Dr. Rosamond Faith and the Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize.

We are pleased to report that a member of The Friends and eminent former member of the Department of English Local History, Dr. Rosamond Faith, was awarded the 2020 ‘Joan Thirsk Memorial Prize’ of the British Agricultural History Society for her book The Moral Economy of the Countryside: Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman England.

First awarded in Spring 2017 in memory of Joan Thirsk, the Memorial Prize is given annually for the best book on any aspect of British and Irish rural or agrarian history that employs a broadly historical methodology. Joan Thirsk was an important social and economic historian, arguably the leading agricultural and rural historian of her generation, her books and articles have had a lasting influence on local historians. Her published works include English Peasant Farming: The Agrarian History of Lincolnshire from Tudor to Recent Times and The Agrarian History of England and Wales, for which she was general editor. She was also editor of the Agricultural History Review as well as being President of the British Agricultural History Society. In 1951 she was appointed to a research fellowship in the Department of English Local History at the University of Leicester, where she worked on Lincolnshire, and on agrarian history. In 1965 she succeeded WG Hoskins as reader in economic history at Oxford and remained there until early retirement in 1983. She died in October 2013.

Dr. Faith acknowledges the early support of Joan Thirsk and the influence of her work on her own studies on Anglo-Saxon farming particularly on the ways that the local landscapes influenced farming and farmers’ lives which became a core theme for the book Anglo-Saxon Farms and Farming co-written with Debby Banham and published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

The Moral Economy of the Countryside: Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman England is an account of the changing relationship between lords and peasants in medieval England and covers the Anglo-Saxon period through to the late-12th century. It examines the influence of earlier developments on post-Conquest society by drawing on work in archaeology and landscape studies, as well as on documentary sources. The book explores the structure of values and obligations in the Anglo-Saxon rural economy and explains how these ideas affected landholding. It questions how manorial lords in the twelfth and thirteenth century were able to appropriate peasant labour and what that reveals about the changing attitudes and values of medieval England. Dr. Faith also utilises the concept of the ‘Moral Economy’ in investigating the exploitation of agricultural workers by social elites, particularly in comparing pre- and post-Conquest society. ‘Moral Economy’ was a term popularised by E. P. Thompson which highlighted the widening gap between moral and economic issues.

The President of the British Agricultural History Society, Paul Brassley, wrote: ‘As in previous years, it is gratifying to see that 2019 produced an excellent crop of entries for the Thirsk Prize. They were all potential winners, and covered periods ranging from the eighth century to the twenty-first, but the judges were unanimous in awarding the prize to Rosamond Faith for her book, The Moral Economy of the Countryside: Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman England. The book explores the structure of values and obligations in Anglo-Saxon landed society which determined whether behaviour was judged to be right or wrong and explains how these ideas affected landholding. Concepts of rank, reciprocity, and worth were changed by the Norman Conquest, so by the twelfth century a formerly free peasantry owed regular labour and rent in cash or kind to a new class of property owners. The culmination of a lifetime’s work, this book makes comprehensible a huge amount of knowledge, secondary literature, and primary sources. Beautifully written, and sensibly priced, it’s exactly the kind of book that Joan Thirsk would have enthused about.’

Dr. Faith studied with Herbert Finberg at Leicester and was awarded her Ph.D. in 1962. In March 1989 she was elected a Fellow of The Society of Antiquaries of London. In 1997 she published The English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship. She was awarded the John Nichols prize in 2002 for her essay on a South Devon estate in the Anglo-Saxon period. In May 2009 she spoke on ‘Exploring Anglo-Saxon Farms’ at the annual Hoskins Day event organised by The Friends of the Centre for English Local History and discussed some of her research approaches to this topic.

The Moral Economy of the Countryside: Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman England was published both in print and online by Cambridge University Press in 2019 and is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats.

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