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From Myth to Majesty: An Historical and Scientific Exploration of Fifteenth-Century British Royal Genealogies from the ‘Noah’ Tradition

The Canterbury Roll is a five metre long genealogical scroll of English kings, including mythical and Biblical ancestors, written in Latin in England during Henry VI’s reign. During the Wars of the Roses, a large number of such genealogies were produced, but this Roll is one of only 12 in which the royal line starts with Noah, (most start with Adam). Acquired by the University of Canterbury (NZ) in 1918, little is known about its provenance.

Using a combination of scientific and historical techniques, this project deepens our understanding of the relationship between genealogy, religion, history, heritage and society.

Imaging and Sensing for Archaeology, Art History and Conservation (ISAAC) study on the Canterbury Roll

Detail from the Canterbury Roll

Research Aims:

  • To situate the Canterbury Roll in its British and New Zealand contexts and investigate its provenance.

  • To identify relationships between the manuscripts of the ‘Noah’ tradition and deepen our understanding of genealogical chronicles as historiographical sources in medieval Britain.

  • To develop research funding bids to extend the current digital edition to include other manuscripts of the ‘Noah’ tradition, developing innovative techniques for displaying genealogical data.

  • To develop funding bids to exhibit the Canterbury Roll with other manuscripts in the UK.

It improves public accessibility to a medieval source of national and international significance by producing the first digital critical edition and translation of the Roll, freely available on a website funded and maintained by UC Digital Humanities.

This cross-disciplinary project also uses non-invasive scientific imaging and spectroscopic techniques offered by the ISAAC mobile lab to reveal hidden/faded information and to characterise the material in order to inform the historical research, underpinning future investigations of other genealogical manuscripts. The research will be shared through academic peer reviewed journals and conference papers as well as through heritage exhibitions developed with partner institutions.

Addressing the Challenge

The initial phase of the research carried out by Dr. Chris Jones, the Digital Humanities Centre and University of Canterbury Christchurch student interns has seen the development of a website, digital edition and translation of the roll.

In 2017 an NTU SPUR bursary for two undergraduate students under the direction of Hodgson helped to develop and populate a prosopographical database for the Roll which will allow us to incorporate innovative display of the genealogical links highlighted in the manuscript in the second digital edition as well as enriching the project metadata. Funding was secured to undertake Spectral Imaging on the Roll (UC Marsden and NTU Global Heritage seed funding grants), in January 2018. Also supported by Global Heritage, the analysis of that data is currently underway and will form a benchmark for the approach to other manuscripts in the group.

In January 2018 a digital symposium was held for interested parties from NTU and UC to develop plans for transition into a wider investigation of medieval genealogies. To that end, links between the 12 manuscripts of the ‘Noah’ tradition are being established to determine ‘proof of concept’ and research questions for individual manuscripts formulated. Fortunately all are in public collections, most in the UK.  Efforts are also underway to foster a partner network around the Canterbury Roll with the aim of bringing manuscripts together in a UK-based exhibition on the 600th anniversary of the reign of Henry VI (2021).

Academic Investigators:     

Dr Natasha Hodgson (History, Nottingham Trent University)

Professor Haida Liang (Physics, Nottingham Trent University)

Dr Chris Jones - History (University of Canterbury, Christchurch)

Dr Chris Thomson (Digital Humanities, University of Canterbury, Christchurch)

Research Fellow:               

Dr Chi (Sammy) Cheung (Nottingham Trent University)

Research Student:               

Sotiria Kogou (PhD, Nottingham Trent University)


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