Domesday live on web and BBC2 today

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Aug 11 21:12:17 BST 2010

William the Conqueror on the web: Discover your 
town's history with digital Domesday Book
(article below)

TV review: Domesday, Madness In The Fast Lane and 
Help! My House Is Falling Down
Domesday wasn't just history – it shed new light 
on just how devious those Normans really were, writes John Crace

John Crace
The Guardian, Wednesday 11 August 2010
Article history

Stephen Baxter examines the evidence in Domesday. 
Photograph: BBC/Kemi Majekodunmi/BBC

A telegenic presenter strolling around telegenic 
locations: so far so true to form as Dr Stephen 
Baxter takes us on a journey from Old Sarum in 
Salisbury to Cambridge, via stunning cathedrals. 
History and TV have become cosy bedfellows over 
the last 20 years. Out have gone the dusty dons 
irritably lecturing the riff-raff on their 
specialist subjects, and in have come Simon 
Schama et al to enthuse us about a past of which 
most of us are more than a little hazy.

Domesday (BBC2) did rather more than that. It 
didn't just fill in the gaps for the casually 
interested, it rewrote history for the academics. 
This was history as breaking news. For centuries 
now, the Domesday Book of 1086 has been regarded 
as England's first tax record of ownership, a 
document revered more for the fact that it's more 
than 900 years old than for the information it 
holds about 13,000 villages and towns, 30,000 
estates and God knows how many pigs and ploughs.

Baxter, who has devoted the last 10 years to 
studying the Domesday Book, came up with a more 
compelling explanation. After pointing out that, 
if it had been intended as a tax database, then 
it had been compiled in a remarkably disorganised 
way, he went on to suggest the book's real 
purpose was to confer legitimacy on Norman rule. 
All references to King Harold had been removed, 
to make William the natural successor to Edward 
the Confessor; and the Anglo-Saxons who had had 
their estates handed over to William's Norman 
sidekicks found their dispossession now enshrined 
in law. In short, the Domesday Book was England's 
version of Pol Pot's Year Zero.

It's rare for TV to open such a radically 
different perspective on a national treasure and 
rarer still to make it come alive, so Baxter is 
clearly a TV star in the making. But he did 
betray a few first-night nerves. There were a few 
too many arched eyebrows, a few too many heavily 
stressed vowels; the programme was interesting enough without all that.

William the Conqueror on the web: Discover your 
town's history with digital Domesday Book

By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 8:04 AM on 11th August 2010

Data collected by William the Conqueror, above, 
in 1085-86 has been used to create the site

Tracing the history of your town or village has 
become easier with the launch of an online 
version of the Domesday Book, the most important 
historical record of Medieval England.

For the first time, anyone in the world can use 
the data collected by William the Conqueror in 
1085-86 to instantly find out who owned what in Norman Britain.

The digital version of the Domesday Book also 
sheds light on how land was passed from Saxon 
landowners to the new Norman nobility in the 
years after the Battle of Hastings.

All users have to do is type in the name of the 
area they wish to learn about and the findings 
will be presented in map or table form.

Historian Prof Stephen Baxter said: 'Ever 
wondered who owned your town or village at the 
time of the Norman conquest? It’s now possible to 
find out at the flick of a button.

'And having done so, you can create maps and 
tables of the estates held by the same lords elsewhere in England.

'Results are delivered quickly, and the scale of 
the dispossession of the English by Norman 
billionaire-like barons comes vividly to life.

'As you can imagine, constructing this database 
has been quite an exercise, but it is a 
phenomenally useful research tool. Essentially, 
it’s now possible for anyone to do in a few 
seconds what it has taken scholars weeks to achieve in the past’

The Domesday Book was commissioned by William the Conqueror.

It was a gigantic survey of every town and 
village in England and described in detail which 
barons owned which tracts of land.

Prof Baxter, the presenter of a one-hour 
documentary on the Domesday Book on BBC2 tonight 
and medieval historian at King's College, London, 
said the document had been misunderstood as a tax register.

The website, seen above, is part of a project 
called PASE, 'The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon 
England', which collates information about people 
living in England between the sixth to the 11th century

But he argues that it was a political exercise to 
highlight the transition from Saxon to Norman 
rule, and end disputes between the nobility about land ownership.

The Domesday Book remained the biggest audit of 
its kind anywhere in Europe until the censuses of the 19th century.

The website is part of a project called PASE, 
‘The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England’, which 
aims to draw together information about people 
living in England between the sixth to the 11th century.

The PASE Domesday website includes masses of data 
from the Saxon era, as well as information gathered for the Domesday Book

Prof Baxter added: 'This is far more accessible 
than anything available before because it allows 
you to download the results to your desk top and 
create maps. You can look up Coventry or 
Islington and see who the landowner was.

'It's hard to think of any other historical 
document that is has as much importance for researching England's history.'

The website is available at

The Domesday Book, above, was a huge survey of 
every town and village in England and remained 
the biggest audit of its kind in Europe until the censuses of the 19th century

The digital version of the Domesday book allows 
users to find out who owned what at the time of 
the Norman Conquest. This map, above, shows land 
owned by Earl Waltheof and provides interesting facts about his life
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poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

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