glyph 550: Alan Macfarlane, history of English individualism . historical work of F. W. Maitland (late 1800s) ... discovery of an unexpected lack of a pre-individualist England ... anglo-saxon heritage . anglosphere ... Non-Roman origins of English law ... China, Japan, feudalism, capitalism, peasantry, property (see the videos for Macfarlane's comments on these topics)


Five Hundred Years of the English Parish, Earls Colne, Essex

a test of the work of F. W. Maitland, historian of English law

This gathering and indexing of 500 years of records for a single small region of rural England is unprecedented and has been astonishingly illuminating. Although confirming the work of Maitland was not the objective of the study it happened that such was the result.

The following quotations are from Macfarlane's F. W. Maitland and the Making of the Modern World:

Large quantities of historical materials at the local level have been published since Maitland died, particularly by record societies. There have also been a number of well-known studies of villages and manors. The study I have been engaged on since 1970 with my colleagues, and particularly Sarah Harrison, is somewhat different from these. Firstly we have endeavoured to track down all the records for a particular parish, Earls Colne in Essex, over the period from the earliest records through to 1854, some five hundred years. Secondly all these records have been typed into a computer, published on microfiche and are now available on the World Wide Web. We thus have available, for the first time, very long runs of manor court rolls, which can be combined with other excellent manorial records including a detailed map of 1598, to reconstruct landholding over half a millenium. This material is complemented by the extensive records generated by the ecclesiastical authorities, including parish registers and wills, and by the central courts, in particular the rich and hitherto largely unused records of the equity courts (for example Chancery). At one period we are also taken down to the personal level through the diary of Ralph Josselin, the vicar of Earls Colne, through the middle part of the seventeenth century.

All this material has been indexed and family histories and land patterns have been re-constructed. This has taken a team effort involving several computer programmers and many person-years of work. It is unlikely that it will ever be repeated, but it does give us a chance to see how well Maitland's vision works.

On a visit to Earls Colne, Essex, England in August 2006, Alan Macfarlane and Sarah Harrison, questioned by Kenong Guan and filmed by Xiaoxiao Yan, reflect on the historical projects they have been engaged in between 1973 and the present. Twenty-two short film interviews with Alan Macfarlane (and one of Sarah Harrison).

Also wider reflections on China, Japan, feudalism, capitalism, peasantry, property and other matters. Questions put by Kenong Guan and filmed by Xiaoxiao Yan.

For a broad context explaining the above see F. W. Maitland and the Making of the Modern World, by Alan Macfarlane, available here without charge:
April 25, 2015

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