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 interviewLink opens in a new window 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-ZeitungLink opens in a new window and a Swiss National Radio podcastLink opens in a new window). In March 2014, furthermore, I hosted a workshop on premodern republics (see video interviewLink opens in a new window) and chaired a public panel debate on the extent of Gersau's freedom past and present.
I regularly address local associations like the Bishop's Tachbrook History Group (reported in the June 2014, October 2017 and May 2022 issues of the Parish Magazine), branches of the Historical Association (Coventry, Gloucestershire, Nuneaton, Winchester), the Kineton & District Local History GroupLink opens in a new window, Lighthorne History Society, Lyddington Manor History Society, Stoneleigh History Society, the Warwickshire Local History SocietyLink opens in a new window and the Woodford Halse History SocietyLink opens in a new window. 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 NewsLink opens in a new window), 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.