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Making things official without officials

For my second post for the weekend, I hope you’ll forgive me if I point you at some blogging I already did elsewhere. This, as with so much of my posting, goes back to 2019, when I managed to get a probation-saving article out in the fairly well-regarded journal Social History. Shortly after that had happened, they sent me an invitation to write a blog post about it, to boost its readership, and I probably thought something like, “just done that, mate” and the idea got lost in the flow of ongoing employment. But this year, with so much time working to contract, I’ve actually had time to get my e-mail more under control again, and found the offer at what had become the bottom of my INBOX. And I thought, “if they’re still interested, maybe this would be cool”. And they were, so I did it.

http://socialhistoryblog.com/official-records-without-officials-by-jonathan-jarrett/

It’s about a document, a double document in fact, whose job it was, I quote myself, to “create a social memory of the transaction which might later be called on when needed”. But do go and see how it did it and why that matters… I may not be able to post next week or maybe the week after, so hopefully this is some compensation!

6 responses to “Making things official without officials

  1. It’s mildly surprising that you’re still allowed to call it The Black Death. Has no one claimed to feel unsafe because of your micro-aggressive, triggering vocabulary?

    P.S. You may have noticed that many Americans shy away from using the verb “to die” and prefer “to pass”. I wonder whether they have a similar aversion to “Death” because I’ve recently seen American references to The Black Plague.

    • As yet, that is one term that hasn’t come under attack, no. But we haven’t taught it since 2021, so now that we’re sort of post-panic about the pandemic and people aren’t actually seeing people they know die of it any more, your forecast may prove right. But otherwise, no, the only thing I’ve been called micro-aggressive about so far, or rather passive-aggressive, is mail about poor attendance! But as these papers demonstrate, not all my students really know all the words they use; it wasn’t passive at all…

  2. By the way: on documentation of ownership. A chum of mine claims to know of an ancient Cambridge college that pulled out of a financial deal when it was invited to prove its ownership of some land that “everyone” knew it owned.

    I suggested that he tell me which college and which land; we could go and squat on the land for a while and then claim ownership by Adverse Possession. He gave me to understand that he didn’t find my suggestion as droll as I did.

    • I wouldn’t try it, myself; Oxbridge colleges may be the only academic organisations that actually enlist the law experts they employ in their interests, and you’d have become some don’s research project to remove… But there is a medieval parallel, the so-called Scheinzprozess (an academic term of art) or ‘fake hearing’, basically, these being judicial records where we have no sign that any dispute was really offered that the person with the land owned it, and so people have concluded that probably at least some of these were intended to create court records of ownership that could then be produced on challenge because, before that, the owners had no proof that the land was theirs… On the other hand, if ownership was disputed, a good medieval tactic would be to pass the land to the Church, or to some other party who could do you good, so that the disputed tenure became their problem and you still got the benefit of the deal. So I would hazard that if it’s probably a really ancient college, they’ve swapped the land with the City…

  3. Aha, that’s a bit like Dissenters marrying in England back in the days when the law said they should get married by the Church of England. The art was to find a sympathetic vicar and go to him to admit that you’d been naughty and had married in a Dissenting service. He’d fine the couple thruppence, or whatever, and provide them with a document that confirmed that they had indeed married, albeit irregularly, and that they had paid the price for their impudence.

    If I remember rightly my wife first learnt this when she was looking into her family history. Since that arm of her family came from The North I asked why the couple wouldn’t instead just cross the border and marry in Scotland. She thought it was probably because it would be quicker and cheaper to use the local vicar. I suppose that explains why stories of couples eloping to Scotland often seem to involve prosperous pairs.

    Somebody should write a thesis demonstrating how competition between vicars kept the price pretty low.

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