Village community and peasant society in medieval England
By Namananda Henderson
Master’s Thesis, University of Florida (2009)
Abstract : This thesis provides an overview of the scholarship examining the nature of the village community in medieval England. Beginning my analysis in the late nineteenth century I discuss the socio-political context within which the first studies of village communities emerged and I examine the influence of Romanticist traditions on the scholarship. I then look at the emergence and development of the social sciences in the early and mid-twentieth century, especially the rise of a more interdisciplinary approach within the social sciences as evidenced by a number of developments including the Annales School in France.
Turning to the last two decades of the twentieth century, I describe the development of new theoretical models of community, which were developed by social scientists during the second half of the twentieth century. When applied to the study of the medieval village community, these models suggest that scholars must begin to move away from simplistic, binary conceptions of the village community. Finally, by examining how a few of the authors made use of the medieval documentary evidence I argue that scholars until very recently drew only upon those sources which fit their preconceived notions, which emphasized the communal organization and solidarity of the village community.
Introduction: The structure of peasant society in medieval England has long been a subject of interest for scholars from many disciplines within the social sciences including history, sociology, economics and archaeology. The earliest authors who discussed peasant society, such as Sir Henry Maine, emphasized the communal, collective nature of the village community, and later generations of authors continued in this vein.
Indeed, the majority of the scholars have until very recently been focused on describing various aspects of peasant life and community without ever critically analyzing their own basic conception of the rural community. Rather, they have continued to rely on old descriptive approaches and binary conceptions of the village community, which posited a basic dichotomy between the communal rural past and modern society organized around the individual.