Skip to main content

Kirsty Haslam: Weapons in Society

The Royal Armouries recently held the first in a series of conferences showcasing the latest research into arms and armour. Here, Kirsty Haslam, who was awarded a bursary to attend the conference, gives their impressions of the day

I recently attended the ‘Weapons in Society’ conference hosted by the Royal Armouries. The conference brought together museum and heritage professionals with academics for a series of engaging and thought-provoking papers and discussions which examined the manner in which weapons have shaped and symbolised the societies in which humans have lived. The nine presented papers covered a broad range of topics and time periods ranging from Chris Giamakis from the University of Sheffield discussing burials with weapons and armour in Ancient Greece to Victoria Taylor of the University of Hull/Sheffield Hallam University who presented a paper examining the collective British memory of Barnes Wallis and the ‘bouncing bomb’.  My own research, examining the social and cultural impact of warfare in Scotland, works across the late medieval- early modern divide so I was particularly interested in Victoria Bartels’ (University of Cambridge) paper examining the role of firearms in sixteenth-century Florence and Eleanor Wilkinson-Keys’ (University of Leeds/ Pontefract Castle) work looking at the role of the tournament horse, particularly as a psychological weapon. There presentations have opened up a number of avenues for further research in my own work as well as shedding some light on sources that had perplexed me – references to gunmaker’s fixing the town clocks, which appear in Scottish burgh records, made far more sense once Victoria mentioned that clockmakers originally made much of the mechanism for fire-arms.

As well as the presented papers the staff of the Royal Armouries kindly facilitated both a tour of their galleries and a handling session of a range of the objects in their collection. The gallery tour highlighted the range of the fascinating weapons and armour that the museum has on display as well as providing in-depth discussion about particular pieces in the collection. The handling session was an incredibly rewarding opportunity to see a selection of the Royal Armouries fantastic collection ranging from Roman spears through to modern body-armour. It was particularly rewarding to examine pieces that had been referenced during presented papers. Mark Shearwood’s paper on the plug bayonet, for example, was really enhanced by the opportunity to see a number of plug bayonets and contrast them with the later socket bayonet. For me, a particular highlight was, having heard Eleanor Wilkinson-Keys’ paper on the tournament horse, to then see a number of complete sets of horse armour on display in the gallery which helped to answer my question about how the armour was secured to the horse. In the handling session there was then the opportunity to handle a piece of horse armour noting that it was perhaps lighter than we might have initially expected. This opportunity to compliment academic research with the wealth of practical knowledge of the Royal Armouries’ staff was very rewarding and, I’m sure, appreciated by all attendees at the conference.

The conference was particularly rewarding for me on a personal level because the accompanying poster competition offered me, as a researcher within the first year of my PhD research, an opportunity to present my own work. Having previously worked in the heritage sector on exhibitions the poster format allowed me to present my research in a format I was relatively confident utilising. My poster examined the weapons brought to wappinschaws, or weapons-showings, hosted in Aberdeen between 1498 and 1638, and the implications for the potential status these weapons held for the burgh inhabitants.  A number of the comments made by attendees about my poster have allowed me to develop my ideas further and I really appreciate the opportunity the competition gave me to boost my own confidence in presenting my own research.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the conference organisers for facilitating such a fascinating and varied event. I would also like to thank the organisations who supported and sponsored the event including the Royal Armouries (who were fantastic hosts throughout the day) the Heritage Consortium, the Northern Bridge Consortium, the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities and the Royal Historical Society.

Kirsty stands in from of an old stone wall

Kirsty Haslam is a doctoral candidate at the University of Aberdeen. Her work explores the social context and cultural meaning of warfare in north-east Scotland in the late medieval and early modern period

Take a look at the objects Kirsty got to handle in our Collections Online.


Related stories

Load more