The York cause papers: a reply to Jeremy Goldberg

Frederik Pedersen

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When I wrote ‘Demography in the archives’, it was my hope to open up a methodological discussion of geographical, social, and demographic aspects of legal sources that I believed had not received sufficient attention in the past. The matter was urgent, I felt, because I had found that there was a distinctive pattern to the reception of my work on either side of the Atlantic. When I presented papers in North America, my basic premise – that it was difficult, if not impossible, to use legal sources like the York cause papers as the basis of an analysis of social change in the century after the Black Death – was accepted with little or no comment. However, when I presented the same papers in Britain there seemed to be unease about this conclusion and one of the most frequent questions I was asked was why I did not analyse temporal variations in the material. From this I perceived the need to explain how I arrived at such a position, and after a long period of gestation the eventual outcome was ‘Demography in the archives’. I am delighted that Dr Goldberg has taken the time to go over my arguments in this meticulous fashion (see ‘Fiction in the archives: the York cause papers is a source for later medieval social history’, above in this number). He has found many errors that escaped me during the article's proofreading, and for this work I thank him. In what follows I shall concentrate on what I see as the main points of his article.

It is clear that we differ profoundly in our estimation of the value of these sources to the social historian. However, there is some common ground between us. We agree that an investigation of the categories suggested in ‘Demography in the archives’ will yield important insights into the nature of the medieval litigation material. We are, in other words, agreed that factors such as litigants' social status, their geographical distance to the courts, and the age-composition of witnesses must be examined before we can conclude anything about the usefulness of these sources. Where we differ is in our interpretation of the evidence and in the tools that we suggest are most suited for this analysis.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContinuity and Change
Publication statusPublished - 1997

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