26 Pages

The Dark Ages

While the Middle Ages and subsequent periods have been dominant in the historical geographical literature, isolated examples can be found of an early involvement with the Dark Ages. A paper in Geographische Zeitschrift (Gradmann, 1901) considered the landscape of central Europe for the period of folk-wandering which followed the decline of Roman supremacy. Such efforts stand out because of their unusual nature as does a further major and perhaps more stimulating work, An Historical Geography of England before 1800 (Darby, 1936). That collection of papers taking as its starting point the prehistoric period of Southern Britain, set the scene for the nature of historical geography in Britain for many years. It also included the first attempt to deal with aspects of Dark Ages landscape development over a wide area of England. This work clearly drew on existing interests and attitudes. Its author, Wooldridge (1936), was extending temporally an investigation he had undertaken for south east England (Wooldridge and Linton, 1933) and also spatially an interest shown by Darby (1934) in the Anglo-Saxon period. The Anglo-Saxon Settlement, as the chapter by Wooldridge was entitled, can be used to shed light on the stuttering nature of geographers' subsequent involvement in this period of landscape development. In his introduction Wooldridge, noting the contribution made by 'archaeologists and students of place-names' to the work already undertaken by historians, felt it necessary to write: 'even at the risk of being regarded as an intruder in the field, the geographer cannot forgo the task of bringing another technique, and still other facts, into the discussion' (Wooldridge, 1936). There seemed to be a conviction, perhaps born out of an underlying environmental determinism, that the geographer must contribute but that it could only be done apologetically.