Early Medieval History
The period of English history often termed ‘early medieval’ spans the years which separated the departure of the Romans in around 400AD from the Norman Conquest of 1066; it saw the arrival of the English (or Anglo-Saxons) from the continent, their conversion to Christianity, the successive hegemonies of a number of individual states (e.g. Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex), the eventual defeat of Viking attacks, and in the early tenth century the formation of a single kingdom of England. However, it is distinguished from what followed by more than simply the events of 1066. Just as important is the fact that primary sources are far less plentiful than for the period after 1100, and between the years 400 and 600 – sometimes called the Dark Ages – they hardly permit the writing of history at all. If this seems bad, it is in some respects good. Many of the sources written originally in Latin and Anglo-Saxon are available today in translation, and thus the student beginning work on the period, who will never be overwhelmed by the bulk of his materials, can study it in much the same way as a professional historian. The conversion to Christianity is accessible through the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People; the Viking wars from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the Anglo-Saxon (or, at least, the aristocratic Anglo-Saxon) mindset from the great poems Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon; their art from The Lindisfarne Gospels; their lifestyle from archaeological finds such as the Sutton Hoo ship burial; their architecture from Sherborne Abbey and many other buildings... One could go on, but it is enough to say that the early medievalist has many windows into a remote but fascinating world. It should be stressed that this is not a group intended for those who want narrative history, but for people who relish an intellectual challenge and are prepared on occasion to do their own research. As inhabitants of Sherborne do not have ready access to a university library, material available upon the internet is a particularly valuable resource, and participants are expected to be reasonably competent, or at least willing to learn, in this area. Possession of a computer is not essential, as they are available in Sherborne Library along with tuition in how to operate them (details upon request). Communication is by e-mail.
The group is limited to ten people and meets fortnightly on Tuesday mornings in an upstairs room of the Digby Memorial Hall, for which there is a small charge. It is led by Dr Ken Lawson. He is a specialist on the Anglo-Saxon period and in particular the history of England in the eleventh century, upon which he has published a number of books and articles.