Leonie Hicks is Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church University.
How did you become interested in Norman History?
I visited many historic sites with my family as a child, including castles and churches from the Norman period, and was lucky enough to attend a school that saw history as an integral part of the curriculum. We spent a whole term in junior school learning about the Normans with the help of a BBC 2 series, Zig Zag. It had the most annoying signature tune that has stuck in my brain ever since, but it ensured I became fascinated by medieval history. I then specialised in the medieval period at university and, after some time spent in archaeology, returned to the Normans for my doctoral work.
Why should people want to find out more about the Normans?
It’s tempting to say because they were the ultimate assimilators – that would certainly tick all the political and socially relevant boxes. Even though they started out as successful conquerors they adapted quickly to the new circumstances they found themselves in. Although that’s important, I firmly believe the past should be studied for its own sake. The Normans left behind wonderful historical records and magnificent architecture and material culture from Scotland to southern Italy and beyond. Why wouldn’t you want to know more about the people who made such things and changed the landscape in ways that are still very visible today
Which individuals, events or forces are especially important in your area of history?
I don’t think that is a question I can answer. What we know about the Normans constantly evolves as we ask new questions of old sources, take into account archaeological material and open up new areas of inquiry.
Which areas of your field most urgently need further exploration?
There is little explicitly comparative work on the Normans across Europe. More comparison would serve to underline the differences between the British Isles, Normandy, the kingdom of Sicily etc. There is currently a great deal of new and important work being undertaken in the areas of administration, law and gender.
Which figure in history would you like to go back in time to meet and why?
I think I’d rather go back to a particular place, for example, Rouen in the reign of Duke Richard I, and just wonder around talking to people and watching – seeing what I could find out, how the landscape was changing and so on.
Difficult question, but what is your favourite book?
I don’t have a favourite book, but there are several novels that I return to from time to time depending on my mood. I’m not going to list them here, but all of them share a strong sense of time and place. In terms of books that have influenced me intellectually, three in particular that I read as an undergraduate stand out: Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual; R. I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society; and Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast. All three are vibrant and engaging, if problematic, and really opened my eyes to the potential of medieval studies. At points during reading all of them I thought ‘Yes! What I really want to be is a medievalist’. ■