Interview with Dr. James Ross (25th November, 2016 – University of Winchester)

Today we bring you our latest interview with Dr. James Ross who is currently at the University of Winchester, bringing the later middle ages in England to the heart of the medieval history students of our home institution. He has also recently secured funding for a research project focusing on Henry VII and VIII, therefore we took the opportunity to learn more about it. So we asked James to spare a couple of minutes of his time and tell us about his research and his opinions on diverse matters, and he very kindly gave us some excellent info. The whole text is below:

The Team: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us! To get things started here is an easy questions for you  – If you had to choose a single noble/gentry family to be the most fascinating dynamic contributor to English history, who would you choose?
Dr. Ross: Am I allowed the Plantagenets?!

The Team: Well, of course! The Plantagenets are one of the coolest, meatiest families of all medieval Europe, and we approve and support this choice: A few members of the team have done several posts on the subject! Now, another question so we can pick your professional expertise: can you recommend recent book/articles published recently that have piqued your interest recently?
Dr. Ross: Chris Given-Wilson’s new biography of Henry IV (Yale, 2016) is an excellent study of a king long in need of a fresh approach.

The Team: How do you think your previous work experience (pre Winchester) has helped your position as a lecturer/research supervisor? Are there any other upcoming research in your field that warrants public attention/would be of interest to current History students for undergrad dissertations?
Dr. Ross: I worked for eight years at  the National Archives, which gave me a great grounding in a broad range of medieval and modern records (in addition to my detailed PhD research), and this helps me a lot in supervising PhD students, in teaching palaeography (reading old handwriting) for MA and PhD students, and in informing my undergraduate teaching – using original documents is essential in teaching medieval history, and understanding their strengths and weaknesses key to a good understanding.

The Team: Now, excuse us for the slight controversial question, but considering that Richard III has had a lot of re-assessment in the past few years, do you think there should be any other monarch or noble that badly needs renewed fresh attention?
Dr. Ross: Although more work has been done on Henry VII in the last decade or so, that king is perhaps the least understood of any in the period I work in.

The Team: Excellent! That ties in slightly with our next question: the early Tudors have constant historiography being produced, what do you think your research will contribute most to the literature?
Dr. Ross: The Leverhulme project which I am running will publish freely online the Chamber Books of Henry VII and Henry VIII, 1485-1521, which detail both private and public expenditure of those two monarchs will allow more definitive answers to many questions about the early Tudors than has been previously possible, including, for example, just how wealthy Henry VII was, how different were the regimes of Henry VII and Henry VIII, how much did they spend on luxury items, what were the daily and weekly rhythms of the court. We hope to have a fully searchable text online by summer 2018, and a conference and publications exploring some of these themes will follow. By contrast, my work on the late medieval and early Tudor nobility looks to take a step away from a crown-centred view of England, and using the records of the nobility themselves where possible, provide a corrective to the old idea that the Tudors crushed the power of the nobility, by exploring the vibrancy and continuity of noble lordship in the regions, their continuing (and successful) exploitation of various sources of wealth, and the ways in which they served the crown (and why the crown needed the nobility).

The Team: I feel, following from your reply that the next point of query is rather appropriate then: why do you feel there is a natural divide/change in historiography upon the year 1485?
Dr. Ross: There shouldn’t be! Almost nothing structural changes in that year. A change of dynasty is a modern and artificial imposition. Much of early Tudor government and kingship was rooted in what the Yorkists were doing before 1485. There’s a much stronger case for saying that things really changed in 1529, with the start of the English reformation, than in 1485 – certainly for the vast majority of the population, changes in religious practice were of greater importance than which king or family sat on the throne.

The Team: Moving on to a completely different subject: the team also wanted to ask if you thought that the links that your period has with popular culture (for example Game of Thrones) have impacted the public’s perception of the era. And if that is the case, do you think the impact has been positive or negative?
Dr. Ross: Anything that gets people interested in medieval or early modern history is a good thing – be that the discovery of the bones of Richard III, The White Queen or Games of Thrones. The direct connection between Game of Thrones and the Wars of the Roses is overdone anyway, but by exploring what happened in England as well as Westeros more people can engage with shared culture and heritage. If the popular perceptions of the medieval era that emerge from GoT are perhaps on the more negative side (violence, war, betrayal) they are not exactly alien to, say, fifteenth century England.

The Team: Brilliant! I am sure that is something our viewers will be pleased to read! I think we are pretty much done with most of the questions, so just to round-up, if you could perhaps tell us what goals would you like to see the field of academic historical research achieve?
Dr. Ross: Academic research needs to be more accessible to a wider audience. Some research is couched in excessively technical language, seemingly simply for the sake of it, and rendering it unintelligible even to other academics. More accessible work would also allow academics to reclaim some of the ground lost to popular writers; the best of the latter are excellent but there is a lot of derivative stuff published just to make money for the authors.

The Team: That is all great and that will be all from us! Thank you for your time James, we appreciate you are an incredibly busy man. We have thoroughly enjoyed this, and we hope our readers do too!

The entire W.U Hstry team would like to thank Dr. Ross again for his replies, and we wish him the best for his upcoming project. We hope that his work will inspire many prospect history students and graduates to find new ways of exploring the late middle ages, and history in general.


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