The History Woman's Blog

Democracy and Anti-Democracy in Early Modern England 1603-1689

Posted in Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on June 29, 2017
John Milton

John Milton did not like the ‘rabble’.

A historiographical consensus asserts that in the early modern period democracy was reputed to be the worst form of government. However, this scholarly trend leaves a few major questions unanswered: why was this so? How was criticism of popular government articulated? In what ways did different authors and genres depict the people and their power? Which political concerns and social prejudices informed this anti-democratic paradigm? What is the legacy of such a mindset? Were there any “democrats” avant la lettre back then?

This conference organised by Cesare Cuttica and Markku Peltonen at the University of Erfurt’s Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies on 18-19 July explores how democracy was conceived, viewed and criticised in political, theological and philosophical discourse between the start of King James VI and I’s reign (1603) and the Glorious Revolution (1688–9).

Speakers include: Rachel Hammersley, Martin Dzelzainis, Peter Lake, Camilla Boisen, Phil Withington, Rachel Foxley, John West, Hannah Dawson, Matthew Growhoski, Ted Vallance, Gaby Mahlberg and Alan Cromartie.

You can still register via e-mail by writing to diana.blanke@uni-erfurt.de by 30 June 2017.

Download the flyer here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workshop: Early Modern Intellectual Biographies, Newcastle, 4 July

Posted in Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on April 13, 2017
James_Harrington_by_Sir_Peter_Lely

James Harrington (1611-1677)

The genre of the intellectual biography has recently come back into vogue. It has been reinvigorated by two recent developments.

First, the construction of large digitised data sets that allow published pamphlets, newspapers and government documents to be searched by name, date, and theme, making it possible to uncover new information even about the lives of very well known figures.

Secondly, the growing receptiveness of intellectual historians and literary critics to utilise methods drawn from political, social and even economic history, which has encouraged and facilitated the combination of archival research on an individual’s life with textual analysis of their works.

Substantial volumes have recently appeared on the life and work of Edmund Burke, David Hume and Karl Marx.

Richard Bourke’s Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke (2015), in particular, has revolutionised the way in which that complex political thinker and actor has been viewed. With great skill Bourke integrates Burke’s life with his writings, demonstrating the intimate connection between the two and enriching our understanding of both late eighteenth-century politics and the political thought of the period in the process. (more…)

The Turkeys have Voted for Christmas

Posted in Comment, News, Politics, Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on February 2, 2017

turkeyAfter a large majority of British MPs voted in favour of triggering Article 50 last night, the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that “history has been made”. And it’s tragic history indeed. The turkeys voted for Christmas once again – allegedly to uphold the will of the people who voted in a referendum on 23 June last year to leave the European Union, but disregarding the socio-economic consequences as well as the fact that many of those voters have come to regret their decision in the meantime.

After the Supreme Court ruling in late January, Parliament was given a chance to stop the impending disaster. And while the majority of Scottish MPs, a large number of Labour MPs, several Lib Dems and a Tory tried to do so by voting against starting the process of leaving the EU, their opposition was not enough.

Britain has finally decided it prefers isolationism over being one among 28. A country that once headed a large empire decided it simply could not be an equal to some of its poorer relations in central and eastern Europe whose migrant workers it so resents, and it certainly was not willing to play second fiddle to its neighbours France and Germany at the negotiating table.

Risking membership of the single market as well as losing the immense talent and economic contribution of EU migrants to Britain is a high price to pay for its pride. Large banks are already preparing to relocate to Frankfurt and Paris as the City of London is losing its appeal as a gateway into Europe, EU citizens in the UK are looking for jobs elsewhere as their future remains up in the air, and fewer EU students want to come to study at British universities as they fear they might no longer be welcome.

Meanwhile, Theresa May will have to go cap in hand to autocratic rulers in China and Turkey and fight to maintain a ‘special relationship’ with the US for the benefit of British trade, turning a blind eye to human rights violations as well as gross misogyny. But there are sacrifices one has to make to appear to be in charge of one’s country.

Isolationism has won over a common project to maintain peace and prosperity across Europe. Nationalism and xenophobia have won over multiculturalism. Pride has won over common sense. Only the British people have lost. But they have made history.

gma

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You can’t buy an education

Posted in Academia, Education, higher education, News, Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on June 4, 2016

UCUAs university lecturers in the UK remain locked in a dispute with their employers over pay and working conditions in Higher Education, a survey published by private student loan company Future Finance this week revealed that less than half of students think their degree will help them get a graduate job to pay off their debts.

The issues are two sides of the same coin: the commodification of Higher Education. With home students now paying tuition fees of £9,000 per year, they rightly ask for value education in return. This involves among others high-quality teaching, well-stocked libraries, a wealth of electronic resources and specialist equipment, modern teaching and learning spaces, and decent student accommodation.

Alas, high tuition fees and the consumer culture they breed among students falsely suggests that the more you pay the more you will get in return. While this might work for cars, washing machines and smartphones, where you pay more to upgrade to a better model, it does not work for university courses. No matter how much you pay, you can’t buy an education. (more…)

Improving the Nation

Posted in Early Modern, History, Reviews, Seventeenth Century, Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on March 26, 2016

Slack_imageIn his new book, The Invention of Improvement, Paul Slack sets out to do two things: first, to trace the ‘notion of improvement’ in seventeenth-century ‘public discourse’ (vii) in England; and secondly to show how ‘the quest for improvement distinguished England from other countries.’ (1)

Slack has not set himself an easy task as he analyses the concept of improvement in its ‘intellectual and political as well as social and economic’ (14) context across an entire century. But he does so most elegantly and eloquently, and the wealth of primary sources – both printed and archival – he employs shows that this book has been many years in the making and draws on decades of research. In fact, the work stands out more for its author’s extensive knowledge of the period, the great synthesis of a large amount of scholarship and the lucidity of its analysis than for the novelty of its argument as such.

For the book is unashamedly ‘Whiggish’ as a ‘story of progress’ (263), as its author acknowledges, telling the story of England’s rise as a great nation based on the steady and ambitious improvement of agriculture, manufacture and trade, which would lay the foundations for its Empire.

The motor of this ‘gradual, piecemeal, but cumulative betterment’ (1) were a number of creative minds dedicated to the task of making England more efficient through the application of their learning in the form of new social schemes and institutions. The foundations for improvement had already been laid under Queen Elizabeth and the early Stuarts with men like William Cecil and Francis Bacon, but things really began to take off with the English Revolution and the various projects of the Hartlib Circle, which combined utopian speculation and social reform.

In fact, it was Samuel Hartlib, who introduced the very word ‘improvement’ in its current meaning into English public discourse when he translated Jan Comenius’ Pansophiae Prodromus (1639), ‘and in doing so referred for the first time in print to improvement.’ (99) (more…)

Fees, fees, fees

Posted in Education, News, Politics, Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on April 9, 2011

The government’s decision to allow universities to charge UG tuition fees of up to £9,000 per academic year clearly was an own goal. A BBC survey shows that about half of all higher education institutions in the UK are planning to charge the full fees, and even those who don’t on average demand more than the £7,500 the government had bargained for. In fact, the average fee is likely to be closer to £8,500, leaving the government to foot the bill until the new graduates are earning more than £21,000 per year. If the job market doesn’t pick up quickly, there won’t be many graduates to do so in the near future. (more…)

Hello World!

Posted in Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on September 14, 2009

Having worked both in academic history and in journalism I have come to realise one thing: how important the past is for our understanding of the present, and how our cultural memory shapes our interpretation of current affairs. In this blog I shall try and bring the two together.

Watch this space!

gm