Learning from children: medieval history in the classroom

This is a guest post from my good friend, fellow Normannist and primary school teacher, Dr Ewan Johnson. In it he discusses the use of the term ‘dark ages’ as being generational and demonstrates how children learning under the new national curriculum engage with history and the early middle ages in the classroom and beyond. 

Recently, having followed #stopthedarkages and related argument, I asked the students I work with when and what the Dark Ages were. Their answers varied. Some thought they were before the invention of fire or electricity, others that they were when lots of people died, when there was lots of plague, or terrible war in the trenches. When we voted on whether to study them further nobody wanted to because it would be scary, or just about war, or in one case because he was afraid of the dark. My students are seven and eight, they don’t believe in the Dark Ages yet, or much want to. Continue reading “Learning from children: medieval history in the classroom”

Stop the Dark Ages!

Stop the Dark Ages! is perhaps an unlikely slogan, but it is one that caused a bit of a flurry among medievalists last week in response to English Heritage’s defence of the term in relation to interpretation of historic sites. #stopthedarkages has its roots in the recent reinterpretation of Tintagel as outlined by Dr Tehmina Goskar here. So why are medievalists, myself included, rather exasperated by its use?

Continue reading “Stop the Dark Ages!”

Imagining places: women who don’t walk (at least not today)

I’ve failed again on the synchronised walking. At least in February I made it out of the door if not at the right time; this time the dreaded lurgy is keeping me indoors, so I’m peregrinating at the right time, just not physically. This isn’t as daft as it sounds and has sound historical precedents.

Continue reading “Imagining places: women who don’t walk (at least not today)”

Norman origins: or why it’s more complicated than DNA

A friend linked to this piece of news from Norway (in translation; French report here): specialists in DNA analysis have opened the tombs of Dukes Richard I and Richard II of Normandy in order to determine their origins. The reason the specialists feel this needs to be done lies in the differing traditions of how Rollo (grandfather of Richard I) arrived in what is now Normandy in the first place: at its simplest, as recorded in the newspaper, was Rollo Danish or Norwegian? The actual questions should be does this change our understanding of history? Is it good history? Is it good science?

Continue reading “Norman origins: or why it’s more complicated than DNA”

Transitional places and women who walk

Today saw the first synchronised walk for the ‘Women Who Walk‘ network, tagline ‘walking, making, thinking’. This network, curated by Sonia Overall, is designed to allow women who use walking in academic and creative practice to share experiences, ideas, methods and so on. In terms of synchronicity I fell down twice by not managing to fit the walk into the allotted hours (quite) and also because I am not mobile tweeting enabled. This post therefore represents a paradox: a fixed account of something that happened in the past dealing with fluidity and transitions.

Continue reading “Transitional places and women who walk”

The monks of Bec-Hellouin and the importance of place vs space

One of the things I am working on at the moment is an essay for A Companion to the Abbey of Le Bec in the Middle Ages edited by Benjamin Pohl and Laura Gathagan to be published by Brill. This is an exciting project as it brings together different approaches to understand the significance of this important Anglo-Norman abbey from a wide variety of scholars. My piece, as you might expect, is on the use of space. It’s a welcome return for me to the study of monasticism and also to pick up some of the challenges of studying space, place and landscape in the middle ages. Continue reading “The monks of Bec-Hellouin and the importance of place vs space”

Into the wilderness

Originally posted at ‘On Boundaries’ (now defunct). The thoughts presented in the original paper have been published as ‘Monastic Authority, Landscape, and Place in the Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis’, Gender and Authority in Medieval and Renaissance Chronicles, eds J. Dresvina and N. Sparkes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2012), pp. 102-120. I’ve reposted it here as it has some bearing on an article I’m currently writing about the abbey of Bec-Hellouin.

What is a wilderness? How did medieval chroniclers and other writers describe it? What is the significance of the wilderness? These and other questions were the subject of my most recent paper at a workshop on monasticism held to launch three books (mine and two of my colleagues’). Continue reading “Into the wilderness”