Understanding Sources: Churchwardens’ Accounts

To celebrate the launch of Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources the monster-heads have each written a brief post offering a personal perspective on the source type that they most like working with (the introductory post is here). Do tell us your own below the line, or on twitter #histsources

Jonathan Willis

I have a confession to make: I love churchwardens’ accounts, and in this post I want to tryPicture1 to convince you that they have something to offer pretty much everybody interested in researching, reading or writing about early modern England.  As well as co-editing Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources with Laura, I contributed a chapter on ‘Ecclesiastical Sources’, and one of the nice things about editing or co-editing a volume like this is being able to choose exactly what you want to write about!  I happen to be, of course, a reformation historian, and so sources relating to or generated by the Church are naturally something I’m going to be interested in.  But in that chapter, and in this post, it is my intention to show that ecclesiastical sources in general (and churchwardens’ accounts in particular) are of enormous interest and value, almost no matter what area of history you are interested in.  Politics?  Economics?  Society?  Culture?  They’ve got it all! Continue reading

Understanding Sources: Court Depositions

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To celebrate the launch of Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources the monster-heads have each written a brief post offering a personal perspective on the source type that they most like working with (the introductory post is here). Do tell us your own below the line, or on twitter #histsources

 

 


Mark Hailwood

My favourite early modern primary source? When you have spent the last year working almost exclusively with one type of source you come to either love it or loathe it. In the case of the court depositions I have been reading extensively for the Women’s Work Project I’m glad to say it’s the former. They undoubtedly top my list.

harvesters

Scenes of everyday life

For a historian driven above all by a desire to recover the everyday lives of ordinary women and men in the past the witness statements they gave in their tens of thousands before the courts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries represent a rich seam indeed. In recounting the details surrounding cases in criminal, civil and ecclesiastical courts, deponents provide accounts of myriad aspects of day-to-day experience. They tell us about their working lives of course – about mowing corn, spinning yarn or shearing sheep at the time of witnessing a crime, say – but also how they spent their leisure time – about trips to the alehouse describing who they drank with, how much they drank, and who subsequently fell out with who. Continue reading

Understanding Sources: doing history by numbers

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To celebrate the launch of Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources the monster-heads have each written a brief post offering a personal perspective on the source type that they most like working with (the introductory post is here). Do tell us your own below the line, or on twitter #histsources

 


Brodie Waddell

It is remarkable that Peter Musgrave’s 200-page introduction to The Early Modern European Economy (1999) does not include a single table or graph. Although I’m a firm believer in qualitative methods and in exploring multiple facets of unique stories, images and objects, I also think that there ought to be a place for quantitative methods in our attempts to understand past societies. This is especially true of early modern economic life where if we elide the difference between a seventeenth-century ‘yeoman’ earning £15 per year and his neighbour earning £150 year we risk misunderstanding the structural inequalities in early modern society.

In my chapter for Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources, I try to make a balanced case for the value of both ‘quant’ and ‘qual’ approaches to history, and I review some of the key sources available to us. Here, I’d like to take a slightly closer look at one ‘quant’ source that I didn’t mention in the chapter: early modern books.

I’m hardly an expert at bibliometrics, but thanks to the online EEBO-TCP n-gram tool, anyone can have a stab at it. In my article on the ‘hard times’ of the 1690s, I looked at the frequency of certain ‘economic’ terms in the published texts of the era. What I found, pleasingly, is that there was a lot more talk of ‘trade’, ‘money’ and ‘tax’ in the 1690s, as I’d expected. But can such methods tell us anything else about the economy at this time? Continue reading

Understanding Sources: diaries

TPicture1o celebrate the launch of Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources the monster-heads have each written a brief post offering a personal perspective on the source type that they most like working with (the introductory post is here). Do tell us your own below the line, or on twitter #histsources

Laura Sangha

It won’t come as a surprise that I have chosen diaries as my favourite early modern source type, since I am currently researching the life and times of the Leeds antiquarian and pious diarist, Ralph Thoresby (1677-1725). But really, who could resist reading someone else’s diary? Who isn’t interested in other people’s lives? What other source gives us access to the personal jottings and reflections of the long dead? In what other source are the voices of the people delivered to us in such an unmediated fashion? Where else can we learn about how people thought about themselves in the past? Whilst other source types might be better defined, more representative of the population as a whole, more complete, or easier to contextualise or generalise about, there is nothing like the thrill of reading someone else’s thoughts on their own life experiences. Continue reading

Understanding Sources: the source of it all

Update: links to other posts in the #histsources series:

Diaries: sources that gently bruise the consciousness
Doing history by numbers: bibliometrics and counting things
Court depositions: the stories we tell about ourselves
Churchwarden accounts: teeming with all sorts of life

Laura Sangha

Primary sources are where histories come from. The stuff left over from the past that by accident or design has survived down to this day is the lifeblood of historical study. Sources are our direct (if not always reliable) witnesses to the events, people and processes of moments now long gone. The creative and self-aware use of the complexities of evidence often produces the best histories as historians read against the grain, contextualise, and dissect the stuff of the past to extract new meanings from it.

In 2000, Ludmilla Jordanova wrote that ‘there has been a decline in (primary) source-based undergraduate teaching’, but in 2016 it certainly feels like the opposite is true.[1] Partly thanks to the internet (although printed transcriptions remain a vital resource), primary sources have never been more available or accessible for university lecturers and their students. Given that history is to some extent defined by its methodology, it doesn’t make sense not to use primary materials with undergraduates – how else to teach the dynamic relationship between the sources, the historian and their history? How else to understand the vantage points that we can and can’t find on what happened in the past? Continue reading

History Carnival 157: Anything but Brexit

Brodie Waddell

If you’re in Britain and reading a history blog, you’ve probably spent most of the last week thinking about Brexit, reading about Brexit, and arguing about Brexit. I’m sure at least some of you would like to mentally escape the current omnishambles, so here’s your chance.

Hey, look! An amusing historical image that has nothing to do with xenophobic populism or constitutional crisis!

‘Skimmington Triumph’ (c.1720). An amusing historical image that has nothing to do with xenophobic populism or constitutional crisis!

Today the Many-Headed Monster is hosting the 157th edition of the History Carnival which means I get to share a selection of some of the best history blogging from around the web from the last month or so. Thankfully there has been a bunch of great posts about all sort of fascinating topics that have nothing to do with the current political omnishambles. There are, of course, also a few that are directly related to The Vote That Shall Not Speak Its Name, but I’ve attempted to quarantine those by putting them in a separate section at the end. If you are looking for a bit of historical escapism, read on. If you are a masochist, just skip to the end. Continue reading

Riches, Poverty and Pollution: Living with Coal Smoke in Early Modern London

One of the recurring questions on the many-headed monster is how the world is experienced by people at different levels of the social heirarchy. In this guest post, William M. Cavert looks at the unequal impact of pollution, drawing on his new book: The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge, 2016).

“Poverty,” wrote sociologist Ulrich Beck, “is hierarchic, smog is democratic.”[1] Pre-industrial cities, according to Beck, were full of dirty and unpleasant dangers, but the wealthy could escape or avoid them easily because such hazards smelled badly and looked ugly. In the modern world risk is invisible, and is everywhere.

A working replica of the first Newcomen steam engine, 1709, built and operated at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley. The engine is a similar size, and uses a similar amount of mineral coal, as many of the facilities that produced beer, spirits, glass, and bricks in early modern London

A working replica of the first Newcomen steam engine, 1709, built and operated at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley. The engine is a similar size, and uses a similar amount of mineral coal, as many of the facilities that produced beer, spirits, glass, and bricks in early modern London

London during the early modern period offers an interesting test for this idea because it was at once clearly pre-industrial and yet it also developed one of the hallmarks of the modern, industrial urban landscape: pervasive air pollution.[2] The “smog” that Beck suggests envelopes industrial cities became widespread in London by about 1600, caused not by great factories as in 19th-century Manchester, but by the domestic coal fires of 200,000 people, as well as coal’s importance in every industry that involved boiling, heating, or melting.[3] During the 17th and 18th centuries, pre-industrial London struck residents, rulers, and visitors as a smoky, dirty place. Modern scientific modeling suggests that their impressions were accurate, and that the concentrations of pollutants like sulfur dioxide in 18th-century London are matched today only in the world’s very dirtiest cities.

Did early modern Londoners experience this smoky air as yet another aspect of a deeply “hierarchic” society, as Beck suggests? Continue reading