Friday, 22 July 2016

[#41] Sean Cunningham, ‘Remembering England’s Medieval Jews’, The National Archives, 10 March 2015 available online at accessed on 22 July 2016.

As I sit in café of The National Archives, twiddling my thumbs waiting for the reading rooms to open I thought that I’d write something brief relating to that. So this week it’s this blog post by Sean Cunningham. I often think blogs run by an institution like TNA are there for two purposes: 1) to inform 2) to show off. I suspect a lot of people would prefer the gaudy codices of the British Library (or similar institutions), but as somebody who works on governmental records, I think that TNA’s collections are particularly hard to beat – and certainly this blog post with some excellent illustrations manages to show off magnificently. This certainly provides a good whistle-stop tour of the way medieval Anglo-Jewish history could be approached via TNA’s collections. Naturally there is great emphasis placed upon the real gems of TNA collections – notably the caricatures of the Norwich Jews from 1233 and Aaron son of the Devil from 1277.  However, the copy of the 1275 Statute of the Jewry is a thing of beauty. So this blog post does what I think blogs like this are supposed to do. On the one hand it informs by providing a brief survey of the medieval Anglo-Jewish experience (drawing on TNA’s collections) and, on the other hand, it shows off magnificently.

If I have a criticism of this piece, it is that one of the most important collections of Jewish chirographs in the country is housed in TNA and yet there is no mention of these. Now it should be noted, that scholars rarely, if ever cite this collection (much less analyse it), but having spent two days already looking at the documents I am now convinced that this is an incredibly underutilised source which rivals (and in many ways supersedes) the collection of chirographs which are housed in Westminster Abbey Muniments Room which scholars have long focused on – certainly in terms of geographical and genealogical diversity TNA collection is nothing short of epic. I think that this is an important omission here because while Cunningham talks about Jews being taxed there is little on how they got their money in the first place (not that that was necessarily by moneylending). That being said I think this is a very good introduction that is competently written and has really good illustrations! A final point before I go and look at more chirographs – Drs Cunningham and Adrian Jobson produced a podcast lecture a few years ago (the link is in the blogs et. al. page on this blog) which is superb (I used it to revise for my A-Level history exam!).

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