About the Project

SC5/5/1 1430-31 Showing parchment cover

The Overland Trade Project aims to dynamically visualise the medieval trade networks between Southampton and Southern and Midland England (1430 – 1540), using database and GIS technology in conjunction with data extracted from the Southampton brokage books. The project began in 2003 and was completed in February 2012.

Southampton’s Brokage Books are wonderful sources, but unfortunately they are very difficult to use: 6 volumes have been published by Southampton Record Society and Southampton Record Series, yet they have been scarcely exploited. Coleman’s introduction to the 1443-4 book remains the best guide, although Duxbury has looked at one product – wine – over the 1430s and 1440s. Piecemeal usage for particular projects has been made by historians such as Fryde and Yates.

The reasons are obvious. Even when the manuscripts are transcribed and printed, the problems in recognizing the data, converting them to modern commodities, to standardised modern quantities, and identifying the medieval place names and surnames are enormous even for one book, let alone the whole series. Computer power is needed to exploit them fully.

Digitising the Brokage Books to enable them to be searched and analysed electronically and thus to fulfil their historical potential has been the prime purpose of the Overland Trade Project (OTP) since its inception 2002.

Professor Michael Hicks of the University of Winchester, Director of OTP, imagined a database linked to a mapping system that would enable the results to be visualised across time and space, the GeoData Institute at Southampton University devised the necessary software to achieve it, and Dr Winifred Harwood, Research Fellow, transcribed and translated nine brokage books, input all the data from 12 brokage books, and resolved all the complex and time-consuming technical issues. Problems with the evidence and the software were resolved for the prototype book of 1447-8 which Harwood published both as an excel CD and a hard copy edition.

Originally it was hoped to digitise all thirty surviving books, some of them duplicates, and then of a 50% sample. Applications for funding were made to the Economic and Social Research Council that attracted high praise but regrettably no money. Some financial support was awarded by the Charlotte Bonham-Carter Charitable Trust and Pilgrim Trust and considerably more from the University of Winchester. Latterly work has been focused on digitising a sample of twelve brokage books that span the whole century. The database was launched as this fully-interactive web-mounted GIS-linked database in February 2012, enabling it to be used by anyone with a PC anywhere in the world.

A companion printed volume is due to be published in 2013. It is hoped to add further Brokage Books to the database later.