Hands-On Humanities Day in Southampton

Hands-On Humanities Day in Southampton

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Medieval measuring workshop at Hereford Cathedral

On Saturday 23 November I’ll be running Medieval Mapping & Measuring workshops at the Nuffield Southampton Theatre from 10:30am – 4:30pm in Southampton. This is part of the Human Worlds Festival, run by the University of Southampton in the Cultural Quarter. The Human World I’ll be exploring is the medieval one.  I’ll be bringing to life ways in which the medieval residents here may have made sense of their world in very different ways than our own.

Measuring Rites

As you may know, in Medieval times, there was a common practice called Measuring to the Saint. If you needed spiritual or physical help or healing, they measured your body from head to toe with a length of string or thread, curled it up and sent it to the nearest Cathedral or Abbey, where the monks would make a candle from it, light it and pray for your eternal soul. This practice of measuring with string extended beyond individuals and was also used to measure whole towns and cities. It may seem strange to us, but the ritual of physically measuring the boundaries or walls of a city together was thought to keep it safer throughout the coming year.

Connecting People

Inspired by these simple acts of human connection using no more than lengths of string, I’ll be sharing the medieval practice of ‘Measuring to the Saint’ in my workshops in Southampton, a city whose medieval walls and roots are still very much present today.

In each workshop, participants will first learn how to measure each other with string! (not difficult). They’ll learn some basic medieval measurements – what a league and a furlong were and how measurements were related to time as well as distance. We’ll be using coloured ribbons rather than string to brighten up the experience and help children and adults alike see the different lengths in different colours. We’ll all be measuring each other – it’s fun, noisy and colourful.

Time Travel

Then, we’ll increase the scale by tieing our human lengths of ribbon together, creating super-long lengths and using these – ourselves – to measure the wider world around us. Where will these lengths lead? Joining and unraveling, they lead us on a mini-adventure of sorts – to the other end of the room and back again? or metaphorically-speaking around the whole city.

Medieval Maps

We’ve brought a map of the medieval city with us and a life-size copy of the largest medieval map of its kind in the world – Hereford’s Mappa Mundi. Families can marvel at the maps, have a go at drawing some themselves and as we go through the day, we’ll see if our combined lengths of ribbon will be long enough to wrap around the entire city walls… we’ll be keeping track on our own medieval mileage chart!

How far can a piece of string take you?

It’s my intention that by participating in these workshops, people will get a new perspective on how people 800 0r 900 years ago saw their world. They’ll have learned how people measured things relatively to our own human bodies and not just in distance but also in time. Afterwards, I hope they’ll be inspired to go and see the real medieval city walls for themselves and to explore these amazing links through time that are right here in the city all around us. Here’re some photos from other Measuring & Mapping workshops:


There are lots of other engaging workshops on all day too – visit the Southampton Cultural Quarter in Above Bar Street – The John Hansard Gallery, City Eye, Nuffield Southampton Theatre City (NST City) and Solent Showcase.

Visit the Human Worlds Festival website to find out more.

Join In!

My workshops are on the mezzanine of the Nuffield Southampton Theatre (City) between 10:30am and 4:30pm.

The Medieval Mapping & Measuring workshops are free and I’m running them every 30 minutes throughout the day. They are suitable for all ages and all abilities – all welcome, though children must be accompanied by an adult – it’s fun for families in any case.

Workshops are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, limited to 16 people per session – if you’d like to book a place at a particular time, please contact me here and it’ll be great to know you’re coming!

Hands-On Humanities Day in Southampton was last modified: July 23rd, 2020 by Michelle Rumney

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