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Professor  Chris Woolgar BA, PhD, Dip. Arch. Admin, FBA, FRHistS

Emeritus Professor of History and Archival Studies, Fellow of the British Academy

Professor  Chris Woolgar's photo

Chris Woolgar is Emeritus Professor of History and Archival Studies. He read Archaeology and History at the University of Southampton, before training as an archivist at the University of Liverpool. His archival career saw him working with collections from the twelfth century to the present day, including the archives of two Oxford colleges (Magdalen and Corpus Christi), and he spent much of his career as an archivist and curator at the University of Southampton Library, before joining the History Department in 2013.

Chris has a long-standing interest in the history of the everyday, particularly in the medieval period in England, in the ways in which documents of all ages work, and in editing texts. His early archival work in Oxford included discoveries of medieval domestic accounts, which were formative in developing his research into types of archival documents and daily life more generally. Publications on medieval social and economic history include two volumes of household accounts edited for the British Academy’s Records of Social and Economic History series, an edition of the testamentary records of the bishops of England and Wales for the Canterbury and York Society, and three books with Yale University Press: The Great Household in Late Medieval England, The Senses in Late Medieval England, and The Culture of Food in England, 1200‒1500. With Barbara Harvey, he edited The States of the Manors of Westminster Abbey, c.1300‒1422, published by the British Academy in 2019, which prints 75 overall accounts for the properties of one of the greatest landowners of medieval England either side of the Black Death.

Chris has been the editor of the Journal of Medieval History since 2009 - the journal publishes articles 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.

Chris was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2020.

Research interests

People and Possessions in Late Medieval England

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. It focuses on the changes in mentality that came with a long-term social revolution. In England, in 1200, most people had few goods, and those they had were often intimately connected to individuals through custom and traditional links. By 1500, material possessions were everywhere. The elite had goods on an exceptional scale, and we have long, detailed inventories of them. Countrymen and urban craftsmen bequeathed lists of pewter tableware and metal cooking pots in a range of sizes, wardrobes of textiles and wooden furnishings; yet their ancestors, before the Black Death, had little in the way of metal domestic goods, probably few clothes, and little that would have been recognised as furniture. Objects and possessions are intertwined with the way people view themselves, and their social and cultural identities: these changes in the volume and range of goods people had were to transform medieval life. Chris is preparing a monograph on People and Possessions, an edition of medieval Southampton wills, and editing the wills in the register of Bishop Buckingham of Lincoln for an edition of that register jointly with Alison McHardy. Recent publications include ‘Heirlooms and the Great Household’, and ‘What Makes Things Holy? The Senses and Material Culture in the Later Middle Ages’. 

The Great Household in the Middle Ages

The medieval great household has long been central to Chris’ research. He edited The Elite Household in England, 1100-1550, Harlaxton Medieval Studies XXVIII (Donington, 2018). Current work focuses on servants of honour; and the finances of households and the questions of loans, debt and investment more generally. 

Food history

Chris co-ordinates the work of Diet Group, a seminar of historians, archaeologists and archaeological scientists, working on food in the medieval period. We are preparing a volume on Meanings of Food: Britain and Ireland in the Middle Ages.

Professor Chris Woolgar

Room Number : 65

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