Introductory thoughts

This introductory post to our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Tara Hamling, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham.  Tara is an Art Historian by training and has published widely on the impact of the reformation on visual and material cultures, for example in her monograph Decorating the Godly Household.  Here she reflects on Collinson’s article, its influence, its relevance, and some of the challenges it still presents.

Why are we here? We’re here to acknowledge, celebrate and reconsider Patrick Collinson’s seminal lecture ‘From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia: the Cultural Impact of the Second English Reformation’.  This hugely influential paper (published in 1986) which also informed chapter 4 of his book of 1988, The Birthpangs of Protestant England, has shaped a generation of scholarly enquiry into the impact of religion on culture, and of culture on religion, in post-reformation England.

My main interest, of course, is the visual arts – or to use Collinson’s term, pictorial arts, and especially the so-called ‘decorative’ arts in a domestic context. I want to offer, therefore, a few brief thoughts on how scholarship has tended to categorise sources and spaces, and the implications of these compartmentalised groupings for our understanding of Protestant attitudes to the image.

Categories of Image

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‘Joshua’, one of a set of painted panels with Old Testament figures, c.1600.  Victoria and Albert Museum. Copyright V&A, London

Since its publication 30 years ago, new work across disciplines on visual and material culture has uncovered a wealth of extant physical evidence that challenges the notion and process towards ‘iconophobia’ as established by Collinson. And yet, in the main, scholarship has tended to retain his basic framework, but point out that iconophobia couldn’t have extended to certain kinds of artwork in certain kinds of setting. Yet this newly noticed visual material has remained marginal. One of the reasons Collinson’s framework has survived the pressures placed on it by studies engaged with categories of surviving visual culture is that these artworks are deemed to be, well, not very good. Vernacular English art is judged rather embarrassing in its crude, awkward quality and this, together with an association with low culture and ‘lesser’ settings such as ‘cheap print’ or private houses, has allowed it to continue to pass relatively unrecognised. It has not been incorporated within the canon of early modern cultural forms.

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After Iconophobia?

After Iconophobia? An Online Symposium

Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis

aiIn 1985, Patrick Collinson delivered Reading University’s Stenton lecture on the topic ‘From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia: the Cultural Impact of the Second English Reformation.’ More than thiry years on, this essay (published in pamphlet form in 1986 and in revised form as Chapter 4 of The Birthpangs of Protestant England) has gone on to shape a generation of scholarly enquiry into the impact of religion on culture, and of culture on religion, in post-reformation England.  Scholars have accepted, rejected, and modified Collinson’s arguments, but one way or another they continue to exert a powerful influence over reformation studies today.

If you haven’t read Collinson’s original article/chapter, we would certainly encourage you to do so, although reasons of copyright prevent us from uploading a copy on the public internet.  Still, the definitions of his two key terms may well be of interest:

iconophobia definitions

Tara and I therefore felt that the thirtieth anniversary seemed like a timely point to take stock and re-examine Collinson’s initial thesis, as well as flagging up some of the new directions that study of the areas explored in his original lecture (religious drama, songs and ballads, and pictorial art) was taking.  What is the current consensus regarding ‘iconoclasm’, ‘iconophobia’, ‘the second English reformation’, and the relationship between them?  In the summer of 2015 we gathered together a dynamic group of international scholars, under the auspices of Birmingham’s Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) and with the generous support of the School of History and Cultures, for a two-day workshop to consider the legacy of his seminal essay, as well as exploring the most exciting present and future trends in the field.  Given the success of previous online symposia at the ‘monster – history from below; voices of the people; addressing authority – we decided to widen the conversation further by presenting our thoughts in an open forum and inviting responses from anyone with an interest in the topic.

A new post will be published every few days over the coming weeks. We begin with some introductory thoughts (Hamling) and broad reflections on Collinson’s original thesis (Morton) and its relevance for the ‘long’ English reformation (Sangha).  We then move on to consider some more detailed case studies, such as dramatic representations of God’s word (Streete) and of god himself (Tasker), as well as dramatic representations of Elizabethan portraiture (Stelzer).  Next come some considerations of visual and material culture in the form of Doom imagery in print and paint (Dhillon), domestic imagery (Morrall) and the material culture of the post-reformation parish church (Orlik).  Finally, the symposium considers potential future areas for research (Green) as well as whether an essay as audacious and sweeping as Collinson’s could still be written (Ryrie).  We finish with some concluding thoughts (Willis).

The aim of this online symposium is not to present these pieces as finished ‘publications’ for posterity. Rather we hope that they will serve as spurs to discussion. You are thus warmly invited to reply to these posts with your questions, comments, suggestions and critiques, or join the conversation on twitter via #aftericonophobia.

Table of Contents

  • Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis, ‘After Iconophobia?’
  • Tara Hamling, ‘Introductory thoughts’
  • Adam Morton, ‘Definitions and Phases of Reform’
  • Laura Sangha, ‘Protestants and Images in the Late Seventeenth-Century’
  • Adrian Streete, ‘Collinson and Drama’
  • Jan Tasker, ‘The Presence (and Absence) of the Supernatural in Elizabethan Drama’
  • Emmanuel Stelzer, ‘Staged Portraits in Early Modern English Drama’
  • Malcolm Jones, ‘English single-sheet prints c.1580-c.1620 in the light of Collinson’s 1985 lecture’
  • Richard Dhillon, ‘Fragments of Doom in Post-Reformation England’
  • Andrew Morall, ‘The Case for Domestic Imagery’
  • Susan Orlik, ‘Somerton: a Parochial Case Study’
  • Ian Green, ‘Future Directions’
  • Alec Ryrie, ‘Historical Reflections’
  • Jonathan Willis, ‘Concluding Thoughts’

If referencing pieces published here, we suggest the following citation: Author, ‘Title’, in Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis (eds), After Iconophobia? An Online Symposium (2017) [URL: Date Accessed].

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Asking questions of speakers: top tips

Laura Sangha

Presentation ‘season’ has just begun at my University, where group and individual talks are part of the assessment for modules at every undergraduate level. Public speaking is apparently once of the most feared aspects of modern life, yet it is also a skill that students may well need in their future workplace, so it makes sense that all are called upon to regularly research, write and deliver presentations, building experience and confidence.

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Many people aren’t fans of public speaking

At Exeter, the marking criteria is focused around preparation, content, structure, creativity and delivery, but students are also assessed on their handling of questions in a Q&A segment after they have presented. And it is this that has inspired this post. Of course, a presenter needs some good questions in order to be able to demonstrate the depth and scope of their knowledge in a Q&A session, but I have found that people can struggle to formulate queries and that they can as a result be a bit hesitant to raise their hand. So I have come up with some suggestions about the sorts of things that it might make sense to ask about, as a teaching resource I can point my students to. Please do add your own below the line. Continue reading

All ancient history now: England’s damaging Reformation

Laura Sangha

On Tuesday 16 January, in the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Archbishops and Canterbury and York issued a joint statement on ‘the damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church’. It reads:

The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe. In this Reformation Anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed…

…Many will also remember the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love. Those turbulent years saw Christian people pitted against each other, such that many suffered persecution and even death at the hands of others claiming to know the same Lord. A legacy of mistrust and competition would then accompany the astonishing global spread of Christianity in the centuries that followed.

MANDATORY CAPTION: (C) Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates

For a Reformation historian this was a fascinating moment. It was also humorous (in a sort of bitter, 2017 way), since the Daily Mail immediately took offence at this show of remorse, declaring that since Henry VIII’s ‘war with the Pope’ began 500 years ago, and that it wasn’t even a required subject for the National Curriculum, it was hardly a ‘burning issue’. Ann Widdecombe, a former Tory minister and Strictly Come Dancing Star provided a quote, saying:

These gestures are pointless. The Archbishop has not put anyone to death, as far as I know… Modern Christians are not responsible for what happened in the Reformation… You might as well expect the Italians to apologise for Pontius Pilate.

I’m looking forward to discussing all this with my students this term. There’s certainly a lot to be said of the way that the media are reporting this statement as an ‘apology’, as well as to ponder in the emphasis on unity and the healing of past divisions. Of course, Widdecombe is right that modern Christians are not individually responsible for what happened in the Reformation, but I disagree with the implicit argument underpinning the Mail article, that the Reformation is ancient history, and nothing to do with ‘us’. Since our understanding of the past and of where we came from is intimately tied to the way we conceptualise our contemporary identities, the way that we think of and interpret that past has a direct and immediate importance for the present. Members of the Church of England today are informed by, and understand their institution with reference to the past, so it seems appropriate to reflect on the evolution of the Church and to reconsider contemporary responses to it in this anniversary year. Continue reading

‘At Christmas we banquet, the rich with the poor’: Christmas Dinner in Tudor & Stuart England

Mark Hailwood

screen-shot-2012-12-18-at-8-19-47-pmChristmas dinner is undoubtedly one of the most popular Yuletide rituals in Britain today – but what is its history? If you like, as any good historian would, to have a bit of historical context up your sleeve to bore your relatives with over the Christmas period, then I offer up to you the following morsels about the ritual meal’s sixteenth and seventeenth century character…

A cycle of midwinter celebration was established in Britain in the early part of the Middle Ages, so by the sixteenth century the Twelve Days of Christmas – running from 25th December to 5th January – had already been the focus of festivities for centuries. The holidays kicked off with Christmas Day itself, and after attending an early morning church service the attention quickly turned to feasting. From Advent Sunday, the fourth before Christmas Day, people were encouraged by the Church to restrict their diet, with Christmas Eve kept as a strict fast day on which meat, cheese and eggs were all forbidden. Come Christmas Day then, appetites had been sharpened for the first unrestricted meal in weeks.

So, a big dinner was already central to Christmas Day ritual by the start of the sixteenth century, and by the first half of the seventeenth century we start to find evidence of certain foods having a close association with Christmas celebrations. The ‘minced pie’ – then a mixture of meat, fruit and spice baked in pastry case – appears in seventeenth century records. So too does ‘plum porridge’ – a beef broth with prunes, raisins and currants in it. For the main meat dish beef or brawn (meat from a pig or calf head), both stuck with rosemary, were the favoured options. Continue reading

Fake news: a very (early) modern problem

Fake news and misinformation have hit the headlines recently as concerns grow about its extent and impact. In this guest post, Dr Francis Young examines the parallels between contemporary digital fake news and English civil war newsbooks. Dr Young is a historian of early modern England and the Catholic Record Society’s Volumes Editor. You can follow him on twitter @SuffolkRecusant.

In the immediate aftermath of the US election, Facebook came under fire for allowing ‘fake news’ to dominate its platform, and there was much lamenting that traditional print media – which, in theory, at least tries to verifies sources and stories – has been replaced by social media as the source of ‘news’ for many people. The ‘fake news’ problem raises many profound and interesting questions about what ‘news’ really is, and what makes it ‘real’ as opposed to ‘fake’, but commentators have perhaps been too hasty in assuming facebook-fakesthat fake news is something new and something alien to the ‘traditional print media’. In fact, the pattern of user-generated news that we see on contemporary social media platforms is closer to the original pattern of dissemination of news in the first age of print.

Defining what counts as ‘fake news’ is not straightforward, given the traditional print media’s overt political bias, spinning of rumours, wilful misinterpretation of statistical data, and editorial decisions to foreground minor stories and ignore many newsworthy ones. However, a strict definition of ‘fake news’ would exclude speculative stories that might be true and are supported by anonymous sources. The reporting of such stories with the implication that they are fact may be dubious journalism, but it is the longstanding practice of the tabloid press. ‘Fake news’, in the strict sense, would have to be the kind of story that no conventional newspaper or news website would run because it directly contradicts easily verifiable fact: for instance, the report that Donald Trump won the popular vote in the US election as well as the votes of the electoral college. No conventional media would run with a story that is demonstrably false; to do so would run the risk of being discredited as a news outlet or sullying the ‘brand’ of a conventional newspaper. Continue reading

Addressing Authority: some concluding thoughts

Brodie Waddell

petition-to-the-petitioners-1679-80Petitions and supplications have been flying thick and fast over the past month. Contributors to the Addressing Authority Online Symposium have spotted them asking for permission to print a broadsheet about conjoined twins in sixteenth-century Nuremberg, decrying Charles I’s religious policy in seventeenth-century Scotland, and seeking a tax exception in eighteenth-century London. On twitter, they could be found claiming that mariners had been forced into cannibalism and that their complaints were justified by the example of Queen Esther. One was even seen petitioning ‘to the Petitioners’ during the Popish Plot scare of 1680.

It would be silly to try to sum up all the brilliant contributions by both the authors and commenters over the course of the symposium. However, I will take the opportunity to try to briefly highlight three issues that came up in the papers and discussion that I hadn’t properly considered before. Continue reading