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Archive newsletter, 22 October 2014

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period, and the first newsletter of this academic year.

There are several calls for papers which may be of interest. The conference Attending to Early Modern Women: It's About Time takes place at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 18-20 June 2015, and focuses on time and its passing. Proposals for papers need to be in by November 15, and there is more information here . A conference entitled Rethinking Poverty in Medieval and Early Modern Europe is taking place at Newman University Birmingham on January 30-31 2015, and aiming to "augment the existing field of study by offering new ways to problematise the concept of poverty and understand the complexity of charitable giving, obligation and kinship in the pre-modern period". There is more information here .

Early Modern Forum network administrator Naomi Pullin is co-ordinating a new centre at Oxford University called the Centre for Gender, Identity and Subjectivity. A programme of event on these themes is being hosting, and the centre is also seeking opportunities for collaboration. Interested people can get in touch with Naomi at . The website can be accessed here , and the centre is on Twitter @CGIS_Oxford​ and on Facebook.

At the request of Early Modern Forum newsletter reader Dr Águeda García-Garrido, Maître de conférences à l’Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, we are sharing this information about the programme for the history seminars to be held at the University of Caen in 2014-15.

In other news, the Observer reported that historian Andrew Roberts claimed to have found the first direct connection between British cabinet minister Lord Castlereagh and the 1804 conspiracy to assassinate Napolean. Roberts said the evidence was in correspondence in a US archive, and there was more detail in Napolean the Great, published on October 2, with a three-part BBC2 TV series to be shown next year.

David Cameron’s photograph with black-faced morris dancers at the Banbury Folk Festival sparked controversy, but in this article in the Independent Simon Usborne looks at the history of the Border Morris dancing tradition, where blacking up is thought to date from impoverished 16th century farm workers disguising themselves to go out and earn extra money dancing, though he admits there are other less savoury ideas about its roots too.

An article by Harry Mount in the Telegraph focused on the English Heritage list of buildings at risk, and found there were 887 churches, 805 of them Anglican parish churches. He said churches were the best guide to Britain’s architecture from the end of the Dark Ages to the Reformation, and that 99 per cent of surviving pre-Reformation buildings are churches, cathedrals or monasteries. The full English Heritage list can be seen here .

Telegraph TV review Sameer Rahim wrote about ITV’s new drama The Great Fire, showing in four parts, and based on the Great Fire of London but found it “historical hokum”. The script was weak, some characters sounded as though they were auditioning for a Restoration version of EastEnders, but the lighting effects were good.


An exhibition to get a five star review in the Telegraph was Rembrandt: The Late Works at the National Gallery. Mark Hudson said it was a must-see show, with a staggering number of masterpieces amongst the 91 works. He concluded that “when it comes to the great themes of human existence, there is still no one above Rembrandt”. The exhibition runs until January 18.

Jonathan Brown in the Independent told the story of how Rembrandt, escaping from a messy love life and bankruptcy, to spend a year in Hull in 1661, and there were claims that Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo might have been painted during his time in the Humber port.

The first full-scale exhibition of the work of the 16th century Italian painter Giovanni Battista Moroni (The Tailor, right) is on show at the Royal Academy from October 25 until January 25, and Claudia Pritchard wrote in the Independent that it reveals his work’s psychological insight, as well as his eye for fashion. The painter was popular during Victorian times, and was even mentioned by George Eliot in Daniel Deronda.

A new exhibition at the British Museum, Germany: Memories of a Nation , was criticised by Mark Hudson in the Telegraph for veering from chronically dull to mildly offensive, and having too many exhibits crowded together with too much text, but it includes some works he described as great, including pieces by Holbein, and the Renaissance woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider. The exhibition is on until January 25.

At Compton Verney in Warwickshire, the exhibition on until December 14 is Folk Art, which was previously on at the Tate in London, and includes many items from early modern times.


There are several reviews of new books on the website. Earls Colne's Early Modern Landscapes by Dolly MacKinnon was reviewed by James Mawdesley, of the University of Sheffield, who wrote about how the parish of Earls Colne has been studied before thanks to its surviving records, and that Dolly MacKinnon points out the uniqueness of her approach, by finding out the ways the early modern inhabitants interacted with the place they lived, in terms of what they saw, heard and how they made their marks on the landscape. The reviewer finds a strength of the book is her use of unconventional sources to uncover new things about the past, though he says she perhaps reads too much into these. He concludes the book has much of interest and the case studies reveal some fascinating characters but he would have liked more of an over-arching framework for the book.

An Environmental History of Wildlife in England 1650-1950 by Tom Williamson was reviewed by Dr Terry O'Connor of the University of York, who said some of the author’s points will rouse strong feelings in readers, but it was good to see a leading landscape historian contributing to the question of how we got to where we now are. The opening chapter sets the background to the topic and to the state of English wildlife in the mid-17th century, and Dr O’Connor says he does a particularly good job here. There are then two chapters about the distribution of woodland, waste and farmland at this time, and then the consequences of the Tudor Vermin Laws, taking a holistic view of the landscape as a whole. The chapter on the mid 18th century looks at the impact of towns, and the elite country houses and parks, plus hunting. The reviewer said the book was described as a textbook for upper-level undergraduate and postgraduate students, though he hoped it would get a wider readership.

Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century by Francisco Bethencourt was reviewed by Professor Panikos Panayi of De Montford University, who said that the author had moved from his Portuguese and Iberian comfort zone in the early modern period to cover world history since the crusades, which inevitably meant he could not cover all racisms in the same level of detail or with the same authority, nor in an even manner in 374 pages. Prof Panayi said the major contribution the book makes is in moving the genesis of modern racial biologically determined ideology away from the ‘modern’ period and back towards the 16th century.

Police Control Systems in Britain, 1775–1975: From Parish Constable to National Computer by Chris A Williams was reviewed by Dr Kevin Rigg, who said the author was attempting an ambitious project in trying to analytically discuss aspects of the development of a public institution over 200 years in 242 pages. But he “successfully negotiates the complex issue of defining crucial topics that formed the operational world of those who policed British society from the industrial revolution through to the space age”. The reviewer said an impressive feature is the scope of the data sources interrogated, with bibliography and indexing, so as a source of reference as well as an analytical work it should be a “must read” for people studying the history of the criminal justice system, and the police.

Killers of the King by Charles Spencer was described in the Independent as a “thrilling tale of regicide and revenge”, telling the story of the execution of Charles I and the vengeance of Charles II. The tale of pursuit and resistance is based on archival research, and finds some who escapes to the US and are comemmorated in street names in New Haven, but the reviewer said it was also a tribute to the sacrifice of those who dared to commit regicide in a hope of bringing peace to the country.

Napolean the Gr eat by Andrew Roberts was reviewed in the Telegraph by Dan Jones, who found it masterly, and “witty, humane and unapologetically admiring”. The author walked all 60 of Napolean’s battlefields in the writing of the book.

Common People: The History of an English Family by Alison Light was reviewed by Kate Clanchy in the Guardian . Historian Light has written the story of her own family, though not without questioning whether family history was “history lite”. Clanchy said the author does not seem comfortable with imaginative flights, but she paints a brilliant portrait of the beginnings of the industrial revolution. In the Independent , Roger Clarke found the book to be “an excellent portrayal of centuries of history”, with snapshot images of the industries and occupations her ancestors pursued. She managed to get back to 1688 on one side, finding religious non-conformists, gamekeepers, police, publicans and people who came from the workhouse and ended up in the asylum. In the Observer , Ben Highmore found the book to be evocatively written, and a “history from inside”.

The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris by Colin Jones was reviewed in the Guardian by Kathryn Hughes, who said it was an intriguing study which looks at the time when the very act of smiling was improper and radical, and the moment this changed. In 1787 a self-portrait by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun on show in the Louvre was deemed shocking as it showed the artist’s smile and white teeth. Until the mid 18th century, the court at Versailles insisted on a straight
face to hide bad teeth, and because it was considered to make someone look plebian or insane. The book looks at how and why this changed.

The paperback of Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts by Tracy Borman was reviewed in the Guardian by Nicholas Lezard, who said the study of the myserious deaths at Belvoir Castle in 1613 casts light on the “exploitation of credulity for political purposes”. The story concerns the mysterious deaths of relatives of the sixth Earl of Rutland at Belvoir Castle and the women accused of putting a curse on the family. The reviewer said the interest in the book is in the “accurate and plausible portrait of a whole soceity from top to bottom”.

The Huguenots by Geoffrey Treasure was reviewed by PD Smith in the Guardian, who found it a “richly detailed study of the politics and personalities of a religious minority”. He said the author describes the history of the Huguenots, who were told by Louis XIV in 1685 to convert or face imprisonment, is a relevant story for our times.


The Independent reported on the pairing, at the RSC at Stratford, of Much Ado About Nothing (playing as Love’s Labour’s Won) and Love’s Labours Lost. An idea around since the 1950s was that the former was the alternative name for Love’s Labour’s Won, a play by Shakespeare mentioned in a book by Francis Meres in 1598 but not printed in the First Folio collection of his works, or elsewhere. Much Ado About Nothing is missing from the Meres list and thought to be the most likely Love’s Labour’s Won. Artistic director Gregory Doran has paired them under the direction of Christopher Luscombe, using the same cast, and set just before and after the First World War, and the reviewer said it chimed with the themes of the plays, and post-war gender politics. This feature looks at the ideas behind the production and speaks to some performers. The plays are on until March 14.

Love’s Labour’s Lost/Love’s Labours Won was reviewed by Dominic Cavendish in the Guardian, and he found it “blissfully entertaining” and the most emotionally involving RSC production in ages. He said parallels between the two works become persuasively apparent, and everything is in clear focus. The play is on until March 14.

*We would welcome news of your recently-published journal articles or books, and forthcoming conferences. You can email Newsletter Author Julie Chamberlain at with details.