A key project that has been developed as part of the Specialization in Environmental & Landscape History (EHLS) is the Medieval Animal Data-network (MAD). It was conceived as a way of addressing the manifold ways humans related to and depended on animals for physical and spiritual existence in Medieval Central Europe. Above all, this network is intended to create a truly multi-disciplinary tool for research. Animals, whether as mutton-chops or metaphors, are woven almost unnoticed into the complex web of human existence.
Animals permeate every part of our lives, from mundane subsistence questions to our perception of the world around us. We prepare dishes from their meat. We use leather for shoes and wool for clothing. Animals can reflect prestige, and hunting them can be a test of manhood. Animals and their attributes appear as symbols in religion and allegory, and the way humans tell their stories. Like the Environment & Landscape History specialization itself, MAD is intended to explore the actual exploitation of animals (archaeozoological data, charter data, last wills data etc.) while leaving the door wide open for study of ambiguities in the cultural attitudes towards those same flesh and blood beasts.
In the medieval world, images and descriptions of animals can appear in strange mixed forms, which were as real to people of those times as the chickens and cows they were surrounded by in daily life. The time frame for MAD begins with the end of the Roman Empire in Europe and in some areas data input may even extend to materials from the seventeenth or eighteenth century where clear continuities can be demonstrated. We have envisioned a database compiled around a number of data categories including texts, images, archaeological topographic data, artifacts, and archaeozoological evidence. We ultimately want to compile good source and bibliographic databases for European Medieval animal material and beyond.
Attitudes towards animals seem to be surrounded by intriguing ambiguities of meaning, crossing numerous cultural boundaries in the way they were conceived by medieval people. For this reason, in 2008/9 MAD ran a year-long pilot project to gather multi-disciplinary data on wild and domestic pigs in Central Europe.
Pigs could be regarded as sources of wealth but were also seen as being destructive in crowded towns with developed infra-structures. Pigs were portrayed as both familiar homey companions and dangerous dirty beasts.
From the academic year 2009/10, MAD is focusing on two other animal species, bears and cats, beasts ascribed the same wide range of good and bad traits seen with pigs in the medieval period.
The Medieval Animal Data-Network is currently a joint project of CEU's Department of Medieval Studies and the Institut für mittelalterliche Realienkunde Österreichs of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Agreements have been signed with institutions in England, Spain and Latvia to expand the data-network with the intent to broaden the research base and to look for new sources of funding.
The MAD team invites you to join it in collecting and assessing representative animal data from a variety of European sources.