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”

#SpotlightOn… Early English Laws

#SpotlightOn… Early English Laws

Over the summer, a lot of us will be looking at our courses and altering things or adding things to prepare for next year. If you are new to teaching medieval law or an Anglo-Saxon course, Early English Laws is a good online project to start with.

“Early English Laws 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.”

The Project Description outlines the research questions of the project, giving information about past and present scholarship, future avenues of research, and outlining the project aims. Analysis of the texts and their translations aims to shed new light on what the texts were saying, so that the question of what was the law can be properly tackled.

There is a list of texts still available for editing, a list of manuscripts and their common abbreviations, and a range of material including essays and glossaries to help you understand Early English laws are available in the Reference tab. The Reference tab links to contextual essays, articles, a bibliography and links to other projects. Additionally, the short blog posts may prove useful for offering thoughts on the topics, and snippets of information about the project and its editions.

A comprehensive index of the texts tackled by the project can be found here in the Laws section of the site.


Have you used the site in your teaching? How have you used it? Let us know!


Medieval Murder & Public Engagement

Network Facilitator @MedievalMJJ got a write-up in The Cowbridge Gem last week for her talk to Cowbridge’s U3A group on the murder of William Cantilupe in 1375.

The U3A or University of the Third Age is a great wider community engagement avenue, where retired or semi-retired people come together to learn out of interest, and are staffed by volunteers. There are many local U3A groups across the UK, with the emphasis of learning for pleasure. Speaking to the Cowbridge group was a pleasure in itself, and it is great to create and reinforce links with community education groups. In lieu of a speaker’s fee (which in this case is always given to a charity of the speaker’s choice by the group) the group spent the equivalent amount on food to give to the local Food Bank.

A popular hour-long murder mystery presentation, Mel has blogged about its creation and delivery before on her blog, here and here. It was part of her ongoing blog post series, Keeping Up With The Cantilupes.

The murder mystery format allows people to engage by guessing whodunnit once all the clues and evidence has been presented to them, and the outcome of the trial itself is then up for critique in the Q&A. There is scope for it to be delivered in a traditional lecture format with seated engagement – a combination of traditional talk format with ‘armchair-detective’ work on the part of the audience – but it could be delivered in a scavenger hunt style with the lecture printed out in clues and acted out in various forms of RPG/Murder Mystery evening events, which are also quite popular. The possibilities for a talk like this are as limited as one’s imagination and opportunities, really!

In this case, it was delivered in a traditional way to about 20 members present in a small room in Cowbridge Town Hall, using a PowerPoint and handouts, which seemed to go down well. There was good feedback after the session, and lots of thought-provoking questions.

It should be noted as an aside that public interest in the Middle Ages seems to be on the rise thanks to the popularity of shows like pseudo-medieval Game of Thrones, and sites like The Public Medievalist works to stretch the boundaries of public history and bring Medieval Studies into the public eye. Their latest special series on Race, Racism and the Middle Ages is especially relevant to discussions in the public sphere in which the Middle Ages as a period is often invoked.

This is why public engagement is a crucial part of what the Voices of Law network seeks to achieve in a small way, and why public engagement – not only with schools but with the wider community – is such an important thing for researchers to engage with.

Soon we will be working with Richard, this year’s successful CUROP candidate, who will be creating a workshop based on his research for the SEREN Network, or for another school engagement opportunity. This will be exciting, as the topic of marriage and kinship in Welsh Laws is an interesting one in itself, but the real challenge will come in presenting the results (recorded in an Access Database format) in an engaging and pedagogically relevant way. The SEREN Network is geared towards specialist workshops to stretch the attendees and challenge them, while giving them opportunities to meet representatives from various institutions and organisations, and build their confidence in ways that match their ability.

On that note, congratulations should go to one of the enthusiastic pupils who attended the Voices of Law SEREN session in February 2017, and achieved Highly Commended in the Vellacott History Essay Prize awarded by Peterhouse College, Cambridge.

The SEREN workshops are a different type of engagement to U3A engagement, and both are equally valuable. Being flexible in approach, format and subject matter is a skill that want to help develop in those the Voices of Law Network employs, be they Undergraduates or ECRs.


We look forward to engaging with other school, education and community groups in future, and creatively presenting topics on medieval history and law!



Voices from Shetland #2 – Sara Ponz-Sans

For the next few weeks we will be sharing the summaries of the talks given at the workshop that took place in Lerwick, Shetland. Our second guest post is a summary of Dr Sara Ponz-Sans (Cardiff University)’s discussion, ‘Old English and Old Norse/Danish, where is the research today? What can new research gain?

Sara Pons-Sanz presented first an overview of the lexical impact of Old Norse on English, focusing particularly on the difference between French and Norse loans in medieval English in terms of number and character. She then discussed the methodological advances for the identification of Norse-derived terms that are being pioneered as part of the AHRC-funded Gersum Project: The Scandinavian Influence on English Vocabulary


The project, involving Pons-Sanz as well as Drs Richard Dance and Brittany Schorn (University of Cambridge), focuses mainly on nine Middle English texts associated with the so-called ‘Alliterative Revival’, but its findings can be applied to the identification of any Norse terms in English and, more widely, to the lexical effects of other contact situations involving closely related languages. In the final part of her presentation, Pons-Sanz spoke about the need for collaboration among scholars working on a wide array of disciplines and languages in order to gain a better understanding of the impact that the Anglo-Scandinavian contact might have had on specific lexico-semantic fields, such as the field of PROTECTION (mainly in relation to the native frið and the Norse-derived grið.


The thorough study of such legal terms requires the input of linguists and legal historians working on Old English and Old Norse materials, as well as other Germanic languages so that comparisons between cognate terms can be duly established. Our network, Voices of Law, is ideally suited for such academic endeavours.

You can read more about the Gersum project here in our #SpotlightOn series of posts.