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.