Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Ford Lectures 2013

Hilary term in Oxford means - or should mean - for Oxford Historians the Ford Lectures on British History. This year, on the trienniel cycle, we are are back to a medieval topic with Professor John Blair of The Queen's College giving his lectures on People and Places in Anglo-Saxon England 600-1100.  They began last evening in the Examination Schools in the High.

Last night was an opportunity for Prof. Blair to indicate his subject matter for the coming five weeks. His aim is to provide an overview and interpretation of the archaeological evidence from excavations over recent decades into Anglo-Saxon social and economic life. To do this he has used a Leverhulme grant to study the great outpouring of archaeological reports generated by excavations since the 1970s, many of them little known by the wider body of historians. These include many sites resulting on modern development which would otherwise have never been explored but for the principle of the developer paying in advance for an archaeological survey. This follows on from earlier work on specific sites, but now enabling regional patterns to be determined as had not been possible initially.

We are promised new insights into patterns of distribution and we were given some initial examples last night, and also introduced to less tangible matters such as fashion, as well as distribution, in pottery in East Anglia in the period.

An important point  he restated was that evidence of wooden buildings in the form of p[ost holes, and even more in building arrangements where the houses rested on flat surface stones, can give little idea of the actual buildings they supported. There was also the point that from an era with so many objects made of wood or leather that leave no trace in archaeological sites, and even more so perhaps in the case of textiles, probably brightly coloured, we can only too easily have an impoverished impression of the life-style of the period under review.

This series of lectures promises to be a major overhaul of our view and understanding of life between the seventh and eleventh centuries and one I hope to attend throughout. I also hope to post reports as the lectures go on, and we are promised a book by Prof. Blair with far more in it than he can cram into his lectures.

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