Bursaries Available! #LLA2018

We have bursaries available for our upcoming conference in January. They are available to PhD students or unwaged ECRs who would be interested in attending Law and Legal Agreements 600-1250 in Cambridge, 12-13 January 2018.

The bursaries will cover travel and accommodation for two nights.

We can recommend booking via the UniversityRooms site to get college accommodation, which is competitively priced. The conference is taking place at the English Faculty, 9 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP. Colleges within walking distance of the venue include Clare College (10 mins on foot) and Westminster College (20 mins on foot). There is also a centrally located Travelodge and Premier Inn in the city.

You do not have to live in the UK or be a UK citizen to be eligible – they are open to all, but are limited.

We regret that if visas are required to enter the UK, we cannot cover the visa costs or travel costs to obtain said visa. There is a conference fee to cover catering costs, and this should be booked and paid for online by delegates, including bursary recipients, via the Conference Registration webpage.

The cost for students/unwaged is £25 total, which covers both days.

The cost for students/unwaged for a single day is £20.

Full price tickets are £35 for two days and £25 for one day. 

Please email Voices of Law at voicesoflaw at gmail dot com or the Network Facilitator, Melissa Julian-Jones, to request a bursary application form and for any further enquiries.

Deadline for bursary applications: 22nd Dec 2017.

Deadline to register for the conference: 04 Jan 2018.

Click on the hyperlinks above for more information. To view a [printable] online .pdf of the conference programme, click here.





Digital Humanities and the Study of the Past

Project Lead Jenny Benham will be giving a talk in December at Charles University, Prague, in the guest lecture series on Digital Humanities and the Study of the Past.

From the website:

The guest lecture series Digital Humanities and the Study of the Past (part of the Medieval Social Conflicts and Contrasts project) attempts to bring scholars working in the emerging field of Digital Humanities with the focus on Medieval or Early Modern topics to both local and international audience at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague. We hope to cover a number of a wide field of approaches and angles through presentations of successful digital projects or notable works in progress.

The 2017/18 Winter Term is convened by: Ondřej Tichý.

Jenny will be giving her talk on The Early English Laws project, which we’ve highlighted in one of our #SpotlightOn posts.

Jenny’s talk will take place on 06th December 2017.

Details on Jenny’s Talk:

‘Early English Laws (http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/) is a project to publish online and in print new editions and translations of all English legal codes, edicts, and treatises produced up to the time of Magna Carta 1215.

This lecture explores some of the approaches, questions and tools designed to study these medieval law texts, while also highlighting the difficulties of developing sustainable research resources, possible solutions, and future needs.’

You can find more information about Early English Laws via the link to the website: http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/




Tales of the Unexpected: Shedding New Light on the Medieval Family

Our CUROP student Richard Bowen blogs on his experiences as our six-week research placement student over the summer of 2017. Richard was looking at the Anglo-Saxon law codes and the laws in the Cyfraith Hywel, specifically concerning the nature of marriage and the household. He entered his information, using the relevant dictionaries to provide the taxonomy of the headwords in their respective languages. He was guided in his work by Dr Jenny Benham, Dr Sara Ponz-Sans and Dr Melissa Julian-Jones. Dr Melissa Julian-Jones added in a few Old Frisian and Scandinavian words for comparison from their respective law codes, provided in translation and original by Voices of Law Committee members Dr Han Nijdam and Dr Helle Vogt. The completed database will contain around 200 entries.

Richard’s work will be displayed in poster form at the CUROP & CUSEIP exhibition on Wednesday 18 Oct 2017, which will take place in City Hall, Cardiff, in the Assembly Room and Marble Hall between 14:00-17:00. Tickets for the event are free but registration via Eventbrite is essential. Richard will be on hand to explain his work and answer questions.

In addition to his work on the database, Richard has also developed a workshop for school students based on the research he has undertaken for Voices of Law this summer. The first workshop delivery will be in November for the SEREN Network, and will be attended by A-Level students interested in both History and Law.



Tales of the Unexpected: Shedding New Light on the Medieval Family

– Richard Bowen

I spent the summer of 2017 working. This work was of a different nature to that I undertook the previous year at a local supermarket, it was immeasurably more challenging and rewarding. The work in question was my first experience of independent historical research.

When asked about the object of my research by family and friends, my answer of medieval family law was met with the same mix of facial expressions. They either conveyed pity at the thought of me drowning in such ‘dry’ source material, or boredom at the prospect of listening to me explain it. However, once I began to discuss how the medieval family household could incorporate many unexpected people and objects, along with examples of separation between married couples and adultery, they appeared considerably more interested.


Image 1 RB
An Anglo-Saxon nuclear family as depicted in The Last Kingdom. Source: Source: http://www.patriciabracewell.com/2017/05/the-last-kingdom-2-episode-5/

The project gave me the opportunity to work with Old English and Old Welsh laws dating from c.600 – c.1250 and translate relevant words from the original language by comparing them to English translations. I began by datamining the Old English laws and recording words that corresponded with my own definition of the family, a task I thought simple at first. However, I quickly realised within the first few days of the project that the medieval family was far broader and more complicated than I had anticipated. Certain words had multiple meanings, like the Old English hlafurd (lord) that can mean a head of a household, a master of slaves and servants, or a husband in the sense of being lord over his wife. Similarly, I was surprised by the variety of household types that are mentioned in the Old English laws. For instance, hæmed is used to refer to marital unions between foreigners, while another law mentions households consisting of a man living with both a rhitwif (rightful wife) and a ciefes (concubine).


Image 2 RB
Part of Alfred’s Domboc (the code of King Alfred) c.866-890 within the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript E, in Cambridge Corpus Christi College MS 173. Source:  http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/laws/manuscripts/E/?nb=2215&tp=ob

The Welsh laws I studied were the laws of Gwynedd (c.1240-1300) within the Venedotion code, more commonly known as the Iorwerth redaction after the alleged redactor. The Iorwerth redaction is one of multiple versions of the Welsh law codes, thus it must be acknowledged that the other versions would vary somewhat due to regional language differences. The manuscript I searched within was Peniarth 29, one of multiple manuscripts that the Iorwerth text can be found in.

I found these laws considerably more challenging than their English counterparts, mainly because I had not read a word of Welsh since my GCSEs, apart from on road signs. Interestingly, I noticed how many modern Welsh words could be recognised in the medieval laws, despite variations in spelling, something not possible in the Old English laws. The obvious explanation for this preservation of the Welsh language is that England was subjected to total Norman rule after 1066, whereas parts of Wales remained under Welsh control. Realising this simplified the process of translation. I could now scan the laws for words resembling modern Welsh words associated with the family (with the aid of a Welsh dictionary). This allowed me to use the Welsh cefnder, meaning first cousin, to identify similar words as relative to my research before I had translated them. The similarity is made visible by examples like cenedl, meaning kindred, cyfyrder (second cousin) and ceifn (third or distant cousin).

Image 3 RB
The Laws of Court in the Venedotian Code. Source: The British Library Online Gallery, http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/illmanus/cottmanucoll/l/largeimage75499.html

The language of the Welsh laws was not their only interesting feature. The content of the laws shed new light on medieval marriages, with numerous references to separation and marriage clauses I had not expected to find. The word esgar appears frequently, and means to separate from one’s spouse. This is surprising, given the influence religion is thought to have had over early medieval society. While the separation of married couples is discussed in the Welsh laws without any rebuke, laws that mention the distribution of the household property between separated spouses may have served as a deterrent to married people looking for a divorce, as a public division of the property could be humiliating.

These findings in the English and Welsh law codes contradicted my preconceptions of the medieval family household as a reflection of a modern nuclear family, a naïve notion I am glad to have proven wrong. Considering the issues I faced and the revelations I had during my research, I can say without any doubt that my summer was well spent. Not only did I learn a great deal and thoroughly enjoy the experience, it has given me insight into the world of historical research and provided me with essential research skills that my course mates will struggle with when the dissertation looms.

Finally, I would urge any students considering such a project to apply and seize the opportunity to produce a piece of independent research, the finished project could not feel more rewarding.


Committee News

The Nordic “Civil Wars” in the High Middle Ages in a comparative perspective


Cardiff’s Dr Jenny Benham, project lead for Voices of Law: Language, Text and Practice, and Voices of Law committee member Dr Helle Vogt, University of Copenhagen, are both currently involved in the Nordic “Civil Wars” project, based in the Centre for Advanced Studies [CAS], at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Oslo, Norway.

This project, led by Prof. Hans Jacob Orning and Prof. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, brings together an international interdisciplinary group of scholars, and seeks to answer some fundamental questions regarding the Nordic “civil wars” and how modern political science and anthropology can be used to explore and understand these events.

Upcoming events relating to this project include the seminar on 05 Oct 2017 – Conflict and (dis)order, and an open seminar on 09 Nov 2017 – Are there “good” civil wars? Both seminars will be held at CAS.


Project Abstract

In this project, international scholars from humanistic disciplines and social sciences will study the Nordic “civil wars” in the period c. 1130-1260 in a comparative perspective. The project is guided by the following hypotheses:

– The Nordic “civil wars” were less chaotic than has been asserted when labelling them “civil war”, “anarchy”, or “breakdown of order”.
– These conflicts should be studied as regional conflicts, not as national ones.

In order to investigate these theories, we will adopt a cross-disciplinary and comparative perspective:

– By including medieval scholars working on English, French and German medieval history, we will gain a deeper understanding of how the Nordic “civil wars” can be situated in a broader contemporary European context, something which is almost completely lacking in medieval scholarship.
– Our aim in involving political scientists and anthropologists working on civil wars in a more contemporary setting is to obtain insight into new approaches and theoretical perspectives on civil wars, and to utilise these perspectives on medieval civil wars. This arises from the idea that modern and medieval civil wars share many characteristics, and that by bringing specialists dealing with these separate fields together it will give new insight.

During Fall 2017, a group of social scientists and medieval historians will discuss and develop a theoretical framework applicable for studying civil wars in the Middle Ages. In Spring 2018, medieval historians working with Nordic as well as Continental Europe will work together on the issues of comparing civil wars in different places in Europe, and tracing patterns of interaction between these various areas, taking care to analyse the conflicts at both local, regional, national and supranational levels.

The main goal of the project is to write two books on Nordic civil wars in a European context incorporating a cross-disciplinary approach.


CfP: IMC Leeds 2018

Memory, Orality and Legal Performance


Hi everyone, we have the pleasure of announcing that Voices of Law will have a few sessions at Leeds 2018, and we have *one* space left to fill.

If you think you have a paper that would fit into ‘Voices of Law II: Memory, Orality and Legal Performance’, please send us a title and short abstract of no more than a few lines to voicesoflaw at gmail dot com, or DM us on Twitter.

We’d like titles by Friday 15th September 2017!

What Is A Household? Brief Summer Placement Report

The summer placement is going really well. Our Undergraduate Student, Richard, has completed his research for the database of terms relating to marriage and the household in Anglo-Saxon law codes and the Cyfraith Hywel, and is now putting together a workshop for the able & talented AS Level students taking part in the SEREN Network sessions.

The workshop will be available in different formats suitable for other abilities and Key Stage groups after the summer.

The premise of the workshop is to explore the idea of what a household is, comparing modern ideas and legislation with the ideas and laws of the early medieval past. The inclusivity of the medieval household may come as a surprise, as might the legislation around cohabitation and rights of cohabiting couples, lodgers and others living/cohabiting with the family (especially in the Welsh laws).

The aim is also to to get the students to look at the original words and have a go at basic translation – easier for Welsh speakers in the case of the Cyfraith Hywel – through a series of games and activities that build on each other over the course of the hour session.

The workshop will take place on Wednesday 8 November 2017, in Coleg y Cymoeth’s Nantgarw Campus, led by Richard and coordinated by Dr Melissa Julian-Jones. Richard will write up his experiences on the project in full for a future blog post!

Meanwhile, Dr Melissa Julian-Jones will be adding Old Frisian and Scandinavian words to the database for comparison, and Richard will be presenting his part of the research in poster format at the CUROP Poster Exhibition at the start of next term. Follow the link to book your place on Eventbrite – tickets for the event are free.



Registration Open: Law and Legal Agreements 600-1250

Registration Open: Law and Legal Agreements 600-1250

Hi everyone!

The Voices of Law Colloquium, Law and Legal Agreements 600-1250 has now got a live registration page. If you have difficulty in registering or creating an account, please email us at voicesoflaw @ gmail .com, and we will try to help.

Please note that there is a fee for this conference, payable via the [secure] registration page, which has been set up by Cambridge University. We have tried to keep costs as low as possible, and we have a concessionary rate for students and unwaged. The last day to book is 04 January 2018. Great way to beat the post-Christmas blues!

To download the programme, click here.

To register and pay for your place, please click here.

Continue reading “Registration Open: Law and Legal Agreements 600-1250”