Dr James Chetwood


James is a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Digital Humanities. He completed a PhD at the University of Sheffield (2017) which re-examined the transformation of the personal naming system of medieval England between c.800 and c.1300.  

Before arriving at Cork, James taught in the History Department at the University of Sheffield, the School of English at the University of Nottingham and was Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Hull.  

His first article ‘Re-evaluating English personal naming on the eve of the Conquest’ won the Early Medieval Europe Prize and the Paul E. Szarmach Prize. A monograph based on his PhD research is under contract with Amsterdam University Press.

Project overview:

My current project focuses on the transition between late antiquity and the early medieval world. It examines personal names of the people of southern Britain between c.350 and c.800 to add a new dimension to the ongoing debate around the adventus saxonum – the so-called ‘coming of the English’ to Britain.  

The fate of Britain and the Britons in the post-Roman period is still a topic of much debate, and much disagreement still exists between historians, archaeologists and linguists. Personal names are the perfect tool to bridge this disciplinary divide. They are linguistic items which respond to grammatical rules and are influenced by linguistic change over time. But they are also items of ‘immaterial culture’, which can be chosen, ‘worn’ and passed down from generation to generation, or discarded when they become unfashionable.  

My project will combine linguistic, historical and digital humanities methods to examine personal names through both these lenses. I will collect and analyse names of different linguistic origins, compiling them into a comprehensive database. This will allow me to conduct quantitative and qualitative analyses into the names, their chronological and geographical distribution, and the historical people who bore them. In doing so, it will answer the following research questions: 

  • What was the ethnic and linguistic make-up of the Romano-British population on the eve of the adventus saxonum
  • Where did names of non-English origin persist in early medieval England, and for how long? 
  • To what extent do changes to the linguistic origin of names reflect patterns of migration or shifts in ethnic and linguistic identities? 
  • What kind of people bore non-English names, and is there evidence they were seen as socially inferior or marginalised? 

A final aspect of my project will be to examine the relationship between personal names and ethnicity in this period. Recent debates have questioned the usefulness of ethnicity as a category of analysis in early medieval Europe. The data collected will allow me to explore how early medieval people conceived and demonstrated ethnicity, including the extent to which people used names as markers of ethnic identity. 

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