Mapping community identities in medieval Chester
Researchers in the School of Arts at Swansea University have been awarded £123,116 to investigate how different communities lived and interacted in the English border town of Chester between 1200 and 1500AD.
The one-year project, which begins in September 2008, is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and is called Mapping Medieval Chester: place and identity in an English borderland city c.1200-1500.
It brings together academics working in different fields, including literary studies, geography, archaeology, and history to explore how urban landscapes – both actual and imagined by the people living in them – construct and convey a sense of place and identity.
The project will be led by Dr Catherine Clarke in the University’s English Department, with Professor Helen Fulton as co-investigator. Dr Clarke will focus on medieval literature written about Chester in English, and Professor Fulton on medieval texts written in Welsh.
A new post-doctoral research assistant will also be appointed, and the project will run in partnership with Dr Keith Lilley from the School of Geography, Queen’s University Belfast, and Paul Vetch from the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London.
The project team will explore how landscape and urban layout produced a sense of identity for medieval inhabitants of Chester, and how the different cultural and ethnic groups interacted within the urban space.
The research will result in a website featuring a multi-layered map of Chester at the end of the Middle Ages, linked to medieval texts which also map the city.
For centuries, Chester has had a reputation as a multicultural city, with the Welsh and English communities living amongst each other, even if not always comfortably.
Dr Clarke believes that the city’s history will shed light on how communities developed their own identities as a result of the urban landscape.
Dr Clarke said: “We will be examining how different communities used the city’s physical space. Architecture and features such as crossroads, gates and city walls were all important in helping the communities to develop their own sense of place and identity, and we are hoping to define precisely how the urban layout impacted on medieval perceptions of culture and community.
“We will also be looking at the natural topography around Chester. I think it is very interesting to relate what the communities could see when they looked out from the city to their sense of identity.
“For instance, how did the Welsh community feel when their views were dominated by the English countryside? And how did the English community react to looking out over Wales from some sections of the city?
“In many respects, this project is extremely relevant to the modern world. We talk about multicultural cities, but we rarely discuss how these multicultural communities develop their own sense of identity within the urban landscape.”
The project will examine medieval literature written about Chester in Welsh, English and Latin, and will overlay the city’s literary history against its medieval geography.
“I am delighted that Dr Lilley and Paul Vetch are also collaborating on this project,” added Dr Clarke.
“Their expertise in geography and technical research and development respectively will be invaluable in producing an interactive map that charts the life, landscape and literature of medieval Chester.”
For more information about Swansea University’s School of Arts, visit http://www.swan.ac.uk/arts/.