The Starlings Go to War

Laura Sangha

It’s that time of year when I am always reminded of one of my favourite providential pamphlets, The Wonderfull Battell of Starelings,fought at the Citie of Corke in Ireland, the 12. and 14. of October, 1621.[1] The pamphlet was published by a London printer in 1622, is short at nine pages, and it also has a wonderful woodcut that gives a graphic rendering of the events described in the text.

The pamphlet described howabout the seuenth of October last, 1621 there gathered together by degrees, an vnusual multitude of birds called Stares, in some Countries knowne by the name of Starlings’. The birds ‘mustered together … some foure of fiue daies, before they fought their battels, euery day more and more encreasing their armies with greater supplies, some came as from the East, others from the West, and so accordingly they placed themselues, and as it were encamped themselues eastward and westward about the citie’. Finally, on Saturday morning, at around nine o’clock:

vpon a strange sound and noise made as well on the one side as on the other, they forthwith at one instant tooke wing, and so mounting vp into the skyes, encountered one another, with such a terrible shocke, as the sound amazed the whole city and all the beholders. Vpon this sodaine and fierce encounter, there fell downe into the citie, and into the Riuers, multitudes of Starelings … some with wings broken, some with legs and necks broken, some with eies pickt out, some their bils thrust into the brests & sides of their aduersaries, in so strange a manner, that it were incredible except it were confirmed by letters of credit, and by eye-witnesses, with that assurance which is without all exception.

This ‘admirable and most violent battell’ continued with several more encounters between the two sides, before the birds seemed to vanish, so that on Sunday not one was seen about the city. On Monday the birds returned again for a final terrible assault, when many more wounded and dead birds fell into the streets of Cork. The pamphlet finishes with some rather brief and generic comments that the reader should not search out the reasons for such ‘ wonderfull workes of Almighty God’, but we should remember that ‘it doth prognosticate either Gods mercy to draw vs to repentance, or his iustice to punish our sinnes and wickednesse’.

The pamphlet’s description of strange events interpreted within a (loose) providential framework makes it typical for the time, and thanks to Alexandra Walsham, we can easily make sense of what at first seems to be a bizarre account.[2] We have already encountered this type of material on the monster. It is a great resource for teaching with, introducing students to the idea of the ‘difference’ of the early modern period – although there are lots of elements of this past society that seems familiar to us, material like this confronts us with the vast gap between the early modern outlook and mentality, and our own. They see God’s intervention in the world to create an unnatural event (birds aping human military activity), their interpretive framework, their means of making sense of the event is providential, it is religious.

What do we see? Probably we would see a ‘murmuration’: starlings gathering into large flocks in the autumn evenings – it is a natural event, spectacular, but perfectly normal. Our interpretive framework is not religious but scientific, the starlings are “always ready to optimally respond to an external perturbation, such as predator attack,” according to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper.  When dead birds fall from our skies, we call in the veterinary inspectors, carry out tests, blame fireworks, the internet, UFOs – as you can see in this news report, our modern day equivalent of the early modern pamphlet.

Of course it isn’t as straightforward as that – it never is. Early modern people were not ignorant of bird behaviour, and they certainly knew about autumnal flocks, as you can see from this extract from an almanac of 1700:

Signs of Cold weather, or hard winter.

THE Suns setting in a Mist, looking Red, and Broader than usual.  The Clearness of the stars, and their much Twinkling.  Starlings, Feldefars, and other Birds of a Hot Nature, hastening in great Flocks or Flights from the Northern to the southern Climates. [3]

In fact, further investigation quickly uncovered further titbits about the birds: they were good mimics, valued for their singing, and could be caught and kept for pets.

One of the many illustrations in R. Blome’s ‘Gentlemans Recreation’, this one depicts the practice of hawking.

R. Blome, The gentlemans recreation in two parts : the first being an encyclopedy of the arts and sciences … the second part treats of horsmanship, hawking, hunting, fowling, fishing, and agriculture (London, 1705).

The STARLING.This is a very docile Bird, and if taken out of the Nest young is apt to learn both to walk and Whistle. ‘Tis a hardy Bird; their food is Sheeps-Hearts, or other raw Flesh, hard Eggs minced, Hemp-seed, wet Bread, and the like.

John Ray, The ornithology of Francis Willughby of Middleton in the county of Warwick Esq, fellow of the Royal Society in three books (London, 1678).

§. VII. How to take Stares with a limed string: out of Olina’s Uccelliera.Take a small string of a yard or thereabout long, bind it fast to the Tail of a Stare, having first carefully limed it all over, excepting one Palm next the bird. Having found a flock of Starlings, come as near to them as possible, holding your Stare by the wings as near as you can, and let her go to her fellows, which as soon as you shew your self to them, will presently take wing: Your tail-tied Stare endeavouring to secure her self of her liberty, thrusting her self into the middle of her fellows, will entangle many of them, and so not being able to fly, they will afford a pleasant spectacle in tumbling down to the ground: where you must be ready with a Brush or Besom to strike them down. Many other devices there are to take several sorts of birds with Lime-rods, &c. which I think needless to set down; it being not difficult for an ingenious Fowler to invent as good or better, when he shall have opportunity of taking those kinds of Birds.

Aside from this fascinating insight into just what these country folk were up to, this is a further reminder that early modern people were far from ignorant about the world around them, but that the battle of the starlings points to areas of divergence in underlying assumptions, outlooks, and technological and intellectual understandings between their society and ours. At certain moments, certain people would turn to a religious interpretation, though it is clear that this was not the only explanation on offer.

A sketch of a starling from John Ray’s ‘Ornithology’. Ray was a fellow of the Royal Society.

Of course, the significance of the battle has been attached by the pamphlet’s author, perhaps as a means to justify printing his entertaining report – a moral message makes it worthy of publication. Or maybe it was a way to appease the author’s printer Nicholas Blount, who seems to have adhered to Calvinist principles: Blount refused to print plays and other frivolous material, so the author’s religious framework was perhaps necessary concession with its roots in the world of commerce. They key thing is, that when we look beyond cheap printed pamphlets the interpretations might diversify.

The other thing that strikes me about all these birds mustering together and plummeting from the heavens, is that in some respects a certain amount of faith is needed to accept our scientific explanations. Scientists admit that starling flocks ‘transcend biology’, and that science has only a sketchy understanding of what the phenomena is all about – there is much more ‘still to be discovered’. Our modern confidence that we will eventually work it out contrasts with the early modern warning not too look into these mysteries too deeply, highlighting yet more difference. Yet there is also similarity: this clip was filmed recently in Ireland, and science alone might find it hard to explain the sense of awe in wonder inspired by the sight and sounds of the murmuration even today. The clip also makes it much easier for us to appreciate where the ‘battell’ interpretation came from. I strongly recommend that you watch the video (it gets really good about 50 seconds in), and perhaps let me know what you see.


[1] Anon, The wonderfull battell of starelings fought at the citie of Corke in Ireland, the 12. and 14. of October last past 1621 (London, 1622), STC (2nd ed.) / 5767.

[2] Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford: OUP, 1999).

[3] C.P., The sheepherd’s new kalender: or, The citizens & country man’s daily companion treating of most things that are useful, profitable, delightful, and advantageous to mankind (London, 1700), Wing (2nd ed.) / P11.

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The impotence of being reviewed…

Jonathan Willis

Following Brodie’s post last month on ‘Twelve reasons to buy my book, or, The ancient art of self-promotion’, I started thinking about what is one of the most exciting stages of the subsequent post-publication process: that is, the point at which the first review appears. This post is therefore a reflection on my own experience of being reviewed.[1] The book in question is my Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England, which was published by Ashgate in their St Andrews Studies in Reformation History series in May 2010.[2] A modified version of my PhD thesis, the book charts the impact of the reformation on religious music, and the role of religious music in shaping the English reformation (OK, so I couldn’t resist a quick plug!).

A jog rather than a sprint

One of the inevitable by-products of the academic system is the development of a ‘feedback loop’. This starts at school, and continues through university, including the process of PhD supervision, and even the viva. I think most of us have a deep-seated desire to be told how well we’ve managed to perform a given task: I’m minded here of Lisa Simpson’s desperate plea to Marge when the teachers go on strike and Springfield Elementary closes: ‘Grade me…look at me…evaluate and rank me! Oh, I’m good, good, good, and oh so smart! Grade me!’ All of which is a slightly roundabout way of making the point that, once you’ve released a book into the world, it’s only natural to want to know how well it has been received. Well, you may be in for a bit of wait. Books have to be sent out to a journal, received, processed, allocated, sent out to a reviewer, received and read even before the review can be written, which can itself take a fair bit of time. Manuscripts have to be typed up, sent in, proof-read, and scheduled for publication in a particular issue. How many of us have ever taken more than the allocated time to submit a book review? Need I say more! My first review appeared just over a year after the book was published, which isn’t an especially long time by any means, and two and a half years in I suspect that there are still several more in the pipeline. Glance at the list of books available to review on the Sixteenth Century Journal website, and there are still plenty of titles from 2010 awaiting their reviewer…

More a trickle than a flood

Briefly, and for the same reasons outlined above, it therefore follows that different journals will take varying amounts of time to publish their review of your book. The rules here are slightly different for game-changing books by field-shaping authors. When Eamon Duffy or Alexandra Walsham release a new monograph, it’s a fair guarantee that the reviews will appear thick and fast, while journals vie with one another to ride the crest of the publication wave. But I think that the experience is different for the majority of (especially) first books and their authors. The sheer volume of work being produced in the field is so overwhelming that it might take a long time for your turn to come around. For example, the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History features reviews of several books published in 2009.

The Journal

Past and Present famously do not review books, of course, but most of us have an idea of the top journals in our particular area, and would probably like to see our book being reviewed there. But, and again for the reasons outlined above, it’s not wise to be too fussy, and it is frankly exciting to see a review of your work being published anywhere! My experience is of two reviews in major, large-circulation journals (History and the Journal of British Studies) and two in smaller, more specialist publications (Ecclesiology Today and Anglican and Episcopal History).

The Reviewer

Again, most of us would probably like to see our work being reviewed by one of the leading practitioners in our field, but the reality is that you could be reviewed by anybody, from the greenest PhD student to the loftiest of munros [for an explanation of this term, see this previous post by Laura Sangha]. The thing to remember is that a review is no less valuable for that! I feel lucky in that two people whose work I already knew and respected very much reviewed my book (Eric Carlson and Andrew Foster), but the other reviewers also brought valuable insights and have helped me see and think about the book in different ways, as well as addressing the concerns of a broader constituency of readers.

The Good News

I’m delighted to say that although it is at times a slow and frustrating process, my experience of being reviewed has been an entirely pleasurable one (so far). Everyone likes having nice things said about them, and a few positive reviews finally close the ‘feedback loop’ I mentioned at the start. I feel that it would be remiss of me to pass up the opportunity of quoting a few highlights(!): Eric Carlson commented that the book used ‘an exceptional range of sources’ and that ‘the prose has flashes of genuine wit and elegance’. Sarah Williams picked up on ‘careful and exhaustive archival research’. Andrew Foster wrote an extremely kind review, calling it a ‘truly exciting, ground-breaking book’, displaying ‘amazing erudition whilst also providing a compelling read’. And Jonathan Gray remarked that the book was ‘learned and thought-provoking … a detailed, meticulously researched monograph’.

The Bad News

Given that we research and write in a universe of finite time and resources, most of us are probably aware that even the most polished work has, if not shortcomings, at least areas of particular strength and therefore (by extension) of relative weakness. A good review will highlight these, but in a proportionate and constructive manner. To pick a few nuggets from my review sample, this was not (as one author pointed out, I imagine with eyebrow raised) an introductory textbook; another noted that it shed light on far more aspects of life in early modern England ‘than one might suppose from the title’ (ouch!). Finally, another commented that the final chapter was perhaps the ‘least satisfying’, because – as I would be among the first to admit – much archival work on parish music still remains to be done.

In Conclusion…

In conclusion, my experience of being reviewed is that it is a slow but ultimately rewarding process. It certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all though. If anything, the most rewarding feedback I’ve had has come in the form of unsolicited emails or personal approaches at conferences and elsewhere from people who have read and enjoyed the book. It’s also made me think very differently about how I review other people’s books. I’d be interested to hear what experiences monster readers have had, either as reviewees or reviewers. Is it always plain sailing…?


[1] My book has been reviewed four times so far since it came out in May 2010: by Eric Carlson in History, 96.323 (2011), p. 368; by Andrew Foster in Ecclesiology Today, 45 (2012); by Jonathan Michael Gray in Anglican and Episcopal History, 81.1 (2012), pp. 106-17; and by Sarah F. Williams in Journal of British Studies, 50.3 (2011), pp. 753-755.

[2] Jonathan Willis, Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England: Discourses, Sites and Identities (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).

Norwich Entertainments – Part V: Ballad-singers and dangerous news, with coffee

Brodie Waddell

The people of late seventeenth-century Norwich did not get their entertainment solely from hairy children and pieces of plays. They also amused themselves with the ever-growing numbers of printed works that were pouring from the presses at that time.

In June 1680, for example, the Norwich Mayor’s court ordered that ‘Twoe Ballad singers haveing Lycence to Sell ballads, pamphlets small bookes & other bookes Lycensed from the Office of the Revells have leave to doe soe until Monday senight [?seven-night]’.1

Ballad entitled ‘An Excellent New Sonnet On the Goddess Diana and Acteon’ (c.1725-69). EBBA.

Title-page of a chapbook titled ‘The Life and Death of Fayr Rosamond’ (1755). SF.

These balladeers were just two of the hundreds that traipsed through the city streets and country lanes of early modern England, singing to advertise their wares. The exact contents of a peddler’s sack could be very diverse. In addition to all sorts of petty trinkets, they sold tales of drunken sailors, royal mistresses, industrious spinsters, and much else besides. Often these were in the form of broadside song sheets, but they might also be ‘pamphlets’ and ‘small books’, sometimes called chapbooks, written in prose to provide merriment or salvation for the price of penny or two. Margaret Spufford and Tessa Watt, among many others,  have discussed this ‘cheap print’ in much more detail, noting that ballad-sellers were often condemned by the authorities as vagrants. But in late seventeenth-century Norwich at least they seem to have been welcomed by both the townspeople and city officials.

Rather more unusual, however, was the license issued to a man a year earlier. In November 1679, the court declared that ‘Lawrence White is allowed to reade & sell Pamphlets on Horsebacke untill Wednesday next’.2 Continue reading

John Dee’s conversations with Angels

Laura Sangha

Question: Why would you want to have a conversation with angels? More specifically, why would you want to have a conversation with angels if you were a sixteenth-century mathematician, philosopher, court astrologer and magus? And how would you go about doing it?

Sections of Dee’s record of his conversations with angels were published by Protestant minister Meric Casaubon in 1659.

Elizabethan John Dee had some very clear answers to these questions, as is evident from the records he left us of hundreds of conversations conducted with angels between 1583 and 1587. The earliest record of his angelic conferences is prefaced by a prayer in which he outlined his motivation. He confessed how he had prayed since his youth for ‘pure and sound wisdom and understanding of your [God’s] truths natural and artificial’, truths which were to be used for the honour of god and the benefit of humankind. However, although he had studied long and hard, in many books and places, and conferred with many men, he had become disillusioned with conventional routes to knowledge and what he called ‘vulgar scholar’. His lifelong struggle to acquire a universal wisdom from dogged researches in mathematics, astrology, optics, geography, navigation, history and other disciplines had not yielded the results that he was hoping for – true wisdom remained elusive. All was not lost though, as Dee came to the conclusion that there was another way to attain the better understanding that he sought, and that was through direct consultation with angels.

Botticini’s ‘Assumption of the Virign’ (1475) depicts the 3 orders of the angelic hierarchy in all their glory.

Early modern folk understood that angels were the next step down from God in the universal hierarchy, and this nearness meant that they were endued with a special knowledge, much superior to the cloudy understanding of mankind. Dee knew that in the past God had sent his angels to men like Enoch and Moses, to ‘satisfy their desires, dowtes and questions of thy secrets’, giving them access to this true wisdom that had originally come directly from God. Conversations with angels therefore had a firm scriptural precedent, and could give man access to an ancient esoteric wisdom that had originally been communicated to Adam, but which had been lost and forgotten over the course of human history. The arts of divination and magic were fragments of this original, pristine knowledge, and the angels had the potential to fill in the missing gaps. Dee’s reasons for conversing with angels were therefore, in his mind, spiritually and intellectually sound. They were the culmination of his lifelong efforts to decipher the book of nature and to discover a universal science that could bridge the gap between heavenly wisdom and faulty human perception. His dialogues were designed to build a Jacob’s ladder to the other world. Importantly, as well as seeking this recondite knowledge, Dee was also looking for signs of his own salvation, as every good Protestant should, and he thought that his conversations were proof that he and his assistant (or scryer) were, like Enoch and Moses, the specially chosen recipients of divine knowledge. For Dee, his actions were thus a type of religious experience sanctioned by scriptural precedence.

The practicalities of Dee’s conversations reinforce this idea. The ceremonies began in the simple religious atmosphere of an oratory, a chamber in Dee’s house that had been set aside for the purpose of conducting the conversations. He and his scryer, Edward Kelly, began with a period of silent prayer. Most often Dee would humbly petition God to send his angels, addressing God and Jesus as the embodiment of wisdom, and asking that Dee and Kelly be worthy of divine aid in understanding. Dee was acutely aware of this need to be worthy, he placed great emphasis on approaching the conversations in a proper spirit of piety, and the angels themselves delivered frequent homilies on Dee and Kelly’s sins, the nature of salvation, and the necessity of complete obedience to God as a prerequisite of receiving the whole revelation. But unlike with medieval magic, initially there were no elaborate ritual preparations or ceremonies, no incantations, hymns, purifying fumigations, candles or talismans to attract the influences of the planetary angels. The one piece of magical apparatus that Dee and Kelly did have was a ‘shew-stone’ through which the scryer saw the visions of angels.

You can see the shew-stones and wax discs Dee used in his conversations at the British Museum.

Dee never saw or spoke to the angels himself, they appeared to Kelly, who related the information back to him – an angel told them that Kelly saw the angels ‘in sight’, whereas Dee could only see them ‘in faith’. The original shew-stone was probably a circular flat black mirror of polished obsidian, but there were several others, including one which was delivered by the angels themselves, as described by Dee:

I cam within 2 feet of it, I saw nowthing, then I saw like a shadow… on the ground.. hard by my books under the west window. The shadow was roundish, and less than the palm of my hand. I put my hand down upon it, and I felt a thing cold and hard, which taking up, I perceived to be the stone before mentioned.

The scrying stone was the bridge between the divine and earthly worlds. Over time, other new ritual elements began to creep into the conversations, bringing a greater ‘magical’ aura to proceedings. The angels gave direction for a table of practice decorated with various mystical symbols, and for a seal of God to be inscribed on wax discs which were then placed under the legs of the table and beneath the shew-stone on the table.

The holy table used in the conversations. The angels instructed Dee in its design.

So did it work? Did Dee achieve his aims? It certainly wasn’t a complete failure – numerous spirits appeared to Kelly and extensive conversations were conducted. Most often the visitors were the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Urial, although another, Madimi was also a regular visitor. The apparitions appeared in a variety of guises: they might look like a young girl, or a husbandman in red apparel, a yellow haired women who was like an old maid, or on one occasion just like ‘a big tall creature’. During the conversations with these celestials, two main forms of knowledge were conveyed to Dee. Firstly, the angels provided many grid like tables purporting to be an angelic alphabet.

One of the grids relating to the angelic alphabet. The angels selected letters from the grids to make words and sentences.

This represented a divine language, which if mastered would allow Dee to know the true nature of all things. Secondly, the angels provided information about the names and responsibilities of the angels – the sections of the air that they ruled, the angelic tribes that they belonged to, and the number of subordinates that they controlled.

In the first Air: the ninth, eleventh, and seventh Angel of the Tribes, bear rule and govern. Unto the ninth, 7000. and 200. and 9 ministering Angels are subject…. The whole sum of this Government amounteth to 14931

This information about the angelic hierarchy would eventually give Dee command over the angels and would allow him to participate in the society of angels. Unfortunately for Dee, his attempt to use religious magic as a means to ascend up the universal hierarchy was ultimately a failure. The angelic language and spiritual hierarchies that he learned from the angels were not the pristine knowledge that he sought, they were just the means to access that knowledge, and the language and hierarchy were only partially complete in any case. Dee went to his grave without having unlocked the secrets of nature, though fortunately for us he recorded his endeavours in great detail, giving us an insight into the pious, rational, yet strange and alien world of the Elizabethan intellectual elite.

Want to know more? [*endorsement alert*] I discuss many of the other beliefs associated with angels in my recent book. If you want to know more about John Dee try these:

  • M. Casaubon, A True and Faithful Relation of what passed for many yeers between Dr. John Dee … and some spirits (London, 1659).
  • N. Clulee, John Dee’s Natural Philosophy: Between Science and Religion (London, 1988)
  • D. Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature (Cambridge, 1999)
  • W.H. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the Renaissance (Amherst and Boston, MA, 1995)
  • G. Szonyi, John Dee’s Occultism: Magical Exaltation through Powerful Signs (Albany, NY, 2004)

An archival miscellany: a warning, a rat, a blog and another warning

Brodie Waddell

October was a rather busy month. My first term of teaching and marking at Birkbeck has meant that I know a good deal more about eighteenth-century London infrastructure, English Civil War veterans, and the historiography of the Reformation than I did a few weeks ago, but research and blogging have been neglected.

I have, however, come across a few tasty tidbits that deserve to be shared with the world. This is, in some ways, simply a continuation of the conversation (here and here) we’ve been having about archives.

A warning

An archivist friend passed this on and, like all good jokes, it contains at least a kernel of truth.

Having worked in the Borthwick for a year, I can say with some certainty that it would be entirely possible to use the limbo between the public reading room and the strongroom to erase someone with a ‘misplaced’ inkblot or an ‘accidental’ torn page. So be sure to greet your archivist with a friendly smile … or risk the posthumous disappearance that befell some soviet dissidents.

A rat

Or, to be more specific, Sir Henry Cole’s Rat (c.1830). As folks at the National Archives describe it…

At 15, Henry Cole, later to find fame as organiser of the Great Exhibition began working with the records of the British government. Shocked at their poor condition he pioneered reform of what became known as the Public Record Office – now The National Archives. This rat, with a stomach full of chewed document, was used as evidence for the poor condition of the records.

Sir Henry Cole’s Rat (c.1830): The National Archives, E 163/24/31

Yep, that’s right. We owe the wonderful institution that we once called the PRO, founded in 1838, to a rat stuffed with irreplaceable manuscripts. And archivists, being the dedicated – one might say obsessive – guardians of history that they are, created a special foam case to preserve this momentous rat for posterity.

A blog

Ever wanted to know what happens behind the scenes at a busy city archive? Of course you do! Well, if the Huntington’s Verso blog isn’t fulfilling all of your archive-blogging needs, check out the team at York who are describing their on-going project to catalogue the city’s immense civic records. Although not specifically ‘early modern’, it does have some fascinating ‘lucky dips’ (what we here call ‘found art’), including councilmen watching naughty films and railwaymen complaining of mouldy fish cakes, as well as some very pretty visual maps of the archives themselves.

If you’re a historian – professional or amateur – I think it can be immensely profitable to get a sense of how archives (and archivists) work. Sure, the difference between ‘functional’ and ‘structural’ arrangements may not sound especially interesting, but it can make a real difference to how you go about your research.

Another warning

This one comes from Tim Hitchcock, and is rather more serious. I think he makes the point I was trying to make here much more effectively than I ever could.

For both technical and legal reasons, in the rush to the online, we have given to the oldest of Western canons a new hyper-availability, and a new authority.  With the exception of the genealogical sites, which themselves reflect the Western bias of their source materials and audience, the most common sort of historical web resource is dedicated to posting the musings of some elite, dead, white, western male – some scientist, or man of letters; or more unusually, some equally elite, dead white woman of letters.  And for legal reasons as much as anything else, it is now much easier to consult the oldest forms of humanities scholarship instead of the more recent and fully engaged varieties.  It is easier to access work from the 1890s, imbued with all the contemporary relevance of the long dead, than it is to use that of the 1990s.

Without serious intent and political will – a determination to digitise the more difficult forms of the non-canonical, the non-Western, the non-elite and the quotidian – the materials that capture the lives and thoughts of the least powerful in society – we will have inadvertently turned a major area of scholarship, in to a fossilised irrelevance.

It would be a cruel irony to digitise vast new swathes of text and images only to discover that we’ve accentuated the very biases that scholars have been fighting against since at least the 1960s. That is not to say that we shouldn’t try to make ever-more sources freely and easily available online – just that we should beware the consequences of grabbing the ‘low-hanging fruit’ and neglecting less accessible sources. We must make a real effort to move beyond ‘the musings of some elite, dead, white, western male’ and save other voices ‘from the enormous condescension of posterity’.

Update (13/01/13): The York archives blog did a new ‘Lucky Dip’ post that early modernists might like which looks at a late seventeenth-century Chamberlain’s Account Book.

Workers’ Representation Part Two: Making Hay

Mark Hailwood

Herein lies the second installment of my blog series on woodcut images of workers

As I sit here in fenland fog, my mind drifts back to sun-baked Californian afternoons at the Huntington Library. Often I would avail myself of a short break from such wonders as the Ashby-de-la-Zouch manor court records, and pop upstairs to the office of the Director of Research, Steve Hindle (who also happens to have been my PhD supervisor) to either pick his brains or raid his bookshelves.

On one such afternoon we fell to discussing the following painting that hangs upon his office wall, a depiction of the Montagu family at their Sandleford Priory estate in Berkshire, by Edward Haytley, commissioned in 1743:

The Montagus at Sandleford Priory
Source: hayinart

At first I was a bit worried – what was this flag bearer of ‘history from below’ doing with an aggrandising portrait of the rural gentry in pride of place on his wall? Continue reading