Landscape and Identities: the case of the English Landscape 1500 BCAD 1086

Principal investigator: Chris Godsen
Level: Large scale research AHRC

Identity was an issue for people in the past as it is for people in the present. Approaching past identities requires us to learn about the past, but also to unlearn a series of supposedly common sense approaches to self and other. The last millennium has seen the gradual growth of the nation state, bringing with it increasingly centralized forms of government, a state religion tied latterly to an ideology of science, standardized forms of language, writing, education and of comportment, as well as a penal code, a state monopoly on violence and so on. In recent decades the state has increasingly been seen as an intermediate level of organization between local communities and a globalized world, so that, to quote Marx and Engels, ‘all that is solid melts into air’ through the dissolving powers of (post-)modernism. From a longer-term perspective so-called modernity was a brief phase in any case. Prior to that were many other ways of constructing self, group and community, which had their own forms of fluidity and structure, the study of which can create a comparative framework for understanding present ways of life. In this project we wish to explore a series of pre-modern communities in England from 1500 BC to AD 1086 utilising a huge mass of new archaeological information on landscape formations, their histories and relationships with artefacts. These communities, spanning the middle Bronze Age to the early Medieval period, are fascinating in their own right as they witnessed the establishment of a settled farming landscape in the Bronze Age, the rise of some nucleated communities in the Iron Age, the imposition of a foreign Roman state apparatus from AD 43 to 410, and the re-organization of society and landscape in a
  post-Roman world that a few centuries later provided the foundations for the rise of modernity I have just sketched. Naturally this period of 2500 years sees massive changes and the nature of these changes has given rise to a division of labour within archaeology such that different specialists study the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Roman and the Anglo-Saxon periods, with different researchers tending to focus on either sites and landscapes, or on artefacts, but rarely both together.

Such specialism is sensible given the mass of material from any one period, let alone all of them. It does however potentially obscure continuities and contrasts that are only seen looking across period boundaries. It also makes it harder to ask whether the conventional period boundaries in fact mark or actually mask the points of most important change. By looking at the period as a whole, we will be able to ask broader questions of how society was constructed and to balance various regional and temporal scales. This size of project is only possible because of the new availability of information in digital form, so that an important part of the project will be to develop and deploy methods for combining large amounts of information, together with digital mapping of it spatially and temporally. Archaeology across Europe is seeing an explosion of information as a result of developer-funded excavation. The process and results are controversial, but need to be used and
evaluated to see what broader sets of patterns can be extracted.

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  • Created: 11 years ago
  • Created by: Daniel Pett

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