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Posts tagged ‘early modern history’

Staging history: “Kepler’s Trial” by Tim Watts

Harriet Lyon (@HarrietLyon) reviews the recent world premiere of Kepler’s Trial: An Opera by Tim Watts based on Ulinka Rublack’s book The Astronomer & the Witch.

In December 1615, the renowned astronomer Johannes Kepler first received news that his elderly mother, Katharina, had been accused by a neighbour of witchcraft. A victim of the witch craze that swept through early seventeenth-century Germany, Katharina’s torment lasted for six long years, during which time Johannes temporarily abandoned his research to concentrate on building his mother’s defence. After being subject to a humiliating criminal trial and serving a spell of more than a year in prison, Katharina was finally exonerated in September 1621. This was an ordeal from which she never recovered: Katharina died just six months later aged seventy-six. Read more

The Public House – the struggle to find privacy in the eighteenth century home

By Alex Wakelam – @A_Wakelam

Around two o’clock in the morning of February 15th 1732, Robert Atkinson, a sadler, returned home drunk from the alehouse. His mother Ann Atkinson, having sent the maid to bed at midnight, had sat up to wait for him so that she could lock the door behind him (the symbolic ending of the household day) and while she waited drank about a pint of gin. The drunken pair soon argued and maybe about twenty minutes later, Ann slipped under suspicious circumstances at the top of the stairs of the home she and Robert shared with their maid Mary Parrot, Robert’s apprentice John Barber, and their three lodgers: Captain Dunbar, Arthur Gold, and Gold’s younger brother. When she hit the tiles at the bottom ‘her Skull was broke … of which she instantly dy’d.’ As the trial at the Old Bailey that followed this case shows, for most people in eighteenth century cities, the idea of private personal space was little better than an illusion. Read more

History from below: fashion, freedom, and the female form

By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

Attempts to shape the female form are nothing new, as current exhibitions at the V&A and York Castle Museum show. Neither is the particular concern with the posterior, demonstrated today by an increased demand for buttock implants. Such permanent “improvements” are beyond the financial reach of most people. The less wealthy (or less confident that the fashion will be a lasting one) can employ rear-enhancing items of clothing such as the Booty Pop to supplement their behinds. Modern fashion and lifestyle magazines give ample guidance to those who want a large behind with a small price tag. But what did women in the past do, and what might paying attention to these fashions suggest about our modern obsessions? Read more

From ‘liquid flesh’ to chocolate – a brief history of Easter Eggs

by Elly Barnett – @eleanorrbarnett

Elly is an MPhil student in Early Modern History. Her current research focusses on the links between food and the English Reformation.

For most of us, the long Easter weekend was filled with family, drink, and an excessive amount of chocolate. Of course, Easter Sunday is the principal Christian feast in the liturgical calendar, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Recent historians of the medieval and early modern period have recognised that religious identity is linked to the physical self rather than just the intellectual mind, involving taste, smell and touch.[1] With that last piece of chocolate egg remaining, then, I offer some thoughts on the history of Easter eggs in England and their importance to the religious experience of medieval and early-modern Christians. Read more

The Case of Betty John – gender ambiguity in a late eighteenth century small-claims court

By Alex Wakelam – @A_Wakelam

Alex is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of History. His thesis is entitled “Imprisonment for Debt and Women’s Financial Failure in the Long Eighteenth Century”.

Before the eighteenth century, it was potentially possible to stand at the window of an English townhouse and gaze out across the milieu of different classes, ages, and ethnicities crowded in the streets below and immediately understand what an individual person was and where they belonged in society. People dressed their status, not simply out of choice, but in accordance with law. Sumptuary laws were regularly enacted from Edward III’s reign into the early modern period though they weren’t always as regularly enforced. These laws listed with varying degrees of specificity the type, cut, colour, and style of dress for various members of society. Read more

‘I got drunk – fie upon it’ – A look back at early modern alcohol consumption and guilt

By Alex Wakelam @A_Wakelam

With the passing of the first month of the year many people across the country will be able to return to their vendor of choice and dispel their sobriety as Dry January ends. As a modern practice Dry January has its detractors but most agree that it’s a sensible idea to take a little break from drinking now and then. However, historically it seems a bizarre departure from this country’s cultural norm. The first official UK Dry January only dates back to 2013 and seems to remain a peculiarly British phenomenon with the only other similar national event being Finland’s 1942 Sober January launched as part of the war effort against Russia.

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10 lesser-known medieval and early modern places in Greater London

By Spike Gibbs

Spike is a first year PhD student in working on office-holding in late medieval and early modern England.

London can appear to be an overwhelmingly modern city with its towering 20th century office blocks and grand Victorian architecture. Whilst there are some very famous medieval landmarks such as the Tower of London, and early modern ones such as St Paul’s Cathedral, these can appear to be oases in the capital. However, if you know where to look London has many surprises for the pre-1750 historian and here are ten of my favourites: Read more

EEBO, the RSA, and #proquestgate – the open resource debate

By Tom Smith and Alex Wakelam @A_Wakelam

Something strange happened last month for members of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA). On Wednesday the 28th October members of the 61-year-old historical society were informed that one of the major benefits of membershipsubscription to the research tool EEBO (Early English Books Online) had been cancelled. The service claims to possess “images of virtually every work printed” in English between 1473 and 1700, constituting several million scanned images of microfilm supplied by more than 200 libraries worldwide. It is thus an invaluable tool for the early modernist, available through most, if not all, university libraries. However, the service doesn’t offer any individual subscriptions and the high price puts it out of the realm of the casual public library. Membership at a very reasonable £85 a year of the RSA (the only professional society that subscribes to EEBO) provides the vital access to these documents in a digital, searchable format. It must therefore have proved a blow to their members that ProQuest, who own EEBO, decided to cancel the RSA’s subscription. This was not due to lack of use but to such “heavy use of the subscription” by members that it was reducing ProQuest’s potential revenue from library-based subscriptions. Within 24-hours the decision had been rescinded with ProQuest describing the situation as a “confusion”.

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Thinking with pies

By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

The brandy is the first thing that hits me, followed by the creeping spiced sweetness of currants and raisins. Then, bafflingly, there emerges the equally spicy taste and texture of meat. All of this is encased in a crisp, short-crust-type pastry and topped with some fairly inept attempts at pastry decorations (see picture, top right).

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ‘Minc’d pie’ I had just created, but the affront it presented to my taste-buds and the early modern recipe I used to make it did make me curious.1 Given that the combination of sweet fruits and spices with actual minced meat is quite challenging to a modern palette, what was its function at a late-seventeenth-century dinner? Modern mince pies have a very specific Christmassy association and the taste of one can evoke strong memories of occasions of Christmas past. Did early modern consumers of minced pies hold them in such esteem as we do?

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Virtual History?

By Patrick McGhee | @patricksmcg

Computer and video gaming is now firmly a part of cultural, political and economic discourse. The financial and cultural power of video games is beyond dispute. The video games market will soon be worth $100bn and video games are played together by millions of people connected around the world. Gaming is also a billion-pound industry in the UK.

Video games also have a profound influence on public debates surrounding morality, social interaction, entertainment and humour. They are used to educate and entertain, to inspire creativity and innovation, and in some cases to encourage and support those with special educational needs. Video games even seek to provide commentaries of their own on some of the most complex and important issues faced in modern society, including political discord, race relations and morality. For example, the BioShock games have explored objectivism and theocracy in dystopian narratives that question the nature of free will and causation. Meanwhile, Grand Theft Auto has explored police corruption, caricatured American political parties and satirised religious extremism. The 2004 entry in the series also depicts a version of the 1992 Los Angeles riots set in the fictional U.S. state of San Andreas.

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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

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

Wolf Hall and the historians: What can historical drama do?

By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

Typing #WolfHall into Twitter reveals no end of enthusiasm about the BBC’s current Tudor drama. Even Prince Charles has admitted to ‘enjoying’ it.1 However, not everyone is happy. Historian and television presenter David Starkey has described both the novel and the TV adaptation as a ‘deliberate perversion’ of history, expressing particular discontent at the level of emotion shown by Thomas Cromwell.2 Read more

Being A Student of Atheism

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.

Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College is home to a rich and impressive collection of Reformation-era documents, named after the theologian and alumnus Matthew Parker (1504–1575). The Parker Library attests to the renewed establishment of the Protestant religion in Elizabethan England and symbolises the inextricable link between religion and education during the early modern period. However, an engraved panel in the Old Court of the College records the name of a very different student, the playwright and accused atheist Christopher Marlowe. Read more

Can Historians Study the Mind?

By Carys Brown

Carys is a studying for an MPhil in Early Modern History. Her current research is on trust, Catholicism, and confessional co-existence, c. 1688-1750.

Looking into the minds of people who have been dead for 300 years may seem like something of an impossible task. Since the 1970s, however, historians have increasingly attempted just that. A focus on ‘mentalities’ and ideology has demanded creative uses of source material in an attempt to tap into past minds. Read more

Exposing the ‘Naked Man’: A 16th-century motif of cultural nudity

by Katy Bond

“Everyone’s way is made known through clothing” said Hans Weigel, author of a 1577 costume book of Nuremberg which illustrated the dress of a variety of nations.[i] In Renaissance Europe, it was expected that one’s countrymen would be identifiable through distinctive modes of dressing.

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A. Roger Ekirch, At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime (2005)

by Ella Hollowood

The premise of A. Roger Ekirch’s At Day’s Close is a relatively simple one: what was nighttime like in Western society before industrialisation and modern lighting? Yet the result is a rich and fascinating study of ‘the forgotten half of the human experience’ and of a fundamental shift that took place between the late 17th and early 19th centuries in Europe. Drawing from evidence in diaries, correspondence, memoirs, court records, plays and illustrations, Ekirch highlights the stark contrast between our own experience of nighttime and that of our ‘pre-industrial’ ancestors.

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