Points of reference

What are the horizons of history?  We’re all familiar with the watershed between ‘Prehistory’ and ‘History’ – the survival of written records – but there’s a more recent horizon of around 200 years in the British Isles.  It’s the advent of accurate large scale mapping. Landmark Solutions will sell you ‘Highly accurate georeferenced data’ back…

Potsherds as Proxy for Population data

I like this kind of research, where scarcity of written sources forces historians into innovation and ingenuity. Here, Carenza Lewis and her many volunteer archaeologists have counted discarded fragments of pottery to demonstrate the sudden reduction in consumption in Eastern England after the plague years 1356-50. Source: ‘Eye-watering’ scale of Black Death’s impact on Eng……

Art trouvé

‘Hold on – is this a book or a film?’ The researcher was telling me the story she was writing as a result of her long research in the private archive in which I had just begun to work as archivist. It sounded very like the opening scene of a drama: a fire in the grate…

Parchment names, paper names

“Katerina de Caldewelle”: do I translate her Katherine of Caldewelle, Katherine de Caldewelle or just Katherine Caldewelle? How about William Faber? Should I just call him Smith? Or was he William the Smith? Is it Adam Bercarius or Adam the Shepherd? “Does any of this matter?” I hear you ask. Yes, it does, if the…

‘It could be you’

It was like the parish-council scenes in the Vicar of Dibley. We sat round a trestle table by the tea urn at the back of 15th-century Lambley Parish Church.  They were dark autumn evenings, so we didn’t get the benefit of Lord Cromwell’s tall clear Perpendicular nave windows but instead peered at the easel supporting…

How you say it

“Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.” (Tweet by @NatGeoEducation, 4 April 2016) It’s a classic problem: learning new words only through reading. Does it matter? Sometimes, yes. I tell my palaeography students to read their transcriptions aloud. They will get used to the rhythm…

Y the fuss about surnames?

  One of the first questions I ask before embarking on a genealogy project is how wide it is to be: does my client want to know about all their ancestors, or only those that share their surname? Some might be curious about their female line; it is after all the source of Mitochondrial DNA…