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ePortfolio of Joe Chick

Cloisters and Clothiers:
The Social Impact of Reading’s Transition from Monastic Lordship
to Self-Governance, 1350-1600

I studied Modern History at Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 2004 to 2007 before undertaking the MRes Medieval Studies course at Reading, in which I became interested in social relations through a dissertation on the 1381 revolt in western Suffolk. In 2016 I began an ESRC-funded PhD project at the University of Warwick, supervised by Beat Kümin, which looks at urban society in English monastic towns, defined as settlements in which a monastery was lord of the whole town, through a case study of Reading. In these places the relationship between town and abbey was not just a religious one but also a political, economic, and social one, providing an interesting setting for exploring lay-Church relations. Monastic towns are traditionally characterised in terms of their repressive lordship and violent town–abbey relations, a portrayal which the thesis re-evaluates.

The PhD project breaks from traditional approaches to the study of history in a number of ways. In covering the years 1350-1600, it sits in neither of the conventional periods of study of ‘medieval’ and ‘early modern’, instead looking at the era of transition between the two. This is of particular significance in Reading, since the town lost its landlord in the dissolution. As such, the project looks at the impact of the Reformation not just in religious terms, but also social, political, and economic. The thesis considers whether the dissolution in monastic towns should be considered a revolution, a crisis or, as is rarely considered, a relatively smooth transition of power. In straddling the two periods of history, the thesis also explores how popular religion adapted in a period of changing governmental requirements regarding religious doctrine.

Another innovative feature of the project is its use of social network analysis, a method with roots in the social sciences that is currently emerging within pre-modern history. This approach treats individuals as ‘nodes’ and explores the connections between them. The method is applied to two types of data. Firstly, conveyancing and moneylending records, allowing economics to be considered not only through overarching trends but also in terms of personal interactions between individuals. Secondly, it is applied to testamentary evidence to explore the pious links between town residents and religious institutions, as well as the social links that determined the choice of executors, overseers, and witnesses for a will. As well as using network analysis to contribute to historical debates, the thesis engages closely with the methodological challenges of analysing networks based on sources with incomplete survival.

Academic Progression

Postgraduate Certificate in Social Sciences Research

University of Warwick, 2016-2018, Merit

Award undertaken as part of a PhD studentship from the ESRC

Units: Research Design, Quantitative Methods, Social Science Philosophies, Qualitative Methods

MRes in Medieval Studies

University of Reading, 2014-2016, 82.5%

Dissertation: Reassessing the 1381 Rising in West Suffolk: Coordinated Revolt or Localised Events? (20,000 words)

Other Units: Latin & Paleography, Books of Hours, Chaucer, early rebellions in Bury St Edmunds

Professional Graduate Certificate in Education

University of Winchester, 2010-2011, Pass

Course comprised: four 4000 word assignments and two school placements

BA (Hons) in Modern History

University of Oxford, 2004-2007, 2:1

Dissertation: Miners' Strike in South Wales 1984-85 (12,000 words)

Other Units: Britain 1042-1330, Wars of the Roses, Reformation Europe, Britain 1685-1830, Imperialism in Africa

Awards and Funding

ESRC Doctoral Studentship

2016-2020, University of Warwick

'Urban Identities: Past and Present' conference funding

2019, Humanities Research Council, Connecting Cultures GRP, and Warwick History Department

Best Postgraduate Paper Prize, runner-up

Social History Society, 2018

Pickering Prize for highest mark in a medieval dissertation

2016, University of Reading


Leaders and Rebels: John Wrawe’s Role in the Suffolk Rising of 1381’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute for Archaeology & History, 44 (2018), pp. 214-234.

‘The 1381 Rising in Bury St Edmunds: The Role of Leaders and the Community in Shaping the Rebellion’, Pons Aelius 13 (2016), pp. 35-47.

Conference Papers

'Dealing with Data Loss: Network Analysis with Incomplete Datasets', International Medieval Congress (University of Leeds, forthcoming in July 2019).

'Take No Parishioners: Poverty Management in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Parishes', The Warwick History Postgraduate Conference (University of Warwick, June 2019).

'Chronic Relief: Parishioners and Poverty in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Reading', Warwick Symposium on Parish Research (University of Warwick, forthcoming in May 2019).

'Identity as a Political Tool: The Pursuit of Independence in Late Medieval Reading', International Congress on Medieval Studies (Western Michigan University, forthcoming in May 2019).

'Industry and Independence: Reading’s Transformation of 1470-1510', The Fifteenth Century Conference (University of Reading, 2018).

'Memory, Identity, and Power: The Pursuit of Self-Government in the Monastic Town of Reading, 1253-1539', International Medieval Congress (University of Leeds, 2018).

'Monks, Merchants, and Matrices: A Social Network Analysis of Reading in 1350-1600', Negotiating Networks Conference (Institute of Historical Research, 2018).

'Inclusion, Exclusion, and the Pursuit of Identity: Town–Abbey Relations in Late Medieval Reading', Social History Society Conference (Keele University, 2018).

'Experiencing Network Issues: Using Network Analysis with Medieval Sources', The Warwick History Postgraduate Conference (University of Warwick, 2018).

'The Dissolution of Reading Abbey: The Power Vacuum and its Impact on the Town', European Reformation Research Group: The Reformation: 500 Years On (University of Liverpool, 2017).

'The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381: Leadership in the Suffolk Rising', The Warwick History Postgraduate Conference (University of Warwick, 2017).

'Marxism and the Peasants’ Revolt: The Class Struggle Interpretation and its Problems', Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies Workshop (University of Reading, 2016).

University Teaching Employment

The Medieval World, undergraduate seminar group at the University of Warwick, 2018-19

Medieval Latin, assisted with teaching and led one session at the University of Reading, 2015-16

Public Engagement

In March 2019 I delivered the annual spring lecture to the Friends of Reading Abbey local history group on the topic of 'The Impact of the Dissolution of 1539 on the Town of Reading'.

Webmaster for the My Parish website, an online resource that brings together researchers from a variety of areas of study who use parish sources. My responsibilities are writing reports for the group's annual symposium, answering enquiries from members, and general website updating and maintenance.

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Joe Chick

j dot chick at warwick dot ac dot uk