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Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Event Archive

Peasant Collectivity and Lordly Managerialism in the Emergence of Medieval Open-Field Systems in the Central Province.

6th December 2016, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Susan Oosthuizen, (University of Cambridge)

This event is free to attend and open to all and will be followed by a drinks reception in the Courtyard Café, Palace Green Library.

Abstract: Open fields have two defining characteristics:
(1) They are fields in which two or more cultivators have rights of property, and
(2) They are fields in which the boundaries between such properties are ‘open’. That is, they are sufficiently insubstantial to allow a person, if s/he wished, to walk from one side of the field to the other across holdings belonging to two or more different people. This paper discusses the introduction of open fields in England within the structure of a lightly-applied metaphor of two partners in a dance of variable pace. Beginning with an overview of the historiography, it moves on to take a property rights approach, beginning by defining common property rights and discussing the principles of their governance. It goes on to suggest a general hypothesis for the origins and development of irregular and, later, regular open-field systems in England: essentially, that the former evolved from prehistoric and Romano-British open-field systems, while the latter gave expression to a dynamic middle Anglo-Saxon collaboration between peasant cultivators of varying status intent on the careful governance of their rights of property in arable fields, and estate owners focused on increased managerialism in agricultural production. That is, it attempts through the case study of agricultural change in early medieval England to examine the interaction between long-standing tradition and individual agency in effecting historical change.

Dr Susan Oosthuizen is Reader in Medieval Archaeology at the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education. She is a member of the University's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Originally South African, she received her university education largely in Britain, at the universities of Southampton, London and Cambridge. Her research interests are currently focussed on common property rights in archaeological contexts as exemplified in Anglo-Saxon and medieval landscapes.

Register here for this and other seminars in the Landscapes series taking place during Michaelmas Term (10th October - 16th December 2016).

Contact admin.imems@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.