New perspectives on 15th-century towns: FLAG Workshop I meets in Aberdeen

‘Order’, ‘budget’ and ‘unity’ were among the themes explored in the first FLAG workshop on the topic of New perspectives on civic administration in fifteenth-century towns.

In-person workshop participants meet together and online

On 5 and 6 November FLAG hosted its first international workshop, a ‘hybrid’ in-person and online gathering in Aberdeen. This brought the project team together, alongside participants invited to share perspectives from their own work.

Some early arrivals in Scotland visit Dunottar Castle

The FLAG team presented the project’s challenge to identify shared aspects of ‘urbanitas’ in towns as different as Augsburg and Aberdeen. The themes of ‘order’, ‘budget’ and ‘unity’, and the digital tools and methods deployed in FLAG, were explored in the first two papers given by the project researchers.

The invitees then presented work-in-progress papers on their own work, covering aspects of medieval urban record keeping, and the interlinked themes of ‘order’, ‘budget’ and ‘unity’. An important goal of FLAG is to bring Scottish and German historiography into closer dialogue, and this was evident in the rich discussions that followed each paper. We were also treated to a display of Aberdeen council register volume one, by Phil Astley (City Archivist). Our hybrid format was a success, with the kind assistance of PhD student Ebba Strutzenbladh as facilitator. All participants followed the current measures for covid-19 mitigation. The programme outline follows below.

A full report on the workshop will be made available at the FLAG project website.

The meeting also allowed for some excursions around the formal planned sessions, including to Dunottar Castle, and Huntly Castle.

The walls of Huntly Castle welcomed some of the group

On 5 November the programme included the following sessions:

Welcome and introduction – Jörg Rogge (Mainz) and Jackson Armstrong (Aberdeen)

Wim Peters (Mainz) and William Hepburn (Aberdeen), Digital hermeneutics: methodology and first results from the Aberdeen ARO corpus

Regina Schäfer (Mainz), Talking about Law and Order in Augsburg

Amy Blakeway (St Andrews), War and the burghs, 1528–1550

Julia Bruch (Köln), Accounting Practices in Monasteries, Towns and Courts. Methodological Reflections

Dunottar Castle ruins

Elizabeth Gemmill (Oxford), The language of things: descriptions of objects and consumables in the burgh court records of late medieval Aberdeen

Jessica Bruns (Halle), Knowledge between pages. Book usage as a new form of administrative practice in late medieval Soest

Eliza Hartrich (UEA, Norwich), For the Comene Wele? Languages of Unity and Division in English and Irish Municipal Records, c. 1450-1500

Phil Astley (Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives) – viewing of Aberdeen Council Register volume from City Archives

Some FLAG visitors outside Huntly Castle

On 6 November the programme included the following sessions:

Jens Klingner (ISGV, Dresden), Texts and transmission. City books and account books from late medieval Dresden

Andrew Simpson (Edinburgh), Brieves in the Burgh Records of Aberdeen, ca.1400-1500: Some Preliminary Thoughts

Christian Speer (Halle), Are town books reliable witnesses of the past? Critical considerations on the categories “note“, “transcript” and “fair copy” based on the Libri civitatis and Libri obligationum of Görlitz in the 14th and 15th century

The workshop was held in the Craig Suite at the Sir Duncan C. Rice Library, University of Aberdeen. The crisp November weather offered a sunny treat to participants, some of whom who also took up the kind offer of a visit to see the Kirk of St Nicholas.

One of the medieval effigies in the Kirk of St Nicholas

Following the end of the workshop the sun came out for a visit to King’s College Chapel, and St Machar’s Cathedral, while others went to see the Dons lose to the Steelmen, before carrying on to hear Public Service Broadcasting play at the Music Hall!

St Machar’s Cathedral under a rainbow

Who Killed David Dun? Home Version

Twine game

 

By William Hepburn

In 2017 I designed an event called ‘Who Killed David Dun?’ at the first Granite Noir festival. At the event I presented a fictional murder mystery narrative based on historical evidence from the Aberdeen Council Registers. The twist was that the narrative was a piece of fiction where audience choices, decided by majority vote, guided the story, a bit like the recent ‘Bandersnatch’ episode of Black Mirror on Netflix and sharing one of its sources of inspiration – the interactive adventure books of the 1980s and 1990s such as the Fighting Fantasy series.

The story was built using the interactive fiction tool Twine. However, the game was made in a bespoke fashion for a live setting and consisted of a framework of choices on Twine shown on a projector, a script of the all the narrative branches read by me as the audience progressed through the story and paper handouts for the audience containing extracts from the medieval Aberdeen Council Registers. I have now integrated these elements so that the story can be played on a computer or (hopefully!) mobile device. The only element of the original event not carried over is a series of transcription challenges the audience had to pass to progress the narrative.

The game can be played in your web browser here.

 

Malice in Medieval Aberdeen

This month and last the language used to describe certain types of violent, but non-lethal, offences in the cases before the burgh courts of Aberdeen was the topic of two presentations by Jackson Armstrong. In Providence, Rhode Island on Friday 26 October, at the North American Conference on British Studies, Jackson spoke on ‘Malice’ and Motivation for Hostility in the Burgh Courts of Late Medieval Aberdeen. This was part of a panel of papers concerning England and Scotland, on late medieval and Tudor towns. At the Aberdeen Maritime Museum on 14 November Jackson spoke on a similar topic as a lunchtime talk.

Both events generated excellent interest and questions.

LACR activities over the summer

Members of the LACR team and LACR alumni presented a number of talks and papers over the summer, engaging the public and disseminating research.

In June Edda Frankot held a talk at the Maritime Museum in Aberdeen entitled ‘The Nicholas and other ships from medieval Aberdeen. Evidence from the Council Registers’. This offered some brand new insights into the contents of the corpus utilising the now complete transcriptions and the search tool which has been developed by third-year students from the university and which will form the basis of the tool that should ultimately become available to the public. The talk concerned the ships from Aberdeen that were active in long-distance shipping in the fifteenth century, their shipmasters and owners, and their cargo. It also asked why the skippers, shipowners and merchants ended up in court, as the council registers are, of course, mainly legal records. A separate blog post on some of the aspects of this talk will be published separately soon.

In July LACR was represented at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds with a paper entitled ‘Legal Business outside the Courts: Private and Public Houses as Spaces of Law in the fifteenth century’ presented by Edda Frankot. This paper was part of a session entitled ‘Fiat Iustitia: The Practice of Law inside and outside the Courts’. This session also included papers by Bridgette Slavin from Medaille College in New York on ‘Youthful Offenders in the Courts of 13th- and 14th-Century Ireland’ and by Joseph Figliulo-Rosswurm from the University of California in Santa Barbara on ‘Between the Tactics of the Weak and the Technology of Power: Memory in a Florentine Criminal Court, c. 1343-1363’, though the latter unfortunately had to cancel.

In August, LACR alumna Anna Havinga (Bristol University) presented two papers at conferences in Scotland: ‘Dutch elements in the Aberdeen Council Registers (1398-1511)’, at the 12th Forum for Research on Languages of Scotland and Ulster Triennial Conference in Glasgow, and ‘The emergence of the vernacular in 15th-century Scottish legal texts’, at the 20th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics in Edinburgh.

For the EAUH conference (European Association for Urban History) at the end of August in Rome, Andrew Simpson co-organised a session with Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz from the University of Amsterdam on ‘Cultures of Law in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Town’. This included a paper co-written by Jackson Armstrong and Edda Frankot on ‘Cultures of Law in Urban Northern Europe’, as well as papers by Frans Camphuijsen from the University of Amsterdam (‘Law courts and contested legal culture in the towns of late medieval Europe’), Griet Vermeesch and Ans Vervaeke from the Free University of Brussels (‘The gatekeepers of urban justice. The pivotal role of lower legal professionals in legal culture in the eighteenth-century Habsburg Low Countries’), and Miriam Tveit from Nord University in Bodø (Urban law in market towns. Legal cultural encounters in 14th and 15th century Scandinavia).

EAUHsession2018

Finally, the September edition of ARC Magazine (the monthly magazine of the Archives and Records Association), which this month is devoted to the topic of Archives and Technology, contains a short illustrated article by City Archivist and LACR project partner Phil Astley entitled ‘Transcription and Technology: Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers, 1398-1511’.