot (maybe too much) about academia that I don’t like; years away from university working in jobs of various corporate shades really awoke me to its shortcomings, and I’ve never been able to overcome them. I do fear that academia as we know it in the UK is fucked, comprehensively outgunned by those who have it in for it and too slow and undynamic, for all the talk to the contrary, to make its own fundamental changes for the better. (PS. I’m not an arch-capitalist, quite the reverse in fact; it’s more my professional experiences with people, not processes that have left me feeling and thinking the way that I do.)

And maybe all this is a blessing in disguise. Call me idealistic or whatever, but I want to make a difference in this world, and I don’t think telling people how and why people adopted the social identities they did in bits of north-west Europe 1,500 years ago is really helping in the same way as if I was to apply my grey matter to some other issue at hand. I’m highly educated, with some hot-to-trot skills in some areas, and ample ability to learn in others, so I reckon there’s a really awesome line of work out there for me somewhere. I’m genuinely excited for what the future holds, a sense that came with my initial decision to interrupt, and hence which makes me think I’m onto a winner by choosing this path.

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London, my oyster (PS. can you believe this is the view from my friend’s new flat?)

In the immediate future I’ll be tying up loose ends with my doctoral research and other bits and pieces, so don’t be surprised if this is marked by a spike in activity on SM and elsewhere. I’m aiming to have a lot of things put to bed by the end of them summer, be it submitted or else in a position whereby I can let them be for months or years. Beyond that, however, expect a corresponding diminution in activity, but not a cessation – I still have a small number of medieval-related projects I’m aiming to undertake. Likewise, I’m not going to mothball this blog, although the frequency of posts will inevitably slacken as my attention is diverted elsewhere (not that my content creation has been voluminous these past few months!). I’ll also be continuing in my role as meetings secretary for the IoA/British Museum Medieval Seminar series, so expect some chat about that. All the same, I need to recalibrate my relationship with medieval studies, and consequently how SM fits into that and the new life I’ll be establishing for myself in the coming months. Rest assured, this won’t wind up with me going full-bore M J Harper-style anti-academic nutjob.

By way of some parting thoughts. To those who are doing or are about to do a funded PhD; you are privileged to be in that position and you should do everything you can to make the most of the opportunity. True interdisciplinarity is a mirage, now and for the immediate future. Fuck the LAHP. I wish academic medieval studies all the best, but come late-September I shall be at best semi-detached from it and I wouldn’t bet against that remaining the state of play thereafter.

Posted in London, News, PhD | 2 Comments

Leeds International Medieval Congress 2017: Part 1 – four days, 16 hours, 20 minutes

Last week was largely taken up by attending what was my third Leeds International Medieval Congress (if we discount an accidentally-larcenous first experience of the IMC a decade back when I worked as one of the people who looks after a group of session rooms). I blogged about the 2015 and 2016 editions, and can’t help but notice from the introductions to those posts that I’ve set to work on my reflections on this year in record time.

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The thing is, I don’t even like Game of Thrones…

The reasons for this are three-fold. First, I have the time to do so (although I must confess this is eating into the time I had earmarked for other writing). Second, this year’s IMC was the most stimulating and productive one I’ve been to – something to do with being present for all four days, perhaps? – and many others would seem to have had a similarly superlative experience. Third, and very much interlinked with the previous point, I met a host of great new people and reconnected with many from IMCs and other conferences gone by. I even went out for a few pints with my Leeds first year undergrad tutor (from the days when I had visions of being a transport planner!) who had taken time out of his schedule earlier in the week to come and see me give my paper.

I have some pretty big fish I want to fry in the wake of this year’s IMC, but also want to talk about my paper and the session – The Medieval Landscape / Seascape II: Landscapes of ‘The Other’ and Identity (#s217) – of which it was part. Rather than try and combine personal reflection and polemic in a single post, I’ve chosen to write two, beginning with some thoughts about my own contribution to the Congress and the host session for the paper.

Let’s get the travelogue bit over and done with first. I spent the Sunday night into Monday morning travelling to Leeds from Killarney in Ireland, a journey that took 16 hours door-to-door, and involved three buses, one plane, and finally an uphill walk from Leeds Coach Station at 5.10am because this was Leeds and not London, so there were no night buses. (It also included a whistle-stop tour of the historic Limerick, which is worth a look as you’ll gather from the pics above.) All of which meant plenty of time sat around in airports but very little time for sleeping. Therefore, given I was operating on scarcely an hour’s sleep when I stood up to speak, I reckon my paper went ok!

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Central Leeds at 5.10am Monday morning. The design of the new John Lewis store doesn’t convince when you’re running on a few minutes of sleep, and doesn’t fare much better when you’re feeling much more rested.

Ever since seeing the CFP and putting together a proposal while travelling across the US last summer, I wanted to use my paper as a means for taking a really good look at the social identities and attendant processes of othering embodied by the -ingas group-names that I study. It gave me the opportunity to flesh out an idea I first hit upon a couple of years ago and presented as a postscript to a paper I gave at a workshop in Leicester; namely, that -ingas name formations were self-legitimating through ancestry and the choice of titular figureheads, and that these had wider resonance, meaning the group’s name could be applied to land or landscape features in order make/defend its claims in a period which lacked written title deeds. I investigated this through a series of case studies drawn from points named in Old English charter boundary clauses, culled from the database of the brilliant LangScape website. This culminated in a discussion of Sunningwell in Oxfordshire based in part on observations I made during a visit to the village and parish precisely one week before.

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As I said at the start of my paper, it’s not a proper place-names presentation without at least one picture of a signpost

The two papers that followed mine were different in their approaches to the topic of otherness, as well as in their particular geographical foci. Daryl Hendley Rooney looked at representations of the Irish as constructed by Gerald of Wales in his Topographia Hibernica. Gerald did something of a hatchet job on those west of the Irish Sea, making them out to be a barbaric “other” by comparison with their Welsh contemporaries, and Daryl gave a brilliant introduction to how this was reflected in part through descriptions of the Irish landscape. This was followed by Marta Sancho i Planas presenting some preliminary findings from her excavations at a remarkable site named Els Altimiris in Spain. This has been revealed to be an unusual example of a religious community that established itself in an elevated, isolated site in order to assert its right to exist outside of the control of powerful local archbishoprics and bishoprics. I especially liked Dr Sancho i Planas’ final conclusion that this was a pioneering community of others, paving the way for a “new normality”.

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The excavated remains of the church at Els Altimiris. The church was of two cells, first built in the 5th or 6th century CE, and rebuilt or remodelled in the 7th century, when the buildings whose remains you can see beyond were also erected. Photo from the Els Altimiris project website.

As I think I say after every conference I speak at, I much prefer presenting in sessions like this one where there’s a spread of themes, rather than everyone dancing on the head of pin, as it makes audience and speakers alike work that little bit harder to make connections between the papers, which I find much more rewarding. The questions that followed our papers and the discussions they stimulated were similarly diverse. One thing which struck me was all three papers were presenting research that’s a few years away from being completed, whether as doctoral thesis or published excavation report. I like the idea of all three of us coming back to IMC 2022 and reprising our paper subjects to give the full story about our research!

More immediately, for anyone who wasn’t at the session (and also for anyone who was!),  I’ve tidied up my paper script and uploaded it to read right here. I’ve added it to my Academia profile, too, where, for what it’s worth, you’ll also find the abstract I submitted to the session organisers way back when. I’ve reintroduced some material back into the paper that I had to cut in order to get it to around the 20-minute mark. Bonus content yo! (If you would like the PowerPoint slides that went with the paper, email me at surrey medieval.blog@gmail.com and I’ll hook you up.) I wrote the paper before reading James Harland’s debut article for Medieval Worlds, which among many things emphasises the important point that otherness is not the same as difference, rather it is the opposite of sameness. I think this view has a lot of applicability to -ingas names, which (as linguistic items anyway) are so obviously variations on a theme. However, I’m not prepared to cast out all talk of otherness in conjunction with -ingas just yet (and certainly not rewrite large chunks of my paper!), as I think it is an interesting concept with which to examine the strategies behind such name formations, particularly in a landscape context.

Without committing myself to something that will never happen, I hope to be able to find the time during this summer to do put together a short blog summarising my trip to Sunningwell and why it was crucial to my thinking on the place-name and history of the estate/parish. But these things have a tendency to take months to happen, not weeks, so bear with me!

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The spring-fed pond in the centre of Sunningwell village, almost certainly the source of the place-name. Overlooking it is the medieval church of St Lawrence. But just how significant is this pairing?

Lastly, thanks to the wonderful Drs Kimm Curran and Karl Christian Alvestad for organising the session and another successful Medieval Landscape / Seascape series; to Prof Sam Turner for moderating; and most of all to my fellow presenters for presenting such interesting research.

Part 2 will be with you shortly…

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Barrows, Charters, Conference, Landscape, Leeds, Old English, Place-Names, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New work (in progress): Bassishaw and Basinghall

A few weeks ago, I attended a seminar given by Prof. Andrew Reynolds (my primary thesis supervisor, if I haven’t mentioned that before) in which he revisited a paper on the Anglo-Saxon archaeology of the City of London first delivered at a conference last year. Without giving too much away, seeing as how it is to be written up for publication, a cluster of evidence was highlighted that seems to suggest an enduring intramural focus of political activity pre-dating the famed reestablishment of London as an urban centre by King Alfred in 886 (and separate to any ecclesiastical centre at St Paul’s). Part of this hypothesis is founded upon minor place-name evidence, including two names that appear to contain a form of the Old English (OE) element -ingas. Now I hardly hide the fact that this is the main focus of what I research, and indeed I’d developed my own line of thinking about the significance of this brace of names previously. Having the impetus to take a closer look at them, however, has led me to drastically alter my interpretation of one of the two: Bassishaw aka Basinghall.

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What began life as the rest of this post, intended as my Easter gift to Surrey Medieval readers, has now made the leap into a separate page, and a new kind of page for me or rather this site. Click here to read it. To acknowledge that the piece sprawled into something far too long and detailed for quick and easy consumption, but remains at an intermediate point in its evolution, I’ve styled it a work in progress. This is in the hope some people might be minded not only to read it but also offer comments and criticisms that will serve to improve any future version. Certainly, any rewrite will distill the content into a much shorter, sharper form – build it up to tear it down, if you will! All the same, if you just fancy reading some thoughts about a relatively mysterious period in the City of London’s history and archaeology, accompanied by more photos of street signs than you can shake a stick at, then put your feet up and give it a go.

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Charters, Dating, History, London, Old English, Place-Names | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment