Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.
There are some calls for papers which may be of interest. Emotions: Movement, Cultural Contact and Exchange takes place at Freie Universität Berlin from 30 June - 2 July next year, and covers the period 1100-1800. There is more information about papers, which need to be submitted by October 31, here . Religion and Medicine: Healing the body and soul from the middle ages to the modern day takes place at Birkbeck, University of London, 15-16 July 2016, and there is more information about submitting papers, by 30 October, on the website here .
There is also a new call for proposals for British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grants. Awards are available to support primary research in the humanities and social sciences. The maximum grant is £10,000 over two years. The deadline for the submission of applications is 14 October 2015, with more details available here .
News stories in the past month have included, a bit before early modern times but possibly of interest, skeletons of around 50 medieval pilgrims being discovered on the site of a former hospital in Lichfield , during work to build flats. It is believed they had travelled to the shrine of St Chad in the church that became Lichfield Cathedral town but died without receiving the miracle healing they hoped for. They were found during work on the site of the twelfth century St John’s Hosptial which still provides sheltered accommodation for elderly people. The skeletons are being studied by experts at Archaeology Warwickshire.
There was also the report that letters of a British plantation owner, William Philip Perrin, who owned plantations in Jamaica, have been acquired by Cambridge University and will be available to view at St John’s College. The letters from the late eighteenth century describe his slave purchases in pragmatic detail.
The first few reviews are from the www.history.ac.uk website:
Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans by Malcolm Gaskill was reviewed by Joan Redmond of the University of Cambridge. The book looks at the more than 350,000 English people who went to America in the seventeenth century, and asks what happened to them in the many parts of America they went to, the impact of America on those who stayed at home, and the idea of the importation of English ideas, values and social and political structures into an American context. The book is arranged into chronological sections of 1607-40, 1640-70 and 1670-92, and the reviewer said it relies on a good working knowledge of the chronology of the establishment of individual settlements, and maps could have been better sited, but “such criticisms do not take away from the sweeping ambition and profound knowledge that Gaskill brings to the work as a whole”. Ms Redmond said Gaskill had written “an absorbing and ambitious tale of courage and adventurousness”, though there were several gaps and further questions raised.
Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science by Richard Yeo was reviewed by Philippa Hellawell of King’s College London, who said the relationship between memory, notes and information was the focus of this “innovative new book which documents the note-taking practices of a number of English virtuosi”. The book draws on a range of notebooks by figures including Robert Doyle and John Locke, to lesser-known characters of Restoration science, to produce what the reviewer called a vivid account of how notebooks were seen within the framework of new, empirical sciences. Ms Hellawell said the book was intelligent, well-researched and informative.
The Christian Monitors: The Church of England and the Age of Benevolence, 1680-1730 by Brent Sirota was reviewed by Dr David Manning of the University of Leicester who said it was derived from a 2007 University of Chicago PhD dissertation, and was an “audacious debut”, with a “challenging new take on the politics of English religious association during the late 17th and early 18th centuries”. The author presents claims for an Anglican revival which led to a modern civil society in Britain, looking to “excavate the fault line between church and civil society in the decades surrounding the Revolution of 1688-1689”. Dr Manning found it a mixed bag of “delights and frustrations”, and found it difficult to see how the initial hype around the book could be justified, but it did provide a stimulating and highly-readable account of an under-studied aspect of the church at this time.
Royalists at War in Scotland and Ireland, 1638-1650 by Barry Robertson was reviewed by Dr Chris R. Langley of Newman University, Birmingham, who said this book builds on the author’s work on the Huntly family in the north east of Scotland, to move focus from the Covenanters and the Irish Confederates to an attempt to understand royalism in Scotland and Ireland. The book sought to understand the motivations that pushed individuals to fight for a cause, and how identities developed as the political landscape changed. The book is organised chronologically, treating Irish and Scottish developments separately. Dr Langley said along the way the author rescued a few historical characters from their negative stereotypes. However, his efforts in looking at the term ‘royalist’ were not matched by his broad acceptance of religious labels. The reviewer though found the book an important resource for researchers and students, and was an “important milestone in our appreciation of the differences of British and Irish experience”.
In the Guardian, John Mullan’s entertaining review of Georgian Menagerie: Exotic Animals in Eighteenth Century London by Christopher Plumb told the story of how in the late 1700s the roaring of the lions and tigers in a menagerie in the Strand caused horses to be startled and Londoners to enjoy the sound. Mullan said the “richly anecdotal” history told how this was the era in which Britain became one of the world’s leading imperial powers and Britons were fascinated by the animals colonialists sent home. People could pet a rhinoceros or pick up a kangaroo at Pidcock’s Menagerie at Exeter Exchange, and rich people kept private collections, with allegedly Sir Robert Walpole having a pet flamingo which warmed itself by the kitchen fire. Inevitably accidents also occurred, with a Wiltshire maid mauled to death by a tiger in a tavern yard in 1703. The reviewer said Plumb does not consider what the stories tell us about changing attitudes towards nature, but shows a world “in which public entertainment and public ostentation were becoming ever more extravagant”.
In the Independent, Luke Williams, author of Richmond Unchained , wrote an article based on his book about Bill Richmond, who was born into slavery in the US, but then went on to be the world’s first black sporting superstar, apparently amazing the court of George IV and teaching Lord Byron to spar. The writer asks why is name is so little known. Richmond was born in 1763 in Staten Island parsonage in America, and in his teens won his freedom and entered the protection of British soldier and noble Hugh Percy, having dazzled him with his wit and intelligence during the American War of Independence. Richmond was living in London, working as a cabinet maker and in his forties when he became a successful boxer. The author in his decade of research for his book found many examples of the prejudices he fought, and said it was now time that he is afforded a prominent place in British history he deserves.
Red: A Natural History of the Redhead by Jacky Colliss Harvey was reviewed in the Independent by Grace McCleen, who said it was a “beautifully produced and soundly researched volume that traces conceptions of red hair from the first appearance of the red-headed gene 50,000 or so years ago to the present.” She said it was an absorbing read, given that the content ranged between offensive, harrowing, and sometimes scientific. Famous redheads explored include Elizabeth I who was said to have paraded her hair as a sign of the Tudor rose, St George and of her royal paternity.
Agincourt, by Anne Curry was reviewed in the Independent by Susan Elkin, who said the book was interesting and “commendably accessible", commemorating the 600th anniversary of the battle, and was good at sorting fact from fiction. The author is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Southampton.
An article in the Telegraph looked at the fact that Shakespeare and Ben Jonson both have 400th anniversaries next year. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 after drinking in Jonson’s company, and it is the 400th anniversary of the 1616 folio edition of Jonson’s work, the first time a playwright published his collected plays for reading in the library alongside enjoyment on the stage. The article goes on to quote Greg Doran, artistic director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, talking about the pair, and the RSC’s future season, as well as revealing more about both playwrights’ earlier lives.
The www.history.ac.uk website also featured a review by Dr Justin Colson of the University of Essex, of two web databases which overlap into the early modern period. There is a detailed analysis of England’s Immigrants 1330 – 1550 in Resident Aliens in the Late Middle Ages, edited by Mark Ormrod of the University of York, and Overland Trade Project, edited by John Hare of the University of Winchester.
In the Guardian, Laura Cumming reviewed an exhibition by the Swiss painter Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-89), whose pastel portraits have not been seen in the UK until now. She found them “profoundly observant”, showing the character of the sitters, despite being modest in scale. The exhibition was on at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh until September 13, and then transfers to the Royal Academy in London from October 24- January 21.
In the Telegraph, Alastair Smart wrote about Daniel Maclise’s Waterloo Cartoon . Maclise was a friend of Dickens and Disraeli and a leading British artist of the mid nineteenth century, and was asked to paint a monumental mural in the Royal Gallery at the Palace of Westminster after the first had burnt down in 1834. It is still there and according to Smart not in a great state, but the Arts Council gave a £50,000 grant to restore the artist’s preparatory cartoon for The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher, and he said that was even better than the painting. It is 13 metres wide and three metres tall, one of the largest drawings in the country, and made on 10 separate panels at Maclise’s Russell Square home. It is now on show at the Royal Academy in London until January 3.
In the Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish reviewed Hamlet at the Barbican, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, and said it lived up to the hysteria about him taking the role. He said the actor displayed a warmth of feeling that put the viewer on his side and made him believable. However the rest of the show was middling, with the Elsinore of designer Es Devlin confining, and director Lyndsey Turner hacking the text. The production is on until October 31 and sold out except for 30 £10 day tickets per performance. There is also a live broadcast on October 15, and for more information on that see ntlive.com