Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview: Matthew Hammond and PoMS, Part III

Welcome. I interviewed Matthew Hammond of the University of Edinburgh about the PoMS (Paradox of Medieval Scotland) database via email in September 2011. Here is the third and final installment: 

Amanda Epperson [AE]: How were the royal family trees established? What types of documents were used to verify relationship? How did you establish the accuracy of the evidence?

Matthew Hammond [MH]: It must be stressed at this point that the family trees are, like the simple search and the more advanced browse search functions, a way of getting into the database and finding out more about individual people. So the family trees that are there now are not research outcomes but rather more of a route in. The royal family trees are not particularly controversial; they are well established and we used them based on the most current academic books on the topic and the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, in conjunction with the data from the database itself. In future, it is hoped to include many more databases on individual families, and these will require further research using the data in the database itself. 

AE: How might students, historians, and instructors use this database?

MH: There are many ways to search the database. The simple search box, which works just like a Google search, makes it very easy to get started. The obvious place is to start with a particular family name or place-name and take it from there. There are very useful tutorial guides available on the website, and the browse tab will take you to the faceted browser, which allows you to look at much more detailed aspects of the documents. For example, you may want to find all the people mentioned in ‘pro anima’ clauses in charters. These are clauses which specify that a gift is being given to the church in exchange for prayers, often for family members, and sometimes a dead child. Another interesting aspect that users can explore are the feudal conveyances on land, whereby the tenant must give the lord a symbolic render every year: popular choices were white gloves and a pair of gilt spurs. Of course, land was sometimes held for military service, and users can see, for example, estates that were held for fractions of a knight’s service. The database is linked together through ‘factoids’, a technical terms for linkages denoting things like relationships and titles. So you can easily search family relationships using these factoids.

AE: What books would you recommend for those interested in Medieval Scotland? For those interested in Scottish identity studies?

MH: There are actually a number of very useful starting points on the PoMS website, including a historical introduction to the period (http://www.poms.ac.uk/about/introduction.html) and an explanation of the paradox (http://www.poms.ac.uk/about/explaining.html), both written by top scholar Prof Dauvit Broun for newcomers to the subject. There is a great deal of recent work on Scottish identity, by Prof Broun, myself, and others, but mostly published in academic journals and volumes of collected essays. There are a plethora of books now available on medieval Scotland: one classic which is quite accessible is Geoffrey Barrow’s Kingship and Unity. A more recent survey of the period is Keith Stringer’s excellent chapter in Jenny Wormald’s Scotland: A History, in the Oxford Illustrated History series.

AE:  What did the project reveal about social relationships in Scotland during this period?

MH: A great deal. A volume called The Paradox of Medieval Scotland 1093-1286 will be published next year with contributions from many of the project team members and those on the advisory panel. These include major pieces by top scholars including Keith Stringer, Cynthia Neville, Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh and David Carpenter, as well as chapters by important new voices like Alice Taylor. These offer new perspectives on a variety of issues including law, feudalism and the Gaelic language. In the meantime, a great deal of the new research coming out the project is available for free on the website. The Features of the Month include discussions of a myriad of topics (http://www.poms.ac.uk/feature/archive.html). The project also provided fertile ground for the study of charters themselves, as evidenced in a free book on charter issues (http://www.poms.ac.uk/ebook/index.html).

AE: Most people won’t be able to trace their ancestry to the Middle Ages, unless they luck into a landed family with an established pedigree. Can you recommend any books about life in Medieval Scotland that would give family historians idea of what these distant ancestor’s lives might have been like?

MH: Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough books exploring the everyday lives of people in Scotland in the Middle Ages. This is largely due to the paucity and nature of the sources, but it is also slowly starting to change. A new paperback published by Edinburgh University Press, A History of Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland, 1000-1600, is edited by Edward J. Cowan and Lizanne Henderson, and includes chapters on the sights and smells of living in a medieval town, and the culture of gaming. Also very useful are the books published by Historic Scotland, called the ‘Making of Scotland’ series. Piers Dixon’s Puir Labourers and Busy Husbandmen explains life in the countryside, while Derek Hall’s Burgess, Merchant and Priest explores life in the burghs. I also have plans to write a book looking at what it was like to live in Scotland before the Wars of Independence, but it is still in the planning stages.

Abernethy, Brown, Cameron, Campbell, Douglas, Fleming, Grant, Hunter, Lindsay, MacDonald, Melville, Oliphant, Sinclair, and, of course, Scott. We are currently in the process of expanding the database up to 1314, and that means we will have the names of hundreds if not thousands of new people when the new updated database is launched next year (exact date TBA).

AE: to all SEB readers, I hope you have enjoyed this interview and are inspired to visit PoMS  and to learn more about Medieval Scotland.

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