Food, Drink and Social Exchange
My research on historic drinking cultures has featured in newspapers (such as The Times, The Guardian, Swiss daily Der Bund), radio interviews (on drink statistics for Voice of Russia or the 'history of the picnic' for German station SWR 2), TV programmes (like the Australian 'Who do you think you are?' with Marta Dusseldorp, filmed at a Swiss inn), online magazines (The Conversation) and public lectures (e.g. at Saarbrücken / Germany, Budapest / Hungary, Henan University / China or a History Festival at the Warwick Arms Hotel).
I helped to found the Drinking Studies Network and edited a survey work on early modern food culture. From 2014-18, I co-hosted the 'Summer University in Food & Drink Studies' of the European Institute for the History & Cultures of Food (IEHCA) at Tours / France and, in 2021, became the academic lead of Warwick's 'Food Cultures' research priority, where we organize webinars and other outreach activities.
Restoration of the Republic of Gersau: Bicentenary 1814-2014
For over 400 years, the parish of Gersau on Lake Lucerne formed a sovereign mini-state under the protection of the Swiss Forest Cantons and the Holy Roman Emperor. From the purchase of all feudal rights in 1390 to the French invasion in 1798, this rural commune passed its own laws, ran its own jurisdiction and maintained its own militia. It even appointed the local priest and wrote its own chronicles. Following the defeat of Napoleon, the Swiss were free to return to the old order. On 2 February 1814, the Landsgemeinde (communal assembly) decided to restore the independent republic. This was short-lived, however, and Gersau became a district of the Canton of Schwyz in 1818.
In the course of researching The Communal Age in Western Europe and a Bristish Academy project dedicated to rural republicanism, I devised a proposal for a series of 'Gersau 2014' bicentenary celebrations under the general theme of 'Geschichte Gestalten' (Shaping History). The project, also intended to reassess how Gersau sees its future, was officially endorsed by the district council and I joined its organizing committee (see my interview in the regional newspaper Bote der Urschweiz). A Landsgemeinde in the parish church and 'Feast of the Republic' in the school served as launch events on 2 February 2014 (covered e.g. in the Wochen-Zeitung and a Swiss National Radio podcast). In March 2014, furthermore, I hosted a workshop on premodern republics (see video interview / open-access proceedings) and chaired a public panel debate on the extent of Gersau's freedom past and present. Full information can be found on the project homepage.
I regularly address local associations like the Bishop's Tachbrook History Group (reported in the June 2014 & October 2017 issues of the Parish Magazine), branches of the Historical Association (Coventry, Nuneaton, Winchester), Kineton & District Local History Group, the Lyddington Manor History Society, the Stoneleigh History Society, the Warwickshire Local History Society and the Woodford Halse History Society. In October 2017, I participated in a panel discussion on the impact of the Reformation hosted by the Warwick Words Festival and, in March 2021, hosted a webinar on the evolution of the 'British Parish'.
Between 2007-9, I directed the steering committee for "Catholic Warwick", a history of the parish of St Mary Immaculate written by Ruth Barbour. At the book launch event in the social centre, I moderated a panel debate involving the author, Canon Edward Stewart, the parish priest; Michael Hodgetts, a historian of Catholicism; and Warwick professors Peter Marshall and Jack Scarisbrick (Photo left: John Mullis for the Coventry Observer).
Since 2003, I have co-ordinated the Warwick Network for Parish Research (introduced in Local History News), which highlights the significance of local communities, informs on related initiatives and facilitates new research well beyond the UK. An annual highlight is the 'Warwick Symposium on Parish Research' dedicated to varying themes and documented in our audiovisual resources. The tenth anniversary meeting in May 2012, 'Parish Studies Today', showcased the wide range of activities undertaken by local history societies, church conservation bodies, universities and other organizations. During the 2020-21 Covid pandemic, the 18th ('Remembering the Parish') & 19th ('Parish, Power & Politics') Symposia became virtual gatherings.
Our public face is the My-Parish community platform launched in autumn 2012, which allows anybody interested in parish history and culture to upload information on projects, resources and related activities. In July 2018, we ran an outreach event on 'Parishes & Migration' with our partner church at Berkswell near Coventry and, in November 2020, we took over the Twitter account of the Ecclesiastical History Society.