Top Ten Medieval Stories of 2010

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 For medievalists, 2010 marked a year of new discoveries and research, and a controversy over where to hold a conference. Medievalists.net has chosen its top ten medieval stories of the year:

1. Digital Projects allow vast access to medieval resources

Many historians will have stories of the costs and difficulties in accessing their research materials – the manuscripts they need to read are only found in far-off archives. But improvements in digitization are allowing universities, archives and museums to develop a wide array of online projects. These digitization efforts will not only help preserve these often fragile documents but allow them to be researched by many historians and used as teaching tools. Some of the online projects reported on this year include:

Launch of the Online Froissart provides digital access to famous medieval chronicle

Walters Art Museum to digitize 38 000 medieval manuscript pages

Canterbury Tales manuscript to be digitized

Anglo-Saxon treasures revealed by Parker Library website

Henry III Fine Rolls Project almost complete

2. The demise of palaeography at King’s College London

Few people doubted that the combination of economic recession and high deficits among governments would mean good news for universities. Many academic institutions found themselves making cutbacks in 2010, and medievalists often needed to fight to keep their programs running. The most prominent of these cases was the decision by King’s College London to eliminate its Chair of Palaeography, the only chair in that subject in the English-speaking world. As soon as it was announced, the medieval community came to support palaeography Professor David Ganz.  As news spread, petitions were circulated, a Facebook group (now at over 6600 strong) formed, and hundreds of angry letters were sent to administrators of King’s College London demanding that the Chair be saved. See our articles Palaeography programme at King’s College London faces elimination and Support grows in fight against cuts to British Universities. Still, these efforts were not successful – Professor Ganz is no longer at King’s College, although the university has promised to create establish a new chair in “palaeography and manuscript studies” by 2012.

3. Medieval Europe not just the home of Europeans

A pair of interesting reports from this year showed that the medieval world was a little more diverse than previously thought. In May a BBC television programme revealed that a medieval African lived in England in the thirteenth century and was buried in a friary in Ipswich. This is the earliest evidence that an African was living in the country since the Roman period. Then in November genetic researchers wrote that they believe that a Native North American woman came to Iceland in the year 1000, most probably as a captive of Viking marauders.

4. Medievalists upset over conference in Arizona

The state of Arizona came under intense criticism this year over a law which put strict measures to combat illegal immigration – many organizations and businesses decided to pull out of the state to protest this action, and a campaign was mounted by scholars to move the annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America away from the city of Tempe. The debate, which did get heated, continued for most of the summer until the MAA’s Executive Committee decided to keep the conference in Arizona.

5. Face of Medieval Knight revealed

In another use of computer technology, Historic Scotland released images showing the dramatic reconstruction of a medieval knight whose skeleton was discovered at Stirling Castle. Archaeologists were able to learn a great deal about this individual and several others who were buried in the 1300s.

6. Pictish symbols revealed to be a written language

A new study has discovered that Picts, a people living in Scotland during the Early Middle Ages, did have a written language made from the symbols they inscribed in stone. A British team has been able to partially decipher these symbols using used a mathematical process known as Shannon entropy which allowed them to spot the distinctive patterns characteristic of written language in the symbol stones.

7. Remains of Eadgyth, Anglo-Saxon Queen, discovered in German Cathedral

Researchers from the University of Bristol unearthed the remains of an Anglo-Saxon queen in Magdeburg Cathedral. The near-complete female skeleton, aged 30 to 40, found wrapped in silk in a lead coffin, was that of Queen Eadgyth, the granddaughter of Alfred the Great. Scientific tests confirmed that this was the body of Eadgyth, who died in AD 946.

8. The Jewel of Muscat sails the Indian Ocean

The Jewel of Muscat, a reconstruction of a 9th-century Arab dhow from Oman, sailed across the Indian Ocean this spring, on a voyage to Singapore. The project was an historical and cultural initiative launched by the governments of those two countries to explore medieval maritime history.

9. Looking for a medieval novel to read?

Early in 2010 we reported that an extensive research project into historical fiction has turned up over 5000 medieval historical novels in the English language, dwarfing previous estimates in this genre. The research, carried out by Shuan Tyas, included books dating back to the 18th century, and was categorized to reveal books of different genres and for different age groups.

10. Need help with those tricky Latin phrases?

And the final item in our top 10 list is the announcement by Google that they had added Latin to their list of languages in its popular Google Translate feature. Although many scholars were skeptical how accurate their translations will be, Google hopes that over time their system will improve.

See also our Top 10 Medieval Stories of 2009

Sharan Newman