Upcoming events

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Lecture: Prof. Neil Kenny (Oxford)

Thursday 22nd February 2024, 5:15 - 6:30pm, Arts Tower, AT LT05 (78) and online via Google Meet

Early modern writing’s changing relation to hierarchy and class, from then till now: the example of Rabelais


What was the relation of early modern literature to social hierarchy? And how has that relation changed over the centuries since then, as early modern writers have been read and interpreted by millions of readers whose own social and historical circumstances are so very different from the ones in which early modern writers lived? These questions will be explored through the case of a writer who has long been as fundamental to French culture as Shakespeare is to British culture, and who, like Shakespeare, also has a global reach. English translations will be provided alongside the original French passages.

Masterclass: Prof. Neil Kenny (Oxford)

Friday 23rd February 2024, 10am - 12pm, Hicks Building, Hicks - LT D (54) 

Social history and literary history: can they work together?


Trained as a literary historian, I’ve tried in recent years to learn from, and work with, social historians in order to understand better the relation of literature to social power-structures. It’s been a fascinating process, convincing me that the two disciplines — despite their different assumptions, methods, and often material — have the potential to enrich even more in the future than they have often done in the past.

Early Modern Discussion Group: MA Event

Thursday 7th March 2024, 1-2pm, online via Google Meet

Details to follow

Early Modern Discussion Group: Samantha Wilson (Cambridge) 

Thursday 21st March 2024, 1-2pm - The Diamond, Workroom 1 and online via Google Meet

The Impact of the Florentine Republican Tradition on Nineteenth-Century Italian Republican

Conceptions of Sovereignty

In this presentation, I consider how nineteenth-century Italian republicans (c. 1830–1882) such as Carlo Cattaneo, Francesco De Sanctis, Giuseppe Mazzini, Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso, and Pasquale Villari spoke about the hierarchy of power within the state and the influence they gained in this respect from the Florentine republican tradition (c. 1494–1532) of those such as Guicciardini, Machiavelli, and Savonarola. Despite their many differences, most of these nineteenth-century republicans agreed on the need for national unification and the importance of promoting a form of citizenship as its fundamental component. However, they disagreed about which would be the most effective way for power to be directed in such a civic and unified state. Some were aware that the various peoples of Italy lived in regions with distinct identities and traditions that could not be ignored and suggested that regional administrative bodies that respected geo-political boundaries were the best solution. Moreover, some were aware that unification could not necessarily be achieved under a typically “republican” structure, given the historically entrenched position of the monarchy, which could offer stability and ensure a smooth transition to the “new age”. My analysis thus concerns the different (and sometimes fluctuating) arguments advanced concerning the advantages of federalism compared to centralism and the role of the (constitutional) monarchy. It is crucial to place such a study within an intertemporal framework, as the unprecedented changes occurring in Italy at this time caused the nineteenth-century Italian republicans to look back with indebtedness to the Florentine Republic for guidance on how to proceed. The nineteenth-century republicans recognised that the Florentine republican tradition offered some of the first discussions of the possibility of unification and the intricate problems concerning Italy’s regional structure and the sometimes-overzealous influence of the monarchy and wanted to reflect on the messages presented to shape their policies. This is not to say that they agreed with everything Guicciardini, Machiavelli, and Savonarola wrote; instead, they reflected on the tradition as a whole and picked and chose aspects that best matched their contemporary priorities. As I present this section of my doctoral thesis, my goal is to demonstrate that the nineteenth-century Italian republican conceptions of sovereignty were not simple – rather, they were based on a significant amount of debate (displaying hybridity) and were part of a lengthy conversation within the republican tradition.

This event has been facilitated with funding from the Sheffield Centre for Contemporary and Modern History (CoMo).

In order to receive the link to join online, please complete this short form:

Lecture: Prof. Mary Ann Lund (University of Leicester)

18th April  2024 - time and location TBC

Title tbc

Past events

EMDG: Reading group

15th February 2024, 1:00 - 2:00pm, 38 Mappin Street, Classroom 3 (G03)

Attendees are invited to provide snippets of the primary sources they are working on, with group discussion to examine the context and themes of the work. We encourage participation from across the English and History departments - a full spectrum of perspectives and fields of expertise would be very welcome!

Co-ordinators Emily, Lucy, and Ella will have pre-selected some sources from their own work, but if you are interested in attending and would like to provide a short primary source or source extract (such as an image, a few poem stanzas, or 1-2 pages from a printed work) please send them to the SCEMS email address and we will provide the copies.

Title tbc

Early Modern Discussion Group: Claire Turner (University of Leeds)

7 December, 12:00 - 1:00 pm, The Diamond Workroom 3

Plagued by all the Edits: Finishing a PhD on the Plague after a Pandemic 

Calling all early modernists! Are you nearing the end of your PhD? Wondering what the last few months will look like? This talk is a whistle-stop-tour of the final year(s) of my PhD on the ‘Sensory Experiences of the Plague in Seventeenth-Century England’. It begins with a brief introduction to my thesis and some of the struggles I faced undertaking my research during a pandemic (how timely!). The focus of my paper, though, will be on the final years of the PhD, and particularly on how your last few months might look. I’ll offer advice on the editing process, thoughts on the introduction, conclusion, and formatting, and reflections on what I would have done differently if given a second chance! No two PhD projects look the same. However, my talk offers a chance to dispel any myths, nightmares, and horror stories about the final few months of the PhD.

Lecture: Prof. Craig Muldrew (University of Cambridge)

30 November, 5:15 - 6:30 pm, The Diamond LT8 and online

A New View on Finance and Class Formation in Eighteenth Century England

Early Modern Discussion Group: Camille Paccou (University of Lille and University of Ghent)

23 November, 1:00 - 2:00pm, online via Google Meet

How to evaluate the parameters of the agencies of the countesses of Flanders and Hainaut on the XIIIth and XIVth century

During this presentation, Camille will show the methodology of her research based on the analysis of eight princesses, four countesses of Flanders and four countesses of Hainaut. Through these analyses, Camille's purpose is to show how to define parameters of female agency on the aristocratic sphere, to point out their duty, their right and their awareness of their capacities and the limits of it. Moreover, the objective is to show people around these princesses, especially their families, paternal and matrimonial, through networks and mobility of them. 

Workshop: Merchant politics, capitalism and the English Revolution: Robert Brenner’s Merchants and Revolution revisited

3 November, 10:30 am - 7:00 pm
ICOSS Conference Room (10:30 am - 5:00 pm) and The Diamond WR3 (5:00 - 7:00pm)

A one-day workshop sponsored by The Past and Present Society.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Dr Tom Leng:

This workshop brings together a number of leading historians of the seventeenth century to discuss a landmark publication in the history of the English Revolution on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of its publication: Robert Brenner’s Merchants and Revolution. Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 (Cambridge, 1993), perhaps the last major attempt to advance a Marxist social interpretation of the causes and consequences of the civil war. 2023 is also the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the seminal Past and Present article in which Brenner first outlined his thesis about how changes in the structure of England’s foreign trade influenced the course of the Revolution. As well as assessing the enduring influence of these publications, the workshop will offer an opportunity to discuss future directions in the study of the English Revolution.

Lecture: Prof. Philip Stern (Duke University)

2 November, 5:15 - 6:30 pm, The Diamond LT8 and online

Empire, Incorporated: The Corporations that Built British Colonialism

In this lecture, Prof. Stern will be discussing his new book Empire, Incorporated: The Corporations that Built British Colonialism

"Across four centuries, from Ireland to India, the Americas to Africa and Australia, British colonialism was above all the business of corporations. Corporations conceived, promoted, financed, and governed overseas expansion, making claims over territory and peoples while ensuring that British and colonial society were invested, quite literally, in their ventures. Colonial companies were also relentlessly controversial, frequently in debt, and prone to failure. The corporation was well-suited to overseas expansion not because it was an inevitable juggernaut but because, like empire itself, it was an elusive contradiction: public and private; person and society; subordinate and autonomous; centralized and diffuse; immortal and precarious; national and cosmopolitan—a legal fiction with very real power.

Breaking from traditional histories in which corporations take a supporting role by doing the dirty work of sovereign states in exchange for commercial monopolies, Philip Stern argues that corporations took the lead in global expansion and administration. Whether in sixteenth-century Ireland and North America or the Falklands in the early 1980s, corporations were key players. And, as Empire, Incorporated makes clear, venture colonialism did not cease with the end of empire. Its legacies continue to raise questions about corporate power that are just as relevant today as they were 400 years ago.

Challenging conventional wisdom about where power is held on a global scale, Stern complicates the supposedly firm distinction between private enterprise and the state, offering a new history of the British Empire, as well as a new history of the corporation."

Early Modern Discussion Group: Kathleen Commons (University of Sheffield)

26 October, 1:00 - 2:00 pm, online via Google Meet

From 'Asylum-seekers' to 'Aliens', or, how Migrant Activism led to PhD Research 

Kathleen Commons worked in charities advocating for the rights of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants for twelve years before starting a PhD in early modern history. Her experience has profoundly shaped her research, which focuses on the interaction between migration and citizenship in early modern England. Kathleen's professional experience has informed her approaches to understanding and describing migration, interdisciplinarity and collective working, and the sources she uses. It has also shaped how she thinks about her research in the wider world, particularly the possibilities and limitations of research into early modernity in the context of extremely hostile contemporary discourses around migration. 

Masterclass: Prof. Lyndal Roper (University of Oxford)

20 October, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm, Jessop West SR8

What do you do when there are no women? Gender and Writing History

Lecture: Prof. Lyndal Roper (University of Oxford)

19 October, 5:15 - 6:30 pm, The Diamond LT8 and online

Turbulence: Interdisciplinarity and the German Peasants’ War of 1524-6

Early Modern Discussion Group: Elizabeth Hines (University of Chicago)

12 October, 1:00 - 2:00 pm, Bartolome House EG03

Royalism, Murder, and the Outbreak of the First Anglo-Dutch War

Why did England and the Netherlands, two Protestant republics, go to war in 1652? This paper argues that Dutch financial support of the Stuart cause caused the war. Different Dutch merchants and regents supported both sides of the English Civil Wars with arms, ammunition, and loans. However, the Dutch loans to the English king Charles I, and later to his son Charles Stuart, were larger in size and greater in number than those to the parliamentarian forces. Those who had loaned money to the Stuarts had overwhelming incentives to try to help Charles Stuart take the throne, as it was the only way to profit from their investment. England and the Netherlands would not have fought the First Anglo-Dutch War if not for the English Civil Wars. This is true not just because of the general royalism of the people in the Netherlands, but through their economic investments in English politics. How it is true can help us to address questions of war and politics more clearly in the early modern period.

Tickets are available via Ticketsource:

Masterclass: Prof. Warren Boutcher (QMUL)

6 October, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm, Jessop West SR8

Diversity regimes: Adapting concepts for interdisciplinary study of texts

This class will comprise an informal discussion of a set of secondary and primary sources to be provided on the day. They are designed to help us reflect on something I have done in most of my research: take concepts and approaches from other disciplines and apply them to historical study of texts. We will take the concept of ‘diversity regimes’ from the International Relations literature. How far and how usefully can it be stretched for interdisciplinary use by literary and cultural historians? Can it open up the topic of diversity and its management in historical study of medieval and early modern texts, textuality, and language?

To join this in-person masterclass, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Lecture: Prof. Warren Boutcher (QMUL)

5 October, 5:15 - 6:30 pm, The Diamond LT8 and online

Literary history before the nation-state: The Vulgate Bible in the streets of Padua, 1580

This talk relates to a project funded by a European Research Council Advanced grant to produce, for Oxford University Press, a multi-contributor publication entitled Europe in the World: A Literary History, 1529-1683 (; grant agreement no. 101021262). I will briefly outline the shared framework for literary historiography used by the project, then offer a worked case-study from my own research. The main example will be a document listing extracts from the Bible (in Latin) that were put up around the city of Padua on the occasion of a bloody revolt on the part of foreign students in 1580. A translation will be provided.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

PGR Research Afternoon

5 July 2023, Jessop West SR 8 and online

Bringing together students from Sheffield, Leeds, and York, the event offers an opportunity to hear about the excellent research being undertaken by PGRs from within the White Rose consortium. It will also be a great opportunity to meet other PhD researchers, both from Sheffield and further afield. We hope you're able to join us! 

Schedule for the afternoon

1:00-1:15pm - Arrival and welcome by Prof. Phil Withington and Dr Tom Rutter

1:15-2:15 - Panel 1: Religion

2:15-2:30 - Comfort break

2:30-3:30 - Panel 2: Language

3:30-3:45 - Comfort break

3:45-4:45 - Panel 3: Science

4:45-5:00 - Closing remarks

The presentations will be followed by a small conference dinner at The Red Deer. Spaces are available on a first come first served basis -- please email if you would like to attend.

To register for this event, please follow this link: 

This is essential if you plan to attend online and we will also circulate a full programme (including abstracts) to registered attendees. 

Early Modern Discussion Group: Harald Freidl (University of Vienna)

25 May, 1:00 - 2:00 pm, Bartolome House, Seminar Room BB15a

Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World: Form, Genre, and Meaning

My doctoral thesis explores the intersections of early modern notions of gender, race, class, and species in Margaret Cavendish’s utopian tale The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666). My interpretation rests on a thorough narratological analysis, which will enable me to elucidate how this text comments on Cavendish’s own philosophical oeuvre and biography, as well as to throw into sharp relief the way it engages with contemporary socio-cultural discourses. I claim that only an analysis paying close attention to narrative form and the structural design of the represented world(s) allows for pinning down the stance of the artistic utterance as a whole – as opposed to diverging views uttered within the text – on topical debates in seventeenth-century philosophy and politics. 

In my presentation I will detail the findings of my narratological analysis in context of the development of the literary utopia genre. Furthermore, I will adumbrate how this formal analysis will affect my further interpretation of Cavendish’s text.

Registration for this event is free via Eventbrite:

Early Modern Discussion Group: Emma Yeo

11 May, 1:00 - 2:00 pm, online via Google Meet

Reconciling faith and fear in early modern England: Coping with adverse weather in the diary of Thomas Chaytor

Between 1612 and 1617, prominent northern gentry farmer and administrator Thomas Chaytor kept a diary. Filled with rich detail about everyday life for the Chaytor family and their social connections, the diary also provides an account of the severe weather conditions and poor harvests in Durham during the mid-1610s. Chaytor's farm and primary residence was a few miles south of Durham city at Butterby, an area highly susceptible to river flooding. 

This paper explores Chaytor's comments on unusual weather and poor harvests in two ways. Firstly, it suggests that his detailed diary entries regarding the weather serve as a coping strategy to reconcile his anxieties with his belief in God's providence. Secondly, I consider the diary evidence in the wider context of both climactic instability during the Little Ice Age and the devastating famines experienced by north-east England between the 1580s and 1620s. By examining the causes of Chaytor's anxiety, which lie beyond the weather alone, this paper demonstrates the complex inter-relationship of culture, crisis and climate in early modern England.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Lecture: Alexandra Siso

4 May, 5:15 - 6:30 pm, The Diamond LT9 and online

Elizabeth I as a New Jerusalem: the music of the Royal Maundy

Musical settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah were central to the Holy Week and the Royal Maundy in early modern courts. As one of the most important days of the Elizabethan courtly calendar, the Maundy featured the queen piously washing the feet of poor women, in an act that visually stripped her from divine power. But while the ceremony imposed a reversed dynamic between monarch and subjects, the music of the Maundy ascribed to Elizabeth a new divine image. I argue that composers of the early Elizabethan Chapel Royal created musical settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah where they portrayed the monarch as a new Jerusalem: a princess among the nations, fallen from grace, and identifiable with England itself at a moment of political turbulence.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Early Modern Discussion Group: Molly Nebiolo

2 May, 1:00 - 2:00 pm, online via Google Meet

Constructing Health: Concepts of Well-Being in Early Atlantic Cities

How did everyday people think about and pursue healthiness when they lived in early American cities? My dissertation project tries to answer this question. I argue that public health was integral to the shaping of early American cities and city culture because inhabitants’ ideas of daily healthiness were directly related to the way they interacted with their urbanizing environments. Health, or rather the absence of health, has been studied in these locations through the examination of filth, disease, and disease outbreaks, but my project reimagines these spaces as regularly evolving due to community health initiatives, thereby entrenching public health as an agenda in colonial America.

I use social and cultural methodologies to study the pre-planned cities of Philadelphia, Charleston, and Savannah that spans their history from surveying and settlement in the 1670s-80s through the advent of departments of public health in the 1790s. American cities offered English stakeholders the unique opportunity to build entirely new cities rather than adapt existing spaces. Studying the process of their construction and evolution illuminates not only early modern notions of public health but foregrounds the role health played in the formation of distinctly “American” conceptions of health and medicine that emerged by the end of the eighteenth century. This presentation will briefly cover the chapters of my project, from the first chapter on envisioning a “healthful” early colonial cities, to the last few chapters that highlight the complexity and practice of “lay epidemiology” in defining healthiness in eighteenth-century urbanizing spaces as departments of health were just being constructed.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Masterclass: Catherine Hall

28 April, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm, The Portobello Centre, seminar room B57c

Following her lecture Prof. Hall will be hosting a two-hour masterclass entitled 'Writing history in changing times'.

To join this in-person masterclass, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Lecture: Catherine Hall

27 April, 5:15 - 6:30 pm, The Diamond LT9 and online

Making White and Black: Edward Long, slaver and historian of Jamaica

In this talk I will introduce Edward Long whose History of Jamaica published in 1774 (and in print ever since) aimed to convince a metropolitan audience that slavery was absolutely essential to the wealth of Britain and that black people were naturally born to serve those who were white. Long’s account of Jamaica provides us with an extraordinarily detailed picture of how a particular system of what we now call ‘racial capitalism’ worked in the mid-eighteenth century Atlantic.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Early Modern Discussion Group: Tyler Rainford

25 April, 1:00 - 2:00 pm, online via Google Meet

Distilled Spirits and Everyday Life in Early Modern England

In 1751, the novelist Henry Fielding decried the emergence of a ‘new Kind of Drunkenness, unknown to our Ancestors’ in London. The source of this nefarious state of stupefaction was distilled alcohol, primarily in the form of gin. For Fielding and many of his contemporaries, the consumption of distilled spirits in drams symbolised a radical new departure in how early modern English people drank alcohol. Drinking drams, it was argued, was simply a means to get drunk. This is significant, because if dram drinking developed ‘without ritual forms to structure its use’, historian Thomas Brennan is right to argue that it ‘had no social meaning beyond its intoxicating effects’. Although the so-called “Gin Craze” to which Fielding was referring has been debunked as a moral panic, historians have yet to fully articulate the role distilled spirits played in quotidian drinking routines beyond the metropolis. Through a survey of diaries and depositions, this paper will demonstrate that distilled spirits were comfortably accommodated into traditional drinking customs and rituals from the mid-seventeenth century onwards. Rather than exclusively functioning as dangerous catalysts for unbridled intoxication, contemporaries understood the effects of distilled spirits and moderated their consumption accordingly. Ultimately, distilled spirits were consumed in multifaceted and complex ways. What is more, they were only one constituent part of diversified landscape of alcohol consumption, where personal preferences, notions of taste, and individual contexts informed drinking habits more than the intoxicating potential of any one drink.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Lecture: David McCallam

30 March, 5:15 - 6:30 pm, The Diamond Workroom 3 and online

Childhood, Race and Revolution: Jean Amilcar, Marie-Antoinette's Adopted Black Boy

In the Departmental Archives of the Yvelines in Versailles, there is a slim dossier of paperwork labelled ‘Amilcar, petit indien élevé par Marie-Antoinette’. It relates to a Black slave boy ‘gifted’ to Marie-Antoinette in 1787 by the Chevalier de Boufflers, the French Governor of Senegal. Baptized in Versailles, then placed in a boarding school in Saint-Cloud, the boy’s education and needs were paid for by the Queen until 1792; after which the boarding school’s teacher, Quentin Beldon, adopted him and petitioned successfully for his charge to be recognized as a ward of the Republic. Teacher and adopted pupil nonetheless lived in poverty in Paris until late 1795 when Beldon’s repeated requests for state aid finally allowed the boy to enrol in the prestigious arts college, the École nationale de Liancourt. Sadly, however, Amilcar fell ill there (tuberculosis?) and died in May 1796, aged only fourteen.

This paper will look at the shifts in status of Jean Amilcar – from racialized ‘pethood’, then protégé of the queen’s household and personal charge of his boarding school teacher, to becoming an orphaned ward of the revolutionary Republic. It will interrogate how changes in political regime are reflected at the intersections of ideology and race in determining the treatment of Amilcar and his place in revolutionary society. Where appropriate, a critical comparison with the orphaned Black slave girl, Ourika – who was similarly taken to France and ‘gifted’ by Boufflers to the Maréchale de Beauvau – will be used to highlight further intersections of gender and race in the period.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Early Modern Discussion Group: Tunahan Durmaz

28 March, 1:00 - 2:00 pm, online via Google Meet

Exploring popular elements in Ottoman medical texts: The curious case of Ibn Sellum’s Gayetü’l-beyân fi tedbir-i bedeni’l-insan (The Utmost Explanations on the Protection of the Human Body)

In her seminal work Ottoman Medicine: Healing and Medical Institutions 1500-1700, Miri Shefer-Mossensohn puts forward that Ottoman medicine was composed of three separate building blocks: (1) popular folkloric medicine, (2) mechanistic medicine (i.e., learned medicine), (3) prophetic medicine.[1] Engaging with Mossensohn’s conceptualization, this paper suggests that the learned medicine of the early modern Ottomans posed features that render it organically connected to some folkloric and religious elements. Therefore, a holistic analysis rather than a categorization into subdivisions might help us better tackle the difficulties of defining what the Ottoman medicine was. This method of investigation may also lend us a broader perspective into the uses of Ottoman medicine in larger sections of the Ottoman society. In other words, it may allow us to develop an understanding over the one that restricts the ‘learned’ medicine to the use of a privileged group of people only. Lastly, the paper contextualizes these arguments through an empirical study of Gayetü’l-beyân fi tedbir-i bedeni’l-insan (The Utmost Explanations on the Protection of the Human Body), compiled in 1669 by Ibn Sellum, the physician-in-chief of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV then. 

1) Miri Shefer-Mossensohn, Ottoman Medicine: Healing and Medical Institutions, 1500-1700 (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2009), 22–26.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Lecture: William Cavert

23 March, 5:15 - 6:30 pm, The Diamond LT4 and online

The Great Hedgehog Massacre: Vermin Bounties and the Parish State in Early Modern England

It is common to see violence against animals in early modern Europe as festive, riotous rituals of inversion, something separating pre modern people who enjoyed such behaviour from we moderns who abhor it. But attention to the vermin bounties paid by parishes across rural England from the 16th and into the 19th centuries shows instead that animal killing was large-scale, routine, and mundane. It was not a relic of premodern popular culture but rather a government initiative that reached down into the most local manifestations of the state and mobilized widespread and long-lasting participation.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Michael Bennett, Archie Cornish and Anna Reynolds

15 December, 5:15 - 6:30pm, The Diamond, LT8 and online

Michael Bennett will be speaking about his research on merchant elites in the City of London and their links to transatlantic slavery between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

Archie Cornish will be presenting work on the cave as allegorical space in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, and situating caves in several contexts from high and low literary culture.

Anna Reynolds will be speaking about her new research into the relationship between paper and skin in Shakespeare.

In order to receive the link to join online, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Early Modern Discussion Group: Michael Powell-Davies

8 December, 1:00 - 2:00pm, online via Google Meet

‘Drinke every man his full pott round, & so to worke Cheerily’: The Middling Sort and Making a Living in the East India Company Yard at Blackwall

Focussing on the East India Company’s enclosed industrial unit at Blackwall, this work-in-progress paper engages with recent historiographical approaches to explore the idea of ‘making a living’ in its broadest sense.

Recent historians of work and gender have offered new understandings of early modern work by locating what people did for a living, rather than focussing solely on noun-based descriptors of status and occupation. Employing ‘verb-oriented’, ‘task-oriented’, and ‘structure-oriented’ approaches, historians have sought to uncover the full range of activities by which non-elite individuals made their living. Historians have further sought to uncover how these activities were understood by the contemporary population and by what structures these activities and understandings were given order.

The East India Company yard at Blackwall was an immense multipurpose site, in which professional, social, and domestic spaces came into tension and overlapped. Introducing the elusive social group of the maritime ‘middling sort’, this paper uses administrative records to trace the daily lives of Blackwall’s non-elite, exploring not only how they made their living but how they made the industrial unit a bearable place to live within. Briefly touching on hierarchies of work and remuneration, the ownership of status-bearing skills, tools, apparel, and goods, and the experiences of community, leisure activities, and living space within the yard, I hope to provide several windows into the experience of everyday life in early modern maritime London.

In order to receive the link to join, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Online round table: Researching Early Modern Drama in the 2020s

1 December, 5:15 - 6:30pm, online via Google Meet

Contributors to The Arden Handbook of Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama: Perspectives on Culture, Performance and Identity, ed. Michelle M. Dowd and Tom Rutter (forthcoming, December 2022) will participate in an online round table to discuss the current state of the field. Topics include: how has recent work in theatre history changed our understanding of early modern drama? How does our understanding of early modern performance, culture and identity change when we decentre Shakespeare? And how might a more inclusive approach to early modern drama help enable students to discuss a range of issues, including race and gender, in more productive ways?


Tracey Hill, Emeritus Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture, Bath Spa University
Jean E. Howard, George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University
Laurie Johnson, Professor of English and Cultural Studies, University of Southern Queensland
Harry R. McCarthy, Junior Research Fellow, Jesus College, University of Cambridge
Tom Rutter, Senior Lecturer in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama, University of Sheffield
Elizabeth E. Tavares, Assistant Professor with the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, University of Alabama

For a full list of contributors to the volume, see 

In order to receive the link to join, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Early Modern Discussion Group: Alex Hibberts

29 November, 1:00 - 2:00pm, online via Google Meet

Everyday Climate Change: Experiencing Historic Climatic Variability from the Bottom-Up, c.1400-1550

Late medieval Europe saw the demise of the Medieval Warm Period and the beginning of the Little Ice Age bringing climatic disruption and contributing to disconcerting socio-economic change. Much has been written about the effects that historic climatic variability has had on past polities and states. But how were ordinary people impacted? How did farmers, fishermen, and cheesemongers adapt the regular rhythms of their existence to the challenges of marine transgression and coastal erosion? Taking four communities of English Augustinian canons - institutions arguably deeply embedded in the lives of those lower down the social scale - this paper will suggest pathways to reconstructing a common experience.  

Augustinian canons ran hospitals for lepers, managed vast marshland estates with hundreds of tenants, and served as pastors in parish churches. Their role as coastal landlords ensured their vulnerability to violent sea storms demanding leadership of drainage projects, construction of flood defences, and the shifting of land-use towards activity more resilience to a changing climate. After the dissolution, secular owners took over many of the activities of their monastic predecessors, including estate administration and patronage of parish churches. Substantive medieval records, including cartularies, charters, and rent rolls, were used for legal reference into the seventeenth-century, becoming objects of antiquarian fascination afterwards. Thus, whilst ordinary voices may not have survived, whispers may still be heard allowing us to write a more diverse, bottom-up story of past climatic change. 

In order to receive the link to join, you will need to register for free via Eventbrite:

Masterclass: Andrew McRae

18 November, 10:00am - 12:00pm, ICOSS Conference Room

On the margins of ecocriticism

Early modern texts have often been positioned on the margins of ecocriticism, which has typically focused its attention on the Romantics and subsequent eras. My own work has also lurked on the margins of ecocriticism, interested in the ways in which texts represent the land and rural change, but not always explicitly engaged with the self-declared Renaissance ecocriticism which has become prominent in the past 10-20 years. I’d like to reflect on all of this in the masterclass, using a few passages from Poly-Olbion to focus discussion. Songs 23 and 25 are both relatively short, and each is deeply engaged with questions about the relation of humans with their local habitats.

Registration for the masterclass is free via Eventbrite:

Lecture: Andrew McRae

17 November, 5:15 - 6:30pm, The Diamond, LT2 and online

“This strange herculean toyle”: the degeneration of Drayton’s Poly-Olbion

Michael Drayton’s 15,000-line poem Poly-Olbion was published in two parts (1612, 1622), and composed over a period of roughly twenty-five years. Much of the criticism of Poly-Olbion has centred on the first part, in which the focus on historical narratives of British nationhood is underscored by John Selden’s learned annotations. But in this paper I want to consider how the project changed over time, and specifically how Drayton reassessed the question of how a person may know one’s country. I expect to argue that the degeneration of the poem is not due to the quality of writing, nor entirely (as some have suggested) due to a preference for localism, but more a product of a dissipation of national myths. In recognition of the location, I will spend some time with Song 28 (Yorkshire), which might make for easier preparatory reading than the entire poem.

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Lecture: Koji Yamamoto

2 November 2022, 5.15pm - 6:30pm, The Diamond, LT8 and online

We will be joined by Dr Koji Yamamoto of the University of Tokyo in a session that is co-sponsored by the History department's Mind & Body Hub. Professor Mark Jenner (York) will act as discussant. Dr Yamamoto's new book, the edited volume Stereotypes and Stereotyping in Early Modern England: Puritans, Papists and Projectors, was published online just yesterday! As an open access publication, it is available online in full here.

Gendering political economy: soap, monopoly and washerwomen under Charles I

The soap monopoly is a fascinating case study for 'gendering political economy' because white linen was ubiquitous in early modern England. New-born babies as well as dying patients were expected to be wrapped in clean linen. The expectation of keeping them 'sweet and wholesome' was so widespread and powerful that linen's whiteness was frequently linked with spiritual purity, with dirt and filth associated with vice and corruption. The key ingredient for achieving that whiteness was soap, and laundry was dominated mostly by poorer women. During the1630s, however, the production of this vital commodity was placed under a royal monopoly. The 'old soaps' were swiftly banned and replaced by the 'new soap' of inferior quality, made of domestic (i.e. non-imported) materials.

Previous studies have focused on either the production side (soap-boilers' resistance) or the fiscal side (the imposition of de-facto consumption tax). Consequently, no account has examined the episode from an explicitly gendered perspective. I propose to fill the gap by focusing on the experience of washerwomen in London, the largest city in England and the largest centre for soap production at the time. Who were the washerwomen affected by the royal imposition of an inferior commodity? How did they respond? How did elite men understand these women's actions? By tackling these questions, we can begin to explore how humble women's work and actions, with elite men's inability to listen, shaped one of the most important domestic policies under Charles I.

To register via Eventbrite, please click here. All registered attendees will receive a Google Meet link on the day of the event.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Eleanor Kerfoot

27 October, 1:00 - 2:00pm,  online via Google Meet

Stench: corpse disposal and epidemic fever in late-eighteenth century Southwark

This work-in-progress paper explores lay responses to rotting corpses in early modern England through a detailed case study of St Saviour’s parish vestry minutes, Southwark, 1793-4. It argues that there existed an intellectual and cultural association between corpse putrefaction and epidemic ‘fever’, a fatal disease likened to plague and commonly described as the major threat to public health in eighteenth-century Britain. This argument challenges an existing body of historiography asserting that ‘hygiene concerns’ did not significantly influence popular disposal practices until the Victorian era, when ‘Burial Reform’ legislation ‘redefined’ the corpse as a source of contagion. Rather, community-driven regulation initiatives identifiable at Southwark would suggest that the ‘everyday’ stench of rotting corpses had long been perceived as intensely dangerous in the popular imagination, with significant implications for the historiography of early modern sanitation and attitudes towards the dead.

Please register via Eventbrite here to ensure you receive the link to join the session (

The Google Meet link will be sent to all registered attendees on the morning of Thursday 27th. 

Masterclass: Martin Ingram

21 October, 10:00am - 12:00pm,  ICOSS Conference Room

Regulating Sex in Shakespearean London

I have already published two books in the field of sexual regulation – Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987) and Carnal Knowledge: Regulating Sex in England, 1470–1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). Why embark on a third? Basically this is because I persist in thinking that sexual regulation through courts of law as practised in late medieval and early modern England – and, more broadly, in many parts of continental Europe – is a major historical theme whose importance demands re-emphasis. Within this pattern, the role of London in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries is of manifest importance. Yet despite excellent work by Ian Archer, Paul Griffiths and others, a surprising amount of research remains to be done. The fact is that London’s exceptionally complex system of sexual regulation, undergoing changes and transformations as the capital expanded rapidly, is particularly challenging to unravel – not least because of the patchiness of record survival. As against this, the metropolitan location offers the historian unique opportunities to explore the synergies between the practice of sexual regulation and the imaginative literature (especially the drama) of the period. In this tutorial, some elements of this ongoing project will be highlighted with reference to a particular cluster of incidents around 1600.

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Lecture: Martin Ingram

20 October, 5:15 - 6:30pm, The Diamond, LT2 and online

Anxious Patriarchs? Male Complaints of Spousal Violence in Tudor England

The figure of the termagant wife who beat her husband is well known as a prominent motif in the World Upside Down tradition, and as a pretext for the noisy, mocking skimmington rides that occasionally erupted in the villages and towns of Tudor and Stuart England. But, save for wives who actually murdered their husbands and featured in popular pamphlets, the aggression of wives has been little studied. It is commonly supposed that cruelty cases in the church courts were the prerogative of abused wives. In fact in Tudor England a persistent trickle of cases were brought by husbands. Commonly they claimed that their wives were trying to poison them, but other forms of physical aggression were also alleged. In the more usual form of cruelty case in which wives were the plaintiff, husbands in their defence frequently claimed that they themselves had been subjected to some sort of physical violence or at least threatened. Such material needs careful evaluation, but can shed vivid light on strife-ridden Tudor marriages, on gender roles more broadly, and on interactions between behaviour in real life and artistic, literary and dramatic representations.

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Lecture: Emeritus Professor Wilfrid Prest

7 June 2022, 5.30pm–7.00pm, The Diamond, Workroom 1

The great litigation decline: character, causes and consequences, 1689–1760.

Drawing on research for the 1689-1760 volume of the Oxford history of the laws of England, this looks at one of the great puzzles of early modern social and legal history – the causes and consequences of the great 18th century litigation slump in England.

Wilfrid Prest was educated at the University of Melbourne (BA Hons.), and the University of Oxford (DPhil, Modern History); after a brief stint as publishing trainee in London, he came to a lectureship in the Department of History in 1966.

Apart from two years as Assistant Professor at The Johns Hopkins University (1969–71), and visiting posts elsewhere (ANU, Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton, St Andrews), Prest taught and wrote history at Adelaide until 2002. He then took up an ARC Australian Professorial Fellowship, transferring to the Law School in 2003; his final academic appointment before retirement was as Professor of Law.

He is currently Emeritus Professor and Visiting Research Fellow in History and in Law, a Fellow of Queen’s College, University of Melbourne, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and the Royal Historical Society (UK), and a member of the Council of the Selden Society.

Lecture: Michelle Dowd

26 May 2022, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

Form and the Future of Early Modern Women’s Writing

Michelle Dowd will talk about feminist formalism and how it might shape the field of early modern women’s writing as a field of study. She also discusses some of the practicalities of collaborative scholarship, including co-authorship and co-editing.

Michelle M. Dowd is the Hudson Strode Professor of English and director of the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama. In addition to co-editing several volumes, she is the author of Women’s Work in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (2009), The Dynamics of Inheritance on the Shakespearean Stage (2015) and articles in such journals as Criticism, Shakespeare Studies, English Literary Renaissance and Renaissance Drama. She also edits Strode Studies in Early Modern Literature and Culture, a book series published by the University of Alabama Press.

Masterclass: Steve Gunn

13 May 2022, 10.00am–12.00pm, Arts Tower Boardroom

What can we do with Tudor coroners’ inquests? This class will consider the different approaches that we have taken coroners’ inquest reports in our project on Accidental Death and Everyday Life in sixteenth-century England (

We can think about inquests as a process: who sat on juries, for example, or what counted as an accident. We can generate large-scale statistics about causes of death and the activities they reveal. We can compare advice in contemporary works with the practices featured in accidents. We can investigate local farming regimes and industries and situate them in contrasting landscapes. We can explore changing technologies and leisure practices and we can focus on communities and individuals and relate inquest findings to other sources to place life, death and investigation more fully in their proper contexts.

Lecture: Steve Gunn

12 May 2022, 5.15pm–6.30pm, The Diamond, Lecture Theatre 7

Steve Gunn, University of Oxford – The Court of Henry VII

Is it really true that, as Geoffrey Elton once crisply put it, ‘there is little to know’ about Henry VII’s court? This lecture argues that while Elton was right to point out ‘the deficiencies of the evidence’ for Henry’s court compared with those of his Tudor successors, he misjudged its importance. The court played a central role in almost all the activities of Henry’s rule, from his management of national and local elites, through justice and finance, to diplomacy and war. It was a lively venue for political and social competition and it was a centre of cultural change. Governance, politics and culture met in a royal magnificence which was fundamental to Henry’s kingship.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Louise McCarthy

5 May 2022, 2.00pm–3.00pm (Online)

Early English maps of North America and the East Indies as visual commercial fantasies (1580s–1620s)

Early modernists with an interest in late Elizabethan and Jacobean commerce will be familiar with the label “promotional literature”. The phrase encompasses a variety of texts – ranging from sermons to plays, poems and pamphlets – produced by or for trade-stock companies to garner personal and financial support, but also to convince the public of the legitimacy of projects which were initially perceived as high-risk. I would suggest that this “promotional literature” included an array of visual material which still needs to be brought to the fore. I shall more specifically focus on the cartographic arsenal which two major trading companies – the East India Company and the Virginia Company – mobilised to shape the geo-commercial imagination of the English.

Lecture: Gagan Sood

28 April 2022, 5.15pm–6.30pm, The Diamond, Lecture Theatre 9

This lecture is hosted in collaboration with The Medieval and Ancient Research Centre at the University of Sheffield (MARCUS) and the 'Transmission of Ideas' research hub at the University of Sheffield.

Recapturing the Transition to Modernity through Premodern Socio-Political Concepts: Daulat, Saltanat and the State in the Mughal and Ottoman Worlds

Action is predicated on thought, thought is predicated on language. This philosophical position throws into stark relief the significance of contemporary language – its concepts, images, principles – in shaping individual and collective action. That is as true today as it was in the past. So, to recapture developments of historical consequence, and ascertain their proper import, a prerequisite is the recovery or reconstruction of the concepts, images and principles imbuing the salient contexts. This is, however, much easier said than done.

We today are estranged from premodern pasts due to a host of prevailing anachronisms and ethnocentricisms. These underpin a set of path dependencies and essentialisations which in turn lie at the heart of the narratives and paradigms framing current understandings of, inter alia, how our modern world came into being. Our current mainstream interpretations may or may not be correct. The problem is that we cannot with confidence say either way as yet. In particular, this is because of our lack of knowledge of the concepts which had social and political force in their time and place.

In my lecture, I address this neglect by discussing changes in the meanings of the concepts of daulat and salṭanat in the Mughal and Ottoman worlds from the seventeenth century, and their mutual dependency with fateful developments in the realm of sovereign governance. These developments are of interest because they constrained and enabled the paths to modernity subsequently embarked upon within the region.

Dr Gagandeep S Sood is associate professor in early modern international history at the London School of Economics. Educated at Cambridge and Yale, Dr Sood received his doctorate from Yale’s Department of History. Before arriving at the LSE, he held research and teaching positions at Cambridge, the European University Institute and Yale. Outside the LSE, he is co-editor of the Journal of Global History.

Dr Sood’s main research interests lie in the Middle East and South Asia between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. He is also interested in Europe, China and India, and their role in the genesis of the modern world. These interests stem from earlier work on everyday connexions spanning the Middle East and South Asia in the eighteenth century. Its findings, which culminated in India and the Islamic Heartlands (CUP, 2016), reframe our understanding of the larger region at a pivotal stage in its history, and offer fresh perspectives on early modern Eurasia and the transition to colonialism.

More recently, Dr Sood has embarked on a project about sovereign governance in the Mughal and Ottoman worlds over the seventeenth century. Initial findings have been published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (2020) and Modern Asian Studies (2021).

Projects: The Marston Project

24 March 2022, 5.15pm–6.30pm

The Complete Works of John Marston: an Oxford edition in the making

One of the most influential dramatists of the English Renaissance, John Marston (1576-1634) is especially known for his biting satires, his importing of Italianate literary forms to the English stage, and his innovations in revenge drama, city comedy and tragicomedy prior to his ordination as a priest in 1609. This talk will focus on the process of commissioning and developing the project to edit his complete plays and poems for Oxford University Press.

Dr Jose A Perez Diez is Senior Research Fellow in the School of English, University of Leeds. His edition of John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s Love’s Cure, or The Martial Maid is published in the Revels Plays series (Manchester University Press, 2022), and his edition of Fletcher’s The Elder Brother is under contract to be published in the Malone Society Reprints series in 2025 to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of Fletcher’s death.

As a Research Fellow, he is working on the new critical edition of The Complete Works of John Marston, due to be published by Oxford University Press in 2024 under the general editorship of Professor Martin Butler (University of Leeds) and Professor Matthew Steggle (University of Bristol); he also has a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship in the School of English, awarded to fund his research project on the circulation of Spanish books in Jacobean England and their impact on English drama.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Alexandra Hewitt

22 March 2022, 2.00pm–3.00pm (Online)

Reconstructing Shakespeare's New Place: social identity and decoration in the 'new gentry' house.

This paper sheds light on a somewhat neglected period in the study of domestic interiors; Tudor and Jacobean decoration in the urban environment. The overshadowing of antiquarian scholarship, traditionally describing vernacular decoration from this period as ‘crude’ or ‘rustic’, combined with a lack of survival of decorative schemes below the level of elite means that studying this form of domestic material culture comes with its challenges.

This paper offers new perspectives on Tudor and Jacobean decoration in three ways. Firstly, it takes a case study approach by focusing on a significant but lost building: New Place, William Shakespeare’s townhouse in Stratford-upon-Avon from 1597 until 1616. Secondly, it uses a ‘virtual reconstruction’ of the decorated interiors of Shakespeare’s home to demonstrate the nature, role and significance of Tudor and Jacobean domestic decoration in the construction of ‘new gentry’ status. Finally, it establishes the methodology of my PhD project as influenced by Lena Cowen Orlin’s 2014 article ‘Anne by Indirection’, which studied Anne Hathaway’s life using archival materials for fellow townswoman, Elizabeth Quiney.

My project adapts this approach for the study of Tudor and Jacobean decoration by analysing other extant buildings to address the likely form, decoration, furnishings and function of this culturally significant, but absent building. In this way, I argue for the value and necessity of reconstruction in the interdisciplinary study of the early modern domestic environment.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Natalie Williams

17 March 2022, 2.00pm–3.00pm (Online)

Crime, punishment, and evasion across England’s Landward Borders, 1558 to 1639.

After centuries of prolonged war, there was a period of peace between the kingdoms of England and Scotland from 1558 until 1639. In 1536, the so-called Acts of Union pacified the Anglo-Welsh border and Anglo-Welsh relations were represented in a positive light by contemporaries. On the other hand, cross-border raids still plagued parts of the Anglo-Scottish border during this period, seeming to hinder the relationship between the neighbouring nations and, in turn, created a negative representation of the Anglo-Scottish borderers. Yet crime persisted on both borders, much akin to crime across the rest of England, but, as this paper will argue, the borders created a unique space for criminals to manoeuvre in, hide across, and to use their national identities advantageously.

Punishment was also used on the borders to demonstrate national and regional control, while acts of forgiveness served to ease relations within the borders. The State Border Papers, Acts of the Privy Council of England, and Registrar of the Privy Council of Scotland are used to compare border specific crimes, types of punishments, and to show how some borderers evaded the law on the Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-Welsh borders. Previous border studies tend to concentrate on societies during periods of war, and focus on a single border, but periods of peace are essential for understanding how different communities can live cohesively together, and how peace can change the way people interact within the space of a border.

Houses in English Society: Adrian Green

10 March 2022, 5.15pm–6.30pm, The Diamond, Lecture Theatre 2

One of the defining features of early modern England was the change in ways of domestic living. Internally and externally the early modern English house was different from what came before and after.

This talk explores both the development of the early modern house and why it gave way to the Georgian house of the eighteenth century. The talk summarises the arguments of a book project on Dwelling in England: Houses, Society and the Market 1550–1750.

Early Modern Discussion Group: José Mariá Moreno Madrid

3 March 2022, 2.00pm–3.00pm (Online)

A Maritime World Made of Routes: Defining Early Modern Oceanic Space.

The “Battle of the Books” initiated by Hugo Grotius in 1609 and brought to a close by John Selden in 1635 was one of the most important legal debates of the 17th century. So much so that for many scholars this debate is the basis for the current Law of the Sea.

This episode, although a milestone in the History of Maritime Law, should not be isolated from the new juridical consequences resulting from the maritime expansion of the 16th century. Legal instruments issued were developed within a new framework, determined by the need to construct, conceptually and referentially, the oceanic space. Maritime routes played a key role in this process, as they were considered regulatable entities. Thus, they became a fundamental element in defining and instrumentalising the maritime space at the service of naval powers of the time. How did such novel legal mechanisms, applied to oceanic routes, influence the famous debate between Grotius and Selden? This is the main question this paper seeks to clarify.

Masterclass: Alexandra Walsham

25 February 2022, 10.00am–12.00pm

Material Culture, Memory and the Early Modern Archive.

This class will explore three historiographical and methodological tendencies that have shaped recent approaches to early modern history: the material turn, the recent surge of interest in memory and its transformations, and increased scrutiny of the shape and formation of the archives and libraries upon which scholars of this period rely. How do we explain these trends and what significance to they have for our understanding of early modernity?

Heirloom Books and Archives of Memory in Early Modern England: Alexandra Walsham

24 February 2022, 5.15pm–6.30pm, The Diamond, Lecture Theatre 1

In the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries, the flyleaves, margins and blank spaces of bibles and prayer books were frequently filled with records of births, marriages and deaths.

This paper approaches these books as sites of memory, vessels of emotion, and spaces for commemoration. By tracing the travels and itineraries of these books, it explores the evolution of memorial culture in the wake of the deep theological and cultural rupture wrought by the Reformation. It presents family as a key conduit of our knowledge of the early modern past and examines the critical role played by generational transmission in the making of the history of the English Reformations.

Choices: Brian Cummings

10 February 2022, 5.15pm–6.30pm, The Diamond, Lecture Theatre 2

As part of our 'Choices' strand, Professor Brian Cummings of the University of York will be joining us to reflect on the choices that have shaped his career, leading up to his latest book, Bibliophobia: The End and the Beginning of the Book (Oxford University Press, 2022), which originated as the Clarendon Lectures in the Faculty of English at the University of Oxford.

Bibliophobia is a book about material books, how they are cared for and how they are damaged, throughout the 5000-year history of writing from Sumeria to the smartphone. Its starting point is the contemporary idea of ‘the death of the book’ implied by the replacement of physical books by digital media, with accompanying twenty-first-century experiences of paranoia and literary apocalypse. It traces a twin fear of omniscience and oblivion back to the origins of writing in ancient Babylon and Egypt, then forwards to the age of Google. It uncovers bibliophobia from the first Chinese emperor to Nazi Germany, alongside parallel stories of bibliomania and bibliolatry in world religions and literatures. (Bibliophobia at OUP)

Brian Cummings is Anniversary Professor at the University of York. Before arriving at York, he was Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and then Professor of English at the University of Sussex. He has held visiting fellowships at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich; the University of Toronto; and the Folger Library in Washington D.C. In 2012, he gave the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford University; in 2013, the Margaret Mann Phillips Plenary Lecture at the Renaissance Society of America; he has also given the British Academy annual Shakespeare Lecture and the Shakespeare Birthday Lecture in Washington D.C. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Ana Struillou

3 February 2022, 2.00pm–3.00pm (Online)

An archive of travel: Recording travellers’ possessions in the early modern western Mediterranean (1530–1650).

In the early modern period, a wide array of travellers, be they diplomats, friars, exiles, merchants, or (ex-)captives, transited between Christian and Islamic Mediterranean territories, together with their personal belongings. From the sixteenth century onwards, an increasing number of these mobile Europeans and North Africans turned to specific institutions to insure their things during their voyage.

In turn, a number of institutions, such as the Spanish Inquisition, French and Spanish customs, sanitary boards and diplomatic establishment also began systematically controlling travellers’ belongings, producing a wealth of records that shed light on what travellers carried and their interactions with the material world.

Leaning on luggage inventories and accounts of expense from French and Spanish local and central archives, this paper argues that this set of records constitutes an ‘archive of travel’, that provides invaluable information on cross-religious human and material circulations in the western Mediterranean region. This paper explores the formation and the contours of this ‘archive’, that I characterize as a constantly evolving unit across Mediterranean space and time.

Lecture: Liza Blake

18 November 2021, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

Liza Blake from the Department of English at the University of Toronto will be joining us to present her paper, Margaret Cavendish's Book Fashioning.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Cora James

11 November 2021, 1.00pm–2.00pm (Online)

'A Rude, laughing, Clownish Hoyden': The Patent Company and the Comedy of Susanna Verbruggen

During the theatre of the late seventeenth century, a player’s part was their property. Such was the intimate relationship between actor and character at a time where a scarcity of performers and the limitations of patent theatre after 1660 required playwrights to write parts for actors rather than acquire actors for parts. In doing so, a proficient playwright would use an actor’s specific repertoire of skills to the best advantage of the play. For the popular comedian, Susannah Verbruggen, this included her remarkable versatility, a talent for mimicry, and a fondness for humour ‘in what low Part soever to be found, that she would make no scruple of defacing her fair Form to come heartily into it’.

By tracking the increasing prominence of one such low character, Mary the Buxome, through the three parts of Thomas D’Urfey’s A Comicall History of Don Quixote (1694/5), this paper demonstrates that Verbruggen’s particular skills in coarse clowning were used by D’Urfey to form this original character and that her comic contributions to the Patent Company as a whole was vital to its survival following the creation of Thomas Betterton’s rival theatre following the Actor’s Revolt of 1695. From a one-scene comic interlude in part one, Verbruggen’s character became one of the trilogy’s most enduringly popular figures. By examining Mary’s prominence and development through her increased stage time, songs, and paratexts, alongside Verbruggen’s generous contract, this paper will demonstrate that Verbruggen was not only an asset as an incredibly skilled performer but that her newfound prominence as a leading comedian was a necessary aspect of the Patent Company’s endurance through their challenging first year.

Lecture: Karin Sennefelt

4 November 2021, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

Frostbite and the Fall: Lutheran bodies and the weather in the little ice age

In early modern Europe, human beings’ relationship to nature tends to be described either as a study of the Book of Nature, or in terms of a landscape (or firmament) that humans gazed upon. By attending to the body in material terms and as immersed in its environment another picture emerges. The talk argues that for Lutherans, nature was less of a book to be read than a constantly changing dwelling-place that humans must find their way through. The lessons to be learnt from God were about tribulation and fortification and skilful handling of the cold weather of the seventeenth century.

Maxine Berg: Slavery, Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution: Sweet Industriousness and the Role of the Sugar Economy

7 October, 2021, 5.15pm–7.00pm, Hicks LT5

Professor Maxine Berg (Warwick) will introduce proposal for a book she is currently writing with Professor Pat Hudson, entitled Slavery, Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. This proposes a scholarly synthesis of ideas and research on the impact of slavery and British colonialism in the Americas on the economy of the metropole during the long eighteenth century. The book revisits a set of old debates but in new ways. The reason for the book project arises from the political moment of Black Lives Matter and civil liberties struggles that have increased demand for an accessible and thought provoking survey of the subject.

Professor Berg and Professor Hudson engage with new historical frameworks that situate the subject and earlier research findings in a new light, including global history and new histories of capitalism, and draw on new digitised sources and recent research results. In this seminar Professor Berg will particularly address the planned chapter on the role of the sugar economy.

Maxine Berg: Masterclass

8 October, 2021, 10.00am–12.00pm

Reinventing the Industrial Revolution: One Woman’s History

Over her long career as an economic and social historian Maxine Berg has worked primarily on the long eighteenth century and on twentieth-century historiography. From her early work on economic ideas, proto-industrialisation and women’s history, she later turned to product innovation and consumer culture, and initiated the Warwick Luxury Project. Luxury introduced her to the wider world; she participated in early discussions of global history, using this framework to understand the transformation of British and European manufacture in the eighteenth century. She has been working recently within the framework of global microhistory to find ways of writing about a small place on the far side of the world, Nootka Sound in the 1770s to early 1790s. Since early June 2020, she has been working with Pat Hudson to write a short book on the impact of slavery on Britain’s industrial revolution. This class will discuss the impact of some of the debates she engaged in and the sources she used in shifting the directions of her research.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Dr Nailya Shamgunova

20 May 2021, 1.00pm–2.00pm (Online)

Dr Nailya Shamgunova (Stipendiary Lecturer in History, Pembroke College, Oxford), ‘Mahometical Sodomits’? Male same-sex activity and the reception of Islam in early modern Anglophone discourses, c.1590-1720’. Dr Shamgunova has recently completed her PhD at Churchill College, Cambridge, on Anglophone encounters with the Ottoman Empire through the prism of same-sex activity. She is particularly interested in the developing field of transcultural and comparative history of emotions. Dr Shamgunova’s interdisciplinary work draws on history, literary studies, gender studies and queer studies.

This paper examines the ways in which reception of Islamic theology in early modern Anglophone cultures intersected with ‘othering’ of Turks and renegades as ‘sodomites’. This paper analyses the extent to which Islam was seen as an essentialising marker of difference, and the ways in which it was interpreted as condoning or condemning sodomy. It also looks at the effect a greater awareness of Islamic texts in Anglophone discourses, especially the first publication of the Qur’an in English in 1649, had on the immediate connection between Islam and sodomy.

The paper argues that although the associations between Islamic societies and sodomy did not decrease throughout the period, those associations focused on the practice of Islam, a religious custom, rather than on the reception of the theology itself.

Projects: TIDE Project

29 April 2021, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

The next seminar in our ‘Projects’ seminar series will feature the TIDE Project (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, c. 1550-1700).

The TIDE project, based at the University of Oxford and funded by the European Research Council, investigates how mobility in the first ‘global’ age of travel and discovery shaped English perceptions of human identity and belonging. The role of those marked by transcultural mobility was central to this period. Trade, diplomacy and politics, religious schisms, and shifts in legal systems attempted to control and formalise the identities of such figures. Our current world is all too familiar with the concepts that surfaced or evolved as a result: ‘foreigner’ and ‘stranger’, ‘alien’ and ‘exile’, ‘blackamoor’ and ‘Indian’. TIDE seeks to consolidate our fragmented understanding of cultural difference, race, and identity in the early modern period, and the ongoing impact of such categorizations in the contemporary world.

For this seminar, members of the TIDE project will explore case studies pertaining to transcultural lives in early modern England and abroad. Collectively, the seminar will invite a discussion about early modern transculturality and identity, raising broader methodological questions about conducting interdisciplinary work in the context of comparative or global history.

Nandini Das is a literary scholar and cultural historian, Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford, and Fellow of Exeter College. She has published widely on early modern English literature and cross-cultural encounters, as well as travel writing in general, including Renaissance Romance: The Transformation of English Prose Fiction, 1570–1620 (2011), and the Cambridge History of Travel Writing (2019), co-edited with Tim Youngs. She is Principal Investigator of the ERC-TIDE project.

TIDE’s post-doctoral team has 4 members:

Haig Smith works on religion and English overseas expansion into India, North America, and the Levant in the early modern period. His monograph, Religion and Governance in England’s Emerging Colonial Empire, 1601–1698, is forthcoming from Palgrave in 2021.

Emily Stevenson’s research examines the contextual communities and networks which surrounded Richard Hakluyt and his Principal Navigations, using a combination of social network mapping, literary and historical analysis.

Tom Roberts works on England’s engagement with the commedia dell’arte during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and how the form manifested in the cultural imagination of early modern London.

Lauren Working’s first book, The Making of an Imperial Polity: Civility and America in the Jacobean Metropolis (2020), explores the influence of English plantation and cross-cultural exchanges in the Americas on taste and politics in early Stuart London. She is a BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker for 2021.

To read about some of the terms discussed in this session, see the open-access TIDE: Keywords – 36 short essays on critical concepts about travel, race, and identity, the product of several years of collaborative work by the TIDE team. (in particular for the purposes of the seminar: ‘translator’, ‘agent’, ‘convert’, ‘settler’, ‘subject’ and ‘stranger’).

Early Modern Discussion Group: Charlotte Davis

22 April 2021, 1.00pm–2.00pm (Online)

Charlotte Davis (University of York), ‘Architects versus Craftsmen? Rediscovering the role of Edward Pearce’

Charlotte Davis is a PhD student at the University of York researching late seventeenth-century British sculpture including investigations of sculpture’s cultural significance and charting the development of sculpture’s place as an art form rather than a craft pursuit.

John Summerson identified the Restoration City of London as a ‘mercantile stronghold’ whose taste sat in distinction from that of the West End. This division between polite and mercantile taste was cemented with the conception that craftsmen catered to the City while emergent architects designed for the elite. However, as the career of Edward Pearce illuminates, such clean divisions do not accurately represent the careers of the elite carvers active in London at the end of the seventeenth century. This paper explores the contributions made by Edward Pearce which fall beyond the craftsman/architect divide and addresses the need for an understanding of the period which moves beyond binary oppositions.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Claire Turner

25 March 2021, 1.00pm–2.00pm (Online)

Claire Turner (University of Leeds), ‘ “No corruption may come in by the windows of your eyes”: Outbreaks of Plague and the Sense of Sight in Seventeenth-Century London’.

Claire Turner is a PhD student at Leeds studying how people experienced and perceived epidemic disease through their senses in seventeenth-century England. Her research explores interactions between the traditional five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste and touch) and assesses how sensory interplay affected the way that people experienced, perceived, and remembered the plague.

The seventeenth century was a key period in the development of new theories and ideas about the sense of sight. However, the same period witnessed a series of devastating plague outbreaks. This paper explores the intimate relationship between the sense of sight and epidemic disease in seventeenth-century London. Through an investigation of the significance of not seeing, seeing, and being seen, this paper argues that the sense of sight acted as a gateway to the inner body during outbreaks of plague. It was prone to being obscured, attacked, and penetrated by a variety of substances both associated with the plague itself and with its prevention and treatment. Sight was not the cognitive, intellectual, and largely distant sense that many scholars have proposed it was and still is. Instead, outbreaks of plague have illuminated the vulnerability of both the viewer and the viewed.

Choices: Professor Andy Wood

18 March 2021, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

Andy Wood is a Professor of Early Modern Social History at Durham University. His work focuses on early modern riot and rebellion, social relations and popular culture.

Notable publications include The Politics of Social Conflict: The Peak Country, 1520–1770 (Cambridge, 1999), Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2002) and The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2007). Most recently, Professor Wood has been the Principal Investigator on the project, ‘Social Relations and Everyday Life in England, 1500–1640’, which has culminated in his most recent publication, Faith, Hope and Charity: English Neighbourhoods, 1500–1640 (Cambridge, 2020).

Choices: Professor Colin Burrow

4 March 2021, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

Professor Colin Burrow is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls’ College, Oxford. His many scholarly achievements include editing the poetry of Shakespeare and Jonson for the Oxford Shakespeare and the Cambridge Ben Jonson as well as an array of publications such as the monographs Imitating Authors: Plato to Futurity (Oxford, 2019) and Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity (Oxford, 2013). He had a leading role in the project team for the Scriptorium early modern commonplace books project, on whose advisory board he sits. He also reviews regularly for the London Review of Books.

Professor Burrow:

I will talk about my ‘career’ as an early modernist in the early modern sense of the word (OED sense 2: ‘Of a horse: A short gallop at full speed’) and will describe not a series of carefully articulated methodological choices but a fitful series of accidents, in the course of which I (like Tristram Shandy never the hero of my own life) was forged or misshapen as a critic and an editor and whatever else I am.

In the course of the talk I will emphasise the value of happenstance and the illusoriness of ‘choice’, and will try to show that we are never fully in charge of our intellectual lives and that this is probably on the whole a good thing.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Dr Katie Bank

25 February 2021, 1.00pm–2.00pm (Online)

Dr Katie Bank (Department of Music, Sheffield), ‘(Re)Creating the Eglantine Table’.

Dr Bank is a musicologist focusing on early modern English song and musical-visual culture. Her research reflects an interdisciplinary attention to the role of music and music making within the intellectual history of early modern England, particularly the intersection of music, natural philosophy, the passions, and concepts of sense perception.

The Eglantine Table at Hardwick Hall (c.1568) was probably crafted to commemorate marriages made between the Hardwick-Cavendish and Talbot families. In addition to various heraldic symbols, the inlaid table’s friezes depict gaming paraphernalia, thirteen musical instruments, and several music books, including a stacked score of a devotional song by Thomas Tallis’s ‘O Lord in Thee is all my trust’.

While there is thorough existing scholarship on what the Eglantine Table depicts, this paper explores what can be inferred about the contemporary value of musical recreation from how meaning was produced in the table’s iconography using an approach to music as both an object and also a sounding body. This research demonstrates why recreation, including music making, is defined most prominently by why people choose to engage in it and the human actions that make recreation happen. Viewed in this fresh light, the Eglantine Table, including its musical iconography and notation, offers insight into the meaning of musical recreation and the values that shaped domestic interiors, objects, and social bonds in an early modern English aristocratic home.

Projects: Professor Jane Whittle

18 February 2021, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

Jane Whittle (Professor of Economic and Social History, Exeter), discussed her project, ‘Forms of Labour: Gender, Freedom and Experience of Work in the Preindustrial Economy’.

The history of labour and its role in Europe’s preindustrial development has very largely been the history of adult men. Forms of Labour seeks to put other workers in the picture, particularly women and servants, not simply by ‘adding them on’ but by showing how a full understanding of women’s work and of service offers a radical critique of existing approaches to work and to the idea of free labour.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Sheryl Wombell

17 December 2020, 1.00pm–2.00pm (Online)

Sheryl Wombell (Wolfson College, Cambridge), ‘The Visible Technician: George Hartman and the publication of Kenelm Digby’s receipts’

This paper examines the posthumous publication of the medical and alchemical receipts of Kenelm Digby (1603-65) by his steward, George Hartman, between 1668 and 1696. Viewing the publications as an historical moment in which the usually ‘invisible technician’ became extraordinarily visible, it interrogates the roles and status of those associated with the manual work of knowledge-making and, particularly, with the distribution of that knowledge. Suggesting that the historiographical suspicion these books have received is the product of an anachronistic reading of Hartman’s role, this paper aims to better contextualise them within seventeenth-century understandings of authorship and intellectual ownership. Through this, it is argued, the collections become a rich source for understanding the complex set of social meanings attached to the possession and publication of medical and alchemical knowledge.

Choices: Professor Susan D. Amussen

10 December 2020, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

Speakers in this series are invited to look back over their careers and discuss the choices – good and bad – they have made along the way.

Professor Susan D Amussen (University of California, Merced) is a leading social and cultural historian of early modern Britain. Her work focuses on issues of class and gender, and race and slavery. Professor Amussen’s latest book, Caribbean Exchanges: Slavery and the Transformation of English Society, looks at the transmission of ideas of race, work, law and punishment between England and its Caribbean colonies.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Lívia Bernardes Roberge

3 December 2020, 1.00pm–2.00pm (Online)

Lívia Bernardes Roberge (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais and Sheffield), ‘The Digger “radical imagination”: representation struggles and construction of identities through print (1649–1652)’

Lívia Bernardes Roberge, visiting researcher at the University of Sheffield and PhD student at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, will be giving a paper on her research into publications of the seventeenth century religious sect, the Diggers.

Using a cross-disciplinary approach, Lívia’s paper examines the Diggers’ use of pamphlets and broadsides to not only express and justify their beliefs, but also to depict what Nicholas McDowell called the ‘radical imagination’, a set of discursive and rhetorical practices used by these groups in order to manage their collective perception within the seventeenth century public sphere.

Combined with the observations of Pierre Bourdieu on the symbolic structures sustained by representations and its disputes, as well as with the work of Roger Chartier on representations, this paper aims to demonstrate how disputing and constructing a specific collective identity was central in the group’s strategy.

Projects: Professor Jennifer Richards

26 November 2020, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

The first speaker in our Projects seminar series, was Jennifer Richards (Joseph Cowen Professor of English Literature, Newcastle). In this series, speakers discuss the funded research activities they’re involved with or with which they have been involved in the past.

Professor Richards specialises in Renaissance English literature and the histories of rhetoric, reading and the book.

In this session, Professor Richards discussed her involvement in the Thomas Nashe project, which focuses on the works and language of the Elizabethan writer, polemicist and playwright, Thomas Nashe.

Early Modern Discussion Group: Sam Jermy

19 November 2020, 1.00pm–2.00pm (Online)

Sam Jermy (Leeds): ‘Masculinities, Metatheatricality and the Pregnant Page in Thomas Middleton’s More Dissemblers Besides Women' (

This paper explores the performance of female-to-male disguise in the early modern theatre and the figure of the pregnant Page in Thomas Middleton’s 1614 comedy More Dissemblers Besides Women. It considers the play’s experimental treatment of crossdressing conventions and the skilled bodies of boy players to think through Middleton’s interest in staging and representing a spectrum of embodied masculinities.

Choices: Professor Paul Slack

12 November 2020, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

SCEMS was lucky to have Professor Paul Slack of the University of Oxford as the first speaker for our 'Choices' seminar series.

Professor Slack has been one of the leading social and economic historians of the early modern period over the last 50 years, publishing field-defining research in urban history, social policy, the history of plague and pandemics, and economic culture and guiding the editorial policy of major journals like Past & Present and English Historical Review. It was fascinating to hear about the choices he’s made over a long and illustrious career.

SCEMS Welcome Event

29 October 2020, 5.15pm–6.30pm (Online)

We be kicked off the programme with three short papers by recent Sheffield PhD graduates, Dr Michael Bennett, Dr Melanie Russell and Dr Mabel Winter, who discussed their new plans and projects.

The event was held online using Blackboard Collaborate. Registration was via Eventbrite: