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Bodiam Castle Gatehouse, from the North.

Welcome to the Elite Landscapes in Southeastern England webpage! Our project is an interdisciplinary collaborative effort between Northwestern University, University of Southampton and the National Trust to understand a series of elite landscapes southern England in their local and regional context. Here you can find an overview of our fieldwork and research, links to more information from other sources, and a gallery of photographs documenting our work so far.

Who are we?

The Elite Lanscapes in Southeastern England project is led by Professor Matthew Johnson of Northwestern University (Matthew’s Northwestern Bio, Southampton Bio). Project leaders from Southampton University include: Timothy Sly, Kristian Strutt, Dominic Barker, Penny Copeland, and PhD students Catriona Cooper and Gemma Minihan. The project has also involved over 70 undergraduates from Southampton and 12 Northwestern Students.

Aims of Research

Hitherto, these sites and their surrounding landscapes have been understood in abstraction – as examples of evolutionary types (Viollet le Duc), as exemplars of military trends (Cathcart King), or as abstracted ‘designed landscapes’ (in the so-called ‘Battle for Bodiam’).

The project seeks to understand these sites as artefacts of late medieval society, economy and culture.  It will do this by foregrounding the relationship of the sites to their immediate contexts:

  • Geophysical/topographical survey:  lower courts
  • Relationship to churches, roads, fields:  routeways
  • Lived experience of the sites:  beyond ‘meaning’
  • Beyond ‘designed landscapes’ in understanding castle/site settings
  • Economics (labour, resources, political economy of castle building)
  • Site biography and the long term (prehistory and post-medieval history of sites)

Key to this approach are two emphases.  The first is on scale – sites are examined and understood at a series of scales, from the most intimate (stone by stone analysis, arrangements of space) through geophysical and topographical survey of context, to regional links as well as national and international contexts.   The second is on process – how the sites fit in to long-term changes over centuries and even millennia, from enduring structures of region and economy going back to the prehistoric and Roman periods, to the post-medieval ‘afterlife’ of the sites as landscape parks and even loci of colonial relations.

We conceive of this project as a cluster of activities in and around castles and high-status sites in southern England. Work started at Bodiam during Easter 2010 and has since completed 2 more seasons of work at both Bodiam and Scotney, work will start at Ightham and Knole in summer of 2013 (all of the sites are managed by the National Trust). The work has consisted of a series of larger Building, Topographic and Geophysical survey, coring and documentary analysis with individual students developing projects alongside the main work.

Visit our pages on Bodiam, Scotney, Ightham, and Knole to find out more about our current and future research at each site.

Interested in joining us?

Northwestern undergraduate students interested in joining our fieldwork for the 2013 summer season may enroll in the Field Studies in Archeology: Medieval Worlds summer study abroad opportunity to recieve credit along with the experience. Southampton students are also encouraged to join the summer 2013 team for fieldwork experience.