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‘Writing the Law’ Launches at Lambeth Palace Library

Arendse ILund12 June 2019

This week, I launched “Writing the Law: Lambeth’s Legal Manuscript Collection,” an exhibition of medieval legal manuscripts I curated for Lambeth Palace Library. The exhibition was supported by the London Arts & Humanities Partnership and stems from my research in the UCL English Department.

“Writing the Law: Lambeth’s Legal Manuscript Collection” is on display at Lambeth Palace Library (Image: Camille Koutoulakis)

Lambeth Palace was founded in the Middle Ages as the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the many centuries since then, each Archbishop added to the library’s holdings, either through explicit collections and purchases of manuscripts and books, or by leaving their own books and papers for posterity. The manuscripts on display as part of the exhibition entered into the Lambeth Palace Library collection at different times and thanks to the collecting interest of different archbishops. But they all shed light on how law was produced, written down, and evolved throughout the Middle Ages.

Finishing up the exhibition installation in Lambeth’s Great Hall (Image: Arendse Lund)

This exhibition comes out of my doctoral research on medieval law — specifically how rulers used law as a type of propaganda to increase perceptions of their own authority. Lambeth has generously given me the space to explore this topic in their collections and I thought I’d take a few paragraphs to write about some of the perhaps less obvious manuscripts on display and what they tell us about medieval law.

When we think of law, we often think of things that we consider strictly legal documents: legal treatises, or wills, land grants, maybe writs forbidding someone to act in a certain way. There are certainly many of these types of manuscripts on display. One of the highlights is a 13th-century copy of Lombard law, listing the amount of compensation you’d need to pay if you injured someone. Another highlight is a 14th-century copy of the Magna Carta. But we also have to take into account the many documents that shed light on the social and cultural history behind legal change.

Two of Lambeth Palace Library’s early versions of Henry of Huntingdon’s ‘History of the English’ (Historia Anglorum) are on display. Henry of Huntington was a 12th-century historian and the archdeacon of Huntingdon. His greatest accomplishment was the writing of what was supposed to be a single book on the history of the English but which spiraled out into multiple volumes detailing the lives and reigns of the English kings. One of the Lambeth Palace Library versions contains heavy reader annotations and marginalia. These are in many ways entirely different from the more formal types of commentary provided by the glosses to the canon law displayed nearby; and yet, these sorts of reader interactions with the text give us modern historians an understanding of how law was interpreted by its contemporaries. 

This Year Book [Lambeth Palace Library MS 270, f. 313r] includes a genealogical chronicle as a way of emphasizing Henry V’s descent from both Anglo-Saxon and Norman royal dynasties, in addition to prominent Biblical figures (Image: Arendse Lund)


Since my research interests lie with royal propaganda, one of the stars on display is a royal family tree. It lists the genealogy of all the kings of England, which some inventive scribe has managed to connect altogether. The genealogy starts with Irad, the Biblical son of Cain, and winds its way through famous figures, eventually getting to the Anglo-Saxon kings, including Alfred the Great, and then continuing past the Conquest, ending with King Henry V. There are approximately 40 roll chronicles of this type that survive from the later Middle Ages, many held by the British Library. Royal descent, traced through these frequently-invented blood relationships, was a powerful tool used to legitimize the succession of power and promote dynastic identities. But, one of the first things you’ll notice looking at the genealogy that on display at Lambeth Palace Library, is that it is very much a hefty manuscript and not a roll. But we can tell that it was likely copied from one of these rolls because a confused scribe has turned the manuscript sideways to draw in the family tree, in an attempt to mimic the roll form and try to maximize space. So, in following the scribe’s efforts, I too have displayed the manuscript sideways.

Although I could happily go on to describe each manuscript on display, I better stop there. I would like to end by issuing a huge thank you to Lambeth Palace Library for being generous with their space, and in particular, Dr Rachel Cosgrave, Senior Archivist, and Giles Mandelbrote, Librarian and Archivist, for their support.

You can go see “Writing the Law: Lambeth’s Legal Manuscript Collection” at Lambeth Palace Library this summer. Although generally closed to the public, you can view the exhibition during the Open Days; the next one is 5 July.

Student Engagers Win ‘Oscars of Science Journalism!’

Arendse ILund30 May 2019

The Student Engager team has won Britain and Ireland’s top award for science blogging at the 2019 Association of British Science Writers’ (ABSW) award ceremony.

Dorrie Giles presents Student Engagers Mark Kearney, Josie Mills, and team coordinator Arendse Lund with the Dr Katharine Giles science blog award at the ABSW ceremony (Credit: Trevor Aston Photography)

We were awarded the prestigious Dr Katharine Giles science blog award in a ceremony hosted this week by London’s Science Museum. The judges commended us for our “fresh, fun and innovative approach” to science writing, complimenting the curiosity-driven writing of this blog. We are over the moon!

Nikki Giles, Dorrie Giles, Mark Kearney, Josie Mills, and Arendse Lund celebrate at the ABSW awards (Credit: Nikki Giles)

Considered the “Oscars of Science Journalism,” the ABSW awards annually recognize the best in science journalism. The other finalists in the category were Cancer Research UK and the British Psychological Society Research Digest. Previous winners include Guardian columnist Alex Bellos, science educator Andy Brumming, and science writers Benjamin Thompson and Anand Jagatia. We’re the only students to ever win the award.

Over the last few years, the blog has grown as the team has gotten larger. It reflects the interests and research of each member. As we progress with our own doctoral research, the stories we tell here develop as well. This blog has always been a way for us to communicate the value of our research, the wider scientific application, and the fascinating connections we discover within UCL’s museums. Most importantly though, we strive to communicate our joy in what we research. From cubed wombat poop to Neanderthal encounters with Homo Sapiens to ancient Egyptian colors, there are endless interesting stories to talk about. And sometimes these posts aren’t connected to our research at all — many of our very favorite subjects to write about come about from questions asked by visitors to the museums!

Thank you to all of you who read and enjoy the blog! Are there any stories that have particularly stuck with you? Let us know!

We’re Finalists for a Science Journalism Award!

Arendse ILund16 May 2019

We’re absolutely delighted to announce that we’re finalists for the Association of British Science Writers’ (ABSW) Dr Katharine Giles science blog award! The awards celebrate researchers who undertake science journalism and encourage reporting to improve science literacy in the UK. We’re especially proud as these are the top science journalism awards in the UK and Ireland.

This award was named after a fellow UCL researcher, who’s an inspiration to us all. Dr Katharine Giles was a research fellow at the Centre for Polar Observation and Measurement here at UCL where she worked on the interactions between sea ice cover, wind patterns, and ocean circulation. From the award announcement:

After consideration of two hundred and seventy entries, the judges have decided on the finalists in this year’s Association of British Science Writers’ Awards for Britain and Ireland. The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on Tuesday 28 May 2019 in the Science Museum’s new Illuminate event space. The Awards are supported by Johnson & Johnson Innovation along with category support from the Royal Society, the Dr Katharine Giles Fund and NUJ/Stephen White Bequest.

Mico Tatalovic, chair of the judging panel and of the ABSW said: “We have had a near-record number of entries this year, and the standard has been excellent, as usual, which made judging them difficult but also enjoyable. It was great to see some new names – of both journalists and publications – on the shortlist, and several entries that were published in non-science publications. It’s been a privilege to be a part of these awards and see them go from strength to strength over the last few years. We hope to make them even bigger and better next year!”

Congratulations to all our blog writers this year: Arendse Lund, Cerys Bradley, Kyle Lee-Crossett, Josie Mills, Hannah Wills, Alexandra Bridarolli, Mark Kearney, Anna Pokorska, Hannah Page, Sarah Gibbs, Cerys Jones, Caz Thompson, and Jen Datiles. We’re excited to see where this goes and couldn’t have done this without the thousands of you who read this blog!

The Top Ten Student Engager Blogs of 2018

Arendse ILund14 January 2019

Last year, we wrote on topics as diverse as the okapi and medieval manuscripts. So what topped the most read list?

As we start off the new year perhaps it’s only natural that we look back at the highlights from the past one. In 2018 we hosted talks on the theme of justice through the ages in the UCL Art Museum. We had a talk on what justice in the prehistoric era might have looked like, then an interactive back-and-forth on how the Anglo-Saxons assessed recompense for crimes committed, and ended with a discussion of law enforcement in the age of the Dark Net. Talk about interdisciplinary!

On another note, a whole slew of new Student Engagers joined our team—meet them here! There are now 15 of us in the UCL Museums ready to talk about our research and the connections with the museum holdings. We’ve also been furiously writing blog posts!

This past week on Twitter, we’ve been counting down our most read blogs of 2018. (We maintain that this list says more about you, our readers, than us.) And, drum roll please, our most popular post was…

The one about why wombats have cubic poop!

A baby wombat with its face full of cubed-shaped poop (Image: © Jack Ashby)

Here’s the full list of our Top Ten:

  1. Sinking our teeth into the topic, we asked did Neanderthals eat brains?
  2. The story of how some ancient Egyptian objects secretly fluoresce infrared light.
  3. A gripping tale of handaxes from ancient Egypt.
  4. The relationship between frogs and fertility.
  5. Ancient neuroscience, or how the Egyptians were the first to describe the cerebral cortex.
  6. How ancient Egyptian art lost its colour.
  7. Myths in the Museum: The dugong and the mermaid.
  8. The ancient Egyptians loved cats (so do we)!
  9. The prevalence of incest—and how the pharaohs suffered for it.
  10. But really, why do wombats poop cubes?

Here’s to more excellent research in 2019!

The Legal Manuscripts of Lambeth Palace Library

Arendse ILund19 December 2018

For the past couple months, I’ve been working with the legal manuscripts at Lambeth Palace Library. As the historic library and record office of the Archbishops of Canterbury, they have an incredible collection of documents and manuscripts collected, copied and published from the 9th century till today — and I’m taking full advantage of it!

Lambeth Palace Library MS 118 (Author’s own photo)

During my London Arts & Humanities Partnership placement at Lambeth Palace Library, I’m writing about the sorts of things I discover as I examine their incredible collection of manuscripts. My first piece is on their two vellum copies of Henry of Huntingdon’s massive Historia Anglorum, his account of the history of England from its beginnings until the mid-twelfth century. Huntingdon’s account is important as a historical source. However, it’s also fascinating because we can see his narrative techniques at play; he inserts apocryphal stories as a way to highlight a historical figure’s character.

By comparing the two manuscripts their stark differences are thrown into light, both in terms of their content and also their current physical state. MS 118 is in a much better state with clean pages and wide margins. MS 327 has all the marks of having been a working copy and frequently used; there’s a spattering of verdigris discoloring the pages and stitches repairing tears in the vellum.

Stitches across Lambeth Palace LIbrary MS 327

As I work my way through all of Lambeth’s medieval legal holdings, I am putting together an exhibit of the most important manuscripts. This will go on display in the spring. Stay tuned!

Question of the Week: Do Fish Pee?

Arendse ILund2 October 2018

I seem to be asked a lot of fecal facts when talking to visitors in the Grant Museum, but here’s a new one to me: Do fish pee? Although fish are certainly discrete about it, they do!

A school of forage fish. Creative Commons photo by Oliver.Dodd.

At least one of these wee fish is doing its business (Image: Oliver Dodd)

Perhaps the first question is whether fish drink. Freshwater fish will passively intake water from their environment and then, as their insides are saltier than their surroundings, will excrete a diluted urine. Saltwater fish have to drink water more actively and, as their surroundings are saltier than their insides, will expel a more concentrated urine.

Why all the fuss about fish pee? Although you might think it’s gross that you’re swimming through the collected urine of the ocean’s creatures, this pee is critically important to the nutrient budgets of different ecosystems. Fish have kidneys which produce urine containing ammonium, phosphorus, urea, and nitrous waste. The expelled urine encourages plant growth on coral reefs; downstream benefits also include increased fertilization of algae and seagrass, which in turn provides food for the fish.

Coral reef biomass is correlated to species diversity (Image: Vikram Jadhav)

Fish urine thereby plays an important role in the biodiversity of coral reefs. If the supply of fish urine falls—through overfishing, for example—reef biodiversity suffers. A study in Nature Communications showed that overfishing “is reducing the capacity of coral reef fish communities to store and recycle nutrients by nearly half” and concluded that “rebuilding coral reef fish communities is of critical importance for food security and the livelihood of billions of people.”

As coral reefs rely so desperately on urination, life really becomes a fish’s creation. Nutrient recycling is an imperative in coral reef ecosystems as it is quite difficult to acquire new nutrients. Fish are the best recyclers around. Overfishing doesn’t just reduce the total number of fish species, it removes the largest fish (and their steady stream of pee) from the equation. The ecosystem suffers as a result.

While we can certainly all appreciate the trickle-down effects of fish urine, I’ll end with a quote from a poem by Sean Tyler B, which asks an important question:

Does a fish go pee
when it’s swimming in the sea?
Does it ever get the notion
when it’s swimming in the ocean?

The answer is a resounding yes.

An Evening Dealing Out “Justice”

Arendse ILund4 April 2018

Last week, we held our first event of 2018 in the UCL Art Museum where three of us PhD students — Josie Mills, Cerys Bradley, and myself — all approached the topic of “justice” from different perspectives and vastly different disciplines.

Josie speaking about the Neanderthals

Josie spoke about the idea of justice amongst the Neanderthals and what theories scholars have for any type of justice system in the Palaeolithic era. By talking about the factors we need for a crime to happen, she described from an archaeological view whether or not there was rock solid evidence for a Palaeolithic justice system. Turns out, there isn’t — at least not yet!

She drew comparisons to the modern Inuit justice system, and discussed whether they could tell us anything about tribal justice at large. Taking questions from the audience, Josie disabused us of the notion that Neanderthals are completely different from modern humans or that they ran around bashing each other on the head with rocks. This is a topic she’s well accustomed to discussing; she has also written extensively on Palaeolithic burial practices and cannibalism amongst the Neanderthals.

Arendse speaking about the Anglo-Saxon concept of justice

Skipping from the Neanderthals to the Anglo-Saxons, I followed Josie’s talk with a discussion of justice in the year 600 CE. This was the year that King Æthelbert of Kent issued his law code. With its long list of clauses, Æthelbert’s law code was a comprehensive list of how to calculate the appropriate amount to pay someone if you wrong them somehow. This would theoretically make it easier to police crimes as families are paid off for their relative’s injury and therefore don’t need to attack in retaliation and start a blood feud.

As everyone arrived for the talk, they had been handed a piece of paper with an attack on a victim, the social status of those involved, or the location of the attack. I now invited the audience to play a game with me. We would attack a hypothetical Edwin of Kent and see what happened. For example, laming Edwin’s shoulder would cost us 30 shillings in the year 600 (an enormous sum). If Edwin was a freeman and our attack killed him, we would have to pay his family 100 shillings, broken up into two installments: 20 shillings at Edwin’s open grave, where a blood feud might erupt, and the remaining 80 shillings within the next 40 days. The location where we murder Edwin is also important in calculating how much we have to pay because through our actions, we might accidentally have insulted someone else. If our attack was on the king’s estate, then we would have to pay an additional 50 shillings to the Æthelbert for disrupting the peace.

Cards to “attack” poor Edwin of Kent

The goal of this exercise was to show how expensive it was to injure or murder someone. But because of this exhaustive list of fines, for the first time in Anglo-Saxon law there are recognized crimes and standardized punishments, and there will theoretically be fewer blood feuds. The audience engaged with this talk and I received excellent feedback encouraging me to do another one in this style.

 

Cerys giving an overview of 21st-century justice

Jumping from the Anglo-Saxons to modern policing, Cerys spoke about attempting to enforce justice in the age of the Dark Net. As a doctoral student in the crime and security science department, Cerys studies people who buy drugs on the internet and how they react to different law enforcement interventions. In a fascinating discussion, Cerys showed how far we’ve come in policing crime but also how the modern justice system has not caught up with anonymous internet crime.

We moved from one-on-one crime with very little evidence of a justice system with the Neanderthals, to recognized crimes with standardized punishment for the Anglo-Saxons, to anonymized crime which doesn’t always have a standardized punishment in our modern world of the Dark Net. These types of interdisciplinary talks with different approaches to a common theme is something that excites me the most about working as part of the Student Engager team. It provides me greater insight into my own research by hearing about the resources and approaches of other disciplines.

At the end of the evening, we asked our audience members for feedback and to vote on which justice system they’d most like to live under. To my great surprise, the Anglo-Saxons won!

 

Event: What do you need to create a justice system?

Arendse ILund14 March 2018

What do you need to create a justice system, an evening of short talks by UCL’s student engagers, will be taking place on Tuesday, 20 March 2018, UCL Art Museum 6:30-8pm

 

Our upcoming event “What do you need to create a justice system?” is next Tuesday — come join us for an evening of short talks focussed on the justice systems, or lack thereof, in early farming communities, amongst the Anglo-Saxons, and in the Dark Net. Think there’s no connection at all between these disparate time periods? You might be surprised!

 

 

The speakers are:

Josie Mills – a third-year PhD in Archaeology at UCL specialising in applying scientific techniques, like mass spectrometry, to understand more about stone tools made by Neanderthals. She’s particularly interested in how we, as modern humans, perceive prehistoric behaviour and the division we draw between us and other species.

Arendse Lund – a PhD student in the UCL English department. She traces the development of an Old English legal language and how rulers use this legal terminology to shape perceptions of their authority. She is funded by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership.

Cerys Bradley – a PhD student in the crime and security science department at UCL. They study the people who buy drugs on the internet and how they react to different law enforcement interventions.

The event is being hosted in the UCL Art Museum, an intimate space in what used to be the old print room. The three talks are 15 minutes each and are followed by questions. Then attendees are welcome to join the presenters for a wine reception. No booking is necessary but space is limited.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Question of the Week: Why Do Wombats Poop Cubes?

Arendse ILund14 February 2018

 

A wombat waddling along (Image: © Jack Ashby)

With pudgy little legs and a determined waddle, wombats are amongst Australia’s cutest marsupials. I mean, have you ever seen a wombatlet (not the technical term, unfortunately) sneeze? There’s lots to love about wombats—including their cube-shaped poop.

Wombat faeces—not a snack treat (Image: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

This odd wombat feature has sparked a lot of gleeful speculation. The prevailing thought is that these six-sided excrements are caused by a combination of the digestion time, the shape of the large intestine, and the dryness of the resulting fecal matter.

Wombats have a slow digestive system—it takes up to 2.5 weeks for food eaten to make its way down the alimentary canal, through the stomach, small intestine, and finally out the anus as fecal matter. (On the scale of animal defecation time, wombats aren’t even in the running. One snake was recorded as “holding it” for 420 days.)

A common wombat, or Vombatus ursinus, skull with large teeth for masticating grasses and roots, and a skeleton with large front claws for digging (Images: Grant Museum of Zoology, Z68 and Z67)

After being processed by the stomach, the digested matter transverses the large intestine, which is a long tube-like organ with ridged sides. These ridges may help to break the matter into compact sections. Since the final part of the intestine is much smoother, these cubed sections retain their shape all the way to the anus.

A wombat’s long digestive time means that this matter becomes condensed and, ultimately, dry as the nutrients are extracted. Wombats have some of the driest faeces amongst mammals and, it turns out, it’s a handy evolutionary trait. Wombats use their droppings to mark territory; with a propensity to defecate on logs and other elevated objects, cubes won’t roll off, unlike cylindrical droppings. As wombats drop between 80 and 100 scats a day, it would be a pain if they, well, scattered.

 

According to Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology, “Another thing to note about wombat poo is that since wombats have backwards-facing pouches, larger wombatlets end up spending a lot of time with their faces in poo. It has been suggested that this is an important way that they gain helpful gut bacteria that they need to digest the wombat diet of tough Australian grasses.”

If you want to see fake wombat faeces in action, Robyn Lawrence created a video demonstrating a wombat’s digestive system. She uses Jell-O to illustrate the forming and squeezing of the food into cube shapes, which then passes unchanged through the colon and out the fake anus.

So no, the wombat rectum isn’t square.

———

Further Reading:

Menkhorst, P. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Triggs, Barbara. The Wombat: Common Wombats in Australia. University of New South Wales Press, 2002.

We’re Hiring Student Engagers!

Arendse ILund24 January 2018

Are you a UCL student and excited to share your PhD research with the world? Can you find connections between your research and museum collections? Come join our Student Engager team!

Citlali Helenes Gonzalez presents during the Materials & Objects event in the UCL Art Museum last spring.

 

Who We Are

We’re a interdisciplinary team of PhD students from across UCL who are interested in public engagement and sharing our doctoral research with the world. We come from different backgrounds and departments and study everything from medieval law to neuroscience to the Dark Web. You might spot us in the UCL Art Museum, Grant Museum of Zoology, or Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology any day of the week talking about our research and how it relates to the museum collections.

We love talking to people, sharing expertise, and making new connections that benefit both the public and our own research. Sometimes we also host events such as Foreign Bodies, LandSCAPE, Stress: Approaches to the First World War, and Materials & Objects.

 

Are You the One?

We’re hiring! If you’re a first or second-year PhD student interested in working in the three UCL museums, sharing your knowledge, engaging the public in dialogue, and enhancing visitors’ experiences of UCL, then we want to hear from you. We think this is the best gig ever and we want equally enthusiastic people to come join us. We’ve also written extensively on this blog about what the Student Engager experience is like and highly recommend you take a look around if you’re interested in joining us.

For the practical side, here’s a full job description (PDF); you should email your CV and cover letter to Celine West (celine.west@ucl.ac.uk) by 16 February.

If you have any questions, tweet us or find us in one of the UCL museums.