The Levitt Lecture 2017

This year’s Levitt lecture will be given by historian and filmmaker Michael Wood. His title is  ‘Why the Anglo-Saxons Matter – Athelstan and the Making of England.’ The lecture is at 2.00 p.m. Saturday 18 November 2017.


It is often forgotten, but the roots of England  lie before the  Norman Conquest:  the foundations of the English state were laid by  three generations of the Wessex royal family, Alfred the Great, his son Edward and daughter  Aethelflaed, and his grandson Aethelstan.  In this  illustrated talk, with special focus on Aethelstan, Michael Wood argues that they are the most important rulers in English history:   without them  the history of Britain might have been radically different:  no English state perhaps, no English law, or English ideas about government;  maybe no English language as the world’s language?

Michael Wood is a distinguished historian and filmmaker and is currently  Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester. Among his recent films was the BBC 2 series The Story of China.  His academic specialism is later Anglo-Saxon history, the Alfredian dynasty and especially the reign of Athelstan the first king of England. He recently  received the British Academy President’s Medal for outreach in History.

The Levitt lecture was established in memory of the late John Levitt, adult-education tutor organiser in English at Keele who taught extensively on Old English language, literature and history. In tune with that tradition the lecture is always FREE and open to all with an interest in study.

The 2017 will be held in the Westminster Theatre at Keele University at 2.00 p.m. on 18 November 2017.

Booking is not necessary, but further details may be had from Dr Philip Morgan


Digital Humanities at Keele 15 September

Digital Humanities at Keele is a free, one-day symposium which will take place on Friday 15th September at the Claus Moser Research Centre on campus. Scholars from across the university, alongside some esteemed external keynote speakers, will be discussing a range of exciting new ways of carrying out humanities research using computational tools, from digital mapping to network analysis.
All are welcome, and the conference will include a free lunch and wine reception! 

At a historian’s graveside

Academic conferences don’t routinely make a pilgrimage to the gravesides of their subjects, but at last weekend’s session on Thomas Frederick Tout: Refashioning History in the 20th Century, held at the Institute of Historical Research delegates did visit Tout’s grave in Hampstead parish church.

Tout’s grave in Hampstead parish church. The inscription is from Chaucer’s prologue to the Canterbury Tales, And gladly would he learn and gladly teach. The unusual deadboard or leaping board style allowed for the later burial of Tout’s wife, Mary Tout née Johnstone to be added to the other side.

Tout wrote on the reignof Edward II and on the Administrative history of medieval England, but also helped found the Manchester school of history, and pioneered what we would later call the ‘specialised’ approach to the teaching of history which included an undergraduate dissertation. What had been planned as a modest discussion amongst a select group of scholars attracted speakers and delegates from the United Kingdom and Ireland, the United States and Canada, and Australia.

Few historians can expect their works to be used and read nearly a century after their deaths, but Tout’s place in intellectual history, in the foundation of history as a profession, and in his exploration of the history of the fourteenth century seems to have maintained its hold on scholars across the world. The conference was attended by members of Tout’s family, including his grandson and great-granddaughter.

grave party
Tout’s grandson, Tom Sharpe, at the graveside with Professor Seymour Phillips, modern biographer of Edward II in the foreground.

Gemma Scott. Postgraduate Student of the Year, 2017

Bob Beattie award Gemma Scott, one of our current postgraduate students, has just been awarded the inaugural Bob Beattie Award as postgraduate student of the year by the Keele Postgraduate Association. Bob was Keele’s first lecturer in Clinical Psychology in 1965, and a great supporter of postgraduate students. mostly in the informal setting of the KPA clubhouse. Gemma’s award acknowledges her energy and enthusiasm, enhancing the experience of a great many postgraduate students, both academically and socially. Gemma’s research is on women’s political activism during India’s political Emergency, 1975-1977.

The Battle of Cannock Green: A Lost Battle of the English Civil Wars?

Dr Ian Atherton thought he had found something to contribute to a current research project in which several colleagues at Keele are involved, ‘The Chase Through Time, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire’ The Chase through Time.

This is what he discovered.

Writing at the end of March 1643, the editor of the Parliamentarian newsbook Certaine Informations included a short account of a battle between the Roundheads under Sir John Gell who had advanced out of Lichfield, and the earl of Northampton’s Cavaliers from Stafford ‘upon Sunday last, at a place called Cranock green’. No place called either Cranock Green or Cannock Green is known in Staffordshire, but could this be an otherwise unknown, or ‘lost’ civil-war battle at Cannock in March 1643?


The date ascribed to this battle, however, Sunday 19 March 1643, shows that this is not a forgotten civil-war battle, but an account of what is well known to historians as the battle of Hopton Heath. This newsbook report of a battle at Cannock Green illustrates the phenomenon of co

Hopton heath memorial

mpeting names given to battles and the processes of battle nomenclature. Despite the oft-cited example of Shakespeare’s Henry V where the English king, on learning that his victory has been fought in the shadow of Agincourt castle, declares ‘Then call we this the field of Agincourt’, the process of naming a battle was far from straightforward, and it was common for the same encounter to go by various names. The battle of 19 March 1643 was known to contemporaries by four different titles. Three inhabitants from Leek who fought on the Parliament’s side later claimed for their losses ‘in the bataile of Heawood’, naming the encounter from the Parliament’s quarters around Great and Little Haywood before the battle. The naming of a battle from the location of the camp b

efore the fight was not uncommon, with Hastings in 1066 being only the most famous example. Sir William Brereton, the Cheshire Parliamentarian who joined with Gell’s forces to face the Royalist army, located the battle at Salt Heath. Since he had marched from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Stone and then Sandon on his way to the rendezvous, he had presumably advanced onto the heath land from the north or Salt side, hence the name. A Royalist account published a couple of weeks after the battle named it Hopton Heath, perhaps because the last settlement the Cavaliers had passed on their march north-east out of Stafford was Hopton. Both Hopton Heath and Salt Heath were established t

oponyms before the battle. The name Cannock Green probably derives from a report of Sergeant-Major Lee, a London Parliamentarian in Gell’s forces. His naming of the battle probably reflected the mental geography of an outsider for whom Cannock Chase was the most significant feature noticed on his march out of Lichfield. It might also suggest that for strangers to the region Cannock Chase seemed to extend north of the River Trent to the unenclosed heath land north-east of Stafford. One response to all these competing names was not to name the battle at all, but merely locate it by reference to the nearest well-known town. Sir John Gell, for example, in his account of his service in the first year of the war merely described the unnamed battle as ‘on a heath within two myles of Stafford’.

The name Cannock Green did not catch on, repeated only in Thomas May’s 1647 History of the Parliament of England and then forgotten. Nor did the name Haywood stick. But both Salt Heath and Hopton Heath were often used for the battle throughout the 1640s, with a tendency for Parliamentarian sources to use the former, and Royalist ones the latter. That the name Hopton Heath eventually triumphed was probably because the battle was principally remembered for the death of the earl of Northampton, and hence the Royalist name persisted. The various names for one civil-war battle illustrate, therefore, that while previous historians have tended to examine alternative battle names as evidence in their search for the precise location of the fighting, they should rather be seen, as Philip Morgan has argued, ‘as part of the discourse of memory’, and also as indicating the movements and mental geographies of troops before the battle.

New Book on the Mongols: Peter Jackson

Our emeritus professor Peter Jackson has recently published a new book with Yale University Press on the The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion He has set out to explore two questions. First,  the impact on the Islamic world (Jackson bookDār al-Islām) of the campaigns of conquest by the armies of Temüjin, better known as Chinggis Khan (d. 1227), and his first three successors, under whom the empire of the Mongols (or Tatars, as they were often termed) came to embrace all the Muslim territories east of Syria and the Byzantine Greek oecumene. And second, it examines the character of Mongol rule over Muslims down to, and just beyond, the conversion of the various khans to Islam.

It is available at a mere £30! You can also follow the publisher’s  blog

Anglo-Saxons at Keele

Whilst the Anglo-Saxons, in the guise of The Last Kingdom,  are making weekly appearences on BBC Two in the customary modern vision of the middle ages as blood, gore, and rumpy pumpy, all shot in super murkovision, we will be acting as hosts to two papers on more Mercian themes on Saturday 22 April 2017 at 10.30 a.m.when the Ranulf Higden Society pays its annual visit.

Dr Charles Insley (University of Manchester) and Dr Nigel Tringham (Keele University) will present on

‘The Mercians, the Merfynion and the Anglo-Welsh Frontier, 820-920’ and

‘St Edith of Polesworth and Tamworth: the medieval cult.’

Not sure about the Merfynion? Then the Last Kingdom isn’t enough! Come along and find out.

There is a modest fee and a buffet lunch is available if booked.

For further details click on the link to the society here Ranulf Higden Society.

The day is free to Keele undergraduates since we will reimburse the society.

Rude words up a maypole in Fenton

REED,  Records of Early English Drama,  is a longstanding research project which seeks to publish the surviving records of drama, secular music, and other popular entertainment

in England from the Middle Ages until 1642, when the Puritans closed the London theatres.  The volume for Staffordshire has just been published online at Dr Nigel Tringham, the editor of the Victoria History of Staffordshire, and a colleague here at Keele, is thanked in the acknowledgements.

It is well worth browsing, using the interactive map. In the mid-thirteenth century annals of Burton abbey, for example,  the report of an enquiry into the monastic life poses an eternal question: “Whether … food can be given to entertainers because they are poor, not because they are entertainers; and their plays should not be seen or heard, or allowed to be performed before the abbot or the monks.”  Did the monks secretly watch the plays, but mask their ticket purchase in the guise of charity?

In 1605 William Johnson of Fenton was indicted for climbing up the May Pole and  posting “verie fowle & filthie matter concerning dyuerse of his honest neighburs.”

I could go on …. but perhaps you should look yourself?

Famous Founding Myths of Keele

Professor Miles Taylor will give a lecture on Keele’s founding myths on  08 March 2017 at 6pm in the SENIOR COMMON ROOM, KEELE HALL
Founded in 1949 as the University College of North Staffordshire, Keele University has long enjoyed a reputation as a pioneer, an influential experiment that paved the way for the famous ‘plate-glass’ universities of the 1960s. With its residential campus, four-year degree and introductory foundation course, Keele broke the mould of teaching conventions and loosened the hold of the older universities. And yet there were as many differences as similarities between Keele and what followed at Sussex, York, East Anglia and the other new campuses of the 1960s. Keele’s evolution was rooted in the hopes and fears of the aftermath of the Second World War, and not the swinging 60s.
This lecture offers a fresh look at the life, times and personalities of Keele in the 1950s and early 1960s, confirming some of the University’s founding myths, but dispelling others, and recovering a series of lost stories that properly belong in our historical
understanding of the ‘Keele experiment’.
Miles Taylor is currently a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Keele and the holder of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship.  Since 2004 he has been Professor of Modern History at the University of York. Between 2008 and 2014 he was seconded to the University of London as Director of the Institute of Historical Research. A specialist on Victorian Britain, he is currently co-editing a book entitled The utopian universities: the new campuses of the 1960s, from which this lecture is drawn.
Tickets can be booked at

Civilian Internment in the Habsburg Empire during the First World War

This week’s Modern History seminar deals with one of the less appreciated aspects of memories of the first world war, the internment of civilians by the combatant powers.
Matthew Stibbe of Sheffield Hallam University will discuss the topic in relation to experiences within the Habsburg empire. He has written, ‘In particular, most of those who were matthew-stibbeinterned in Austria-Hungary during the war were not enemy aliens at all, but either deportees from occupied territories, or feindliche Inländer, internal enemies who belonged to particular subject nationalities of the empire. With the partial exception of the Serbs and the Italians, they did not enjoy the protection of the International Red Cross or of neutral embassies. And their treatment was anything but lenient’.
Wednesday, 1 February, 15:30 – 17:00, CBB 0.030