This is Eric blogging for May 11, 2013
So one of the books that we had to read for the pre-course to Castles and Cathedrals was a book on the Staffordshire Hoard, a large cache of buried treasure having to do with the Viking age in England. The treasure was buried there, in Staffordshire, more than 1000 years ago. On Saturday we took a train to Birmingham to the musuem there and saw a portion of the Hoard. Now its neat to see the hoard in a book, but it's not until you actually see it in person that you see the true craftsmanship of the armor.
One of the things that surprised me was the size. In the book we saw the hoard blown up a bit, but in reality the hoard is quite small. The stones, which were so neatly cut, were no bigger than the tip of a pen.To see that much attention to precision shows just how devoted to the craft the English Vikings were. Another even more awesome aspect of the hoard was how small they were working with the gold and silver. One of the techniques used to decorate the armor was called filigree, which involved flattening tiny, 1mm thick strands of gold onto the armor that made the bands look like beaded strands instead. I remember thinking at the time that the Vikings must have tiny tweezers and other tools to do such intricate work. In seeing it, it gave me an entirely different view of the Angles and caused me to look at them as craftsmen as well as British ancestors.
While at the Birmingham museum we were also given the time to explore other exhibits. I know that I at least looked at an exhibit on early empires (Roman, Greek, etc.) as well as a couple of art galleries. After we were done at Birmingham we took the train back to Stratford to continue our Shakespeare tour of the town.
The previous day we had explored the home where Shakespeare was born in as well as where he retired to. On Saturday we explored the other two important houses in Stratford. The first was a place called the Nash House. Here we got a look into some of the archeology that is going on relating to both Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era in which he lived. We also got to see the development of the Shakespeare "pilgrimage" of people like Charles Darwin who traveled to Stratford and later helped set up some of the city landmarks. At the Nash House it is easier to see the impact of Shakespeare outside of a literary context. I felt like I got to see how Britons respond to Shakespeare as a national icon, kind of.
The other house that we saw was Halls Craft, that belonged to another Shakespeare descendant who was married to a doctor. At Halls Croft we got to see some of the medical archeology going on in relation to the Elizabethan era. Our final stop of the day was at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford where Shakespeare was buried. Throughout Saturday and Friday we got to see and contextualize Shakespeare's life in Stratford from his birth, to his career, his retirement, and death as well as how people in his time. It was nice to have a brief break from Medieval England to see how the following era of society lived and developed and drew upon the influences of Medieval England. Furthermore, in seeing the Staffordshire Hoard we saw a different perspective on Medieval English life.