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Professor Chris Woolgar 

Professor of History and Archival Studies, Chair of Exams; MA Convenor

Professor Chris Woolgar's photo

Professor Chris Woolgar is a Professor of History and Archival Studies at the University of Southampton.

Chris Woolgar read archaeology and history at the University of Southampton, before training as an archivist at the University of Liverpool. He catalogued the archives of two Oxford colleges (Magdalen and Corpus Christi), and returned to Southampton in 1982 to work on the papers of the first Duke of Wellington in the University Library. He was Head of Special Collections in the Library, 1991-2013, where he established the Library’s manuscript collections, which now encompass more than 6 million manuscripts, focused on political, military and official papers connected to the University’s region, and extensive holdings relating to the Jewish people. He led the campaign which secured the Broadlands Archives — including the papers of Lord Palmerston and Lord Mountbatten — for the University in 2012. Chris was appointed to a chair in History and Archival Studies in 2007 and transferred to the Faculty of Humanities in 2013.

Chris has a long-standing interest in the history of the everyday, especially in the medieval period, in patterns of documentation and in editorial work. While cataloguing the archives of Magdalen College, he discovered several groups of medieval domestic accounts, and he subsequently did his doctorate at the University of Durham on the development of these records. His publications on social and economic history include two volumes of medieval household accounts edited for the British Academy’s Records of Social and Economic History series, an edition of the testamentary records of the medieval bishops of England and Wales for the Canterbury and York Society, The Great Household in Late Medieval England and The Senses in Late Medieval England (Yale University Press, 1999 and 2006), and an edited volume, Food in Medieval England (Oxford University Press, 2006), a cross-disciplinary collection of essays on diet and nutrition. His latest book, The Culture of Food in England, 1200–1500, to be published by Yale University Press in the spring of 2016, explores what food meant to society, and the customs and practices that were connected to it.

Journal of Medieval History

Since 2009 Chris has edited the Journal of Medieval History. The journal publishes material on all aspects of the history of Europe and the Mediterranean from the fifth century to the start of the sixteenth. Submissions are welcome through the journal’s website.

Please click here for Chris' personal website.

Research interests

Objects and Possessions: Material Goods in a Changing World, 1200–1700

Chris Woolgar’s current research centres on the objects of daily life, their significance and the meaning of material culture in the later Middle Ages. He is working jointly with Professor Maria Hayward on a new research project on Objects and Possessions. The aims of the project are to understand how material goods ‘worked’, that is, how they were owned, what connections were implicit in them and what customary practices were associated with them; to examine the patterns for different categories of goods, such as domestic equipment, jewellery and textiles; and to establish how different groups in society were connected to material goods. The project looks at how these aspects developed through the later Middle Ages and Early Modern period, across the countries of Europe.

Chris and Maria are organising an international conference at Southampton on the theme of this project, 3-6 April 2017. For more information about the research and the conference, please see the website:

The great household in the Middle Ages

The medieval great household has been a prominent theme of Chris’ research. He is currently organising the programme for the 2016 Harlaxton Symposium (19-22 July), which will explore themes related to the household, its accommodation, personnel and material culture.

He is also working on household ordinances of the late medieval period, from those of Henry Percy (‘the Magnificent’), Earl of Northumberland (1477-1527), to the arrangements made for the royal household. Household ordinances and related courtesy texts offer unique perspectives into the way of life in these establishments, their routines and ceremonial practices. Many of the texts are closely related to each other, indeed, copied directly from one another; and to understand the significance of court life and its operation, we need to understand how the texts have developed. An edition of the Earl of Northumberland’s ordinances is in progress.

Food history

Chris’ interest in the study of food developed from his work on medieval domestic accounts. He is currently working further on the meanings of food. He co-ordinates the work of Diet Group, a regular seminar of historians, archaeologists and archaeological scientists working on food in the medieval period. His next project is on the colour of food.

Southampton and the Hampshire basin in the Middle Ages

Much medieval social and economic history has been approached through the lens of estate history, driven by the documentation. This new project has by contrast a regional focus, on medieval Southampton and its hinterland, looking at the links between the town and the surrounding area, with a focus on the environment and regional culture in the Hampshire basin. It includes a study of property ownership in the Southampton — both real property and material goods. The project will produce an edition of all the unpublished deeds for medieval Southampton and, in investigating the ownership of goods, it will also edit all the unpublished medieval wills and inventories for the area.

Archival interests

There has been a close link between Chris’ archival work and his research interests, and he has published on forms of documentation from accounts and wills, to correspondence, maps and political papers. He has worked extensively with archives from the medieval period onwards, including political papers of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the archives of Anglo-Jewry; since the 1990s he has given expert advice to the government on archival collections. Chris works closely with the University Library’s Special Collections Division, developing research and teaching linked to its holdings, as well as his interests in the forms of documents and patterns of communication. Besides descriptive work on the collections, he has edited five volumes of Wellington Studies, been one of the organisers of the University’s series of Wellington Congresses and has recently co-written and led a free massive open online course (MOOC) on Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo. 

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Book Chapters



Chris currently teaches the following undergraduate modules:

HIST 1136: Siena to Southampton: Medieval Towns and Cities
HIST 2094: Wellington and the War Against Napoleon
HIST 3118: Food and Cooking
HIST 3184: ‘All Manner of Men, … Working and Wandering as the World Asks’: Daily Life in England in the Later Middle Ages (Part 1)
HIST 3185: ‘All Manner of Men, … Working and Wandering as the World Asks’: Daily Life in England in the Later Middle Ages (Part 2)

He also teaches a postgraduate module:
The Medieval World: Sources and Approaches in Pre-Modern History

Areas where I can offer postgraduate supervision:

Medieval social and economic history; food history and culture; themes connected with the Library’s Special Collections; patterns of documentation and communication; editorial practices.

Chris’ current postgraduates are:

  • Andrew Cormack: The Administration of the Outpension of Chelsea Hospital to 1754
  • Gemma Minihan: Ightham Mote in the Fourteenth Century: the Lived Experience of Sir Thomas Couen (d. 1372)
  • Charlotte Scull: Bad Habits? Foodways of Religious Women in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England (supervised jointly with Dr Gundula Müldner and Professor Roberta Gilchrist at the University of Reading)
  • Sheila Thomas: Eighteenth-Century Aristocratic Men and Domestic Music-Making
Professor Chris Woolgar
Building 65 Faculty of Arts and Humanities University of Southampton Avenue Campus Highfield Southampton SO17 1BF United Kingdom

Room Number: 65/2055

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