Profile: Dr Claire Kennan

Dr Claire Kennan

Teaching & Experiential Learning

Medieval Britain: Conquest, Climate Change and Catastrophe explores the period of history between the Norman Conquest and the Black Death which has shaped the Britain we live in today. This unique course presents an in-depth and comparative view of important political, social and cultural developments shedding light on the lives of men and women from all classes, from peasants through to the nobility. It considers how they were affected by political uncertainty, religious intolerance, a vibrant but precarious economy, bouts of plague, the demands of lords and the burdens and benefits of royal government.

Hidden Lives in the Archives is a practical course which aims to develop students’ archival research skills and to interrogate the history and construction of and access to archives in the UK. In particular, it will focus on the representation of and issues relating to race, gender, sexuality, class and (dis)ability across the archive sector. Students will explore a wide range of archives in detail including government archives such as The National Archives, community archives including the Black Cultural Archives and the Mass Observation Archive along with digital archives including the Young Historians Project. Students will work on individual research projects which culminate in the creation of their own small digital archive which will reflect on current debates in the sector.

Sex and Death in the Middle Ages uses the close examination of primary source material including legal cases, medical texts, liturgy, literature, art and archaeology, to consider how the two drives of procreation and survival affected medieval societies from a variety of perspectives. Issues of gender, sexuality and space will be central to discussions along with the themes of violence, mortality and disease. Students will also consider how sex and death have shaped modern misconceptions regarding the medieval era using original source material to challenge the use and abuse of the ‘medieval’ in video games including Assassin’s Creed (2007 -), TV shows such as Game of Thrones (2011-19) and The Witcher (2019-) and films including The Last Duel (2021).


I am interested in the multifaceted role that parish guilds played in the lives of their members and communities. These voluntary organisations proliferated from the mid-fourteenth century until their dissolution in the mid-sixteenth century and acted as additional outlets for expressions of popular piety, forums for regulating behaviour and as means of fundraising for the parish and governing the towns in which they were situated. My research also explores the social and cultural changes experienced by ordinary people in the two centuries following the 1348 outbreak of the Black Death. In particular I am interested in how the parish, the most basic administrative and ecclesiastical unit with which ordinary people had most contact, dealt with the pandemic.


I can supervise projects on a variety of topics covering 14th and 15th century British history including:

  • Medieval towns, work and trade
  • Medieval religion and belief (including popular piety and heresy)
  • Medieval buildings
  • Everyday life in the Middle Ages (including the role of women)
  • The Black Death and its impact
  • Medieval local history
  • 21st century public perceptions of the Middle Ages

I can also supervise projects relating to the museum, archive and heritage sectors including:

  • The history and heritage of Herstmonceux Castle
  • Public engagement with museums and archives
  • The heritage sector in the 21st century
  • Digital archives and online exhibitions

I have researched at:

  • The National Archives (London)
  • The British Library (London)
  • Parliamentary Archives (London)
  • Lincolnshire Archives
  • The Keep (Sussex)
  • The Bodleian Library (Oxford)

I have contacts at:

  • The National Archives (London)
  • Parliamentary Archives (London)
  • Lincolnshire Archives
  • The Keep (Sussex)
  • The Historical Association

Recent Publications

  • ‘On the Threshold? The Role of Women in Lincolnshire’s Late Medieval Parish Guilds’ in Gender in Medieval Places, Spaces and Thresholds, eds. Diane Heath, Victoria Blue & Einat Klafter (Institute of Historical Research, 2019).
  • ‘The Long Term Impact of the Black Death on Towns’, Teaching History, 180 (2020).
  • ‘Pandemics in the Parish: A Medieval Approach to Emergency Planning’ in History Today, 71: 6 (2021) 78-83.
  • ‘The “Mistery” of Medieval Guilds: Secrecy and Subversion in the Middle Ages?’ in History Today, 72: 3 (2022), 66-75.
  • ‘Power, Piety and Presence: The Cult of Corpus Christi and the 1389 Guild Enquiry in Lincolnshire’ in Creativity, Contradictions and Commemoration in the Reign of Richard II: Essays in Honour of Professor Nigel Saul, eds. Jessica A. Lutkin & J. S. Hamilton (Boydell, 2022),pp. 203-218.
  • Claire Kennan and Emma J. Wells, 'Decoding the Medieval: From Manipulation to Other' in What is Medieval? Decoding Approaches to the Medieval and Medievalism in the 21st Century, ed. by Claire Kennan and Emma J. Wells (Brepols, forthcoming 2023).

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