An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the Later Middle Ages

An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the Later Middle Ages

An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the Later Middle Ages

An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the Later Middle Ages

Synopsis

Christopher Dyer examines the transition in the economy and society of England between 1250 and 1550. Using new sources of evidence, he demonstrates that important structural changes after 1350 built on the commercial growth of the thirteenth century. He shows that development of individual property, response to new consumption patterns, and use of credit and investment, came from the peasantry rather than the aristocracy. An Age of Transition?, a significant new work by a top medievalist, reveals how England was set on course to become the 'first industrial nation'.

Excerpt

This book is based on the Ford Lectures which were delivered in the University of Oxford in the Hilary Term of 2001. in introducing his celebrated Ford Lectures in 1953, K. B. McFarlane reports that some of his students imagined that the lectures were funded by the Ford motor company. Their founder was in fact James Ford, the vicar of Navestock in Essex, who cannot have anticipated that his modest endowment would be so influential, not just through the lectures as delivered, but more widely in their published versions. I confess that when an Oxford friend at a seminar at All Souls in 1998 gave me the first hint that I might be asked to give these lectures—‘Have you heard from the Ford?’—my immediate reaction, accustomed as I am to writing references for applicants for research grants, was to assume that he was referring to the Ford Foundation, and to think of another place in Essex, Dagenham. This lapse reveals me to be an outsider in Oxford, as I have not been a student or teacher there, with the exception of lectures over the years at Rewley House, the University’s lively external studies department. As the result of the generous invitation from the Ford electors, and the good advice of Dr Paul Slack, the chair of the electors, I was able to spend six months living in Oxford. the fellows of St John’s College elected me to their Senior Research Fellowship, which provided me with a house in the town, with easy access to the Bodleian Library and to local archives such as those of Magdalen College. the Oxford historians and archaeologists were very generous in their hospitality, and this gave me the opportunity to sample the cuisine, conversation, ambience, and variety of Latin graces in a dozen colleges.

A lecture is very different from a book chapter, and I have encountered the usual dilemmas in converting pieces of writing designed for oral delivery into the fuller and more formal prose appropriate for a book. My solution to the problem has been to preserve the original structure of the six lectures. the obvious difficulty derives from the fact that a text delivered within an hour is so brief that the volume resulting from six lectures, if it faithfully represented the oral version, would be very slim. in my case the script that I carried into the lecture room was much longer than could be accommodated within the allotted time. the text had been drastically shortened with ruthless pencil excisions, but in a process which was uncomfortable for the lecturer (but one hopes not too obvious to listeners), paraphrasing sometimes had to be done at the moment of delivery. the result of this risky strategy was that a full-length book has emerged naturally out of the lecture texts.

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