1. Exquisite Tweets from @DrSueOosthuizen

    PreoccupationsCollected by Preoccupations

    THREAD. For years and years, everyone was sure that in 1086, at the time of the Domesday Survey, hardly anyone lived in the Cambridgeshire fenland. So here’s the story of what I found out when I tested that belief & the data it rested on...

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    2. Well, of course, people are inevitably influenced by what they expect to find - and everyone knew that the 8thC lives of saints, the earliest documentary sources, described ‘the manifold horrors of the wide wilderness’... the trouble with that was...

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    3. ... that the people who wrote those lives consciously modelled their biographies on those of other saints, & on the life of Christ who had spent 40 days in the wilderness. So, were the biographers of Æthelthryth & Guthlac describing actual or religious landscapes?

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    4. The first modern scholar to test this was the great geographer H C Darby who pioneered the transformation into #maps of data from #Domesday Book.. he started in Cambridgeshire in 1934 & then extended that work into a Domesday Geography series that covered the whole of England

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    5. He mapped the nos. of people listed in DB per sq. mile, by those ancient administrative units called hundreds - & the results showed that the Cambs. fens were among the least populated in the country: < 1 person/sq. mile in the N of the fens & only just over 3 in the S ...

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    6. The trouble with Darby’s results was that only part of the fens were capable of settlement. You’d have to be mad to try live in the pink areas on the map below as they were frequently flooded. Only the white areas were dry enough to settle on. So comparing the fens with ..

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    7. .. upland parishes - were almost all the land could be settled on - wasn’t comparing like with like. And I began to wonder what the DB population figures wd look like if only the fen areas dry enough to be lived on were compared with upland parishes...

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    8. So this is Darby’s method: he added the DB population figures per hundred in 1086, & divided them by the area of the hundred in sq. miles. In fact, the figures for fenland were SO LOW that he had to calculate them in pairs of hundreds to get a reasonable result.

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    9. It’s not a difficult sum to calculate - and so I thought I’d give it a try: I’d find the habitable area per hundred by deducting the area of floodable peat fen, and do Darby’s sum again with that area instead. It wasn’t *quite* a straightforward sum - there were 4 problems..

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    10. 1st problem: the reliability of DB. It wasn’t a census. It just listed the holders/tenants of land, not everyone in their families. In Wilburton, for example, there were 22 tenants*. & of course we don’t know how many people wr left out. But, it’s the only data we have., so..

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    10a.* [I didn’t count people whom DB referred to as ‘slaves’ as they were probably skilled members of the manorial household - see Dr Rosamond Faith’s fab book for more detail. There weren’t enough of them to skew my results significantly in any case.]

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    11. Problem 2: no-one knows the DB area of hundreds (achieved by adding up the area of their constituent parishes). The 1st firm statement of parish acreages was often at 18/19thC enclosure. & in the fens, some parishes were only created in the 19thC from extra-parochial commons

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    12. Problem 3: no-one knows the area of the DB wetland the earliest survey is Hayward’s, in 1635-6. But we don’t know the criteria he used mapping the fens, or if they were consistently applied. But like the other data, it’s all we have....

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    13. Problem 4: was the area of wetland in 1635-6 the same as it had been in 1086? The climate of the 17thC as cooler & wetter than in the late 11thC, so the area of the DB fen was probably a bit less extensive than in Hayward’s day.

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    14. Well, there are two options at this point: to give up, or to carry on, acknowledging the problems with the data, to see where we might end up. For better or worse I decided to take the second path which was a lot more interesting than giving up, and this is what I found...

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    15. So here, parish by parish, were the results of deducting Hayward’s area of the fens from modern parish acreages ... and then I went on to use them to work out population densities in the pairs of fenland hundreds...

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    16. The results wr really interesting - they showed that population densities in the 2 southern fen hundreds were similar to those of upland Cambs. Those in the 2 N hundreds were a bit lower, but still just comparable. The fens *weren’t* underpopulated in 1086 after all..

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    17. Had they ever been? Archaeological finds show a well-populated landscape throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. The ‘loneliness of the wide wilderness’ seems after all to have described an internal, religious mentality rather than the actual landscape.

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙

    18. Which all goes to show how much fun anyone can have - using readily available sources - by tugging, as carefully as one can, at the thread of an idea in #landscape #history and seeing where it takes you. (The full story is at academia.edu/7924246/Re-eva…). END

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    DrSueOosthuizen

    Prof Susan Oosthuizen 💙