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Culture, Space and Power: Peopling the Built Environment in Renaissance England c.1450-1700

Anon, John Thurloe at Wisbech Castle (c. 1658)

Anonymous artist, 'John Thurloe and his family at Wisbech Castle, Cambridgeshire' (c. 1658),

reproduced from Nicholas Cooper, Houses of the Gentry 1480-1680 (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999)

Programme Leaders

Professor Steve Hindle (History) ( and Dr Beat Kümin (History) (; with the administrative assistance of Dr Catherine Armstrong (


The programme took the form of a seminar series (held at Warwick during the academic year 2005-2006); a one-day workshop (held at Warwick on Friday 18 November 2005); a second one-day workshop (held at Warwick on Friday 24 March) and a two-week residential workshop (held at Warwick 9-22 July 2006).


Recent work in the social, political and intellectual history and literatures of late medieval and early modern Europe has begun to take seriously the proposition that Renaissance culture was not confined to a small group of humanist scholars but was manifested in the political structures, educational institutions and social practices which came to influence the life-experience of substantial proportions of the populations of European polities. Historians have actively debated not only the extent to which Renaissance culture was expressed differently in northern and western Europe than in Italy and Iberia but also the extent to which groups hitherto considered marginal (especially women, perhaps even the poor) can also be said to have experienced a Renaissance.


The programme addresses these issues by considering the extent to which humanist ideas about governance and justice; about virtue and gentility; about communication and human exchange; and about worship and charity found expression in the built environment, and in turn in the social and political interactions that these institutions (and the buildings in which they were located) engendered. It will involve formal seminar papers by visiting speakers or Warwick/Consortium faculty; seminar discussions of key readings; field trips to sites of particular interests, and presentations of working papers and research data by graduate students.

Issues of space and place lie at the centre of this theme. In consequence, established approaches to textual (including archival) analysis of Renaissance culture will be integrated and contrasted in the workshop with field trips to remaining Renaissance and early modern sites in Warwickshire and the surrounding area. The field trips will be designed to address the question of how different disciplines ‘read’ and deploy visual and material sources. They will also consider the role of such structures as lieux de mémoire, the sites of memory that (in Pierre Nora’s formulation) embody vestiges of past communities’ sense of continuity, supplanting the milieux de mémoire of the past, the settings in which memory was ‘a real part of everyday experience’ (Pierre Nora et al., Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, New York, 1996, 1).

The residential summer workshop will focus on the analysis of a series of social practices associated with specific types of ‘built environment’ in Renaissance England, in each case exploring the cultural use of space and architectural expression of social power through a field trip and/or reconstruction of a particular building. The most significant of these social practices and sites will include ‘Charity and the Hospital’ (to be studied in the context of Ewelme, Oxfordshire, and/or the Lord Leycester’s Hospital, Warwick); ‘Governance and the Town Hall’ (Leominster Guildhall, Herefordshire), ‘Hospitality and the Country House’ (Arbury or Charlecote, Warwickshire); ‘Learning and the Grammar School’ (King Edward VI Grammar School, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire); ‘Leisure and the Public House’ (Burford, Oxfordshire); ‘Magnificence and the Aristocratic Seat’ (Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire); and ‘Worship and the Parish Church’ (St Mary’s Warwick, or Avon Dassett, Warwickshire). The secondary literature on these practices (and indeed on several of these specific sites) is extensive, and visiting speakers for the workshop might be drawn from those who have published significant monographs in this field.

Warwick is an especially appropriate institutional base for the exploration of these themes and methodologies. The themes of the workshop grow naturally out of the research interests of a substantial cluster of early modern scholars within the Arts Faculty for whom the social structure, educational practices, political cultures and material contexts and patterns of belief of early modern Europe are issues of central importance. The geographical location of the University offers unparalleled opportunities for observation and reconstruction of the material culture and social practices of the Renaissance. The south- and west-Midlands region affords a diverse array of architectural sites (almshouses, gentry seats, medieval castles, educational institutions, inns and churches) through and with which it is possible to explore how Renaissance ideas were manifested in architecture, and in turn expressed in social and political relationships. During their time at Warwick, the visiting research fellows would have an opportunity to conduct independent research on relevant sites and/or associated material evidence. They would be assisted in this work by their mentors and Warwick contacts at key repositories (such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Waddesdon manor in Buckinghamshire), with a view to presenting their findings at the workshop.