The PhD

The subject of living in the middle ages has to some extent been avoided in the past. With an abundance of material and documentary evidence the tendency has been to examine the remains without addressing questions on the experience of living. Lived Experience has been discussed in prehistory in the recent emergence of phenomenology as a way of thinking about the past. It provides a way to think about life through the lost or decontextualized material culture from a novel, personalised perspective.

The emergence of phenomenology as a theoretical approach came from issues of subjectivity and meaning in landscape studies (M. H. Johnson 2012: 270)(some of which will be further discussed in Chapter 2 in reference to visualisation). Writers such as (Cummings 2002; Cosgrove 2006; Ingold 1993; Tilley 1994) began and have explored the subjective understanding of landscape moving away from the Cartesian (see section ‎2.2.7) or “objective” way of thinking about space which when carefully analysed is not really objective at all (M. H. Johnson 2012: 272). Instead writers began to embrace the “experience” of the places and how they can be explored from more than a plan or section viewpoint.

These ideas were primarily applied to prehistoric landscapes and monuments of Wessex. They have rarely been applied to medieval sites. Unlike the prehistoric setting the quality and quantity of data available from the medieval period allow these theoretical advances to be taken a step further and to generate materials that can be used directly to inform interpretation for the public. Stephen Murray stated we need to “reconciling our experiential responses with the task of dealing with buildings as entities that can go beyond the written document in providing vital access to the past.” (Murray 2008: 383). As such I am going to take the phenomenological way of thinking and apply it to Bodiam Castle and Ightham Mote using digital media as a method for combining our experiential response to these buildings with the physical material culture.

This thesis will apply digital media technologies to questions on how it was to live in a castle or great house at the end of the middle ages. This was a period of change for gentry’ society houses, it straddled the gap between the castle keeps of the medieval period and the comforts of Tudor palaces. To approach questions on living in these buildings this thesis will examine two late medieval sites in South East England: Bodiam Castle and Ightham Mote. The original application was set to include Scotney Castle as well, this will no longer be the case due to lack of data available about the site and lack of physical remains. These sites provide a lynchpin for the study of wider issues regarding the ways in which medieval buildings and their landscape were experienced and utilised by differing members of medieval society.

All three buildings are Trust properties which were initially constructed during the 14th century as houses for members of gentry society. They are all moated sites set within carefully constructed landscapes. They create a focussed research area with a range of documentary and archaeological evidence from the later middle ages.

The experience of living as discussed in this context will move beyond just the visual experience. It will explore how all the senses and perception influence encountering, working and living in these buildings. Digital media and digital sensory experience will allow ideas about the experience of the buildings to be challenged and to explore:

–       the atmosphere of the building; how it was decorated and how it‘felt’;

–       the furnishing of the spaces,

–       what food was consumed in the building

–       the overall nature of the material culture;

–       how all the senses have an effect on the experience of encountering the building;

–       How the structure of the buildings affected how space was used and how this affected social interaction.

These questions lead into further discussion on the methodology involved in the creation of digital simulation and how the results can be represented. The nature of the past is subjective and uncertain the use of digital media in the study of the past particularly generated how this ambiguity can be presented. All three buildings have very different external and internal appearances and pose very different problems in terms of their digital simulation. By focussing on the interiors, different questions can be asked in each case study allowing the exploration of the use of space at each building and compared between buildings. The question of uncertainty can then be examined through two different methodologies.

This thesis will be based on two digital projects. The first at Bodiam Castle will explore how visualisation produces a narrative from the observation of the archaeological record through to how the real of the simulated past is perceived. The project involves the recording of the process used to visualise the private suites of apartments to explore how the rooms would have been lived in; in this context this means looking at how the spaces would have been decorated and furnished to explore how they were used. This includes what work would have been undertaken in them, how they are furnished and decorated, the lighting conditions and who would have used the space. The recording of the entire process of creation allows an understanding of how uncertainty and assumption is inherent in the simulation process of visualising of the past. Through this analysis I will also be able to compare the results to my understanding of the furnishings of other buildings in terms of ornamentation and how the building is understood and gives social cues to those visiting it. Social cues in this context refer to how the building provides a grammar of expectation to a visitor, for example, the same layout of kitchen, services, hall and solar encourages a visitor to know where they are allowed and should access within the building.

The second project is an acoustical survey and auralisation of the chambers, chapel and Great Hall at Ightham Mote. By producing an auralisation of the buildings and rooms at Ightham Mote I intend to highlight how the experience of the past is multisensory and through the creation of the auralisation analyse the types of sounds that would have been experienced. It will allow me to question the tasks that are undertaken in different spaces, the access to these spaces and also how sounds were experienced throughout the household and how they would have been affected by different types of furnishings.

These projects will allow me to compare and contrast the two buildings and how living in them would have been experienced in similar and different ways. The two different approaches allow me to discuss exactly how different digital techniques can be applied to further the understanding of living in the past. It will also allow me to critically assess how we acknowledge and embrace uncertainty in the archaeological record and how it affects the process of simulation.

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One thought on “The PhD

  1. Pingback: Wressle, a castle with personality | Castle Studies Trust Blog

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