13th Century 'Facebook'
Issued: Mon, 04 Apr 2011 16:07:00 BST
Professor Dauvit Broun, the Glasgow expert in medieval Scottish history was the principal investigator of the Paradox of Medieval Scotland project, or PoMS for short, which took three years to complete and also involved researchers from Edinburgh and King's College London.
The project, to develop the most comprehensive database ever compiled of any European kingdom's inhabitants in the central middle ages, has been published online and is open to anyone with an interest in Scottish history to study the people of a medieval kingdom in unprecedented detail.
The multi-faceted database contains information on everyone mentioned in more than 6000 documents from Scotland between 1093 and 1286. It shows not only who they were, but gives an insight into how they related to each other as individuals, as different parts of society, and as Gaels and non-Gaels.
'It all began with a PhD that was done by Matthew Hammond under my supervision,' Professor Broun explains, 'and his approach in trying to account for the transformation of Scotland in the 12th and 13th centuries. The origins of the infrastructure of modern Scotland: including our idea of what the country is, any notion of central government, central record keeping and Scottish law, burghs, counties and a money economy; all stem from this period. The paradox is that at the same time, Scotland was becoming more English than ever before.'
Dr Hammond's idea was to focus on individuals, their careers and how they interacted with other people at the time, in order to understand these developments from their perspective, seeing how the patterns of their lives, their social interactions and identity changed from one generation to the next. This method, technically known as prosopography, proved to be a great success and prompted Professor Broun and a team of experts to begin work on a much more expansive project, delving into the material to be found in more than 6,000 charters with funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council.
'The project was really exciting because it took the prosopographical method into new territory,' he says. 'The traditional approach would have been to take a long list of people and describe their careers in a structured way. But because of computing technology, it's possible to do something much more sophisticated, which is to create a database that can show interactions and the way people are represented in the sources.'
Research assistant Dr Amanda Beam explains further: 'Now you can seek out a person, see where they appear in all of these sources, and then you can also track them with other people and see who they associated with, what circles they were moving in, who their chaplains and clerks were, for example.'
With the resource being made freely available online, it's not only specialist researchers and scholars who can benefit from exploring the information available. One of the many groups of users that the resource is receiving attention from is Scottish schools. Following a conference held in Dundee in 2009 that showcased best practice in teaching Scottish history, David Gregory from HM Inspectorate of Education praised the PoMS resource for its approach, saying: 'Colleagues feel it has the potential to throw light on a period of Scottish history that is not easily accessible to young people in schools. It also has the potential to encourage historical enquiry by young people and, as such, will be a valuable addition to resources for taking forward Curriculum for Excellence. Any addition to what you currently have planned would be very welcome!'
In a further development, the success of PoMS has attracted £840,000 of funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council for a new, three year collaborative project. This will develop the database to study cross-border society and Scottish Independence during the years 1216- 1314 and involve researchers from Edinburgh, King's College London and Lancaster. 'We've tried to make this a catalyst for the subject in all sorts of ways,' says Professor Broun. 'We're putting in effort to create something which is for everyone: an infrastructure for future research, providing some fantastic sources to enable others in the future, anywhere, to become Scottish historians.'
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