University of Leicester eBulletin

Turbulent Times Revealed

May 2002
No 91

Urban growth, deforestation, famine, disease, war, climate change, population rise and inflation. If this all sounds familiar today, it is nothing new, as Professor Christopher Dyer's book, Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The people of Britain 850-1520 shows.

Professor of Regional and Local History at the University of Leicester, Christopher Dyer has recently published this detailed account of the experiences of ordinary people, with its interwoven themes of economy and social issues across nearly 700 years.

Imagining the point of view of those who lived at the time, Professor Dyer vividly reconstructs the daily lives of people in medieval Britain, beginning with the forming of villages, towns, networks of exchange and the social hierarchy in the ninth and tenth centuries, and concluding with inflation, population rise and colonial expansion of the sixteenth century.

Making a Living in the Middle Ages chronicles events such as Viking invasions, the Norman Conquest, the Great Famine, the Black Death, the dilemmas and challenges that people faced and the decisions that they had to take in order to survive and have a chance of prospering. It draws on archaeology and landscape as well as written records.

Christopher Dyer, BA, PhD, FSA, FRHS, FBA, came to the University of Leicester in 2001 from the University of Birmingham. Acclaimed for his research into many aspects of medieval England, including agriculture, rural settlements, towns, commerce, money, material culture and mentality, he has published numerous articles, papers in journals, and essays. His previous books include a survey of medieval Standards of Living and a volume of collected essays under the title Everyday Life in Medieval England.

His move to Leicester put him at the head of a centre famed throughout the historical world, which he admits to having long admired. At the University of Leicester Centre for English Local History Professor Dyer follows in the footsteps of a distinguished line of directors, the first of whom was the well-known English historian, W G Hoskins.

Professor Dyer said: "My book is aimed at readers of all kinds, and I hope that it will bring people who think that the medieval period is remote, boring and miserable to appreciate that it is full of interest. It is just as rewarding to investigate the people who lived in the 10th or the 15th century as those who lived in more recent periods.

"Of course, it is more difficult to find out about them, especially those who were not rich and privileged, but we can discover a great deal with some effort. It is not just a period that engages our curiosity. What happened in the middle ages matters because problems, like pollution, the urban poor, or over-production, are problems that we face too.

"Also, the achievements of the modern world were made possible by developments in the middle ages - they invented machines, created towns and villages, and learned how to organise trade with paper money and business partnerships."

Making a Living in the Middle Ages, The people of Britain 850-1520 was published on 12 April 2002, by Yale University Press, price 25.

Note to editors:   More information about Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The people of Britain 850-1520 is available from Professor Christopher Dyer, Professor of Regional and Local History, University of Leicester, telephone 0116 252 2765, facsimile 0116 252 5769, email

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