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Welcome to the first Early Modern Forum newsletter. Each fortnight we will be bringing you a round-up of news and cultural items which we hope will be of interest to those studying the Early Modern world.

In future we also plan to include information about recently-published journal articles and papers, and forthcoming conferences relevant to this period. Please let us know about your work or event, or other items you would like to see featured. You can contact our network administrator at .

This first round up begins with a look at some recently-reviewed books.

The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead by Carl Watkins has received good reviews, including one in the Guardian by Iain Sinclair. Dr Watkins, a Cambridge University medieval history lecturer, looks at the relationship between death and the British landscape from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, including the legends and myths that developed around the mystery of the inevitable. There is a lot on beliefs and behaviour before and after the Reformation.

The TLS’s recent public reviews include Raphael: A Passionate life by Antonio Forcellino, translated by Lucinda Byatt. This biography of the Renaissance artist looks at his rapid rise to fame, his work, and using evidence from Vasari’s biography, investigates his alleged womanising and whether it was that that led to his death at just 37. Reviewer, art critic and historian James Hall, is more of the view that he was worn out by hard work.

Jamieson’s Dictionary of Scots, The story of the first historical dictionary of the Scots language by Susan Rennie, examines the life of a pioneering lexicographer who in 1808 published two volumes, followed by two more in 1825, and also found the time to marry and have 17 children, have a day job as a church minister and publish poetry. He was also awarded a doctorate by the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), despite never visiting it. The review by St Andrews lecturer Robert Crawford also reveals some common English words, including Twitter, came from Scots origins.

The website has some interesting reviews of books related to the Early Modern era. They include:

New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty, by Evan Haefeli, reviewed by Steve Jaffe, who describes it as ‘required reading’, and writes that it transforms understanding of religious diversity and toleration in colonial Dutch North America. Going back to the seventeenth century when New York City was New Amsterdam it looks at what grew from the colony of the Dutch West India Company, and places it in the context of contemporaneous European and global happenings, taking in South America, South Africa, India, and Formosa.

Consumption and Gender in the Early Seventeenth-Century Household: The World of Alice Le Strange by Jane Whittle and Elizabeth Griffiths is reviewed by William Farrell of Birkbeck, University of London. The book studies consumption in the household of the Le Strange family in Norfolk, using accounts from 1606-26. The reviewer writes that the book focuses on gender and social relations, including Alice Le Strange’s running of the household and then business accounts, the impact of the life-cycle of the family on consumption, and how providing for a well-off family shaped local work habits. There are also fascinating insights such as a trip to London involving the purchase of 308 items worth £492.

The Church in the Long Eighteenth Century by David Hempton, Dean of the Faculty of Divinity at Harvard, is reviewed by Professor Jeremy Gregory of the University of Manchester, who describes it as the “best, most authoritative, and most imaginative overview of the history of the world-wide Christian Church in the period between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries we have to date”. Prof Gregory writes that although intended as a survey and introduction it provides an interpretation of changes in the Church over this period. As well as the West, it looks at Christianity in Africa, India, the Americas and Asia.

The Material Letter in Early Modern England: Manuscript Letters and the Culture and Practices of Letter-Writing, 1512-1635 by James Daybell is reviewed by Dr Harry Newman of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham. He writes that the book draws attention to and explains the significance of a lot of material characteristics which are missed by studies focusing on the content rather than physical features. By examining over 10,000 manuscript letters and other primary sources Daybell looks at features such as ink, writing, watermarks, chain lines, folds and wax seals. Dr Newman says the style and structure make the book “clear, accessible and engaging”.

Professor Rohan McWilliam reviews Cale Cengage’s digital resource Nineteenth Century Collections Online, edited by Ray Abruzzi, admitting he has not read all 10,000,000 pages of text it contains! He writes that it provides a wide range of primary sources which will be useful to historians, and those working in the areas of literature and theatre studies, although some of the sections are not yet complete. The review describes what the Collections contain, how they are introduced, use of secondary resources, and suggests more guidance is given to accessing the material.


In the art world, we return to death for a hugely-popular and well-reviewed exhibition, Death A Self Portrait, at the Wellcome Collection in London until February 24, is the collection of a former antique prints dealer, Richard Harris, and features 300 works on the iconography of death and our attitudes towards it. There are rare prints by Rembrandt, Dürer, and Goya, religious images both pre and post Reformation, Renaissance vanitas paintings, and anatomical works exploring views from different ages about the body.

At the Royal Academy until February 17 is Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape, which looks at the development of landscape painting and print-making in England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and some of the Italian and French masters British artists were inspired by. Works on show feature many scenes from around the UK.

There is also an exhibition of 20 sketches and paintings by Turner currently on show at Petworth House in Sussex, formerly the home of his patron the third Earl of Egremont. The works are on loan from a number of national collections, and some were painted in the house. The exhibition is on until March 13.

Broadsides! Caricature and the Navy 1756-1815 is on at the Royal Museums Greenwich until February 3, showing works by James Gillray, Isaac Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson showing the use of caricature to shape public opinion, and how it influenced the appearance of national stereotypes, and ideas of celebrity and heroes. Other exhibitions include Portraits 1600-2000 on at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead until January 31.

It’s been a month for artistic historic discoveries. In the basement of the National Gallery in London a portrait of Girolamo Francastoro, the doctor who identified and named syphilis, has now been attributed to Titian, and moved to a prominent place in the gallery. The article speculates about whether the portrait was a gift for curing Titian of the dreaded pox. While undertaking a digitisation project, a painting owned by the National Library of Wales since 1921 has been identified as showing the young Henry VIII and his sisters, mourning the death of their mother. Dr Maredudd ap Huw is now hoping to discover who commissioned the work, which was thought to be a gift for Henry VII.

On stage

Turning to theatre, while Les Misérables, the film, based on the musical which was based on Victor Hugo’s novel, storms the box office charts, the theatre production is the longest-running musical in the West End, still filling houses at Queen’s Theatre in London.

The RSC in Stratford is staging Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, until February 23, when it will then tour the UK. In the Swan Theatre, Pushkin’s Boris Godunov takes the audience back to 1598 Moscow, after the death of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, when Godunov inherits the throne amid rumours he has murdered the real heir. The play is on until March 30.


Looking at music, The Daily Telegraph asked, in a year that sees the bicentenaries of Verdi and Wagner, who the better composer was. Some well-known opera lovers and people who work in the operatic world are asked whether it’s also possible to like both.

We would like to know about your relevant publications, forthcoming conferences, or other news to share – please email Newsletter Author Julie Chamberlain on .