Dudda Waes Gebur Into Haedfelda

“Dudda Waes Gebur Into Haedfelda…”  So begins one of the more enigmatic and thought-provoking texts of the English Middle Ages [1] in telling us that a man named Dudda was a serf on the Hatfield estate.  The rest of this particular text, and it is not a particularly a long one, happens to be a single page torn out of a larger book that is now lost showing records of the abbey of Ely that happens to contain a great deal of useful genealogical information tying together the various poor folk of the area, the sort of people who are not often well-remembered in historical accounts [2].  Of course, the book is a reminder that those who wish to truly rule over society must have some idea of what they are ruling in terms of the worth of a land and the relationships and connections of its inhabitants, and the records of an abbey are good places to go for that sort of material.

What is the power of information [3]?  It exists on several levels.  For one, knowledge gives an accurate understanding of resources and demographics so that plans and targets can be made.  Whether one is a medieval monarch trying to see how much money can be raised to support a levy of troops or one is a contemporary business owner trying to set sales targets for one’s employees, this sort of information is deeply powerful.  This sort of knowledge is also a knowledge of possibility.  We cannot know what is practical unless we know what we have to work with, but having an accurate knowledge allows us to exploit or demand as much as can be given, which is often more than we would have demanded without that knowledge.  The power of information also helps us know what we are up against, and what we are competing with, which is why industrial espionage has always been such a popular matter not only for business but for countries whose well-being depended on trade and industry and who demanded respect for property without always giving it to others.  Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.

How is this information acquired?  We live in an age that likes to tout the revolutionary nature of big data, yet in some ways there has long been big data, at least data as big as could be handled given the times.  Whether one is looking at tax rolls or parish registers, books like the Domesday records [4] or the tablets of tax receipts in ancient cuneiform, writing itself as well as advances in accounting have often had as their guiding justification a desire to better understand and exploit what was under one’s control, whether this was the labor of people on farms or in workshops, or whether it was the economic potential of towns and villages.  The longing for greater control over others spurred the development of record-keeping, for only that which can be kept track of can be properly controlled and modified and exploited.  Otherwise, one relies upon what is seen, and much can be hidden given the limits of attention that people have.  This level of information has never been sufficient for those who realized that their power and authority depended on an accurate understanding of the conditions of the domains where they held office in some fashion.

It should therefore come as little surprise that such an area should fall within the study of those who make their living, modest as it is, through the desire to understand and convey an accurate knowledge of realities and conditions to others.  Nor is it any great surprise that people who have done as I do throughout history have often been viewed with more than a little bit of hostility and suspicion.  When Matthew sat at his booth in Capernaum at the border between the tetrarchy of Herod Agrippa and that of his brother and collected taxes off of the itinerant merchants, he was reporting on behalf of his authorities.  It should go without saying that tax collectors were not thought of particularly highly.  Even the censustakers of the ancient world, and the modern world as well, did so in order to know just how much could be levied for taxes and how many potential soldiers there were in one’s armies.  Given the relationship between knowledge and direct exploitation from authorities, it should come as no surprise that people would not tend to like being reported on.  Given the fact that reporting and big data in our contemporary world is associated with companies seeking to ever more closely understand our purchasing habits for their ubiquitous marketing, or in the attempt of governments to collect all information possible so as to have a full understanding of the thoughts and behavior of citizens, or in the attempts of companies to know what their employers are doing or not doing, it is little wonder that the collection of information should be no more popular now than when poor Dudda was a serf on the Hatfield estate in the 9th century AD.  Nor are matters likely to change in that regard anytime soon.

[1] See, for example:



[2] See, for example:



[3] See, for example:


[4] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Dudda Waes Gebur Into Haedfelda

  1. Pingback: On Lassitude, Or, The Dog Days Of Summer | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Some Minutes Of The SQL Brown Bag Lunch #3 | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Tip The Scales Of Justice | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Lost Scriptures | Edge Induced Cohesion

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