This is the fourth post in our new Monster Mini-Series on periodisation. Click here for the Series introduction.
Last week I had the privilege of attending Laura Gowing’s inaugural lecture on ‘A Trade of One’s Own’. She told the fascinating story of women’s changing relationship with London and its livery companies over the course of the seventeenth century.
It was a brilliant lecture in all sorts of ways, but what caught my ear was the way she implicitly divided her story into two periods. From my recollection, there were relatively few formal changes in the way the companies dealt with women over the course of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – yet Gowing showed that unofficial norms shifted substantially. Specifically, she showed that the number of women as mistresses and apprentices rose from the 1640s onwards and resulted in a new landscape in which – for example – about 40 percent of the shops in the Royal Exchange were owned by women by the end of the century.
Although Gowing did not discuss the reasons for this shift in detail, she alluded to the disruptions of the Civil Wars, the rise of new women-made fashions such as the mantua gown, and the increasing preponderance of women among migrants to the metropolis. In fact, pinning down a specific cause may be impossible because the change seems to have been almost ‘over-determined’. In the middle decades of the seventeenth century, everything seemed to be changing.
Dividing ‘early modernity’
This lecture set me thinking about my own sense of periodisation. Laura has talked about start and end points for the ‘early modern’, Mark has discussed the question of ‘modernity’ itself, and Jonathan has addressed the thorny notion of a ‘Reformation era’. But what about the divisions within the ‘early modern period’, however defined?
It seems to me that there has increasingly emerged a sense of an ‘early early modern period’ and a ‘late early modern period’. I’ll call them the EEMP and LEMP, because acronyms add an air of authority. Continue reading