Using Moodle to create a publicly facing online training website

6660068989_42915e9f3dIn January 2015 the School of Advanced Study officially launched its new online research training website for arts and humanities postgraduate studies. The purpose of this site is to part-fulfil the School’s remit to offer research facilitation services across the country and in part to make more use of the work that SAS staff already do on a regular basis. Continue reading “Using Moodle to create a publicly facing online training website”


Sixteenth Century Scholars – back online

Sixteenth Century Scholars – back online

After a long period without posting, I’m back. Why the long gap and why am I back now, you might ask? What it basically comes down to is too much other work and an uncertainty about what it was I was doing with my blog and my research in general.

It’s now been five years since I completed my PhD in History and for most of that time I have been working for the University of London in one role or another. My own research has ebbed slowly through that period, without really making much substantial progress or impact.

So I’m changing direction  – well sort of!

When I think about my research topic – the study of scholars writing in the sixteenth-century about their history – what interests me is the idea of knowledge creation and capture. What makes a statement authoritative and how are sources used to conjure authority? This is a question that flows throughout most of my research, but by restricting myself to the writing of History, I realise now that I’m missing the wider context. I need to look elsewhere as well – I need to look at other kinds of writing in the sixteenth-century and understand how authority was earned there as well.

My day job has nothing to do with research itself. I’m a learning technologist, digital manager, and research facilitator. I think I prefer the latter title, but essentially what this means is that a lot of the time I’m focused on other things as well such as issues of open access, social media, and data management.

Therefore, as you can see, I’ve redesigned this blog (again) to act as a hub for my research and research facilitation interests. It focuses more on what it is that I am doing and attempts to connect the dots where ever they exist. This new Sixteenth Century Scholars will continue to contain posts about the sixteenth-century from time to time, but it will also include more about my research facilitation work and provide connections to my other blogs/websites. It’ll act as my own personal working space and online CV.

The idea is to make my own life easier by linking my online and offline work together in one place. I’ve got new plans for my own personal research which I’ll be sharing soon, new purposes for my Blogging for Historians website, and I am also working on CMALT accreditation (Certified Membership Association for Learning Technology).


The origins of Anglo-Saxon studies: John Joscelyn – the forgotten Anglo-Saxonist

The origins of Anglo-Saxon studies: John Joscelyn – the forgotten Anglo-Saxonist

In 1996 Raymond J.S. Grant noted three principal originators of the study of Anglo-Saxon in Elizabeth’s England: Laurence Nowell, William Lambarde, and John Joscelyn.  Nowell and Lambarde are well known as originators of Anglo-Saxon studies and as pioneers in the field  However, John Joscelyn, Matthew Parker’s principal Latin secretary, has been largely ignored until fairly recently.  Joscelyn found his way back into the roster of Anglo-Saxonists largely through the work of Timothy Graham.

Joscelyn’s contribution has been partly hidden from us.  Nevertheless it is now believed that Joscelyn was responsible for writing the introduction to Parker’s A Testimonie of Antiquitie (1566), for providing the research in The Gospels of the Fower Euangelistes (1571) and Asser’s AElfredi regis res gestae, and as drafting the text for Parker’s genealogical De antiquitate Britannicae ecclesiae (1572) that listed all of the archbishops of Canterbury from Augustine through to Parker himself.

Behind the scenes Joscelyn was highly involved in the archbishop’s gathering, ‘amendment’ (more on that later) and researching of old monastic manuscripts as part of his programme of re-assessing and revising the English past through its manuscript heritage.

There are no images of what John Joscelyn might have looked like. Instead here is Folio 20r from the British Library ms Cotton Tiberius B.iv (aka Anglo-Saxon Chronicle version D, from Worcester). This particular page was annotated in the 16th century by John Joscelyn, who likely owned the manuscript before it passed into Robert Cotton's hands. (wikipedia)
There are no images of what John Joscelyn might have looked like. Instead here is Folio 20r from the British Library ms Cotton Tiberius B.iv (aka Anglo-Saxon Chronicle version D, from Worcester). This particular page was annotated in the 16th century by John Joscelyn, who likely owned the manuscript before it passed into Robert Cotton’s hands. (wikipedia)

It is hard to say exactly how vital Joseclyn was to Parkers manuscript gathering and research although the unpublished texts that he has left to us suggests that it was substantial.  Joscelyn’s hand is found in several annotated lists of manuscripts derived from various sources with the obvious purpose of guiding the archbishops manuscript gathering exercise.  He also produced for Parker an Old English grammar and dictionary.  The dictionary survives as British Library MSS Cotton Titus A. xv and A. xvi. but unfortunately the grammar – minus its index now found in Bodleian MS Bodley 33 – has failed to reach us having disappeared sometime in the seventeenth century.  For those who are interested William Camden (the famed antiquary of the early seventeenth century) is the prime candidate for having lost it having had it on loan from Sir Robert Cotton who himself had inherited the manuscripts after Joscelyn’s death in 1603 (Graham, 2000, p. 85).

In the 2000 study John Joscelyn, pioneer of Old English Lexicography Graham boldly argues that ‘Joscelyn outstripped his contemporary by the larger scope of his efforts and succeeded in producing a dictionary that was fuller and more finished than Nowell’s’ Vocabularium Saxonicum (Graham, 2000, p. 133).  As stated by Graham Nowell’s list contains over six thousand entries but Joscelyn’s – which made use of the Vocabularium Saxonicum – ‘goes far beyond Nowell’s by drawing upon a greater repertory of sources and by using the sources more extensively’ (Graham, 2000, p. 94).

It is worth noting here that the dictionary is not entirely Joscelyn’s sole work.  If Humfrey Wanley (librarian and scholar of Old English) is to be trusted John Parker (the archbishop’s son) collaborated with the Latin secretary in its compilation.  Wanley noted in 1705 that MS Titus A. xv was the ‘paper volume, in-quarto, written by John Joscelyn and John Parker, the son of Matthew (as it seems)’.  Graham has further endorsed this claim by noting the signature of ‘Jo. P.’ in a preface to Bodley 33 claiming the grammar index as his own.  The presumption is that ‘Jo. P.’ in this instance stands for ‘Johannes Parker’ (Graham, 2000, p. 86) and therefore ascribes both the dictionary and grammar to a collaborative enterprise between Joscelyn and John Parker.  Furthermore, Parker’s hand is the dominant one in the manuscripts although Graham has adequately argued and shown that whilst the copying was largely carried out by the neater hand of Parker, the underlying work – and thus the primary claim to its authorship – remains with Joscelyn.

Nowell never published his dictionary and neither did Joscelyn.  Indeed, the only published Old English word list in the sixteenth century was a glossary found in Lambarde’s Archaionomia.  The evidence that Joscelyn and Parker planned to publish theirs is only circumstantial.  Graham notes John Parker’s preface in Bodley 33 as evidence he was working towards publication.  Here he also included an elaborate title; common in sixteenth-century title pages of published works.  If Parker planned to publish the grammar then no doubt there were plans to publish the dictionary as well.  Graham suggests that it was the archbishop’s death in 1575 that removed the impetus and financial ability for the dictionary and grammar to be published, though again this is only guess work (Graham, 2000, p. 96).

Joscelyn and Parker’s dictionary may not have been published but it was nonetheless used in the seventeenth century by scholars meaning that it had an afterlife and relevance beyond the circle of Matthew Parker during the reign of Elizabeth I.   It was consulted, transcribed and added upon by German philologist Friedrich Lindenbrog (1573-1628); antiquarian Sir Simonds D’Ewes (1602-50); and the publisher of the first proper Old English dictionary William Somner (1606-69).

A beginners guide to writing a blog post

A beginners guide to writing a blog post

On Wednesday 29 October 2014, I opened the new series of Social Scholar lunchtime seminars for the School of Advanced Study by talking about how to write a blog post. I was keen to make this more of a training session rather than a straight forward talk and I was eager to stress that the advice I gave was not rules to be followed, but ideas and possibilities. There is no right and wrong way to write a blog post, but there are ways to improve a posts readability (although I don’t always follow those guidelines myself).

A beginners guide to writing a blog post
Dr Matthew Phillpott
(School of Advanced Study, University of London)
Social Scholar seminar
29 October 2014

Abstract: How do you write a blog post? This session offers suggestions for writing and structuring posts as well as providing ideas for promotion and getting your blog noticed. This session looks mainly at structuring a post for maximum exposure and to help enable readers to understand at a glance what it is you are talking about.

The Social Scholar is a series of lunchtime seminars from the School of Advanced Study, looking into the theme of Social Media. Each session includes a 20 minute presentation from an expert already using social media in the Humanities followed by discussion and Q&A. In these sessions we hope to learn together about how to better use social media in a professional capacity and what the difficulties and issues are. The series will look at blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services.

For full details about the Social Scholar check out the SAS Blog




Introducing Paper Machines

Introducing Paper Machines

REPOST: Digital History seminar blog

By James Baker

In the welcome surroundings of the refurbished Institute of Historical Research, Jo Guldi (Brown University) kicked off the 2014 Autumn Term programme of the IHR Digital History Seminar. In town to discuss The History Manifesto, her new open access book co-authored with David Armitage, Guldi’s talk ranged from the public role of the historians, the Digital Humanities and new model of publishing to impending environmental catastrophe, the need for deep history and data processing tools that can help citizen and scholars alike overcome the problems of modern bureaucracy. To see how Guldi weaved all this threads together, you’ll need to watch the video below. Here I just want to tease in no particular order at a few of threads that stuck in my mind, threads that pertain to most, if not all, digital history projects that pass through the seminar.

Tools as provocations: Paper Machines is a research tool. But it is also a provocation, an experiment with using large swathes of information to inform historical research in the longue durée, a vantage point – the tools makers argue – historians take not often enough. The tool, in short, is the argument.

What we need now: As we sit on the precipice of environmental catastrophe, does it not behove us to think about what digital projects we need? Do we want digital projects that analyse art for art’s sake, that recapitulate old research paradigms and do not address problems of a wider, public relevance?

Hypothesis generation: At the heart of Paper Machines is hypothesis generation. It allows the scholar to take a vast paper archive and facet that archive, make visualisations, select where to read closely. How that macro to micro scaling changes the history that is written, how scholarly debates mature to integrate the inevitable discrepancies between interpretations made at these scales is the challenge historians must re-engage with.

Being bold about method: Works that change the focus of disciplines usually open their accounts by stating ‘you missed this because your method was wrong’. Digital history can and should do the same, it can and should be bold about how it comes to the conclusions it does rather than hide the methods, ways, and means that underpin its particular take on historical phenomena.

My partial, incomplete, CC BY notes on the seminar are available on GitHub Gist.

The next Digital History seminar, ‘Interrogating the archived UK web: Historians and Social Scientists Research Experiences’, will take place on 4 November and a full listing of Autumn Term seminars is available on the IHR Website.

James Baker (Curator, Digital Research, British Library)

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Laurence Nowell

Laurence Nowell

The Nowell family were interlinked with various patrons and practitioners of literature and learning.  As discussed in 2007 in Wyman H. Herendeen’s biography of William Camden, Robert Nowell (d. 1569) was Attorney General of the Court of Wards; Alexander (d. 1602) was a prebendary at Westminster and housed Robert in the chapter at Gray’s Inn.  Laurence (d. 1576) also lived there for most of his life.  Another Laurence (cousin to the first and brother to Alexander) became Bishop of Litchfield in 1560 and is often confused with his cousin.  Each Nowell had connections to William Cecil, Lord Burghley.  The Laurence Nowell that we are concerned with here therefore had deep set connections to Gray’s Inn and to Burghley. 

Herendeen notes that Nowell’s contributions to the field were transmitted through other antiquarian scholars rather than his own publication.  Whilst living at Gray’s Inn with his cousin Robert, he drafted a British Chronicle (1565) and Old English Dictionary (1567) which were passed down to several scholars including William Lambarde.  Herendeen also notes that ‘Lambarde’s work, in turn, found its way into the hands of the parliamentarian John Selden, and the arch-royalist and Laudian, William Somner, who translated the Ancient Saxon Laws (1568) and with the support of the stipend from Henry Spelman’s Anglo-Saxon lectureship, completed the work begun by Nowell and Lambarde, publishing the Dictionarium Saxonico-Latino-Anglicum at Oxford in 1659 (Herendeen, p. 161).

For further details on the Nowell family see:

Alexander Grossart (ed.), The Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell…Brother of Dean Alexander Nowell, 1568-1580 (Manchester, 1877)

Ralph Churton, The Life of Alexander Nowell (Oxford, 1809), pp. 287-8

Retha M. Warnicke, ‘A Note on a Court of Requests Case of 1571’, English Language Notes, 11 (1974), pp., 250-6

Paula Black, ‘Laurence Nowell’s Disapperance in Germany’, English Historical Review, 92 (1977), pp. 345-53

Thomas Hahn, ‘The Identity of Laurence Nowell’, English Language Notes, 20 (1982/3), pp. 10-19.

C. Berkhout, ‘The Pedigree of Laurence Nowell’, English Language Notes, 20 (1985), pp. 15-26.

The Anglo-Saxon Laws in Sixteenth Century Histories

The Anglo-Saxon Laws in Sixteenth Century Histories

The Early English Laws project based at the Institute of Historical Research and the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London has digitalised all English legal texts up to, and including the issuing of Magna Carta in 1215.  The project hoped to reinvigorate research into early English law and legal systems by providing an indispensable new digital resource.   

The project has sought to address four principle research questions that signify a) the current state of research into the law codes b) shows a way forward in understanding and debating the meaning and content of the legal texts.  These questions can be summarised as:

  1. What are the early English law texts?
  2. What do the texts say?
  3. What do the texts mean?
  4. What exactly was the law?

Felix Liebermann is the key provider of many early English legal texts in German translation.  Early in the twentieth century other scholars translated Libermann’s text (editions were 1922; 1925; 1953; 1955) and studied the originals either in Latin or Old English.  The shape and content of the texts as presented to modern scholarship is therefore based on the judgement of researchers reaching back to the beginning of the twentieth century.  The editorial decisions made by Liebermann in his 1903 translation remains a powerful force in this research even if some of his decisions have since been called into question.


Sixteenth century scholars had no such editions to guide or instruct them in early English law.  However, thanks to a few interested lawyers, lexicographers and historians the first real attempts to learn more about early law began early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

The story really begins with the patronage of Sir William Cecil of the antiquarian, cartographer, and linguist Laurence Nowell.  Nowell provided Cecil with transcriptions of Anglo-Saxon documents (including Beowulf), an Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (the Vocabularium Saxonicum) and an atlas of Anglo-Saxon Britain.  However, Nowell himself was never to publish this material.  That fell to two members of Lincoln’s Inn: William Lambarde and William Cordell.

The role of Cordell in the publication of the work begun by Nowell is uncertain.  Lambarde dedicates his publication, the Archanomia (Greek for ‘Original Laws’), to him stating his distinguished abilities in interpreting the law, his interest in preserving old manuscripts and his assistance with the translations as his reasons.  The resulting publication contained transcriptions of Anglo-Saxon law codes, genealogies, a brief history of the period, and a map of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy.  At the time, it was the most complete re-analysis of the period since the days of the monastic chroniclers.

In the Acts and Monuments a selection of Anglo-Saxon law codes are drawn from William Lambarde’s 1568 Archanomia as a last minute addition (Foxe adds the content from Lambarde after completing Book Six as attested to in the text itself.  See A&M, 1570, bk. 6, p. 943.  Foxe notes ‘I thought to fill up a litle end of paper here left’ on p. 944).

John Foxe abridged and translated only the law codes that he viewed as relevant to an ecclesiastical history.  For instance Foxe found that King Æthelrede made ‘but few [laws] touchyng matters Ecclesiasticall’ (A&M, 1570, bk. 6, p.  944) whilst other kings prescribed laws that varied from the duty and authority of priests to the maximum allowed time before an infant is baptised.

Foxe listed these laws as an additional means to undermine the Roman Catholic stance that the Pope has always held total authority over ecclesiastical matters and that no king could have or ever had similar powers:

‘these be sufficient to giue the vnderstandyng reader to consider, how the authoritie of the Byshops of Rome, all this while, extended not so farre to prescribe lawes for gouernement of the Church, but that Kynges and Princes of the Realme, as they be now, so were then full gouernors here vnder Christ, as well in causes Ecclesiasticall, as temporall, both in directyng orders, institutyng lawes, in callyng of Synodes, and also in conferryng Byshoprikes and benefices, without any leaue of þe Romish Byshops.’ (A&M, 1570, bk. 6, p. 944).

Lambarde’s reasons for publication were very different.  J. D. Alsop has shown that Lambarde was a devout reformist but for Lambarde the central importance of the reformation to his publication derived more from the support of Matthew Parker – the purveyor of many of the manuscript texts upon which his research had relied upon – rather than any overt religious purpose.  This fact is clearly demonstrated in the preface when Lambarde describes his reasons for publication.

Further Reading

J. D. Alsop, ‘Lambarde, William (1536–1601)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.