John Palmer

Emeritus Professor John Palmer (University of Hull) -

AHRC project leader

Professor Palmer joined the history department of the university of Hull in 1965 and spent the remainder of his career there, retiring in 2002.

His early research and publications were on the reign of Richard II and the Hundred Years' War; but in the 1980s his interests switched to Domesday Book, to which he devoted the second half of his career. The switch - unusually - was the result of teaching requirements, specifically finding a suitable topic for a third-year undergraduate Special Subject course. There were then few medieval subjects for which most of the major sources were available in translation, which was an essential requirement for Special Subjects at that date. In fact, there appeared to be only two, the First Crusade and Domesday Book. Translated sources for the First Crusade were incomplete and predominantly western, while Domesday Book was a source almost complete in itself, with a richer secondary literature, and a broad social and economic content. The first students were enrolled in 1979.

Despite its inherent appeal, Domesday Book could not have been studied at undergraduate level without providing the tools to explore its social and economic data. In practical terms, that meant the use of computers. Institutional support for computing in the Arts was still two decades in the future in 1979; but inquiries at the Computer Centre elicited a generous offer from George Slater - until then unknown to the History department - to help in his own time. His 'help' involved writing an entire database, spreadsheet, and mapping package and providing the unstinting technical support without which the project would have sunk before launch, or foundered quickly thereafter. As it was, Domesday Book became an established part of the syllabus and remained so for a quarter of a century, spawning other computing-based courses in its wake.

See also Beginnings; AHRC Project