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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 11.14.14

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.

FullSizeRender 12

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.

FullSizeRender 13

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.

IMG_7147

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!

IMG_7094

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.

Title slide

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”.

aeria-esglesia

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!

IMG_6941

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.

IMG_5432

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

410-1066 CE: What should we call the period (at least so far as Surrey is concerned)?

Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 14.44.09

Snippets of ‘Saxon’ Surrey – Godalming/Tuesley to be precise – as seen in Godalming Museum in January 2017

Midway through last month, I finished editing my first Surrey Archaeological Society Medieval Studies Forum Newsletter. I’m pretty proud of the finished product, if I do say so myself! You’ll have to join the Forum to enjoy the whole thing, but I thought I’d share something from it on Surrey Medieval. In fact, I’ve added to the published piece, written as an attempt to answer to the misleadingly simple question posed in the title of this post. All the usual suspects are given the once-over: Early Medieval and Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon, Late Antiquity, even Dark Ages (but anyone expecting to see a weighing of the merits of the label “The Age of Arthur” or cognates need read no further). Click here to read it – but maybe read the following first…

As I hope is clear from my title, whether it is explicitly stated or not, the discussion throughout is geared primarily around evaluating the merits of various labels in terms of the archaeology and history of Surrey rather than England or some other wider historical geographical area. Notwithstanding this fact, it does offer some more general commentary as well. In doing so, it follows in the footsteps of —nay, is overshadowed by— some truly excellent recent contributions from several scholars of whose research I am a great admirer. So, as much as anything, it serves as a place where links and references to a number of important pieces are collected together.

What I’m hoping is that we’re witnessing at least the start of a shift change in the choices of words and phrases used when writing about the archaeology and history of the period (NB. I largely omitted issues surrounding linguistics in the piece because I was writing originally for an audience consisting primarily of amateur historians and archaeologists). Just because the issues are complex and may in the end require a break with what has gone before doesn’t mean we should shy away from the task. The vibrant and vital contemporary discourses around choices of terminology concerning gender and sexuality show how the considered (re)evaluation of terminology can lead to changes for the better — though not always consensus! Indeed, my piece perhaps does not offer as many hard-and-fast conclusions as you might expect, and and is certainly not intended to be any last word on the matter. With this in mind, maybe think of it more as a setting down and sharing of my opinions at the present point in time. I’ve changed my mind and my praxis in recent years, and no doubt will to do so again in the future!

 

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Architecture, Dating, History, Language, Middlesex, Soapbox, Surrey, Sussex, Viking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Castle or causeway? Further adventures in historical field-names

Everyone likes castles, right? They’re one of the things that make the medieval period what it is in many people’s eyes. Of course, not every castle looks like Bodiam (yes, that one that’s on the cover of pretty much EVERY book to do with castles or medieval England) or, to pick one I visited not all that long ago, Warkworth in Northumberland…

Warkworth castle 1

Warkworth Castle is marvellous, definitely worth a visit if you’re ever on the Northumberland coast. In one of the few good things to come out of my old job, I managed to blag a weekend in Warkworth (a delightful old town in its own right) at the company’s expense. SUCKERS!

Many medieval castles lack any (above-ground) masonry remnants and instead exist as earthworks – and many others nowadays have little or nothing whatsoever to show for themselves on the ground. But they can be remembered in other ways: in documents, for example, or in a place-name. A few years ago, I spotted a trio of field-names that looked to me as if they could denote the site of a lost castle in the Surrey countryside. Well, to be accurate, I thought they might represent either a later medieval castle or an earlier, Anglo-Saxon-period fortified/defensible centre. I tinkered with the possibility for a little bit, trying to understand which might be the more likely explanation, but didn’t take it very far and soon moved on to something else.

In recent months, I’ve had cause to revisit the matter and dedicate more attention to it, because a significant chunk of my time has been spent writing and now revising a research article on the burh or stronghold of (to) Escingum, i.e. Eashing, just outside Godalming in south-west Surrey. The primary purpose of the article is/will be to critically evaluate the site of the burh that was first suggested in a note published by Fred Aldsworth and David Hill in 1971, and has been accepted by all others who have written on the matter subsequently. It’s not that the original note and the contributions that followed do not make a solid case for the site in question, but a quarter of a century later David Hill himself wrote that the identification was ‘less convincing’ than others made in relation to different “lost” Burghal Hidage strongholds, which suggested to me that there’s reason to look at the evidence in a fresh, 21st-century light.

Burh site 1

Looking across the accepted, and by far the most credible, site of the Eashing burh from its north-west corner. My photo, taken late December 2016.

I’ve blogged previously about the main “new” piece of evidence I wish to bring to the table through my article (in fact, I have since discovered multiple earlier and later occurrences of that particular field-name) but there are other elements to the analysis besides. One of these was checking that there was not a more credible burghal site awaiting re-identification in the immediate surroundings of the present-day Eashing hamlets. In the end, I identified three possible alternative sites, one of which being the field-name cluster that implies the former existence of a castle.

The anonymous reviewers of my article draft quite rightly commented that what I wrote was overkill in view of the fact that none of my three alternatives comes anywhere near to being as credible as the one suggested by Aldsworth and Hill – albeit Nicholas Brooks seems to have been the first to come up with the idea, but that’s another story… Most of the words I wrote about this trio have been excised from the revised text, but I felt some of them merited presenting here as a standalone piece that shows the benefits of paying close attention to historic name-forms (not that I didn’t write about this very topic at the very end of last year). As for the other two candidate sites, well, you’ll just have to wait until the finished article is published; not this year as I’d hoped, but next year or the year after (else you should have come to the talk I gave about it back in February!).

The fields and field-names I want to focus on here were situated in the vicinity of Oxenford, approximately one mile to the south-west of the Eashing hamlets in the neighbouring parish of Witley. (Their sites are largely free from later development but their boundaries have been largely erased, hence why I don’t refer to them in the present tense.) Oxenford is a small sub-parochial place that first emerges in the historical record in the 12th century as a property of Waverley Abbey, located a few miles further west. In a document of appendices to a 2010 article entitled ‘The home estate, granges and smaller properties of Waverley Abbey’, Mark Service reported the field-names Castle FieldCastle Field Mead and Castlefield Row from the tithe apportionment for Witley, shown on the accompanying map in a cluster south of Elstead Road close to Oxenford Grange (S29, S31; both the apportionment of 1844 and map of 1840 are kept at the Surrey History Centre, catalogued as respectively MIL/10/1 and 864/1/135).

Castle Field

The view south from Elstead Road across what was mapped as Castle Field in 1840; the big tree on the right marks the line of the former west boundary of the field (image from Google Street View)

This trio of abutting fields were positioned at and just beyond the eastern end of a low outcrop of Sandgate Beds sandstone on the southern edge of the Wey floodplain, adjacent to a small tributary stream. This is not a site of great natural defensibility, but the field-names would seem to point to the former presence of a fortification (albeit not necessarily one of medieval origin; the district of Castlefield in Manchester takes its name from early recognition of the remains of the Roman fort of Mamucium). The first half of the name would appear to represent OE castel or ME castēl, ‘castle’, which got me thinking about a curious reference made by John Aubrey on page 40 of the third volume of his Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, written in the late 17th century but revised and published in 1718:

West of Oxenford, near the Heath, is a round artificial Hill or Barrow.’

There is no such feature visible in the approximate location today. But, bearing in mind the relative proximity of Castle Field and its namesakes, might it be possible that this round artificial hill was a motte, and that, instead of West, Aubrey meant South? I’ll readily admit that I’m forever getting my directions muddled up in writing, and that south of the fields lay Bagmoor Common, now a heathland nature reserve. Nonetheless, it’s a bit of a stretch to accept such a fundamental error (more so given that west of Oxenford is Royal Common, another area of ‘open acid grassland heath’), and to be certain of the credibility of the field-names – let alone that they marked the site of Aubrey’s mound – requires additional, earlier attestations.

A lot of searches of online catalogues led me to identify a number of other historic sources in local archives that I anticipated could contain earlier forms of the same field-name(s). My first port of call was the Surrey History Centre in Woking, and a date with a curious 1812 notebook of tithe information from the Godalming area (G145/BOX64/5). However, there was no trace of any Castle Field/Castlefield-type field-name under Oxenford. What was in evidence, on the other hand, was Causeway Field – not so different in spelling, but very different in meaning.

I felt like I had a game on my hands, and the halftime score was Castle 1, Causeway 1. I kicked off the second half (sorry, but I like this footballing metaphor and I’m sticking with it) by turning my attention to an early 18th-century transcription of information from a lost Oxenford estate map of 1715 (G145/BOX1/1). This yielded what on first impressions was an equivocal, could-stand-for-one-or-the-other name: Causey field. With everything still to play for, I took the match to extra time…

…and a different venue, the small but perfectly formed Local Studies Library of Godalming Museum. Among its small collection of original local deeds (the earliest of which is a gorgeous mid-13th century charter that will be the subject of a future SM post or page) is a 1681 release of a moiety of Oxenford with an appended, seemingly contemporary schedule of lands and properties (PWD/27/2). It’s a somewhat difficult document to read, but after a good deal of peering and getting used to the handwriting, I spotted the name I’d come for – Casey Feild:

FullSizeRender 2

“called Casey Feild”: excerpt from the schedule of lands and properties attached to the 1681 release. Go to Godalming Museum’s Local Studies Library and see it for yourself – details of its location, opening times and accessibility can be found here.

By this time, I knew enough on the language side of things to be confident that a spelling like Casey (or Causey) was not some vernacular mangling of Castle, but something consistent with a form of ME caucē(e) < Anglo-French caucié(e), ‘A raised and surfaced road; a highway or causeway’. With what was now getting on for a century and a half of consistent written testimony weighed firmly in favour of this interpretation, I blew the final whistle: 3-1 to Causeway, and a clear winner – if not the one I’d expected when I started!

It must be noted that there are differences between the recorded acreages of these fields, sometimes fluctuating by more than an acre, but these may represent boundary alterations or differences in surveying techniques/competency! Over all, I find it highly probable that they all pertain to the same piece of land later mapped and named as Castle Field. My confidence is also based on the trip I took at the end of January to the Historic England Archive in Swindon, where I looked at aerial photographs of this and the other possible burghal sites. No likely cropmarks were perceptible in any of the images I looked at, which spanned several decades and were taken at different times of the year.

The Causeway

The causeway of Casey/Causey/Causeway Field fame as it exists today (okay, in 2009). Note how it is clearly elevated above the level of the pasture field on the right-hand side of the image; this formed part of Castle Field Mead in the 1840s (image from Google Street View)

The original reference would appear to be to the causeway that still carries Elstead Road (the B3001) across the apparently-nameless stream that flows north to join the Wey. It is possible that this superseded an earlier crossing that gave its name to Oxenford (an unusually transparent OE name *Oxenaford, “ford of the oxen”), although this may pertain to a crossing of the Wey between Witley and Paper Harow parishes. Indeed, it’s got me wondering if the causeway was perhaps a creation of Waverley Abbey, not only holder of Oxenford but also proposed as the patron of the nearby 13th-century Somerset and Eashing Bridges.

But how to account for the change Cause(wa)y > Castle? If 1812 is treated as a terminus post quem, then it would appear to have occurred remarkably late in time. My preferred explanation currently centres on the fact that the Witley tithe apportionment was created at the same time as the finishing touches were being applied to a new gatehouse and barn at Oxenford (plus an extraordinary arched wellhead for the medicinal Bonville Spring nearby) designed by the great Gothic Revival architect, Augustus Pugin. The building of such unapologetically medievalist structures hereabouts in 1843-44 (according to pages 12-14 of Christopher Budgen’s West Surrey Architecture, 1840-2000; The Pugin Society attribute the farm buildings to the year 1841) may have been the spur for a similar intervention in the surrounding toponymy. Could it be that, as a counterpoint to the lavish ecclesiastical stylings of Pugin’s new edifices, someone was inspired to reanalyse the name of Causeway Field and its smaller neighbours as something altogether more estimable and befitting of (neo-)medieval Oxenford?

Posted in Castle, Causeways, Field-names, Godalming, History, Landscape, Middle English, Place-Names, Surrey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not in my name or theirs: in defence and celebration of the diversity of what I study

In my previous post, I attempted to underline that medieval studies nowadays finds itself in a position of having an unusually high level of political relevance. Not through any moves obviously engineered by academic medievalists, rather through the rise in Europe and the US of popular nationalist politicians and political parties/movements, and the gradual creep of elements of the ideology and vocabulary of the far-right into more mainstream political debates. Their obsessions with hot-button issues of national and ethnic identity, migration, and the relationship between Christianity/Christendom and Islam/the Ummah, are all topics within the purview of medieval studies. Indeed, certain members of the medievalist community must rank among those who most rigorously study and best understand such issues, but this does not mean their voices are the ones that are heard in public discourse. There will always be risks surrounding the use, misuse, or non-use of scholarly research by non-specialists, whatever their political persuasion and motive. In this current political climate, I think it’s contingent upon those of us who want to contribute to wider debates to not just be the authors of research outputs in the public domain, but as far as possible the authors of the destinies of the ideas they contain as well.

What I wish to do here is scale back from such grandiose hopes by setting out how I, a humble doctoral-level student, approach my chosen topic of study – one that, as I have said before, is not overtly political but has the potential to be drawn upon for inappropriate political ends. This exercise is not intended to create a manifesto or credo that restricts and prejudices how I conduct my research in the future. Nor is it to state that I do things in a particular way in order to obtain the results I want/need so as to justify or reinforce a pre-ordained way of seeing things. Rather, my aim is to convey that I study a complicated topic with multiple facets and as a result need to do so in a multi-modal way that is open to a plurality of factors and outcomes. Only time will tell if there are concrete answers to be found – right now I’m still formulating some of the research questions to ask of my evidence!

Going the extra mile to examine things from a range of perspectives rather than just one or two may not drastically change my ultimate conclusions, but it can add some important details and throw up some interesting new lines of inquiry. And if you accept the benefits of seeking to understand a diverse and transnational topic through careful, extended investigation, then maybe you will appreciate the benefits of a diverse society, and a world in which conformity, domination and the exclusion of others are not the ultimate goals.

When I’m rethinking -ingas*

I study group names and group identities in post-Roman Britain, primarily as evidenced through place-names, and with a particular focus on ones derived from -ingas because it’s the best represented of the Old English generic elements used to form group-names (see also -warefolcsǣta/sǣtan, -hǣme) and the toponyms have numerous analogues in early medieval literature (the general failure to consider the former in terms of the latter has been a major impediment to a better understanding of the significance of -ingas as a name-forming element). -ingas were sub-ethnic groups (for the most part anyway), i.e. they were below the level and did not possess some of the defining traits of ethnic groups – although it may not be accurate to talk of the existence of such things at all in Britain at this time – so I tend to give the term ethnonym a miss when describing them. (Note I do not use sub-ethnic as a pejorative in the manner in which the label “sub-Roman” has come to be read; rather it’s a borrowing from Fernández-Götz 2014, albeit I use it in a different capacity to indicate social groupings of smaller size and complexity than those – in a continental European Iron Age context – he terms ‘ethnic communities’.)

* That was meant to be a take on the George Formby song title. Doesn’t really work, does it?

archaeological-solutions_79073362_doubleburial

Meet the -ingas? A double burial, probably made in the 7th century CE, recently excavated at Exning in Suffolk – interestingly a place with a purported link to East Anglian royalty of the same period. Photo via BBC; copyright would appear to rest with Archaeological Solutions.

From their earliest appearances in written sources, it is clear that -ingas had largely had their day as fully autonomous entities by the end of the 7th century CE, although the groups themselves may have continued to function in some reduced form for longer. While there is nothing that absolutely precludes later-recorded -ingas place-names from having been formed at a different time and in a different socio-political environment (and it is unquestionable that the element continued to be used in new name coinages right through to the 11th century, if not even later), the first recorded instances are best treated as stemming from a relatively early, pre-historical period of social complexity. From this arise all manner of why/when/how/where/what questions – if all goes to plan, the search for answers to these will keep me occupied for the next few years! For the time being, here are three facets of -ingas name formations that I feel I know enough about at this stage of my research to offer a few observations on how they should and should not be interpreted.

1. The first aspect of my research that I fear could be misappropriated concerns the geographical origins of the people behind the -ingas names. Traditionally (and arguably still to this day in many quarters) -ingas place-names have been approached in terms of models of Anglo-Saxon migration to post-Roman Britain. The social groups behind them have been interpreted as bands of trans-maritime settlers who brought their pre-existing shared identities with them from their continental homelands, either at the vanguard of the process in the 5th century CE or else as a secondary phase, attributed to the 6th century, in which newly-arrived people were compelled to “colonise” areas beyond the loci of initial immigration and settlement. However, it’s starting to become clear to me that many -ingas group identities were of insular, not continental, formation. The small number of -ingas place-names with what look more like Brittonic than Old English specifics are very hard to explain in any other way (Avening in Gloucestershire is an obvious example: (to) Æfeningum 896 [11th] < *Afeningas, ultimately Brittonic *abona, ‘river’ + OE -ingas). Likewise, the source of many others of wholly OE composition is perhaps better sought not in imported collective identities, but in the social and cultural flux within Britain in the post-Roman period – albeit not necessarily as early as the 5th century.

This may be born out by certain non-toponymic -ingas formations. The Oiscingas, the royal line of the kingdom of Kent recorded by Bede, based their name on that of Oisc (alias Oeric), an early member of the royal line. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (II.5) is, along with the Historia Brittonum (chapters 31, 44, 45) and various recensions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (annals for 449, 455, 456, 465, 473, 488), one of the three 8th- and 9th-century narrative works that provide the information on the origins of the Kentish kingdom and its royal line. What is clear from them is that all of Oisc’s achievements that are known to us (successes in battle, succession to the kingdom, 24-year reign) took place in Britain – the sole additional detail is Bede’s statement that Oisc was with his father Hengist on the journey across the sea to make landfall at Ypwinesfleot (see Brooks 1989, 58-64, for a benchmark analysis of these sources). As such, and provided the admittedly-limited historical testimony is representative the original body of stories about Oisc, it is perverse to think that the name Oiscingas was coined outside of Britain (I might add that the way in which Bede words his account does not give the impression that he made up the name for the purpose of his historical narrative).

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-01-16-11

“488. This year Esc [i.e. Oisc] succeeded to the kingdom, and was king of the Kentish people for 24 winters”. Annal from 12th-century C-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (BL Cotton Tiberius B I f. 118v)

But to see -ingas name formations as a distinctive “English” institution is to miss the point about them. Early authors, from J. M. Kemble onwards, went out of their way to make the link between English place-names that looked as if they might be based on -ingas in one of its inflections and continental cognates, whether toponymic or literary. Although it turned out many of the quoted names were of different derivation, there are many other examples that are indeed valid cognates, like Ekwall’s (1962, 39) pairing of Poynings in Sussex (Puningas 960) and Püning near Münster in Germany (Puningun 890; in this case both are based on a personal name *Pūn(a)). It could indeed be that these place-names represent the start and end points of a trans-maritime migratory journey, but they are also amenable to be understood as the products of very similar lexicons of personal-naming and social structures prevailing (synchronously or otherwise) in their respective locations. Either way, the names descend from the same Proto-Germanic root *ingoz, whence OE -ingas and its cognates. How these stems were used to form group-names did vary across the different language groups and proto-languages (as explored in this recent article), but the fundamental point arising is that Old English -ingas names mustn’t be seen in isolation – even if that makes my study of them a more difficult undertaking!

magna-carta-is-not-all-that

Did I ever mention how all the fuss made about Magna Carta back in 2015 did my head in? All that nonsense about Runnymede being the birthplace of democracy and (from what I can recall) fulsome demands that every US school should display a copy of the charter. Well, it’s great to find there are historians like Dr Reynolds who would prefer people were aware of the bigger picture – here’s a link to access the full article (which will cost ya, btw).

2. Geographically, my research will have a primarily English focus. This is inevitable, for several reasons – and no, a sense of patriotism is not one of them. It’s no accident that England happens to be largely coincident with the area in which Old English was spoken as a first language (not precisely coterminous of course, what with Cornish in Cornwall, Cumbric in Cumbria, and the regions that underwent Scandinavian settlement from the later 9th century), and this guides my hand to a considerable extent. Thus it is an inescapable fact that the vast majority of place-name formations in Old English -ingas are found in England. Moreover, virtually every name of this type is helpfully calendared and analysed in a single book of definite Anglocentric nature (despite being authored by a Swede); Eilert Ekwall’s 1962 second edition of English Place-Names in -ing. Alongside the name data, I’ll be looking at non-linguistic forms of evidence. To help in this, I’m fortunate (as are you, internet user!) to be able to draw upon various electronic databases that collate material of predominantly English provenance or subject: to name some notable examples, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds for “archaeological” material (albeit more often than not found outside of excavation or controlled field-walking), and The Electronic Sawyer and Open Domesday for historical sources.

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-00-49-26

Speaking of -ingas names and coins, here’s a pale gold Pada sceat of the period 665-80 CE found in the environs of Dorking in Surrey (in fact, from a site that might be the root of the place-name; I hope to be able to say more about this in the coming months). PAS Unique ID SUR-2CF753. Image used on a CC BY attribution licence from © The Portable Antiquities Scheme / The Trustees of the British Museum

But in Britain, the sorts of names I am studying are not just found in England. Thanks to Bede (V.12), one of the most historically-enlightening -ingas names of all is Incuneningum 731 [8th] < *Cuneningas, the part-Brittonic name of a district now known as Cunninghame in North Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland (Ekwall 1962, 78-79). It appears in a vividly-told passage about a man who dies in his sleep only to come back to life filled with a new sense of religious fervour, that includes specific and so hugely valuable references to ‘the head of a family’ (pater familias), ‘his household’ ((cum) domu sua; this and the previous phrase potentially – but not unequivocally – describe the *Cuneningas), and ‘the village church’ ((aduillulae oratorium = a typical accoutrement of an -ingas-named place/territory?). Perhaps even more exciting are the early literary uses of a Primitive/Old Welsh -ing, a plural noun ending with the same general significance as OE -ingas, though often found used in a quasi-territorial sense of ‘(land of) the progeny of’. Dr Caitlin Green kindly drew my attention to a number of such references, and has indicated to me that she hopes to put together a future blog post to introduce these names and their sources. I’m very much looking forward to reading it!

What is more, -ingas was used in Old English literature to identify social groupings in some very exotic locations. Among the many group-names in the catalogue poem known as Widsith (note: the linked translation isn’t the best), for example, are those of the Amothingas (line 86), Exsyringas (line 82), and Sercingas (line 75). Joyce Hill, in her compilation Old English Minor Heroic Poems, identified these as pertaining respectively to the Ammonites or Amorites of the Bible, the Assyrians, and the Chinese or people(s) of the Far East in general (1994, 61, 66, 80). Gösta Langenfelt’s none-more-thorough 1920 monograph Toponymics adds some more -ingas name-formations created through Scriptural translations: Sodomingas and Gomorringas (i.e. the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah) from the later 10th-century “Northumbrian” gloss to the Book of Matthew in the Rushworth Gospels, and Moabitingas (Moabites) from the mid-11th-century Anglian Psalter (Langenfelt 1920, 58). In other words, -ingas was the perfect suffix to identify spatially and/or temporally distant groups of people (although they may have known nothing about it!), as well as ones much closer at hand.

screen-shot-2015-09-09-at-10-24-18-pm

The start of Widsith, preserved in the 10th-century Exeter Book. Look carefully and you might be able to pick out some names in -ingas (inflected in the dative plural form -ingum). Image from The Making of Medieval England: Text, Manuscript and Context – sounds like a great course!

3. Female personal names are conspicuously absent from -ingas formations, despite what is claimed for a small handful of -ingas place-names. Here I’m thinking primarily of the opinion (e.g. Ekwall 1962, 22) that Rickling in Essex incorporates the name of the late 6th-/early 7th-century East Saxon queen of Kentish royal birth, Ricola (no idea why PASE pegs her as male!). Formally, it is better understood to consist of a male personal name *Rīcel(a) + -ingas, because in this case the name-stem is a plural form of a singular -ing that had a meaning “son of”, as can be seen from its use in Old English royal genealogies of the 8th and 9th centuries (a topic I’ve had cause to blog about before). This is not to state categorically that toponymic -ingas formations communicate the patrilineal descent of the (lead) members of the eponymous group. While they may well have done so, at least initially, in many cases, -ingas names with topographical protothemes/specifics like the aforementioned Avening – along with closely-dateable, relatively early formations like Bealdhuninga[s], “the (monastic) community of Bealdhun”, referred to in 790 by Alcuin in his letter to Colcu (edited in Dümmler 1895, 32-33; translated in Whitelock 1979, 840-42) – show that it possessed a more general applicability to groups of people united by their identification with a named person or place.

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-00-43-07

If you were thinking you’d seen/heard the name Ricola somewhere before, let me help you…

While they may not have been remembered in -ingas names, it is clear that women could play prominent roles within the context of such groups. Nowhere is this made more obvious than in the actions one of the best-known female characters in the OE poetic canon: Wealhtheow from Beowulf. (NB. All translations in this paragraph are from Bradley’s popular compendium Anglo-Saxon Poetry.) Wealhtheow is characterised successively as þa ides Helminga, ‘the lady of the Helmings’ (her own royal house/people: line 620), and ða ides Scyldinga, ‘the lady of the Scyldings’ (the house of her husband Hrothgar/the Danes: line 1168). The ability of the episodes and characters in Beowulf to be read in a variety of ways is one of its simultaneous joys and frustrations (at least so far as being able to get a grasp of the mass of available scholarship) of the poem, but it is an undeniable fact that the poet did not make Wealhtheow an incidental figure.

Instead, she’s an overtly political actor; not merely a beag-hroden cwen, ‘ring-bejewelled queen’, but one recognised to be mode geþungen ‘distinguished for the quality of her mind’ (lines 623-24). As such, she has the agency to deliver two extended speeches in front of all those present in the restored hall of Heorot (lines 1168-86, 1216-31), and play the leading role in bestowing upon Beowulf an extraordinary array of gold items drawn from the þeod-gestreona, ‘communal hoard’ (line 1218). Among these was heals-beaga mæstþara þe ic on foldan gefrægen hæbbe, ‘the greatest torque of any I have heard tell of on earth’ (lines 1195-96) – analogous in form at least with the one gifted to Widsith by Ealhhild, possibly queen of the Myrgingas (Widsith, line 97; for the difficulties in ascertaining the identity of Ealhhild’s husband, see Hill 1994, 64-65).

In being the equals of their royal husbands or kingly counterparts in some important capacities, Wealhtheow and Ealhhild have parallels with 7th-century figures like Seaxburh (who ruled the West Saxon kingdom in her own right for at least a year) and Balthild (slave-turned-wife of Clovis II, sometime regent, and just possibly seal-ring owner). But what about female members of the -ingas groups that gave their names to places and territories? Is there evidence for these women possessing the same degree of authority and agency in sub-royal social echelons? Narrative sources are suggestive without being conclusive – hence Kenswith, St Cuthbert’s former nanny, is said to have lived in a settlement named Hruringaham (probably < *Hruringas + hām, ‘home(stead), village, estate’) yet she is not acknowledged as being the head of the community (Anonymous Life of Cuthbert, Chapter VII).

124

The gold seal matrix in the name of “Balthild” (the precise name-form is the Latinised BALDEHILDIS) in all its glory; one-time possession of a real-life ‘ring-bejewelled queen’? From the History@Manchester blog; copyright may rest there or with Norfolk Museums Service.

Charters are scarcely any less equivocal. Among the more likely to record a leading female member of an -ingas group is S 46 from the Selsey/Chichester archive, concerning 18 hides of land intended for the construction and sustenance of a monastery at Wystryng’ (a late medieval copyist’s error for a place-name equivalent to East and West Wittering in Sussex). It incorporates a note recording how the recipient of the original royal grant, Diozsa (characterised as uenerabili uiri, “venerable man”), gave the endowment to his unnamed (!) sister, apparently palming off the hard work of monastic foundation onto her – presumably on the promise that she would be its head at the end of the process. Beyond his “venerable” status, Diozsa is obscure, and his sister even more so, hence – tempting as such speculation might be – it is far from certain that they were members of the *Wihtheringas after which their landed endowment was named.

S65a and S65b, a pair of short royal diploma texts of the period circa 693 x 709 in the name of Swæfred, king of the East Saxons, granting a total of 40 hides to a woman named Fymme, allow us to start to move away from the historical towards the archaeological. The land grants seems to have been for the establishment of a monastery under her control named (in) Nasyngum (< OE *Næssingas), equivalent to modern-day Nazeing(bury) in Essex. Excavations there revealed an inhumation cemetery, made up of 86 female and 32 male graves, associated with two timber churches. It has been suggested that two burials within one of the churches represent those of Fymme and a prominent ‘colleague’, and that the site represents a female-led double monastic community, although others have questioned this interpretation (Huggins 1997, 111, vs. Blair 2005, 83 inc. footnote 22). Wherever her monastery and final resting-place were, there is once again no overriding reason to accept the notion that Fymme had a pre-existing connection to the area through being a scion of the *Næssingas.

The Nazeingbury burials would appear to narrowly post-date a phase of ostentatious female interments in the mid- to late-7th century, exemplified by the bed burials at Swallowcliffe Down, Trumpington and (perhaps most spectacular of all) Street House, although it’s a struggle to correlate any with an -ingas-derived place-name. So far as I can determine, this also applies to the much larger sample of such burials (including the above-mentioned trio) assembled and discussed by Helena Hamerow in a recent article. In her conclusions, she contemplates the reasons behind the trend, including the idea that women in the 7th century could have powerful non-monastic religious identities because they did not have to perform roles as war-leaders as men did. Perhaps more immediately relevant so far as -ingas names and identities goes is the following idea, borrowed from Matthew Innes’ primarily Carolingian-based research:

‘the transmission of family memory was largely the responsibility of women, making them central to the legitimation of family power. This, coupled with their child-bearing role, would have made women lynchpins of the dynastic structure of aristocratic families.’ (Hamerow 2016, 445-46). 

One of the working hypotheses of my PhD research is that the social groups recollected in -ingas place-names were local or supra-local elites, which can – with caution – be read as them possessing aristocratic status (hence the frequency of monasteries being founded at -ingas-named places, plus a bunch of other stuff I won’t go into here). I find the idea of women playing a pivotal role in the curation and perpetuation of family/dynasty identities exciting precisely because it is so far away from the male domination of the majority of toponymic -ingas name formations. Certainly, it’s one of the aspects of my research that I’m most curious to see develop and, with any luck, yield some real insights.

Conclusion

What I’ve tried to show above is the things I study – and to be honest the Middle Ages in general – are not simple. People are inherently complicated, groups of people even more so, and that’s before you throw an intervening period of a millennium-and-a-half into the mix. Consequently, no analysis of them can return conclusive results from minimal effort. I am as certain as I can be at this stage of my research that there is no single explanation of -ingas place-names and of the groups behind them. The next phases of my research will seek to establish in how many ways a given facet of the name formations or their geographical locations can be explained. Just because the majority of evidence points in one direction does not mean that the minority can be ignored as meaningless – on the contrary, it can help to finesse or even overhaul interpretations. Above all, however, I hope I’ve conveyed just how interesting -ingas name formations are, and the excitement I feel from working at the borders of language and archaeology.

REFERENCES (hyperlinked if available for free online)

Blair, J., The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

Bradley, S. A. J., trans. and ed., Anglo-Saxon Poetry (London: J. M. Dent, 1995)

Brooks, Nicholas, ‘The creation and early structure of the kingdom of Kent’ in Steven Bassett, ed., The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (London: Leicester University Press, 1989), 55-74

Dümmler, E., ed., Epistolae Karolini Aevi, 2, Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistolae, 4 (Berlin: Weidmann, 1895)

Ekwall, Eilert, English Place-Names in -ing, second edition (Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1962)

Fernández-Götz, Manuel, Identity and Power: The Transformation of Iron Age Societies in Northeast Gaul, Amsterdam Archaeological Studies, 21 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2014)

Hamerow, Helena, ‘Furnished female burial in seventh-century England: gender and sacral authority in the Conversion Period’, Early Medieval Europe, 24 (4) (2016), 423-47

Hill, Joyce, ed., Old English Minor Historic Poems, revised edition, Durham Medieval Texts, 4 (Durham: Durham Medieval Texts, 1994)

Huggins, Peter, ‘Nazeingbury 20 years on, or “where did the royal ladies go?”‘, London Archaeologist, 8.4 (1997), 105-111

Langenfelt, Gösta, Toponymics, or derivations from local names in English: Studies in word formation and contributions to English lexicography (Uppsala: Appelbergs Boktryckeri Aktiebolag, 1920)

Whitelock, Dorothy, ed., English Historical Documents, Vol. 1 c.500-1042, second edition (London: Eyre Methuen, 1979)

Posted in Anglo-Saxon, Annals, Archaeology, Bede, Charters, Coins, Dating, History, Language, Latin, Literature, Old English, PhD, Place-Names, Politics, Twitter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment