Dr Morn Capper
Telephone: +44 (0)116 252 2857
Office: Attenborough 703
My research explores metal objects and metalworking traditions during the seventh-century formation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. It considers portable metalwork as a marker of identities in the midlands, evaluating single finds alongside archaeological data and written contexts. I enjoy working with museum collections and my research also considers the interaction between museum interpretations of the past and modern audiences.
I acted as a specialist Curatorial Adviser on the Staffordshire Hoard for Birmingham Museums Trust from 2010 to 2014. I am co-convenor for the Level III Special Subject 'The Age of Bede and Alcuin' with Jo Story and teach with James Moore on the 'Heritage Practice' module.
Forging the past and the future among the Anglo-Saxons
explores the role of metalwork in forging identity in the midlands. The seventh century was a critical time in kingdom formation, the conversion to Christianity and the making of English identity. This research brings together objects from across the region to examine how, by c. 700 AD, disparate kingdoms had embraced common markers of ‘English’ political and religious identity using strategies which harnessed multiple Germanic, Roman and Biblical pasts, while rejecting former insular allies as outsiders and at times also heretics.
While coastal rulers in East Anglia and Kent engaged with the elite traditions of their North Sea and cross-channel neighbours, Mercian and Northumbrian elites had also sought insular alliances and perhaps identities. This research asks how seventh-century peoples used past relics and newly forged objects to support ascendant kingdoms and identities, questioning whether symbolic themes reflect real contemporary traditions and interactions. By comparing data from site archives, single finds, regional museum collections and Portable Antiquities alongside written evidence we can explore whether Mercia and its regional neighbours had identifiable metalwork traditions and symbolic languages and ask if these were deployed in making identity.
Three strands of research consider identity formation at an intimate level and across communities:
Individual object biographies. Individual objects can create stories of identity at an intimate level, perhaps over lifetimes. Display objects, such as a Scandinavian shield mount and Byzantine silver dishes from mound 1 at Sutton Hoo, suggest that ancient and exotic objects could consolidate kingdoms and lineages. The Staffordshire Hoard also contains ancient sword fittings. What objects were used to display messages about elite origins and can we compare trends in repair and re-use for the less well off?
The identification of local/regional metalworking traditions. Through patterns of style and symbolism in midland metalwork traditions we can explore the scope of local traditions and question English and British influences. How did the movement of traders, craftsmen and products on roads and rivers act alongside the better recorded travels of churchmen and armies in the making of seventh-century Mercian and English identities?
The influence of wider ideological landscapes and networks. Analysis across museum collections and Portable Antiquities can explore the political and cultural formation of the Mercian kingdom within wider British and European networks. The shifting nature of seventh-century kingdoms shaped and tested the strategies framing identity. By comparing the expanding Mercian kingdom with its neighbours and wealthier kingdoms in the southeast, this research evaluates how metalwork became capital in the consolidation of kingdoms and ideas.
Other research interests
My previous research has explored regional narratives in the archaeology and history of the so-called 'Mercian supremacy' and made a cross-disciplinary study of Anglo-Saxon East Anglia.
I hold a postgraduate Curatorial Diploma at the British Museum and have also worked in museum education.
I am interested in sustainable partnership between universities, museums and other researchers, in museum volunteering and in cross-disciplinary networking between researchers with academic, professional and skilled amateur expertise.
Working with Diaspora's colleague Marc Scully we are conducting a study to explore the impact of discoveries such as the Staffordshire Hoard on perceptions of the Anglo-Saxon past in the midlands. This study has been conducted in collaboration with Staffordshire Hoard Mercian Trail and in partnership with The New Vic Theatre, Stoke on Trent in support of their 'Hoard' festival of plays.
M. Capper and M. Scully, 'Ancient objects with modern meanings: museums, volunteers and the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold as markers of 21st century regional identity', Ethnic and Racial Studies 39.02 (2016), 181-203. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2016.1105996
Morn D. T. Capper, ‘Contested Loyalties: Regional and National Identities in the Midland Kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, c.700 – c.900’. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 2008 (In preparation).
‘Titles and Troubles: Conceptions of Mercian Royal Authority in Eighth- and Ninth-Century Charters’, in Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, J. Jarrett and Alan Scott McKinley, eds (Turnhout, 2013).http://www.brepols.net/Pages/ShowProduct.aspx?prod_id=IS-9782503548302-1
'Prelates and Politics: Wilfrid's Influence in the Kingdoms of the East Midlands and East Anglia', in St Wilfrid: Bishop of York, Abbot of Ripon and Hexham, N.J. Higham and R.A. Hall, eds (Donnington, 2012).
‘The Practical Implications of Interdisciplinary Research in Anglo-Saxon East Anglia’ in Approaching Interdisciplinarity, Caroline Smith & Zoë Devlin, eds, British Archaeological Reports, Brit. Ser. 486 (Oxford, 2009).