Family values are to be explored within a late medieval context in a project bringing together scholars of English with historians and archaeologists.
The interdisciplinary research team is based at York University's Centre for Medieval Studies, appropriately in the heart of what is possibly the best preserved medieval city in Europe. The team is planning to pioneer a new approach to the study of domestic urbanism by exploring the people, buildings, material culture, ideology and ethics of the household between 1300 and 1550.
According to Felicity Riddy, project director and professor of English at York, this will be the first study of the networks and ties which bound households together into neighbourhoods, relating them to the physical characteristics and designs of those neighbourhoods. "Our project aims to bring together archaeological, art historical, historical and literary approaches to fill in some of these gaps," she said.
"We begin with the assumption that the urban household can be approached in a number of different ways."
For instance the household could be either a building or set of buildings with particular physical characteristics. Or it could be a group of people living together, some of whom are related by blood or marriage. On the other hand the household can be viewed as a unit in the governmental organisation of a town, or as a place of work, or as a private as opposed to a public space. At yet another level it can also be an ideological or moral entity or simply a structure for managing birth, marriage and death.
"In order to identify these characteristics and to analyse the ways in which they changed during the later Middle Ages we need to use different vocabularies which draw on different kinds of evidence and ways of thinking," Professor Riddy said. "We believe this project demonstrates that interdisciplinary approaches can provide a different collaborative model which seems to us particularly important at a time when so much research activity is competitive, with department pitted against department and university against university."
The interdisciplinary nature of the study reflects the ethos of York's centre for medieval studies. The centre has recently undergone a reorganisation so that archaeology has joined architecture and medieval studies in the idyllic setting of Kings Manor. Originally the abbot's house of St Mary's Abbey, the Kings Manor served the Tudors and Stuarts as a seat of government, becoming a school and residences in the 18th century. The three disciplines intend to work closely together on a range of projects building on expertise built up in the area of heritage studies which still has not gained wide acceptance as an academic discipline.
"How we value the past and relate it to the cultural environment of today is crucial to our work here," said Professor Riddy. "We think of it as a future-orientated understanding of the past."