History Symposium: Medieval Charters & Communities

History Symposium: Medieval Charters & Communities

Last week, the History Department hosted Medieval Charters and Communities: A Symposium on different methods of engaging with charters in historical research. The event, which took place on November 14th, featured presentations by Dr. Mary Blanchard (Instructor of History, Ave Maria University), Alexander Crawford (Ph.D. candidate, University of Aberdeen) and Katherine Har (D.Phil. candidate, University of Oxford).

On Monday night, the lecture hall was packed with students, all there to learn more about what medieval charters were, their original purposes and the various ways in which medieval historians use charters in their research today. “The History Department was incredibly pleased with the symposium,” Dr. Mary Blanchard remarks afterwards, “particularly with how well the three diverse papers fit together and created such a cohesive educational event for the students here at AMU.” Going on, she says: “We were very fortunate to be able to host Miss Har and Mr. Crawford at the same time, as they provided several wonderful insights into how medieval charters enable their doctoral research.” 

Katherine Har, who is in the final stages of her D.Phil at the University of Oxford, started off the event with her paper on “Medieval Londoners and their Charters: Record Keeping and Writing the City’s Legal Past and Present.” After giving an overview of what medieval charters are, covering their purpose, their format, and the various means employed in authenticating them, Miss Har focused her presentation on the Leges Anglorum Londoniis Collectae, a collection of manuscripts dating from the early thirteenth century that sought to articulate the city of London’s institutional identity. In her presentation, Miss Har shared her research on what the collection of manuscripts can tell us about the city of London at the time, about the possible motives of the compiler of the collection, and about the concerns and priorities of London’s 13th century citizens. 

Following Miss Har, AMU professor Dr. Mary Blanchard gave an engaging presentation on how medieval charter witness lists can give us a sense of the shifts of power in the Anglo-Saxon royal court. In her paper, “Before She was the Evil Step-Mother: Queen AElfthryth and King Edgar’s Chamberlain,” Dr. Blanchard explained how the presence of the royal consort in a witness list changed over time, becoming both more frequent and showing a change in title, from “mater regis” (mother of the king) to “regina” (queen). This shift in the ways queens witnessed, she said, may indicate a change in the queen’s power in court. Focusing in on Queen Aelfthryth (c. 945-1000), Dr. Blanchard showed how tracking Aelfthryth’s presence in charter witness lists may help us understand her reputation among later generations as a murderess and evil stepmother.

The symposium concluded with a paper delivered by Alex Crawford: “Ceterisque Probis Hominibus Suis Universis: ‘Political Community in the reigns of William I and Alexander II (1165-1249).’” Mr. Crawford is an AMU alumnus now earning his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. In his doctoral research, Mr. Crawford has examined the witness lists of over six thousand Scottish charters spanning the period of 1165-1249, noting how many times an individual appears and where on the list they rank. During his presentation, he spoke on his use of quantitative analysis in his research, through which he is working towards demonstrating how two phenomena of the period—namely, a dramatic change in the socio-economic role of the Scottish earls, and the increased inclusivity of the royal court—can be shown to be linked. 

On Tuesday, following up on the Symposium, Miss Katherine Har offered a workshop on  “#magnacartamayhem: Libraries, Manuscripts, and Social Media.” Miss Har served as an intern at the British Library from April 2014-March 2015. Her internship was in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Section, where she assisted with the preparation of the Library’s major temporary exhibition “Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.” During the workshop on Tuesday night, she spoke to AMU students about her experience working in museums and libraries, and was available to answer their questions. 

History major Andrew Hocott, who was present at the workshop, praised Miss Har’s “down-to-earth spirit of genuine scholarship in Museum and Library work.” He mentions that he appreciated the opportunity for academic growth and development. “I found the unification of multiple texts particularly interesting and it helped me further understand just how vital a historian is to the preservation and understanding of ancient texts, and consequently humanity’s development in general.”

Medieval Historian Dr. Mary Blanchard, who organized the two History Department events and who is herself an alumna of Ave Maria University, said that Miss Katherine Har’s workshop was a “great success” and “allowed students a peek into the multiple stages involved in a large-scale museum exhibit, as well as a more personal look into what working in a major archive is like.” She also shared how glad she was to have Mr. Alex Crawford participate in the symposium. “I look forward to him becoming the second AMU graduate to earn a doctorate in Medieval History,” she said. “I believe this points to the wonderfully strong legacy of former and current professors at Ave who have supported and encouraged the study of the Middle Ages. It is my hope that we can not only continue this legacy but expand upon it as AMU continues to grow.”