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: 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

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

A revolution, an economic crisis and a very sarcastic clergyman

Brodie Waddell

Update 25/04/17: An open-access version of my article on ‘The Politics of Economic Distress’ is now available though Birkbeck’s institutional repository or, alternatively, on my Academia.edu profile.

Thomas Smith was not a man of the people. Although born to a London merchant, he made his name teaching Hebrew at Oxford, publishing a thesis on Aramaic in the Old Testament and spending several years in Constantinople hunting down Greek manuscripts. Smith was, above all, an uncompromising believer in a very particular brand of high-church Anglicanism, so when William and Mary captured the throne in 1689 he refused to take the oath to the new monarchs.

In the 1690s, Smith watched the aftermath of the Revolution unfold. It was not a pretty sight. Maritime trade was battered by war with France, taxes doubled within a few years, food prices rose dramatically and the people lost faith in the currency. Although Smith seems to have lived a fairly comfortable life and remained focused on his scholarly work, his correspondence reveals that he had a good eye for the problems that beset ‘the common people’ in this decade. Continue reading

Alehouse Characters Christmas Special: The Festive Binge-Drinker

Mark Hailwood

This is the fifth and final post in a series written to mark the publication of my book, Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England, which is now available in paperback. Monster readers can take advantage of a special offer to get 25% off (getting the book for just £13.49) by using the promotion code ‘BB125’ when ordering here. Each post in this series focuses on a character that features in the book, and uses them to highlight some of my key themes and arguments.

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Totting up the end of year accounts…

On the 22nd of December, 1647, as the wind and rain lashed down outside, the Yorkshire yeoman farmer Adam Eyre spent his day at home casting up his accounts of his expenses for the year. He was a reasonably prosperous man—a member of what historians of the seventeenth-century would call the ‘middling sort’—but he was not at all happy with the level of his outgoings.

 

What was to blame for his profligacy? The alehouse, of course. So, like many of us do as the year draws to a close, he made a resolution:

‘hereafter never to pay for anybody in the alehouse, nor never to entangle myself in company so much again as I have done’

Adam Eyre did not want to go the way of the fictional ‘wastrel husband’ John Jarret: instead, he determined to renounce ‘good fellowship’.

But Eyre’s resolve did not last long. On 26th December—St Stephen’s Day, later to become Boxing Day—Eyre’s horse had a minor fall when trying to leap over a muddy ditch. As Eyre sought to regain his composure he encountered a fellow officer in the Parliamentary army, Corporal Richard Barber, who persuaded Adam to take a restorative draft of ale or two in an alehouse in nearby Thurlstone. Eyre spent 4 pence (the standard measure of ale then was a quart, or two pints, and this typically cost 2p: so it was a penny a pint). Continue reading

Alehouse Characters #4: The Good Fellowette

Mark Hailwood

This is the fourth in a series of posts written to mark the publication of my book, Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England, which is now available in paperback. Monster readers can take advantage of a special offer to get 25% off (getting the book for just £13.49) by using the promotion code ‘BB125’ when ordering here. Each post in this series focuses on a character that features in the book, and uses them to highlight some of my key themes and arguments.

The seventeenth-century English alehouse was undoubtedly a male-dominated space. It was certainly not, however, an exclusively male space. For a start, it was common for alehouses to be run by widows, or by the wives of men whose name was actually the one on the license, and many young women would have worked as serving maids in these institutions. But women also represented a significant component of alehouse customers. Indeed, one historian has estimated that as many as 30% of the customers in Essex alehouses in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were women.[1]

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Women were a sizeable minority of the alehouse crowd

Women often drank in alehouses with their husbands, and young women frequented them as part of mixed-gender groups of friends. Of course, the alehouse was an important centre of courtship for the young in the villages and small towns of seventeenth-century England, in an age when a trip to the cinema or the bowling alley—or whatever it is young folk do for courtship these days—were not available options. (Although some alehouses did have bowling alleys attached to them even then, so the link between bowling and courtship may be older than we think). Continue reading

Alehouse Characters #3: The Wastrel Husband

Mark Hailwood

This is the third in a series of posts written to mark the publication of my book, Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England, which is now available in paperback. Monster readers can take advantage of a special offer to get 25% off (getting the book for just £13.49) by using the promotion code ‘BB125’ when ordering here. Each post in this series focuses on a character that features in the book, and uses them to highlight some of my key themes and arguments.

As we saw in the previous post, the rising popularity of alehouses and good fellowship in seventeenth-century England met with considerable opposition from Church and State. But concerns over developments in England’s drinking culture did not just emanate from hostile ruling elites—from the ‘top down’—they were also voiced within popular culture. This can be seen most clearly in contemporary anxieties that ‘good fellowship’ spawned ‘wastrel husbands’. One such example is the central character of this post: John Jarret.

John Jarret

John Jarret

Jarret, like Roaring Dick of Dover, is the central character of a broadside ballad, and whilst both men are keen partakers of alehouse good fellowship, John Jarret’s drinking is portrayed in rather more problematic terms than Roaring Dick’s. Rather than being a celebration of good fellowship, the ballad featuring Jarret—narrated by his long suffering wife—is a warning about its dire consequences.[1] Continue reading