It was quite common to have a certain name associated with a certain job. The scullery maid is called Mary. If you hire Gwyneth, you call her Mary because she is the scullery maid. You couldn’t even depend on maintaining your own name for the purposes of your working life.
The Domesday Book was commissioned in December 1085 by William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066. The first draft was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties south of the rivers Ribble and Tees (the border with Scotland at the time).
The original Domesday Book has survived over 900 years of English history and is currently housed in a specially made chest at The National Archives in Kew, London. This site has been set up to enable visitors to discover the history of the Domesday Book, to give an insight into life at the time of its compilation, and provide information and links on related topics.
Although Domesday had a permanent home at Westminster, it did still travel occasionally. Medieval kings travelled a great deal around the kingdom, and there is evidence that, on occasion, Domesday (and other treasured documents) went with them. During the plague years in the reign of Elizabeth I, Domesday accompanied Exchequer officials who relocated temporarily to Hertford. And in September 1666 it was taken to Nonsuch to escape the Great Fire of London. Fire was again a menace in 1834, when much of the Palace of Westminster was engulfed in flames. The fire was caused by the burning of wooden tallies, notched pieces of wood that had been used in historical accounting procedures. Domesday was being kept in the Chapter House, and the keeper of the Chapter House, the historian and scholar Sir Francis Palgrave, asked the Dean of Westminster to be allowed to move Domesday and other historical records to the Abbey for safekeeping. Astonishingly, the Dean refused, saying that he first needed a warrant from the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. Fortunately the fire did not spread to the Chapter House and Domesday survived.
An accounting roll for the removal of the ‘Receipt of the Exchequer’ to Nonsuch because of the ‘late dreadful fire’ (AO 1/865/1).
This appalling fire was one of the factors used to promote the foundation of a new Public Record Office – an institution where government records could be brought together from the various places where they were stored, and kept safely and securely, with their conditions carefully monitored. This was certainly necessary for Domesday: a report to the Royal Commission on Public Records in the early 19th century states that Domesday had to be rebound as the wooden boards which protected it were being attacked by woodworm. The Public Record Office (PRO) was eventually founded in 1838, and Domesday moved in in 1859. (We can also note that the tallies which survived the Westminster conflagration were later also transferred to the new PRO where they could cause no further harm!)
Report on the rebinding of Domesday in 1819 due to danger from worms (PRO 36/7, p.237).
One might think that its arrival at the PRO would have put an end to Domesday’s peregrinations. But this was not quite the case. In the late 1850s the head of the Ordnance Survey Department, Sir Henry James, had developed a new photographic technique called photozincography and was determined to prove its worth by reproducing medieval documents. In 1861 he was able to convince the various officials with responsibility for Domesday, including the aforementioned Sir Francis Palgrave (by now Deputy Keeper of the PRO) to allow him to reproduce it using his new technique. This involved disbinding Domesday and taking it, a few counties at a time, to Southampton, where the folios were photozincographed in the open air on the South Downs. By 1863, the whole of Great and Little Domesday had been reproduced in this way. The whole enterprise was extremely expensive, and documents held at The National Archives include all sorts of wrangling about which government departments should pay for what. The project was supported throughout by the raising of subscriptions and by the sale of the bound volumes of the reproductions. Although taking this ancient record onto the South Downs for this escapade sounds rather reckless to us, the resulting photozincograph edition was a great achievement, and did much to bring Domesday to wider public attention. 4
In 1972 the Club of Rome, an international think tank, commissioned four scientists to use computers to model the human future. The result was the infamous Limits toGrowth that crashed into world culture like an asteroid from space. Collapse, calamity and chaos were the media take-aways from the book, even though the authors tried hard to explain they weren’t making predictions but only exploring what would happen if population and economies continued their exponential growth. People, however, wanted predictions even if the book wasn’t really offering them. That gap between the authors’ intentions and the book’s reception tells us something critical about flaws in the way we think about the long-term future. Just as important, it points to new and different ways to think about the future at this strange moment in human history, when that future is so uncertain.
The real point to emerge from the crude (by today’s standards) simulations in The Limits of Growthwas that…duh… growth had limits. Using the language of coupled non-linear differential equations, the authors modeled the interaction between population and resources on a finite planet. The stunning prediction of those models was that collapse, rather than steady state, was one very real “solution” to the system. The visual cue to this nasty future was the simple trajectory of black line on a printout of population vs. time. That was really all folks needed. Follow the line. If it leveled off things would be great. If it plummets we are, by definition, all doomed.
What happened next was a battle over the details of that line and its trajectory. Would it really plummet, and if so, when, exactly, would it do that—i.e., how many years left till collapse? Economists, environmentalists, political scientists, and politicians began duking it out over these questions, and they haven’t stopped yet. But as climate change and resource depletion began spreading from scientific journals to headlines, it became clear these kinds of fights are missing the point. For the boots-on-the-ground folks—urban planners who must start planning and building now—something very different is needed.
That is a great irony of the challenge human culture must deal with now. On the one hand we canpredict the future. Our science makes it pretty damn clear that a rapidly changing planet is in the cards over thenext 30 to 50 to 100 years. On the other hand, there is no way to accurately predict all the ways a city like New York or Seattle will be affected those changes. For folks charged with ensuring the specifics of human culture are resilient in the face of those changes, the Club of Rome-style computer models can’t deal with the way uncertainty spreads the further we look into the future. It’s hard enough to predict snowpack a year in advance; how is a city to understand and plan for changes given changing climate conditions and population levels 50 years in advance?
To make that leap we need to go beyond predicting the future and begin telling the future.
We need to begin thinking in terms of “scenarios.”
An oracle was a gateway to knowing the will of the gods, a cosmic information super highway for understanding what lay ahead. The most famous oracle was the priestess of the temple of Apollo at the sanctuary of Delphi.
So important was this sanctuary and its oracle that Delphi even became known as the omphalos – the belly button – of the ancient Greek world. Individuals, cities and kings would come from across the ancient world to put their questions about their future plans to the Delphic oracle and wait to receive a response about what the gods thought of them.
Delphi became so busy that long queues would form on the certain days of the month on which the priestess could be consulted and, in later times, several oracular priestesses would operate at once. But consultants had to be careful how they interpreted the, often unclear, answers of the oracle.
King Croesus of Lydia (modern-day south-western Turkey) asked the oracle whether or not he should go to war on his neighbouring kingdom. The oracle replied that if he went to war, a great kingdom would fall. Croesus interpreted this as being his enemy’s… it turned out to be his own.
But Delphi was not the only site of oracular consultation in ancient Greece. In north western Greece was the oracular site of Dodona, where consultants wrote their questions on small lead tablets, which still survive today. In the deserts of Egypt, at the oasis of Siwah, lay the oracle of Ammon, which Alexander the Great make the journey to visit during his conquests.
And if a long journey wasn’t an option, then the ancient Greeks could consult one of the many ‘chresmologoi’ or ‘manteis’ (‘oracle-sellers’ and ‘seers’) who lived in the cities or travelled with armies, and who promised (for a fee) to translate the will of the gods by reading the signs of animal entrails, the flight of birds, the ripples of water or by using books of prophecy amongst a myriad of other mechanisms.
Robot is a relative newcomer to the English language. It was the brainchild of the Czech playwright, novelist and journalist Karel Čapek, who introduced it in his 1920 hit play, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots. Science historian Howard Markel discusses how Čapek thought up the word.