Posts Tagged ‘early modern’

Pacifying the past: British historical culture, 1745-1776
British History in the Long 18th Century Seminar
Paul Davis (Princeton)
25 January 2012
Pacifying the past: British historical culture, 1745-1776

This is a guest post by Paul McMenemy, one of IHR Digital’s winter interns from the University of Leicester.


David Hume (1711-1776)

David Hume (1711-1776)

The eighteenth century is often seen as the era which witnessed the birth of modern history-writing, certainly in Britain. What has not necessarily been made clear is why this should be the case. In the past, the rise of British history-writing has often been seen simply as a by-product of Enlightenment. This attitude has no doubt been encouraged by the fact that its first great practitioner (Clarendon excepted, for reasons we shall see below) was David Hume. However, while a great deal of effort has been expended on trying to understand why Hume came to his conclusions in the field of philosophy – the influence of his environment, of previous thinkers, and so on – there has been comparatively little research into the motivations behind his History of England, and explaining why it differs from previous historical works.

Paul Davies suggests that Hume and those who came after him wrote in an attempt to neutralise the still-strong passions of the recent past. As Davies points out, Hume did not begin writing his History with what eventually became its first volume, dealing with the classical and medieval periods, but with those dealing with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603, continuing until the Glorious Revolution. Why he did so, and why the period fascinated other writers of the time, Davies ascribes to fears of a Stuart return, reignited by the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Hume effectively neutralises the martyrology surrounding Charles I in Tory circles, not by demonising him, as Catherine Macaulay was to do, but by portraying him as a noble but flawed man overtaken by circumstances beyond his control. This is not so very different from how he is portrayed by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, whom many historians would now see as preceding Hume as the first recognisably modern British historian; however, as Davies points out, Clarendon’s reputation as a politician served to obscure his reputation as a historian during the eighteenth century – bearing out Davies’s point concerning the height of feeling surrounding the period – and the political capital made out of his History’s first publication in 1702, coinciding with the Tory revival at the start of the reign of Queen Anne, also tended to blind Whig readers to its merits.

By blaming the Stuarts’ politics more than their characters, Hume (and William Robertson – probably the foremost historian of the era – who follows Hume in his treatment of the Stuarts) removes them from the realm of contemporary politics, and transforms what Davies points out was not yet history in the eighteenth century mind into a thing of the past. What Hume also attempts to do – which Catherine Macaulay, for instance, explicitly does not – is change the reading of history from a pastime valued primarily for its morally edifying effects, to a morally neutral pursuit valuable purely in terms of knowledge gained. Until the mid-twentieth century, most historians and readers of history followed Macaulay rather than Hume in this matter.

The romanticisation of the early Stuart period which enjoyed a vogue during the later eighteenth century, as evidenced by the fashion for “van Dyck dress” on stage and in paintings by Reynolds, Zoffany, West, etc. – a discussion of which concludes Davies’s talk – can also be seen as a rendering harmless of the once-toxic past, and perhaps as a logical extension of the humanising tendency of Enlightenment historians. As Davies says, however, this was not felt to be the case in all quarters, and the backlash led by Catherine Macaulay’s vehemently anti-Stuart writing – and the republican school of American history which Davies argues she inspired – shows that symbols of the Stuart past still retained at least some of their potency. In discussing this Davies lays bare a paradox: the anti-Stuart backlash which led Garrick to de-romanticise his Shakespearean costume, and the fashionable painters to de-romanticise their historical paintings, produced the opposite effect in historians of the republican school, albeit their romanticisation now applied to the Parliamentarians, rather than the Royalists.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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British History in the Long 18th Century
Chancery Lane: politics, space and the built environment, c. 1760-1815
Francis Boorman (IHR)
19 October 2011


Chancery Lane

Chancery Lane (Wikipedia)

Sandwiched between the west and east ends of London, Chancery Lane was a focus point in England’s capital city and therefore an ideal place for lawyers to set up shop.  It is hard to imagine what life would have been like there in the eighteenth century.  The roads were tight and dangerous and represented an old, much smaller sized London than what had grown up around it over the last 100 years or so.  According to Francis Boorman the clash of classes was extremely evident here, with robberies common in its narrow streets as the rich fell foul to the poor, and as a place where women regularly prostituted themselves.  There were also many pubs and coffee houses in the district which can only have intensified matters.  With a distinct lack of street lighting this was a seedy place to hang around, but it was also a centre of law and order.

This paper focuses on the politics of public space in London and particularly its importance to radicals and conservatives in the long eighteenth-century.  Francis Boorman argues that Chancery Lane’s geographical and topographical location in London and its specific importance for the legal profession were crucial to its formation as a built environment.  Geographically Chancery Lane is located right in the middle of the west and east sides of London and fell under various jurisdictions.  Topographically Chancery Lane had narrow but busy streets causing congestion problems and encouraging high levels of accidents.

In addition Chancery Lane was viewed as the physical manifestation for the reputation of the lawyers who worked there.  For example building works by lawyers gave manifest significant criticism of the legal profession from the public.  People felt that lawyers were improving their place of work and getting rich off of other people’s money.  In the long eighteenth-century there was a very real perception that lawyers were dishonest, greedy, and untrustworthy.

Boorman explains all these issues in clear detail to show why the expansion and improvement of the road took so long to be achieved.  Even despite the money and workforce available through the Westminster Paving Committee and numerous complaints that the Lane was dangerous (especially near Fleet Street) nothing happened.  The main reasons for this was arguments between the local residents and the lawyers on who should pay as well as the difficulty of convincing the various jurisdictions under which Chancery Lane fell that they should act in unison.

To listen to this podcast click here.    

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Conversations and Disputations: Discussions among Historians
17 June 2011
Kate Chedgzoy (Newcastle), Andrew Hiscock (Bangor), Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge), Andy Wood (East Anglia)
Cultures of Memory in Early Modern England: Round Table and Discussion
Chair: Kate Hodgkin (UEL)

One place of enacting memory – Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London

What do we mean when talking about ‘memory’ in an historical context?  How can we provide evidence that represents an accurate understanding of memory without losing the historical context?  Can using ‘memory’ become too broad to serve a useful purpose as a concept?  This ‘discussion among historians’, focuses on England in the early modern period, asking and attempting to answer some of the questions posed above.  Chaired by Kate Hodgkin from UEL each speaker is given approximately 25 minutes to present their thoughts before the session moved on to a lengthy discussion around the topic.

Andrew Hiscock uses Shakespeare’s Tempest as his starting point emphasising the symbolic practice of memory that it enacts.  The conversation is between Prospero and Miranda and recalls both selective remembrance and the drawing out of alternative scenarios:


The hour’s now come;

The very minute bids thee ope thine ear;

Obey and be attentive. Canst thou remember

A time before we came unto this cell?

I do not think thou canst, for then thou wast not

Out three years old.


Certainly, sir, I can.


By what? by any other house or person?

Of any thing the image tell me that

Hath kept with thy remembrance.


‘Tis far off

And rather like a dream than an assurance

That my remembrance warrants. Had I not

Four or five women once that tended me?


Thou hadst, and more, Miranda. But how is it

That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else

In the dark backward and abysm of time?

If thou remember’st aught ere thou camest here,

How thou camest here thou mayst.

Hiscock argues that the early modern reader was encouraged to consider the past in terms of memorial and as symbolism for the present.  What should be remembered?  This is the key question that early modern writers grappled with.  John Foxe, for instance, sought out a revised knowledge of the past; one where the Roman Catholic religion was repositioned as a foreign enemy and heretical groups – such as the Lollards – recast as true followers.  Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene emphasised the training of memory for the pursuit of memorial.

Alexandra Walsham next reflected on an emerging historiography looking into the relationship of memory with landscape and the upheaval in memory caused by the reformation.  Walsham argues that the process of remembering was intricately linked to the physical environment and it is for that reason that the reformation was also a period of iconoclasm and erasure of physical monuments that had previously been imbued with a sense of a past that Protestants now wanted forgotten.  Religious change acted as a critical juncture in the sixteenth century for memory.  The Protestant regimes were trying to obliterate one version of the past with another.

In the seventeenth century, Walsham tells us, memory became fragmented between the rival Protestant and Catholic camps and, in addition, an embarrassment concerning early-reformation iconoclasm began to emerge.  Writers began to express regret about their lost heritage and realised that much that had been good had also been lost.  The struggle to deal with poor relief during the seventeenth century was seen as a direct repercussion from the loss of older forms of relief provided by the church that had been swept away in religious fervour.

Andy Wood moved the discussion towards archaeology and anthropology as a method for examining early modern memory.  Wood is concerned that the focus is too heavily concerned with the memory of ‘elites’ and does not try to rediscover popular memory and its connection to the local region.  Citing authors such as Daniel Woolf, Keith Thomas, and Adam Fox (and now in addition Walsham), Wood retells the history of historical study into memory from its conception as collective memory in the inter-war period, the focus on politics of memory in the 1970s, and finally onto memory as identity as expressed in the 1990s.  Using an anthropological comparison to Latin America, Wood suggests that memory often views the past as an aspect of the present.  Rather than modern perceptive of time evolving and constantly changing, early modern men and women, as also identified in areas of Latin America, experience time as static and largely unchanging but with moments of rupture and change (such as the reformation).

Finally Kate Chedgzoy focused on the archive and how memory could be drawn out from documents where it is not obviously there.  For Chedgzoy’s own studies – women history and the history of children – the archives rarely give the limelight to such evidence.  However, if one looks closely and from alternative perspectives evidence can nonetheless be amassed.  Children’s history is a case in point and one where Chedgzoy has identified a problem with current studies.  Historians tend to look at children as the subject of their study rather than ask the question of what children thought or what they saw as their own memories.  Of course, the main reason for this is that the archives do not easily give up such information.  However, stray references to what parents of children write can help to give a partial picture as can adults memories of their childhood.  One particularly striking example is a 1670s manuscript by Nathanial Friend who wrote a memorial to his boy who had recently died.

To listen to these podcasts click here

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Metropolitan History and British History in the Long 18th Century
16 March 2011
Jerry White (Birkbeck)
City Rivalries and the making of modern London, 1720-1770

In March 2011 the IHR attempted its first two live streamed seminars.  The idea for the live stream is to show a selection of events each year live over the web with the additional facility for the online audience to ask questions through a ‘chat’ feed.  We plan to constantly improve upon this service.  Indeed since the initial ‘programme’ we have switched services from ustream to livestream for better sound and vision (and to minimise the adverts).  We have also added twitter feeds and a ‘widget’ from Slideshare that allows us to show the slide show independently of the video.  With the launch of History SPOT new ‘pop-out’ widgets are available so that you can choose which items to show and move items around your screen. 

With the second 2012 live stream event later today (and one where the speaker will be streaming live from the US rather than with us in the room) I thought it was time to revisit our very first attempt almost one year ago.

I will admit that I was pretty nervous about that first session.  I had visions that the internet connection would fail or the third party app would be down for maintenance or some such catastrophe.  I was also concerned that we would have an online audience of one – the one being the head of IHR Digital, Jane Winters who kindly agreed to act as our representative on the other side so that we could be certain that the technology was working properly.  In the end though, everything worked well.  We were delayed by about 5 minutes not due to any technical difficulties but because of the appearance of an unexpected guest – a tiny mouse!  Re-reading my History SPOT blog entry written soon after the first seminar I am pleased to say that most of the technical problems that were noted have since been solved.  By switching to livestream the volume of the microphone is much better at picking up questions from the audience.  We have also attempted several alternative chat facilities and have currently settled for livestream’s own chat which seems to work much smoother.  But what about the seminar itself?  What was that about? 

Well, on that occasion it was a joint session of the Metropolitan History seminar and British history in the Long 18th Century.  The speaker was Professor Jerry White (Birkbeck) who – despite the presence of an uninvited guest who decided to inconveniently run under his feet half way through the talk – talked about the making of London as a place of rivalries, in this case the rivalries between the City of London and the City of Westminster in the eighteenth-century.  The rivalry was bitter and intense with the citizens of London often concerned that its most wealthy citizens were moving to the higher status Westminster.  White moved between representations of this rivalry in theatres to politics, finance and city planning to show that the rivalry acted as an impetus for continual improvements to life in the Metropolis as one city attempted to outdo the other.  Of particular interest in White’s paper is the focus on bridge building.  In December 1721 a petition was made by Westminster for a new bridge over the Themes (eventually built as Westminster Bridge over a decade later).  The citizens of London held up the bridges construction because they were concerned that it would take away their wealth as more of their population abandoned London for Westminster.  Soon, however, London fought back with a petition of their own for an enlargement of London Bridge and another new bridge at Blackfriars.  Planned was a new housing project, street improvements and other enticements to bring back wealthy financiers from Westminster to London.  However, the Blackfriars Bridge took over eight years to build and cost much more than originally planned (it was eventually constructed in the 1760s).   In short Jerry White discussed a fractured metropolis filled with intense and bitter rivalries but also one that (whether on purpose or not) helped Britain’s capital city to grow and improve into the national and international centre that it has since become. 

To watch this video/podcast click here.

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Locating London’s past: a geo-referencing tool for mapping historical and archaeological evidence, 1660-1800

Part of the 1746 John Rocque map of London

Today History SPOT will play host to a live stream of this workshop on Locating London’s Past.  This should prove an interesting and exciting event for anyone interested in early modernLondon, in database and GIS practices, and mapping in general. 

So please join us at 2pm and 4pm for the following talks:

2pm     Introduction to the Locating London’s Past project

4pm     The future of the past – the role of historical mapping

If you would like to follow on Twitter the hash tag is #llp

 click on the logo to access the Live Stream Page for this event

Project Information

 Locating London´s Past will create an intuitive GIS interface that will enable researchers to map and visualize textual and artefactual data relating to seventeenth and eighteenth-century London against a fully rasterised version of John Rocque´s 1746 map of London and the first accurate modern OS map (1869-80). More than this, it will make these data and maps available within a Google Maps container, allowing for the analysis of the data with open source visualization tools. The interface will be readily expandable to include additional data sets and maps (both modern and historic).

Building on the partnerships created through the JISC funded Connected Histories project, and through a new collaboration with the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MOLA), Locating London´s Past will produce a working GIS-enabled public web environment that will allow existing electronic historical data about London to be repackaged and organised around space. The project incorporates four elements. First, a fully rasterised and GIS-enabled version of John Rocque´s 1746 map of London will be created and tied to a GIS enabled version of the first reliable modern OS map (1869-80). Second, standard geo-referencing will be incorporated into some 4.9 million lines of data drawn from the Old Bailey Online, London Lives, 1690-1800, datasets created by the Centre for Metropolitan History, and MOLA´s extensive database of archaeological finds. Third, using an API methodology, the historical GIS will be presented for public use and re-use both online and as downloads, within a Google Maps `container´ (giving access to satellite images, `street views´ etc), to facilitate `mash-ups´ with modern datasets (geological, flooding, land use, etc). This in turn will create an environment in which additional external historical datasets and GIS enabled historical maps can be added. Fourth, a series of open source visualization tools, with examples and documentation, will be made available through the interface to allow datasets with multiple variables about crime, social policy, taxation and material culture to be represented and analysed in conjunction with the three layers of GIS-enabled mapping (Rocque, OS, Google Maps).

By bringing within a single framework archaeological evidence of pipes and shards, and historical trial records, voting lists, insurance files and taxations records, this project will contribute to the `spatial turn´ in humanities and social science scholarship, not just by making geographical analysis possible, but by making it readily accessible.


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