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Dr Nicholas Karn 

Associate Professor; BGP / SWWDTP Coordinator

Dr Nicholas Karn's photo

Dr Nicholas Karn is an Associate Professor; BGP / SWWDTP Coordinator in History at the University of Southampton.

I first came to Southampton in 2007, on completion of a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, and soon took up a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship here.

My work relates to two principal themes or research interests. I work on the history of English law in the central middle ages, and have published and spoken on the cultural and social history of law, as well as one specific legal texts. I also work on the cultural and social history of religion, and have worked on both Benedictine monasticism and the work and impact of the episcopate.

Research interests

My main research interest is in the institutions of law and the culture of the law in England in the central middle ages, and especially from about 1000 to 1250.

The research has arisen from my earlier work on 12th-century charters and acta, where I concentrated upon the uses to which these documents were put, and upon understanding the structures within which they were used. This led me to question many assumptions commonly made about the institutional structures within which law was conducted in the Anglo-Norman era. I was especially made aware of the extent to which the institutional context was fluid and changeable even over quite short periods, and of how many of the institutions which were claimed to bring coherence to the system have been badly misconceived. I have especially been led to reject much of what has been argued about the role of king's justices before the 1160s, and about the role of the king's court as an institution whose overarching jurisdictions brought coherence to the law.

Building on this, I have worked in detail on the processes by which courts made decisions in this period. This focus on procedure has been one of the most fruitful enterprises of all, because it directs attention to who was allowed to speak and determine matters; whose voice was preferred in cases of divergence, and how precedence was accorded; how the agenda of the court was settled. In this way, the relatively formal setting of courts exposes to an extent little seen elsewhere the structures of local power, how shires and hundreds ran themselves, and how the king's power and representatives interacted with them. These questions of local power are hard to analyse through the usual concern of legal historians with the doctrines of law; however, these standards can be analysed through procedure, which directs attention to how competing ideas are managed, and, moreover, procedure has scarcely been studied for the Anglo-Norman period. As part of this, I will produce a new edition and translation of the Leges Henrici Primi, the longest and one of the most important of the legal texts surviving from twelfth-century England, which will appear as part of the Early English Laws project.

I am also interested in the institutions of the church and the roles and influence of churchmen, 1100-1400; my first book was an edition of documents from the diocese of Ely 1109-1197 which illustrated these themes, and was published by the British Academy as part of its authoritative English Episcopal Acta series. A second volume, covering the period 1198-1256, was published in 2013, and a third volume covering the years 1256-1337 has been commissioned.

I act as series editor for the Suffolk Records Society's Suffolk Charters series and as series editor for the publications of the Anthony Mellows Memorial Trust, which aims to put into print the corpus of surviving records from the medieval Peterborough Abbey (for a recent volume see the Northamptonshire Records Society publications catalogue). I also sit on the councils of the Pipe Roll Society, the Suffolk Records Society and the Northamptonshire Record Society, and am a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

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Book Chapters


My undergraduate modules range widely across English and European history in the later middle ages, and is built directly on my own research.
HIST1088 Murder in the Cathedral: Thomas Becket, Henry II, and the Crisis between Church and Kingdom
HIST1148 Castles: Military technology and social change from the middle ages to the modern
HIST2076 The First British Empire: the beginnings of English dominance, 1050-1300
HIST3161/HIST3164 Crime and Society in Medieval England
HIST3186 Alternative Conquests: Comparisons and Contrasts

I am a fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

I am keen to supervise graduate study at MA or PhD level, and have established expertise on many themes concerned with British history, including medieval monasticism, bishops and the organisation of the church, and law and government in the middle ages. I also contribute to the core courses for the first year of the undergraduate degree, and to that for the CMRC MA.

PhD students currently supervised:
Fredrica Teale, Benedictine abbeys and their social impact: A case study in a Reading Manuscript
Rebecca Patience, The Abbey at St Albans and its Relationship with its Town in the Late Medieval Period
Gergely Gallai, Paulus Hungarus and Damasus: two Hungarian canonists in early 13th-century Bologna

Dr Nicholas Karn
Building 65 Faculty of Arts and Humanities University of Southampton Avenue Campus Highfield Southampton SO17 1BF United Kingdom

Room Number: 65/2065

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