The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon EnglandPosted: March 30, 2014
If you were wondering why this blog’s been a little quiet over the last couple of months, it’s because I’ve had my head in the sand completing the manuscript for a monograph. The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England is based on my PhD, so that stack of paper above represents a large portion of the last five years of my life. Though this is by no means the end of the process (the book is currently in review), for me it certainly represents a major step.
Turning a thesis into a book has been a far greater challenge than I thought it would be. Knowing that too much had to be removed and the whole tone of the piece had to change, I barely even attempted a cut and paste approach but instead dived straight into a complete re-write from scratch. I didn’t want a book that felt patched together but something that stood by itself as a coherent whole, conceived over a very long duration but actually written over the course of ten or so months. For this task, my editor recommended I read the book From Dissertation to Book by William Germano. I would pass on that recommendation to anyone else about to undertake the same task.
The greatest challenge of the rewrite was finding a new voice. Writing a thesis is quite a specific task, with a specific reader in mind. Writing a book is also a specific task, and one must have a certain audience in mind, but it obviously has to be a broader one than the two individuals who generally examine a PhD. The second challenge was updating the data set, re-doing the analyses and checking all the data. The third largest task was producing new illustrations, many of which were hand-drawn – a highly time-consuming if quite enjoyable job. Overall, it’s been a somewhat monstrous undertaking that has eaten into far too much of my supposed leisure time, but I’ve actually quite enjoyed the whole process and found it to be a highly rewarding one. I dearly hope the results will be rewarding for others.
I’ll write a bit more about what’s actually in the book when it comes out. But in short, it contains a new typology for Anglo-Saxon cruciform brooches, based on a corpus of 2,075 of them, alongside an updated chronology. These empirical matters, though important in their own right, form only the jumping off point for an exploration of the social significances of cruciform brooches in 5th and 6th century eastern (what was to become) England.
For post-Roman Britain this was a highly turbulent and transitional period. It sits between a literally crumbling world of cities and the somewhat more familiar kings and missionaries of the 7th century. I like to think of the 5th and 6th centuries as a time during which a profoundly different new world took shape. I also like to think that this transformation depended, at least partly, on changing relationships between people and objects. Instead of a world of cities and a power structure driven by their economic structures and civic administrations, our early Anglo-Saxons lived in a world dominated by central people whose power rested in no small measure on personal display, as well as their ability to channel skilfully crafted objects into particular, favoured hands. Dress and jewellery, therefore, played no small part in the forging of this new world. That transition, in essence, is what the book is about.