Our own chairman David Waller gave the latest lecture, at the University of Northampton, an authority on US politics. He spoke on the recent US election, explaining the victory of Obama, and why the election was not as close as many political commentators had led us to believe. He explained where the votes were won for Obama, and how, though he lost seats, he still had enough votes in the metropolitan areas. David explained that voters could have discounted the economic conditions, and that is why he was re-elected despite having the highest unemployment rate of any re-elected president. Obama retained the support of the young and ethnic minorities, and these groups turned out at the polls. Obama benefited from an changes in the demography and ethnic composition. The audience, made up of members of the Historical Association and the University History Student Society, were treated to an analysis of the elections as David made clear the often baffling US electoral system. The lecture generated thought-provoking questions, not least being whether what would happen if Puerto Rico became a state! For those interested in US politics, we’ll see you in four years’ time.
The latest lecture of the branch was held at the Humfrey Rooms in conjunction with NAS. Christopher Dyer of the University of Leicester spoke on ‘why medieval peasants are important’, belying the traditional assumptions held about peasant life. They were not anonymous, poverty stricken, overly restricted or subject to extreme manorial control. There were elements of this, but peasant life, Dyer explained, was not as awful as it has been assumed. Life was tough, but peasants were not stopped from living their own lives. They managed land effectively (some better than others) and jobs like the Reeve were given to the tenants. Peasants produced different crops than the Lord due to personal need and commercial value, and it is likely that they produced more as they had greater labour resources. They added to the national wealth and provided wool for profit and export, made beer and were consumers in the local economy. Archeological evidence provides evidence of their labours, especially of industry and brewing beer! The talk ended by explaining three ways in which peasants have contributed to our society: by accumulating larger holdings of land, adeptly running the village and developing industry, suggesting peasants provided the origins of capitalist farming, industrialisation and local government. Dyer provided a rich description of medieval peasant life, showing them not as social inferiors, but as savvy members of the community who used their initiative to make the best of their often limited resources and retain some freedom. The lecture was well received by all, generating thoughtful questions and comments.