Merry Christmas from the Monster!

slide_8Well folks, let us not pretend that 2016 has been a year of peace and unity, but that’s all the more reason to wish each and every one of our readers a restorative and merry midwinter holiday. We also want to say a huge thank you to everyone who supports the blog, whether that’s simply by taking the time to read it or by sharing our posts on social media or indeed in your classrooms. We were delighted to recently pass a couple of statistical landmarks – 100,000 visitors and 200,000 views of the blog since its inception – and we hope to have many, many more in the years to come.

If you’re not feeling in the festive spirit yet then perhaps a quick trawl through the many-headed monster’s archive of ‘Christmas Specials’ will help: you can read about the history of early modern Christmas dinners; find out how our old pal Ralph Thoresby spent his Christmases; delve into the political conflicts that engulfed seventeenth-century Christmas; discover the impact of the Reformation on Christmas carols; relive an epic Boxing Day pub crawl from 1647; and be warned of the perils of refusing to give seasonal charity in the age of witchcraft.

See you in 2017.

Addressing Authority: An Online Symposium on Petitions and Supplications in Early Modern Society

How can people without official political power push the authorities to act? Historically, one of the most common tactics was to present a petition or supplication.  In early modern Europe, petitioning was ubiquitous. It was often the only acceptable way to address local and national authorities when seeking redress, mercy or advancement. As a result, petitioning was a crucial mode of communication between the ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’.

The Humble Petition of Jock of Bread (1648)

The Humble Petition of Jock of Bread (1648)

People at all levels of society – from noblemen and officeholders to paupers and prisoners to servants and slaves – used this tool in their efforts to have their voices heard. Some of them were mere begging letters scrawled on scraps of paper addressed to local benefactors while others were carefully crafted radical demands signed by thousands and sent to the highest powers in the land. Whatever form they took, they provide a potentially unparalleled source of evidence for illuminating how people responded to the challenges they faced in an era of rapid social, political and economic change. Widespread grievances about religion, governance, trade, taxes, charity and many other aspects of early modern life have been preserved in these documents.

On 18 March 2016, historians and literary scholars gathered at Birkbeck to talk about the history of ‘addressing authority’. This was, we conjectured, one of the most vital ways in which the supposedly ‘powerless’ were able to speak to ‘the powerful’. Indeed, as we discussed at the workshop, studying petitioning can complicate and challenge the idea of a dichotomous relationship between ‘rulers’ and ‘ruled’ in early modern society. However, although the event was a wonderful experience, we wanted to widen the conversation further by presenting our thoughts in an open forum and inviting responses from anyone with an interest in the topic.

We have therefore decided to host an online symposium here on the Many-Headed Monster, following the success of previous events on ‘History from Below’ and ‘The Voices of the People’. We will be posting short pieces from the workshop’s participants over the coming weeks. They include broad panoramic appraisals and close analyses of specific cases.  Some posts focus on the tools, methods and theories that can be used to understand petitioning while others show what particular supplications can tell us about key moments in early modern history. Although most focus on British cases, there are also posts on petitioning in Nuremberg, Venice, the Netherlands and Europe as a whole. We hope that together they demonstrate the centrality of petitions in early modern societies, and remind us of their continuing power in both democratic and authoritarian states today.

A new post will be published every few days over the coming weeks. We begin with bird’s eye views of the broad landscape of petitioning across Europe (Würgler), England (Waddell) and London (Howard). Then we will zoom in on two very different types of petitions from women in England, specifically their mass petitioning about captured sailors in the 1620s-30s (Hudson) and their individual petitions about seized estates during the Civil Wars and Interregnum (Worthen). Next come three pieces on how petition-writers sought to use carefully crafted supplicatory techniques to encourage charitable alms-giving in English parishes (Tomlin), influence the secretive Venetian authorities (Antonini) or persuade the Dutch ‘public’ (Van Den Tol). Finally, the symposium focuses on the worrisome ways that petitioning might fail to spark ‘democratic’ politics in Scotland (Stewart) and might turn into a policy of surveillance in Nuremberg (Murphy).

The aim of this online symposium is not to present these pieces as a 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 #AddressingAuthority.

  1. Andreas Würgler (Geneva), ‘Shaping the “I” and the State? Petitions in Early Modern Europe’
  2. Brodie Waddell (Birkbeck), ‘Was early modern England a petitioning society?’
  3. Sharon Howard (Sheffield), ‘The London Lives Petitions Project: What can you do with 10,000 18th-century petitions?’
  4. Judith Hudson (Birkbeck), ‘‘2000 wives’: Women petitioning on Barbary captivity, 1626-1638’
  5. Hannah Worthen (Leicester and The National Archives), ‘Addressing authority during the English Civil Wars: the petitions of ‘delinquent’ widows’’
  6. Rebecca Tomlin (Cambridge), ‘’Exhorting and Persauding’: Petitions, rhetorical strategies and the burning of Tiverton’
  7. Fabio Antonini (Birkbeck), ‘‘Prostrate before your most merciful feet’: A Venetian secretary’s plea for clemency, 1614’
  8. Joris van den Tol (Leiden), ‘Petitions and the duality of structure: Lobbying the seventeenth-century Dutch Atlantic’
  9. Laura Stewart (York), ‘‘Thair is na offence to supplicat’: presbyterians and petitioning in early Stuart Scotland’
  10. Hannah Murphy (Oxford), ‘Supplications and Civic Rule in Sixteenth-Century Nuremberg’
  11. Giacomo Giudici (Birkbeck), ‘Petitions, Information and Governance in 15th and Early 16th-Century Sforza Milan’
  12. Brodie Waddell, ‘Concluding thoughts’

Also, shortly after the launch of the symposium, two more pieces focusing on petitions appeared on other sites. In the first, Martin Almbjär examines ‘Petitioning parishes in Sweden in the Age of Liberty, 1719-1772’. In the second, Rachel Weil investigates ‘When Prisoners Complain’ by looking at the petitions of London prisoners in the early eighteenth century.


If referencing pieces published here, we suggest the following citation: Author, ‘Title’, in Brodie Waddell (ed.), Addressing Authority: An Online Symposium on Petitions and Supplications in Early Modern Society (2016).

We are grateful to the Royal Historical Society, the Birkbeck Institute for Humanities, the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, and Professor Julian Swann as Birkbeck’s Pro-Vice Master for Research, for providing the funding and venue for the workshop in March where these pieces were first discussed.

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

The 200th Post!

200Welcome to the many-headed monster’s 200th blog post! We started the blog back in July of 2012, so it’s taken us about three-and-a-half years to get here. In that time we have managed to produce a post (on average) about once a week, so there has been plenty of content for our readers to get their teeth into over the past few years.

We thought we would take this milestone as an opportunity to revisit some of that content, and pluck out a few highlights from our archive (we are historians, after all). So, if you missed any of these the first time round, or indeed fancy reading them again, here are some of our other milestone posts:

The 1st Post: Norwich entertainments–Part I: A monstrous hairy child and a boneless girl

Prides Fall (1684-6)The blog kicked off with Brodie’s first installment of his ‘Norwich entertainments’ series – also launching the mini-series format that has proved a popular one on the ‘monster – in which he reflects on what 17th century Norvicians’ penchant for viewing ‘monstrous’ deformities might reveal about the culture of our early modern forebears. You can revisit the rest of this series here.

 

The 50th Post: Eating Animals: A Bit of History

In this milestone post Mark examined the relationship early moderns had with eating meat – finding evidence that whilst meat eating was more widespread in the 17th century than we might expect, so too were notions of vegetarianism. Plenty of fodder here for those dinner table discussions! For more on the history of food and drink see Mark’s ‘Food for Thought’ series.

 

The 100th Post: Elizabethan ‘madmen’ Part I: Not such a Virgin Queen

west-country-to-worlds-end-tyrwhitt-drake-collection-43Our century of posts came up with the first part of Jonathan’s Elizabethan ‘madmen’ series, which looks at a selection of unusual letters written directly to the Queen by some of her more marginal – and eccentric – subjects. In this instance the writer makes an extraordinary paternity claim. Jonathan reflects further on the signficance of these letters in his contribution to our Voices of the People symposium.

The 150th Post: Memorial and History: appendix ii, further discoveries

DSCN5322In this post Laura adds a postscript to her Memorial and History series. This examined a whole range of monuments and memorials – often found in rather unexpected places – which reveal how battles over how we remember the Reformation have raged down the centuries. It also includes some lovely holiday snaps. Stay tuned to the ‘monster, for next week’s post revisits the issue of how history and memory are embedded in our landscape.

Just a few highlights then from our archive, and here’s to many more to come! Thanks to all of our followers, readers, commenters, guest bloggers and re-tweeters – your interest and support for the blog are what make it tick, so keep on coming back…

Addressing Authority: Petitions and Supplications in Early Modern Europe

Brodie Waddell

How can we study the sort of people who – according to William Harrison’s oft-quoted phrase – had ‘neither voice nor authority in the commonwealth’? This is a question we have returned to repeatedly on this blog. In our ‘Voices of the People’ and ‘History from Below’ symposiums, we discussed the many ways in which historians might attempt to get at the experiences and opinions of those who did not hold the reins of power in early modern Europe.

The Humble Petition of Jock of Bread (1648)

The Humble Petition of Jock of Bread (1648)

One type of source that some of contributors to the events found particularly promising was the ‘petition’ or ‘supplication’. Such documents have received attention on this blog from Mark Hailwood, Jonathan Healey, Michael Ohajuru, Laura Stewart, Jonathan Willis and myself. However, this failed to satisfy my own fascination with such documents, so I’ve joined with three colleagues from Birkbeck – Rebecca Tomlin, Laura Stewart and Sue Wiseman – to organise an event focusing specifically on these sources. Here are the details…

Addressing Authority: Petitions and Supplications in Early Modern Europe

One-day workshop

Friday, 18 March 2016

Birkbeck, University of London

Invitation for Participants

This event will have space for 10-15 participants in addition to the 12 speakers. The workshop will be informal and conversational with substantial time for discussion between the panel presentations, so there will be an opportunity for all attendees to participate.

If you would like to attend, please send a brief statement of your research interests in this topic (100-300 words) to Brodie Waddell (b.waddell@bbk.ac.uk) by Friday, 12 February 2016. Postgraduates and early career scholars are especially welcome.

Continue reading

The many-headed monster devours its 100,000th victim

The monster heads

We are delighted to report that we recently received our 100,000th view on the many-headed monster! We would like to thank everyone who reads the blog, as well as all those who share posts with others, or who take the time to comment. It is safe to say we wouldn’t be here without you.

The monster celebrates like it is 1566.

The monster celebrates like it is 1566.

We usually mark milestones with some reflection, so here goes:

The monster’s first post appeared 18 July 2012 (so we will soon be 3 years old as well). Mark Hailwood and Brodie Waddell were the founding members, soon joined by Laura Sangha and Jonathan Willis. Since then we’ve:

  • Posted 167 blogs
  • Had 48,500 visitors
  • Featured 11 mini-series
  • Received 766 comments

Our most successful post is now Brodie’s ‘A missing child and a suspicious meat pie in 1645’, relating the strange case of human flesh allegedly being sold as food. After being featured on the suspiciously named Hacker News, this post received an astonishing 4,857 views (4,246 visitors) on 2 June 2015. Continue reading

Women’s Work in Rural England, 1500-1700

Mark Hailwood

bruegel hay makersMany ‘monster readers will have already deduced that I recently started a new job. So I thought it would be a nice idea to write a very short post introducing the project that I’m now working on. It is based at the University of Exeter, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and will run until the summer of 2018. The leader of the project is Professor Jane Whittle and I will be the main researcher. Our aim is to gather an unprecedented level of information about the everyday working lives of early modern English women by extracting incidental information about work activities from witness statements given in court cases (and a few other types of record too). We hope that this innovative methodology will help us to capture aspects of women’s work – for instance domestic and other types of unpaid work – that more conventional history of work sources – such as wage data – do not.

If you want to know more about the aims, methods and sources we will be using I have set up a website for the project here, that contains a lot more detail about what we will be doing. I’ll also be blogging over there about our progress from time to time, so if you are interested please do follow the project.

In fact, we already have a couple of blog posts up:

  • ‘What is Work?’ – project leader Jane Whittle challenges some of the more conventional definitions of work that historians use, and offers a more suitable alternative that we will be adopting for the project.
  • ‘Did Women Work in Agriculture?’ – in this post I examine some of our first archival gleanings, and use them to raise some questions about the gendered division of agricultural work in rural England.

Finally, I should mention that we are looking for a third person to complete our project team, and as such are offering a fully-funded PhD studentship at Exeter. So, if you like the sound of the project or know of someone who you think might like to apply, then all the relevant details can be found here. The deadline for applications is 1st June.

A large part of my job will be working through thousands of witness testimonies from quarter sessions and church courts, with their rich and fascinating vignettes of everyday life. In addition to the information I am after for the project this will turn up plenty of stories about the lives of ordinary men and women in early modern England for me to regale ‘monster readers with, so keep watching this space!