The Anglo-Saxon period was crucial in the development of England's character: its language, and much of its landscape and culture, were forged in the period between the fifth and the eleventh centuries. Historians and archaeologists have long been fascinated by its regional variations, by the way in which different parts of the country displayed marked differences in social structures, settlement patterns, and field systems.
In this controversial and wide-ranging study, the author argues that such differences were largely a consequence of environmental factors: of the influence of climate, soils and hydrology, and of the patterns of contact and communication engendered by natural topography. He also suggests that such environmental influences have been neglected over recent decades by generations of scholars who are embedded in an urban culture and largely divorced from the natural world; and that an appreciation of the fundamental role of physical geography in shaping human affairs can throw much new light on a number of important debates about early medieval society.
Environment, Society and Landscape in Early Medieval England will be essential reading for all those interested in the character of the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian settlements, in early medieval social and territorial organization, and in the origins of the England's medieval landscapes.
"Should become essential reading for all scholars of the medieval landscape [...] it is insightful, challenging and thought-provoking."
- Medieval Archaeology
"[A] thoughtful, provocative and compelling book."
- Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"An ambitious book [that] will inevitably appear on students' reading lists."
- Landscape History
"A splendid survey."
- Northern History
"A tour de force which demonstrates both the seriousness and the importance of his scholarship. [It is] a model for the conceptualisation of historical process and provides an almost endless stimulus for new research."
- Medieval Settlement Research, no. 28, 2013
"[A] lucid and engaging book."
- British Archaeology
"One of the strong features of this book is its survey of existing ideas and theories on such subjects as settlements, population, multiple estates, topography and social structure."
- Journal of Rural History
"A compelling reframing of England's post-Roman history from the ground up, which successfully reveals "the hidden hand of nature" lying behind many well known early medieval social and cultural developments. This book deserves to be read and referenced by all students of early medieval England."
- The Medieval Review
2 Settlement and Society
3 Nature's Frame
4 Culture, Ethnicity and Topography
5 Small Shires, Deep Roots
6 The Gradient of Freedom
7 'Two Countrysides'?
8 Village, Farm and Field
9 Landscape and Settlement
10 Woodland and pasture
11 Conclusion: Time and Topography
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Tom Williamson is Professor of Landscape History, University of East Anglia; he has written widely on landscape archaeology, agricultural history, and the history of landscape design.