Smells, grid-planning, and urinary medicine… all in one season for LUP’s medieval list!

As part of focusing on Medieval Studies in August in celebration of #LUP120 we take a sneak preview of three medieval titles appearing in Spring 2020.


Sense and Feeling in Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World edited by Maren Clegg Hyer and Gale Owen-Crocker and the fourth volume in The Material Culture of Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World is set to explore the sensory and emotional experiences of people in Anglo-Saxon England – how they were both shaped by the environment around them, and in turn shaped their world as a result. To give a flavour of the book we give an overview of just four of the thirteen papers:

Catherine Karkov examines sight in Anglo-Saxon art, dividing the sense into overlapping elements, ‘seeing’, ‘witnessing’ and ‘envisioning’. All three elements are interpretive and can be ambivalent but sight in all of these manifestations could be a powerful influence. Jill Frederick explores the evocative world of sound, observing that the absence of a mechanized soundscape would have rendered sound far more distinctive and intense a sign for the early medieval English than for modern peoples accustomed to industrial and technological soundscapes. Heard things would have been recognizable features of the Anglo-Saxon world, from the sounds of livestock, agriculture and trade to the sacred hours marked by bell and song of the church. Sound would also have come from sea and storm, and even simple birdsong. Alban Gautier assesses the ‘flavourscape’ of the Anglo-Saxons, encompassing both associated ambivalence (gluttony being linked as readily as joy to good-tasting food and drink) and the likely range of tastes available, concluding that ‘greasiness’, or the use of butter and lard, appears to have been as important among the ‘tastes’ enjoyed among the Anglo-Saxons as the sweet and that savoury may have been the most common daily taste. Maren Clegg Hyer explores a sense that is often closely linked with emotion: smell. Good smells are linked with the divine, and bad smells with hell and the Devil. What counted as good and bad would be familiar to a modern person: sweet-smelling wood-herbs, flowers, incense and perfume, ‘good’ foods such as spices, fruits, leeks and stew, which were also associated with joy, laughter and the sounds of the hall. Bad smells included the unsurprising – excrement, putrefaction, death, but also sheep, foul-smelling medical concoctions, as well as trades known for their malodorous byproducts. However, as with other senses medieval peoples observed that smell can tantalize and deceive, and the sense of smell requires the ability to discern the ‘real’ from the ‘apparent’.


Planning in the Early Medieval Landscape by John Blair, Stephen Rippon and Christopher Smart, in LUP’s Exeter Studies in Medieval Europe series is sure to stimulate lively debate. It uses new and unexpected evidence to explore the extent to which buildings, settlements, and field systems in Anglo-Saxon England were laid out using sophisticated surveying techniques. This included using geometrically precise grids, suggesting the revival of the techniques of the Roman land-surveyors. The following is an excerpt from the introduction:

Evidence has, however, now emerged for a hitherto unrecognised episode of sophisticated planning in the early medieval English landscape. This planning appears to have been based upon two principles: first, the use of standardized metrical units; and secondly, the construction of grids – based on those units – that were then used in the laying- out of both individual buildings and whole settlements. Evidence for this planning has been found in a variety of contexts, including the small number of standing buildings that survive from this period; excavated sites; and the configurations of buildings, roads, and property boundaries that survived through the nineteenth century to appear on Ordnance Survey First Edition maps.

These phenomena are the focus of the present study, which has four aims: first, to establish the extent of technically precise, grid-based planning, and in particular to explore whether it is found in all areas that saw the nucleation of settlement into villages; secondly, to determine when grid-based planning was used, and in particular whether it was a short-lived, culturally-specific phenomenon or a long-lived tradition; thirdly, to investigate the tenurial context within which grid-based planning was used, for example whether it was restricted to particular sections of society such as the ecclesiastical elites, or spread more widely; and finally, to try to establish why this geometrical mode of organizing space within buildings and settlements was adopted (or re-adopted).


And finally, Spring 2020 brings a remarkable addition to the Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies series. Javier Calle-Martín provides an edition of the English version of John Arderon’s De judiciis urinarum containing the commentary on Giles of Corbeil’s Carmen de urinis as preserved in Glasgow University Library, MS Hunter 328, from the early 15th century, and Manchester University Library, MS Rylands Eng. 1310, from the 16th century. It contains a detailed uroscopic treatise instructing the mediaeval practitioner on the examination of urine with twenty colours and eighteen to nineteen contents, incorporating colour descriptions, diagnoses, medicines and information about urinary contents. The first ever edition of the two extant text of John Arderon’s treatise, it represented state of the art knowledge at the time.

Find out more about our Medieval Studies books on the LUP website, and visit our Twitter Moment for more of August’s #LUP120 content.


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