Reflections on the Thomas Becket Study Day

by Sophie Kelly (History PhD student) for the Thomas Becket Study Day

There could scarcely be a more appropriate setting for a study day on the theme of Thomas Becket than Canterbury Cathedral, the location of the archbishop’s martyrdom nearly 850 years ago on the 29th December 1170. In the Cathedral Library and Archives, just metres from the site of Becket’s murder in the North West Transept, experts from universities, museums and Canterbury heritage organisations gathered to discuss the saint’s life and cult.

The day began with a series of ‘quick fire’ presentations, each focusing on one theme or object related to Thomas Becket. The range of material gave an immediate sense of the scale and popularity of Becket’s cult in the Middle Ages and beyond. Some objects discussed have likely existed in the vicinity of Canterbury since they were produced, including a fragmentary sandstone ampulla mould discovered in the garden of 16 Watling Street (Dr Paul Bennett, Canterbury Archaeological Trust), a thirteenth-century cartulary made for Christ Church containing charters for the shrine of Thomas Becket (Professor Louise Wilkinson, Canterbury Christ Church University), the seal of Archbishop Simon Sudbury showing Becket’s martyrdom (Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh, University of Kent), and the spectacular miracle windows in the Trinity Chapel of the Cathedral itself (Professor Michael A. Michael, Christie’s Education).

Chasuble in Sens Cathedral treasury thought to have been worn by Thomas Becket and venerated as a contact relic

Other delegates discussed geographically dispersed objects which originated or were believed to have originated in Canterbury. For instance, pilgrim souvenirs depicting Becket were bought by visitors to Canterbury and, it would seem, lost on the way home. These badges, with their intricate and compelling imagery, would have been worn on the bags, hats and garments of pilgrims as signs of their visit to Becket’s shrine and are now excavated from sites across Britain and Europe (Amy Jeffs and Dr Gabriel Byng, University of Cambridge and convenors of The Digital Pilgrim Project). Likewise, Dr Emily Guerry (University of Kent) discussed a series of vestments owned by Sens Cathedral that were reputedly worn by Becket and possibly used at Sens as contact relics.

A number of  significant objects pertaining to Becket originated from further afield, both geographically and chronologically. Dr Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art), for example, presented on a c. 1200 altar frontal depicting Becket’s martyrdom found in the church of San Miguel in Almazán, which bears early witness to the popularity of Becket’s cult in Spain.

Altar frontal from the church of San Miguel in Almazán, showing Becket’s martyrdom

Becket’s later legacy was then examined. Lloyd De Beer (British Museum) assessed the sixteenth-century political and religious connotations of the saint’s martyrdom through the lens of Alberti’s The Martyr’s Picture (1581), displayed in the Venerable English College in Rome, and Naomi Speakman (British Museum) discussed Becket’s memory in post-Reformation England and his representation as an anti-martyr.

These evocative objects and themes provoked a lively concluding discussion that centred on the international nature of Becket’s cult and the extent to which the art associated with it imitated and/or innovated in order promote the saint and potency of his cult as a political tool.

Examining the Professions of Obedience in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives

This discussion was followed by an opportunity to see first-hand some of the extraordinary items associated with Becket. Cressida Williams, head of the Cathedral Archives and Library, had organised for an array of Becket-themed documents and objects from the Cathedral collections and various heritage organisations in Canterbury to be displayed together in the reading room of the Cathedral Archives. Among this impressive collection were two fragments of pink Tournai marble, discovered during excavations in the Cathedral grounds, which are thought to have come from the shrine of St Thomas himself. Also on display were a number of medieval seals from the Cathedral’s collections, including those of Archbishops Hubert Walter and Stephen Langton, which both depict Becket’s martyrdom. Dr Helen Gittos from the University of Kent discussed a particular treasure of the Cathedral Archive, the Professions of Obedience, a series of 170 documents now bound into a single volume that record the vows made by bishops during their consecration. These small vellum statements, which would have originally been sewn together in a continuous roll, contain the dates of bishops’ consecrations, and are thus immensely helpful in dating other contemporary documents based on a comparison of their palaeography. Becket’s entry is especially marked in the Professions by a statement in red noting his archiepiscopal status.

 

The later half of the afternoon saw the group move to the Cathedral stained glass studio, where Leonie Seliger, Head of the Stained Glass Conservation Department, led us in a discussion of the representation of Becket in the Cathedral glass. Notably, only three original thirteenth-century panels depicting Becket’s head survive, which Leonie encouraged us to find among her printed reproductions – a task that proved surprisingly difficult. We also had the opportunity to see some of medieval stained glass currently under restoration in the studio, and to hear from Leonie about the techniques that would have gone in to making these panels. A particular highlight was seeing how the colour of nine hundred year old stained glass was still bright and vivid when held up to the light.

Kneeling at the resonant prayer niches in Archbishop Sudbury’s tomb, Canterbury Cathedral

A subsequent tour of the Cathedral offered a chance to see the miracle windows we had discussed in the glass studio in situ, along with the site of Becket’s shrine and several archiepiscopal and royal tombs. The tombs of Archbishops Sudbury and Mepham in the south aisle of the Choir afforded a particularly interactive experience; kneeling down at one of the vaulted prayer niches carved into the tombs’ exterior, penitents (or indeed academics) can experience an amplification not only of the music performed in the nearby Choir, but also their own whispered prayers and thoughts.

Professor Paul Binski (University of Cambridge) brought the study day to a close with a public lecture entitled ‘Thomas Becket and the Medieval Cult of Personality’. Drawing on many of the objects seen and discussed throughout the day, Professor Binski reflected on the idea of Becket’s ‘persona’ (as opposed to the modern notion of ‘personality’) and its importance in the formation and development of his cult. Much like a mask that can be put on or taken off, the medieval concept of an individual’s persona was related to their outer countenance, and formed by certain archetypal characteristics – both good and bad – often rooted in character types in biblical stories or saint’s lives. Becket’s persona and outer image, Professor Binski argued, was imitated in the art and architecture produced in response to his martyrdom, an aspect that was vital to the rapid dissemination and spread of the cult. Due in part to the accessibility of this image through objects made both for the elite and for the ordinary person, Becket’s persona transcended social as well as geographical boundaries, transforming his cult into a widespread, international phenomenon. Professor Binski’s concluding remarks on the appeal of the Becket’s cult in the Middle Ages had a particular resonance amidst of the full lecture theatre where the lasting legacy of Thomas Becket’s life and death was still very much felt.

 

Ditchfield Room Opening Ceremony

On Monday 12 June, we celebrated the launch of the new “Ditchfield Room” in Honour of Professor Grayson Ditchfield. Professor Ditchfield gained his doctorate from Cambridge and joined the University of Kent in 1970. Accordingly he is the longest serving member of the School and was asked to speak at the School’s alumni day in 2014 as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations.

Professor Ditchfield was highly popular with students (‘the best seminar leader I’ve had so far’) and staff (‘Quite simply a star!’).

We are delighted that Professor Ditchfield accepted the invitation to name the room after him and we anticipate for the postgraduates who will use it for many productive working days ahead!

 

Professor Grayson Ditchfield and Head of School Juliette Pattinson

From left to right: Rob Brown, Dr Julie Anderson, Professor Ditchfield, Eloise Bates and Tim Keward

Professor Grayson Ditchfield and Head of School Juliette Pattinson

London 1600-1800: Communities of Natural Knowledge and Artificial Practice

Open Workshop at the Science Museum, London, 16-17 June 2017

Dr Rebekah Higgitt is pleased to announce an open workshop to launch and set the scene for the Metropolitan Science: Places, Objects and Cultures of Practice and Knowledge in London, 1600-1800 project. The Metropolitan Science project will be holding a scene-setting workshop at the Science Museum’s Dana Research Centre on 16-17 June 2017. (more details here).

The workshop seeks to establish the current state of research on corporations, institutions and less formalised cultures of practice in early modern London. Invited speakers are asked to focus on different institutional settings, drawing on their research and the wider literature to address questions such as:

  • Was this institution / group a repository of shared knowledge and skill, or did other interests predominate, or was it little more than a collection of individuals?
  • How was the shared knowledge or skill codified / managed / preserved / developed?
  • How did the ‘group’ see its own role in a knowledge culture?
  • What were its ambitions in relation to the wider context of London life?
  • Was it similar to, or seek to emulate, other groups?
  • Did it promote or to resist change?

An impressive list of speakers, including senior scholars and early career scholars, have been invited to give presentations and the full programme is available here.

Location: Dana Research Centre, 165 Queen’s Gate, London SW7 5HD

Details of registration: https://metsci.wordpress.com/blog/

Americanist Symposium

We invite you to the Americanist Symposium hosted on 12 June 2017. The event will explore the methods and methodologies utilized by Americanists of various disciplinary backgrounds. Keynote lectures will be delivered by Monica Manolescu (University of Strasbourg) and Emma Long (University of East Anglia).

Lunch will be provided (compliments of the University of Kent’s School of English and School of History). The event will be free, but we kindly request that you RSVP prior to the event here

We invite faculty and students with research interests broadly concerning the history and cultures of the United States to join us.

School of History Newsletter: January 2017

The latest edition of our School newsletter, History Today, is now available to download herehistory-today-jan-17

Released monthly, the newsletter features all the latest news and updates from the School, as well as upcoming events and recent student and staff achievements.

In this issue: 
• Kent’s new Vice-Chancellor is announced
• Student Employability Opportunities
• New publications from our academics
• This term’s Research Seminar Series
• Getting to Know You: Our Student Support Officer

Professor David Welch’s research on WWII propaganda features in The i Newspaper

'Persuading the People: British Propaganda in WWII', Professor David Welch

‘Persuading the People: British Propaganda in WWII’, Professor David Welch

Professor David Welch featured in the i Newspaper on Monday 14th November, in a piece detailing his latest book, ‘Persuading the People: British Propaganda in World War II’.

The book, which was released in September, looks at how the Ministry of Information used propaganda to convince the Empire that the Second World War was worth fighting.

Read the article here.

Professor Welch will also be giving a talk on the topic at the British Library this coming Thursday 17th November.  More details on the event can be found here.

Leverhulme Lecture Series: Sophie De Schaepdrijver

Sophie De Schaepdrijver (Penn State University, USA) joins the University of Kent’s School of History as Leverhulme Visiting Professor for the academic year 2016-2017. During her visit she will be holding a series of lectures exploring how studying military occupation helps us understand the First World War.

Programme:

© IWM Q87606. German soldiers watching a female lacemaker at work in German occupied Belgium

© IWM Q87606. German soldiers watching a female lacemaker at work in German occupied Belgium

Monday 3rd October Conquered Lands: Occupied Europe in the Great War

Tuesday 8th November Hostile Hinterlands: Occupation and War

Tuesday 6th December To Wait In Heavy Harness: The Occupiers

Tuesday 24th January Dancing with a Bully: Occupied Populations

Tuesday 28th February Social Contracts: Citizenship and Sacrifice under Occupation

Tuesday 28th March Tangled Memories: Remembering and Forgetting the Occupations of the Great War

Lectures will take place in Grimond Lecture Theatre 2 on the Canterbury Campus from 6pm.

Professor De Schaepdrijver is a historian of the First World War with a special interest in gender, social class, and the uses of language; she has published widely on the history of that war’s military occupations. Her most recent books are Military Occupations in the First World War (edited, 2014); Bastion: Occupied Bruges in the First World War (2014); and Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War (2015). For her work, she was awarded the title of Baroness by H.M. the King of Belgium.

The Leverhulme lecture series is supported by the School of History and the Gateways to the First World War public engagement centre at the University of Kent.

Sophie De Schaepdrijver

Sophie De Schaepdrijver

 

Professor Schmidt to appear on BBC4 documentary

Professor Ulf Schmidt will be appearing on BBC4 documentary ‘Inside Porton Down‘, due to be aired on Tuesday 28th June at 9.00pm.

Professor Schmidt recently released his book 'Secret Science', which focuses on the experiments conducted at Porton Down

Professor Schmidt recently released his book ‘Secret Science’, which focuses on the experiments conducted at Porton Down

The programme will investigate Britain’s most secretive and controversial military research base, Porton Down, on its 100th anniversary, revealing the truth about the chemical and biological weapons tested there.

Professor Schmidt contributes to the programme following his work on recent book ‘Secret Science: A Century of Poison Warfare and Human Experiments’, which provides a comprehensive history of chemical and biological weapons research in Britain and North America. The book, released last year, incorporates previously top secret military, scientific, and government archival material with interviews with servicemen and scientists whilst recognising developments in global debates on medical ethics.

Last summer the School held a launch for the book, which a number of Porton Down veterans attended, along with academics and staff from the School. View pictures from the event here.

‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Material Culture’: South East Hub Conference 2016

The University of Kent is again hosting this years’ South East Hub Conference, which will be on ‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Material Culture’, and is to be held on Thursday 9th June 2016.

This one-day conference hosted at the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus brings together a range of research on material culture in Britain and the wider world. It will include a Special Collections workshop led by Dr. Emily Guerry, as well as a variety of panels led by postgraduate researchers, with broad themes covering: methodological practice, material and cultural exchange, symbolism, and myth and memory in materiality. Our keynote, Professor Nicholas Saunders, will be delivering a lecture in the afternoon..

The full programme can be viewed below, and has been selected to give consideration to the variable ways of approaching material studies across a range of disciplines.

The Conference is free to attend, and is open to all postgraduate and academic staff interested in, or studying issues within material culture. Lunch and refreshments are provided. Please register your attendance by emailing SEHub2016@gmail.com by Thursday 2nd June, including your name, institution and area of research.

Places are limited for Dr Guerry’s session in Special Collections and, therefore, will be allocated on a first come first served basis. However, those unable to attend the morning session are welcome to register to attend the rest of the conference.

Conference Programme

Time Programme
9.30-10.30 Registration & Refreshments
10.30-12.00 Workshop with Dr Emily Guerry (University of Kent)
12.00-1.30 Panel 1 & 2
1.30-2.30 Lunch
2.30-4.00 Panel 3 & 4
4.00-4.30 Coffee break
4.30-6.00 Keynote Lecture by Professor Nicholas Saunders (Bristol University)

 

Panel One: Methodological practices in material studies

Name Paper
Harriet Dorling ‘Neither flesh nor fleshless’ (Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot):

Methodological considerations for the interdisciplinary use of material object studies and literature

 

Hannah Lilley William Burch’s Artisanal Material Practice and the Making of his Master’s Manuscript

 

Rebecca Smith Rubber stamps, chinagraph, captions and coffee stains: Exploring bureaucracy through materiality in the Daily Herald picture library

 

 

Panel Two: Symbolism and materiality

Name Paper
Nicholas Blower Comfort in the Ephemeral: Environmentalist Effigies and Communal Agency in Southern Utah
Amy Hammett The Clay balls of Ancient Egypt: A Rite of Passage?
Holly Winter Engraving Seringapatam War Trophies and the Construction of British Militaristic Masculinities in Colonial India, 1799-1857

 

Panel Three: Material and cultural exchange

Name Paper
Colin Elder “The staple of the place, are the white fish and maple sugar, and some few, but not many, furs.”: Movement and circulation of material objects in the nineteenth century, and their meanings and status in the Upper Great Lakes
Gumring Hkangda Museum Objects and Indigenous Knowledge: methodological and epistemological perspectives in the case of researching the mainland Southeast Asia ethnographic materials at the British Museum
Rachael Morton Perceptions of Quality Metalware in Eighteenth-Century England

 

 

Panel Four: Myth, memory and materiality

Name Paper
Alina Kozlovski Pillars of time: Fragmenting the past and present in the ancient Roman landscape
Bisma Khan Architecture and Literature in the construction of memory, specifically, the Orient in in eighteenth century England
Melissa Bennett ‘Made of poor fighting material’: The photographic presentation of the martial qualities of the West India Regiment during the Sierra Leone Hut Tax War of 1898