This guest post comes from Danae Tankard, a Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural History at the University of Chichester. It follows on from Mark’s recent post on ‘Material Culture from Below’ and further demonstrates the potential of court depositions for examining the material culture of the lower orders in early modern England – here, their clothing. It provides an introduction to Danae’s broader body of work on the clothing of the rural poor in seventeenth-century England. You can follow Danae @morley1640.
Yet with that and such like words I made shift to buy me some clothes, and then I went to church on Sunday, which I never could do before for want of clothes to go handsome in. My father being poor and in debt could not provide us with clothes fitting to go to church in (so we could not go to church) unless we would go in rags, which was not seemly.
This passage is taken from the autobiographical writings of Edward Barlow, the son of an impoverished husbandman, born in Prestwich in Lancashire in 1642. Written retrospectively when Barlow was a thirty-one year old seaman and had learned to read
Barlow leaving home: in ‘rags’?
and write, it describes the period leading up to his first departure from home aged twelve or thirteen. Since his father could not afford to indenture him as an apprentice, Barlow worked for his neighbours, harvesting and haymaking and carting coal from the local coal pits, for which he received ‘but small wages’ of about two or three pence a day. By making ‘shift’ he was able to buy himself some clothes to ‘go handsome in’ to replace the ‘rags’ that he had worn before. The significance of these new clothes in Barlow’s account is that they allow him to attend church, something he could not do before ‘unless [he] would go in rags, which was not seemly’. His description of his clothing as ‘rags’ may be an exaggeration but it enables Barlow to express his sense of shame at having nothing decent to wear to church. However, Barlow does not want just any clothes: he wants clothes ‘to go handsome in’. In other words, he wants to look good. Continue reading
I went to a conference, and all I got was this lousy blog post.
That’s right, this is one of those blog posts thought up whilst staring pensively out of a train window on a journey home from three days at a wonderfully stimulating and sociable conference – in this instance, on ‘Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe’, at the University of Plymouth. Back in April. Of 2016. Still, better late than never.
Gloves: they fit the conference theme
I signed up for said conference, despite my lack of familiarity with the field of early modern material culture studies, to try out a paper on the spatial division of labour in rural England, 1500-1700, based on material coming out of the Women’s Work Project. The paper went well enough, and over the course of the conference as a whole I learnt a huge amount about the material culture of the period, and about the sophisticated methodologies used by the reflective practitioners of material cultural history. It whet my appetite for the study of material culture. But it also left me hungry for more of a particular type of material culture history – one focused on the common people of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In what will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, I wanted more material culture ‘from below’.
The conference offered a rich diet of papers focused on the gentry and aristocracy of early modern Europe, but was light on the material things that populated the worlds of their social inferiors. Not for the first time as a social historian I found myself experiencing ‘modernist envy’, as my mind turned to examples of research into the material culture of the working class in the industrial age – Ruth Mather on working class homes in the period 1780-1830; Julie-Marie Strange’s focus on ‘father’s chair’ as a way into the domestic relationships of the Victorian working class; Carolyn Steedman’s wonderful essay on the meanings of a rag rug. And how about the insights into working class material culture to be gleaned from Lark Rise to Candleford? Continue reading
While putting together a reading list for a new undergraduate module at Birkbeck on ‘The Early Modern World, c.1500-1750’, I decided to seek advice from the twittersphere. I was particularly annoyed that my initial list for the weeks on slavery and colonialism was overwhelmingly white.
So, with that in mind, I asked twitter for suggestions of work by people of colour and received an outstanding response:
Thank you all for such a great response! I’m not going to be able to include all of suggestions in my final module list due to danger of swamping first-year undergrads with readings, but I thought it might be helpful to share the list that I collated in case other people were putting together their own lists. I’m also very keen to hear of further suggestions.
I should note a few caveats. First, I had to exclude a few excellent suggestions even from my long list as they were focused primarily on the post-1750 period, which is covered by another module. Second, there were a few publications that I don’t have access to, so I put them on a separate list too. Third, there may be errors, so let me know if I’ve miscategorised anyone. Fourth, I know that people of colour write great scholarship about all sorts of history other than colonialism and slavery, but I thought this would be a good topic to start with given the particularly egregious nature of my initial list. Finally, I’m very aware that this list is incomplete. I’d welcome the chance to update it, so please comment below with your own ideas! Continue reading
Well, well. It was five years ago today that the many-headed monster first reared it’s head in the blogosphere. It all started with a pithy welcome post advising our readers that this blog was unlikely to feature Henry VIII’s wives, swiftly followed by Brodie’s first ever post – about a monstrous hairy child who was put on show for the entertainment of the citizens of 17thC Norwich – and by Mark’s first foray into blogging – a short think-piece on the 17thC hangover.
In the following half-decade ‘the monster’ grew two new heads – Laura and Jonathan – and between us (and a few guests…) we published 260 posts on various aspects of early modern society and culture: an average of one per week. Collectively they have been viewed over 236,000 times, by over 123,000 visitors, and been subject to thousands of comments. We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who lurks somewhere in those statistics for their interest in, and support of, this blog. We drink your health, dear readers!
One of the great things about having been around for a while is that we can now lay claim to having our very own ‘archive’. Every post we have published is still openly available for all and sundry to peruse, and we would like to take this opportunity to encourage our readers to do what many of you love to do best – delve into the archive!
If you’re looking for bite-size chunks of early modern history to fill your lunch hour – or perhaps to set as introductory reading for your students – then there are a number of ways to search through our past posts. First, you can use our ‘Browse by Theme‘ option to browse our archive by – you guessed it – specific themes. Second, you can visit our ‘Monster Mini-Series’ page to find some collections of some our most popular posts, which include things like useful introductory reading lists (‘Marooned Monographs‘) and posts relating to ongoing debates about issues like periodisation. Third, you can simply stick a keyword in the ‘Search’ box on our homepage to see if we have any posts touching on whatever it is you are interested in (‘drink’ brings up quite a few hits…).
And of course we will continue to add many more posts to the archive over the next 5 years…
Our knowledge of both literal and figurative imprisonment in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is growing rapidly thanks to the on-going work of some outstanding historians and literary scholars. On Friday, a group of them assembled at Birkbeck for a ‘mini-symposium’ on the topic of ‘Writing Prisons: Literature and Constraint in Early Modern England’, where they considered ‘forms of physical, political, and aesthetic unfreedom’ at that time.
The event was organised by Molly Murray, who is currently completing a book on the literature of the prison, and also included short papers from Ruth Ahnert on the correspondence networks of Marian Protestant prisoners; Andrea Brady on the trope of constraint in poetry; Richard Bell on the use of written records by London prisoners and their jailors; and Robert Stagg on how rhyme was conceptualised as aesthetic ‘bondage’ or ‘liberty’. Pleasingly, the audience included scholars such as Vanessa Harding, Susan Wiseman, Molly Corlett and John Levin, ensuring that the discussion that followed was wonderfully wide ranging.
Although I’ll make no attempt to summarise the whole event, it did set my mind whirring and left me with a few particularly strong impressions … Continue reading
Ulinka Rublack, in her introduction to a recent symposium at the Institute for Historical research, argued that it was time for us to revisit ‘microhistory’. Partly, she said, this was because microhistory had been explicitly challenged by Jo Guldi and David Armitage in their History Manifesto for being too focused on narrow and specialist histories at the expense of the ‘big picture’. However, Rublack also suggested that microhistory has been misconstrued by the tendency among even sympathetic scholars only engage with the ‘classics’ of the genre – especially Carlo Ginzberg’s The Cheese and the Worms and Natalie Zemon Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre – rather consider the wealth of new microhistories that have been written in recent decades.
As someone long fascinated by microhistory, it was wonderful to be able to come along to this event. I’ve written about defining it, branding it and defending it before on this blog, and I’ll be running an MA module on microhistory at Birkbeck in the coming year, so I was keen to hear more about the current scholarship, and I was not disappointed. It was a excellent event and it touched on facets of this concept that I had hardly considered before. It would be far too ambitious to attempt to summarise each of the six speakers much less the discussion that followed, but I thought it might be productive to draw attention to two angles that particularly caught my attention.
Microhistory as a meeting place
Laura Sangha and #twitterstorians
Last week I asked historians on twitter what three books they would recommend for prospective students to read over the summer – those students starting a history degree in September. I got a lot of responses (thanks very much, brilliant #twitterstorians), and you can read the full list at the end of this post. Before you do, here are a few thoughts that struck me about summer reading for history students.
Question: exactly what is the best way to prepare for studying history at university? People evidently had widely differing opinions on this. Or rather, the books that they recommended seemed to suggest differing opinions. It all did seem to add up to some key themes though, which I have summarised as:
1) Students need to get to know the discipline, since what they did at school is not representative of it. So they should read ‘what is history’ books which explain why and how academics study the past. These might mainly cover historiography, or might be focused on issues that are fundamental to the discipline, i.e. what footnotes are, or why there is fiction in the archives. (See list section ‘The Historian’s Craft’).
2) Students need to think about the skills and techniques needed by historians. Therefore they should read ‘what is history’ books, but preferably ones with practical, hands on advice about how to read, analyse, write essays and research etc. Continue reading