So, what is the book I’m just starting to write, actually about? I should be able to answer that quickly and succinctly – the “elevator pitch”. In other words, I have as much time to explain my idea as I would have in a medium-length elevator ride. Well, OK, maybe an elevator ride to the top of the Shard 🙂 I should also be able to answer this as it’s the question I constantly ask my research students. What is your research about? How would you explain it to the person who casually asks you in the pub, taking into account their likely attention span? Tough. But here goes.
I’m fascinated by information. Particularly how it travels. Today we’re used to being able to find out pretty much anything we want to, wherever we are, as long as we have a mobile device and a comms link of some sort. But how did information travel in other times? At times of significant social upheaval when many people lived in fairly isolated communities – the Roman invasion of Britain, for example? Information can be a commodity; it’s often traded like other commodities. Like, say, salt. Salt is vital to life and has always been an important way of preserving and treating food. So Romano/British people needed salt. It was produced in various different locations in Britain at the time, as it had been for thousands of years previously, and salt trading networks were already established by the time the Romans arrived in 43 CE. Suppose the salt man on a particular trading round was a native Briton, and a bit of a gossip, who liked to put his feet up and share a drink with a friendly guy who is part of the Roman establishment at the fort and bathing complex at Aquae Sulis (Bath). But this guy is from a distant land and is a subject of conquest too. They might have quite a bit in common, one way or another. And suppose one day the salt man tells his drinking companion about a strange thing that has happened at one of the settlements he visits on his round. How a young girl who works for one of the Romano/British elite in their fancy new villa, has mysteriously disappeared. Suppose the Roman establishment guy becomes enthralled by this story and tries to find out was has happened to her. But he needs information, and the salt man is his main source.
Then suppose an account of this is found in the present day. Would our modern information systems shine any more light on the case, around 2,000 years later?
That’s what the book is about. OK, maybe the elevator would have to break down on the way up, and it isn’t the whole story by any means, but hopefully it paints a picture. Can’t say too much, or I’d be telling you the plot!