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When is Research Worth it?

By Matthew Tibble

Matthew is an MPhil student in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge. He is currently researching religious counsel during the mid-Tudor period.

I have been studying history for the better part of four years, yet it was only recently that I managed to fulfil the archetypal ambition of making an original ‘discovery’. Like so much of modern historical research, it began by persistently trawling through online resources, flicking through digital facsimile images of countless early printed works, and noticing a small peculiarity. Laurence Saunders, a clergyman who died on 8th February 1555, had purportedly written a book that described in great detail the trial of two Protestant martyrs, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, who had later been burned at the stake by Mary I. The trial is known to have taken place in October, eight months after Laurence Saunders’ death, inherently undermining his contention that, ‘I was there presente at the doing of thys…and heard al for the most part with mine eares’.[1] Read more

A Little Chaos (2014): A commitment travesty

By Anna Knutsson @annaknutsson

Anna Knutsson is an MPhil student in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge. She is currently researching expressions of female involvement in medicine in Renaissance Florence.

Director: Alan Rickman

Cast: Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci, Alan Rickman, Jennifer Ehle, Matthias Schoenaerts, Helen McCrory.

Lack of commitment is a constant complaint of many people in the modern west. Unfortunately for the period drama lover, this has now also extended into the glorious realm of hooped skirts and curvaceous furniture. Whilst A Little Chaos offers an appealing concept to its audience in the form of history from below, it fails to deliver. Following the gardener Sabine de Barra’s (Kate Winslet) work to create the renowned rock garden at Versailles, the film explores the role of women at work and the difficulties of getting over a personal tragedy, intermingled with a lacklustre love story and Louis XIV’s (Alan Rickman) search for freedom.

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Call for Papers – Making ‘Big Data’ Human: Doing History in a Digital Age

Alison Richard Building, University of Cambridge, 9th September 2015

With Keynote Speaker Prof. Jane Winters, Professor of Digital History and Head of Publications, Institute of Historical Research

In a digital society, it is hard to escape discussions of ‘big data’, massive amounts of information that need database and software techniques for full processing.  But beyond this initial definition what does ‘big data’ really mean?  Do we already use it?  Why do we need to?  And how can we integrate this with historical research when using data sets simply too ‘big’ for traditional methods of analysis and presentation?  Reflections on the impact and the usage of data, which have perhaps been more forthcoming in the spheres of business and science, are still only starting to permeate through the humanities. Read more

Historical Voices

By Kayt Button, @kayt_button

Today we collect a vast array of readily available information in the form of statistics, stories, reports, and videos available publicly on the internet or through more official channels. These are created by journalists, public servants, and the public at large who are able to self-publish. Before the advent of what has been named “Big Data”, events were written down, or photographed, by a few individuals and published. Before that, pictures and oral histories recorded important events. All these sources have their own difficulties – in the case of Big Data, as the name suggests, the volumes of available information can be overwhelming. Hard copy written sources were authored by someone and understanding the writer can be as important as what they reported, which is also true of oral history, drawings, and photographic evidence. Read more

Wealth, status, and power: is the franchise the same as the vote?

By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

Wealth and status were at the heart of eighteenth century politics, so much so that those with enough of both could have significant political influence even without enfranchisement. Such was the rather peculiar position of British Catholic gentlemen, who could not vote or hold political office until 1829 because of their religion. Although a great impediment to political power, this did not stop wealthy Catholics from involvement in politics, and for some this stretched to influence in elections themselves. Elections in the first half of the eighteenth century, when they were contested, would often involve economic incentive and social pressure, with ‘treats’ of ale and food bought for the electorate by the candidates’ supporters on the day (many of the electorate were extremely drunk when they finally voted), and favours for political ‘friends’ being bestowed on individuals throughout the year.[1] 

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Elizabeth Sculthorp and the Embodiments of Unbelief

By Patrick Seamus McGhee

Patrick is an MPhil student in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge. He is currently researching atheism and unbelief in post-Reformation England.

In 1519, Elizabeth Sculthorp was brought before the church courts in the diocese of Lincoln to explain her faltering religious belief. The court book reports that:

“First she says that since Whitsunday last she has not had perfect nor steadfast belief in God, nor since that time she had no manner good mind to come to the Church nor to serve God, and for the most part she has not come to the Church, and she has not believed in the holy sacrament of the altar, nor in any other sacrament of Holy Church. And since Candlemass last she has betaken herself and all her children to the devil and clearly forsaken God and the Church. She says she had never counsel of no manner hereunto, nor she never saw nor heard no evil spirit unto her. And she says she has not done any great offense to bring her into despair, nor her husband has not evil entreated her, but only this false belief was put into her mind, she knows now how, but only by the devil.” Read more