Student Research

The MSRG want to encourage students to become an active part of the medieval settlement research community. This page will be used to showcase research within the field of medieval settlement undertaken by students. To include your research biography here, please contact the web manager.

Name: Susan Kilby
Institution: Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester
Project Details: PhD (2010-2013) Encountering the Environment: Rural Communities in England, 1086-1348
Supervisor(s) Dr Richard Jones and Prof. Jo Story

Research Overview:
Our current understanding of the medieval local environment is largely based on scholarly writings and the policies towards the landscape pursued by the social elite. This presents us with some obvious problems if we want to understand local places through the eyes of the lower orders. But that is exactly what this study was focused on. Through the re-examination of a variety of written and visual sources this research reconstructed in detail the physical (and, in some respects, metaphorical) environment of three contrasting English manors, using this as the basis for an examination of how the lower orders perceived their natural surroundings, and how this led to the development of the local economic strategies and social structures that can be pieced together from the judicial and financial records of the medieval manor. Since the emphasis here was largely on attitudes toward local environment, the intellectual approach moves beyond more traditional English historical spheres regarding the peasantry, and into the realms of mentalities. This has rarely been a consideration for historians concerned with English medieval peasants. Indeed, one might ask just how can we hope to uncover the thoughts of those who left precious little behind in the way of documentary evidence? Looking again at the records that survive, it is clear that peasants left a great quantity of material waiting to be uncovered. Hidden within the documents elucidating socio-economic information can be found direct peasant testimony: their personal names, and those they bestowed upon the fields they worked in. Within the surrounding landscape, in the ornamentation found within the local parish church, we find further signposts indicating how they felt, thought, and commemorated their local environment. This study revealed that some peasants used the landscape to set themselves apart from their neighbours. It shows that, although uneducated in the formal sense, some nevertheless understood important contemporary scientific thought. It outlined the means through which locally important folk stories were embedded within the landscape itself. And it moved beyond the officially-endorsed local village landscape, with its authorized roads and footpaths, to reclaim the real environment inhabited and traversed by English people over 700 years ago.