Dr Morn Capper
Telephone: +44 (0)116 252 2857
Office: Attenborough 703
Forging the past and the future among the Anglo-Saxons will explore the timing and processes of identity formation in the midlands by investigating the culture of metalworking. The seventh century was a critical period in kingdom formation, the adoption of Christianity and the making of English identity. However, the choices and processes which guided these changes towards a common symbolic language are less than clear. While politically and ideologically the coastal rulers of East Anglia and Kent engaged with the elite culture and traditions of their North Sea and cross-channel neighbours, historical sources suggest that Mercian and Northumbrian elites at first sought insular alliances and perhaps also identities. By c.700, these disparate kingdoms had come to embrace consistent markers of English political and religious identity, with strategies to harness multiple Germanic, Roman and Biblical pasts, rejecting their former insular allies as outsiders and heretics.
This study uses a midlands research area to assess how seventh-century peoples collected and manipulated relics of the past or forged new objects to support ascendant kingdoms and identities. It will question whether these ideas reflected contemporary cultural traditions and interactions. By investigating site archives, single finds, regional museum collections and portable antiquities, alongside the evidence from historical texts, it will explore whether Mercia and regional neighbours had identifiable metalworking traditions and symbolic languages and how such objects were used.
There are three strands to this research, considering identity formation at several levels:
The biographies of individual objects. Individual objects and their stories will be investigated to assess the messages about identity which could be created at an intimate level, perhaps over lifetimes. The Scandinavian shield mount and Byzantine silver dishes buried in the mound 1 grave at Sutton Hoo suggest wider traditions in the use of ancient and exotic objects to consolidate both kingdoms and lineages. Although to date there has been little comparable burial evidence from the seventh-century Mercian kingdom, despite its late Christianisation and rising power, recent finds from the Staffordshire Hoard included a number of ancient sword fittings. This research will investigate whether midland elites used objects to display messages about their origins and compare the evidence for similar trends in repair and re-use among the less well off.
The identification of local/regional metalworking traditions. By looking at patterns in the distribution of metalwork, styles and symbols, this research will explore midland metalwork traditions and consider the scope of local traditions and English and British influences. This work will assess whether the movement of traders, craftsmen and products on roads, rivers and estuaries may have acted alongside the better recorded travels of churchmen and armies in the making of seventh-century Mercian and English identities.
The role of wider ideological landscapes and networks. Research across regional museum collections and Portable Antiquities finds offers a unique opportunity to explore the political and cultural formation of authority in the midlands within wider networks across Britain, the North Sea and Europe. The shifting nature of early seventh-century kingdoms may have shaped and tested the strategies used to frame identity among midland peoples. By comparing the traditions of the expanding Mercian kingdom with those of its neighbours and the better known kingdoms of the southeast, this research will seek to evaluate how ancient and contemporary metalwork was acquired and used as political capital in the consolidation of kingdoms and ideas.
Other research interests
I am a specialist Curatorial Advisor on the Staffordshire Hoard to Birmingham Museums Trust and have recently completed a Curatorial Diploma at the British Museum. I am particularly interested in sustainable partnership between universities, museums and other researchers and in interdisciplinary networking between researchers with academic, professional and skilled amateur expertise.
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).
‘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).
'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 (forthcoming, 2012).
‘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 (forthcoming,Turnhout, 2013) .