I am Professor of Social and Religious History and Fellow and Tutor in History. I also hold the post of Fellow Archivist and am a College Harassment Advisor.
I have been interested in history from a young age. As well as some inspiring teachers at my Derbyshire comprehensive school and at Glasgow University, my historical outlook is informed by engagement with contemporary politics, culture and environment. History for me is a vital component of how we imagine the present and future world.
I aim to guide undergraduates towards discovering what they are interested in, and then to help them develop the skills needed to understand it. This means encouraging open-minded enquiry into new and familiar topics, knowing that students often discover their historical enthusiasms in surprising places. I teach general papers in British, European, and Global history between 900 and 1550, and specialist papers on ‘Crime and Punishment in England 1280-1450’, ‘The Peasants Revolts of 1381’, and the new ‘Global Middle Ages, 500-1500’ course. In all of this I help students think about how ideas, identities and inequalities together contribute to processes of historical change.
I would be pleased to receive enquiries from prospective graduate students interested in any aspect of late medieval social or religious history. Having particular expertise in the use of medieval judicial and administrative records to write social history, I am keen to support projects that take innovative approaches to this field. I have supervised projects on heresy, pacifism and anarchism, conciliarism, sanctity, insult and defamation, vernacular sermons, devotional texts, material culture, marriage and sex, landscape and architecture, gender, dispute resolution, the institutional church, rape and crime, the human-animal divide, parishes and pastoral care, naming patterns, and confession/penance.
My research is encompassed by two main themes:
1. The relationship between inequality, local elites, and state/institution formation.
My 2018 book Trustworthy Men: How Inequality and Faith Made the Medieval Church traces the emergence of a group of ‘elite’ peasants who provided bishops with information about crime and disputes. They were known as the ‘trustworthy men’. In collaboration with bishops they built the institutional church of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, but the social capital that made them useful was a major contributor to gender and status inequalities. I am also interested in the role such local elites played in organizing rebellions, and in the experiences of women and lower-status men in popular politics. Governing institutions and local elites developed in symbiosis, because rulers governed through local leaders. I am beginning research into the way this relationship worked across the medieval world in divergent eco-systems, including islands, mountains, deserts, and steppes, as well as the better-studied (and more governed) lowlands, paying attention to the conditions in which anarchic (i.e. un-governed) societies flourished. This currently involves a large group of historians from Europe and Japan (with some North American and African contributors), thinking together about James Scott’s ‘Zomia’ model of anarchist history and anthropology. I am also a founder member of the academic network ‘Anarchist Approaches to the Middle Ages’.
An interesting recent side-project within the ‘Global Middle Ages’ research network (http://globalmiddleages.history.ox.ac.uk/) was a comparative survey of the ways that trust practices shaped long-distance trade across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa between 1000 and 1600. I worked with the archaeologist Anne Haour (University of East Anglia) to develop a model of trust and connectivity that includes space, material culture, religion and emotions, alongside the more conventional elements of economic history: institutions and cost-benefit reasoning.
2. Belief and belonging in the late medieval Christian church.
Trust relations of a particular kind linked the ‘trustworthy men’ to bishops, but medieval Christians were also expected to believe in God and the church, and their membership of the church was founded on their understandings of faith in other people. Failing to trust the church was configured as heresy, and in my 2005 book The Detection of Heresy in Late Medieval England I examine the way in which this boundary of belonging was constructed and enforced by lawyers, theologians, and ordinary people. I am currently writing a book that combines religious and gender history, provisionally titled Imperfect Men, looking at how ideals of masculinity were used to control and discipline the medieval clergy.
Themes one and two come together in my interest in ‘visitations’, which were itinerant pastoral-judicial institutions that church authorities used to manage the clergy and mould society to a specifically late-medieval Christian ethic. With Chris Whittick (East Sussex Record Office) I am editing a major record of this kind, and with John Arnold (Cambridge) I am beginning a project that uses visitations to compare the politics and experience of Christian belonging across Europe.
Trustworthy Men: How Inequality and Faith Made the Medieval Church (Princeton University Press, 2018)
The Detection of Heresy in Late Medieval England (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Journal articles and book chapters
‘Medieval History and Anarchist Studies’, forthcoming in Anarchist Studies, 29:1 (2021).
‘The Heretic: Contingent and Commodified’, forthcoming in Hannah Skoda (ed.), Handbook of Medieval Crime and Deviance (Arc Humanities Press, 2020)
with Anne Haour: ‘Trust in long-distance relationships’, in Catherine Holmes and Naomi Standen (eds.), The Global Middle Ages (Past & Present supplement, 2018)
‘Trust and doubt: the late medieval bishop and local knowledge’, in Frances Andrews, Charlotte Methuen and Andrew Spicer (eds.), Doubting Christianity: the church and doubt, Studies in Church History 52 (Cambridge University Press, 2016)
with Christopher Whittick: ‘The thirteenth-century visitation records of the diocese of Hereford’, English Historical Review, 131 (2016), 737-762
‘Power and the people in thirteenth-century England’, in Janet Burton, Phillipp Schofield and Björn Weiler (eds.), Authority and Resistance in the Age of Magna Carta, Thirteenth Century England XV (Boydell, 2015)
with Vincent Challet: ‘The masses’, in Christopher Fletcher, Jean-Philippe Genet and John Watts (eds.), Government and Political Life England and France, c.1300-c.1500 (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
‘Continuity and change in the institutional church’, in John Arnold (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2014)
‘The Summoner’, in Stephen Rigby (ed.), Historians on Chaucer (Oxford University Press, 2014)
‘The transformation of visitation in thirteenth-century England’, Past & Present (2013), 3-38
‘The survival of medieval visitation records’, Archives (2013), 1-10
‘English provincial constitutions and inquisition into lollardy’, in Katie Walter and Mary C. Flannery (eds.), Imagining Inquisition in Medieval England (Boydell, 2012), 45-59
‘The archive of the official of Stow and the “machinery” of church government in the late-thirteenth century’, Historical Research, 84 (2011), 1-13
‘Lollardy and late medieval history’, in Mishtooni Bose and Patrick J. Hornbeck (eds.), Wycliffite Controversies (Brepols, 2011), 121-134
‘The politics of burial in late medieval Hereford’, English Historical Review (2010), 1110-1138
‘William Swinderby and the Wycliffite attitude to excommunication’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 60 (2009), 246-269
‘Defamation, heresy and late medieval social life’, in Linda Clark, Maureen Jurkowski and Colin Richmond (eds.), Image, Text and Church, 1380-1600: Essays Presented to Margaret Aston (PIMS, 2009), 142-161
‘The dangers of diversity: the case of John Edward, 1405’, in Kate Cooper and J. Gregory (eds.), Discipline and Diversity, Studies in Church History, 43 (2007), 230-240
‘Anti-lollard polemic and practice in late medieval England’, in Linda Clark (ed.), The Fifteenth Century III: Authority and Subversion (Boydell, 2003), 63-74