A Knight’s Tale…

Current Research: Stephen Rigby

I am trying to maintain my research output in three different areas. The first is the economic and social history of late medieval England. I have recently had an article accepted by Economic History Review asking whether England’s urban population grew, declined or stagnated in the later middle ages. Exactly the same evidence (the taxation records of 1377 and 1524) has been used to support all three positions and so I offer an assessment of this evidence. I am currently working on an article on the town of Boston (Lincs.) and its fortunes in the late medieval period. This is a time when the town is often seen as being in decline but was also the period when the townspeople were building the largest parish church in medieval England. The article will constitute the first chapter of an edited collection on the church, its guilds and its surviving monuments.

My second area of interest is the relationship of late medieval literature to contemporary historical issues. I have just published a monograph with Brill on Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, looking at the tale in the context of medieval political theory. As a spin-off from the book, I am just completing an article on the social theory of Giles of Rome, a 13th-century thinker whose work was popular in late medieval England. I argue that Giles’s work provided what Max Weber called a ‘theodicy of privilege’ which presented contemporary social inequalities as natural and as divinely-ordained.

Finally, my third area of interest is the epistemological status of history. I have a sabbatical in the first semester of 20010-11 when I hope to work on a book on the philosophy of history, looking at issues such as the objectivity of history and historical causation. When historians can use the same evidence to arrive at three mutually exclusive interpretations of late medieval urbanisation (see above), can historians be seen as producing ‘reliable knowledge’? I will apply for external funding to extend this research leave.

Editors Note: This is an archived blog post from 10/11/2009


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