Author Archives

“Intimate Outsiders”? Parallel Rhetorics of Exclusion; 16th Century Rome and Today

by Dr. Emily Michelson, University of St. Andrews This article (Past & Present 235) took shape in a world that has now faded: I started it with a different set of intellectual priorities, and at a stage of my life that has since ended. But for all that, its value is greater in the new world it now inhabits. When it began, this was almost, though not quite, a vanity project. When I first discovered the lone volume of conversionary sermons to be published in the 16th century, I was hard pressed to ignore it. I was not only finishing a book on Italian sermons and preachers grappling with interdenominational angst during the Reformation, but I had also studied Jewish rabbinic texts for a couple of years before pursuing a PhD. The conversionary preacher, Evangelista Marcellino (I knew him from his other sermons) walked lines I could recognize, though in a far different context. For a while I wanted to avoid writing about conversionary sermons. It seemed too pat and inevitable for someone with my training, and too narrow a step from my first book. But more and more examples of conversionary sermons turned up, and so did records of the Christians […]

Imperial nostalgia, aesthetics, and the contemporary ‘everyday’: thoughts on Everyday Empires and selective historical memory

by Rob Fitt, University of Birmingham A week on from the Everyday Empires conference I was sat in that most British of institutions, a pub. My thoughts turned to writing this post and what had stuck in my memory about the case studies that were presented. I glanced to the bar and noticed that union flag bunting adorned the top shelf, above the pub’s logo of a cow made somehow more British with the addition of a hat. I recalled an interview I had read prior to the conference between two historians of empire, discussing the contemporary resonance of the British empire in a country under going a pre-Brexit existential crisis. Much has been written recently about the role of ‘imperial nostalgia’ in the decision to leave the European Union; of plucky little Britain able to punch, independently, above its weight in the realm of global affairs. To suggest that a half-remembered nostalgia has such direct causation is of course short sighted, but the arguments for its acting as a contributing factor in the referendum on EU membership are compelling. What struck me about the interview in question was the argument that Brexit represented a ‘harder cultural turn’ from a […]

“What Kind of Faith?” The Enlightenment, Politics and Original Sin

by Dr. Matt Kadane, Hobart and William Smith Colleges There is a connection between original sin and the Enlightenment that I didn’t consider in my article, and it relates to politics, a category that consumed little of Pentecost Barker’s attention. That omission, however, shouldn’t be taken to minimize original sin’s political implications, especially because of how much they linger. A columnist in The New York Times recently wrote, for example, that he began to understand the motives of rural Trump voters when he set them alongside a speech by a Baptist minister and former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, J. C. Watts. “‘The difference between Republicans and Democrats,” Watts asserted, “is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good…. Democrats believe that…we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong—not us.1 Admittedly, not everybody on the right, or what currently passes for it, would agree. Theresa May was asked in a recent interview in the New Statesman if she believes in original sin given that conservatives, as the interviewer explained, have generally […]

Rough Music and Charivari: Letters Between Natalie Zemon Davis and Edward Thompson, 1970–1972

by Prof. Alexandra Walsham, University of Cambridge (Past & Present Co-Editor) The post that follows below is the first two paragraphs of  Prof. Walsham’s introduction to the correspondence. It appears in Issue 235, pp. 243-262   In 1971 Natalie Zemon Davis published a seminal article in the pages of Past & Present, entitled “The Reasons of Misrule: Youth Groups and Charivaris in Sixteenth-Century France”. A study of the carnivalesque rituals of mockery through which communities displayed disapproval of moral and social infractions, the essay opened a revealing window onto the festive customs through which unmarried young men publicly humiliated and regulated the sexual and marital behaviour of their neighbours. It also demonstrated the transmutation of these ludic rites into vehicles for social and political protest in urban environments. A year later, a piece on the English counterpart of charivari, commonly known as rough music or the skimmington ride, appeared in the pages of Annales. Written by Edward Thompson, the leading left-wing historian and founding member of this journal, this too examined the social function of the practice of parading offenders accompanied by cacophonous banging of pots and pans. It illuminated the role of this form of plebeian street theatre in […]

Watch: “The donkey and the boat: rethinking Mediterranean economic expansion in the eleventh century”

by the Past & Present editorial team Past & Present’s Chair Chris Wickham, emeritus Oxford Chichele Professor of Medieval History, delivered the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures Annual Lecture earlier this year. The University of Birmingham is where Chris researched and taught for much of his career and a video was produced of the lecture: Social media highlights from the event have been collated by Past & Present here.

Refugees in Syria, Syrian Refugees: Then and Now

by Dr. Benjamin Thomas White, University of Glasgow This post originally appeared on the Refuge History blog and is reposted here with permission  Six years ago, popular demonstrations began against the Assad regime in Syria. Their brutal repression by the regime plunged the country into civil war, and since then Syria has become the world’s largest producer of refugees—almost five million at the latest count. But for most of its modern history, Syria didn’t produce refugees: it hosted them, in large numbers. There has barely been a decade in the last hundred and fifty years without a significant flow of refugees into what is now Syria, from the Balkan Muslim refugees of the late nineteenth century to the Iraqis who crowded into Damascus after the 2003 US invasion. In a recently published article, I explore what this meant for the country in the 1920s and 30s: the period when the modern state of Syria emerged, nominally independent but dominated by France under a mandate from the League of Nations. In these years, the arrival and settlement of refugees helped to define modern Syria: its territory, its responsibilities as a state, and its national identity. The area that became ‘Syria’ had been […]

A Map for Imperialism? Henry VIII’s Conquest of France and the Emergence of the English Empire

by Dr. Neil Murphy, Northumbria University In my article “Violence, Colonization and Henry VIII’s conquest of France, 1544-46” (open access), published in the November 2016 issue (233) of Past & Present, I examined the character of English warfare in France in the 1540s. Whereas many historians see the harsh military strategy the English used in sixteenth-century Ireland as being unique (even in European terms), this article sought to show that Henry VIII’s armies pursued a policy of mass violence in France which was designed to inflict the maximum amount of damage on the native population of the Boulonnais, which was the region the Tudor monarch targeted for conquest. While historians have explained the apparently distinctive use of severe military methods in Ireland by drawing on the traditional narrative of the emergence of English (later British) Empire, which is widely believed to have started with the establishment of colonies in the midlands of Ireland during the mid-sixteenth century, it became clear while researching this article that many of the hallmarks of imperial rule had already been implemented in northern France in the 1540s. The research I began while working on the Past & Present article raised a number of important themes, which I […]

Everyday Empries: Trans-Imperial Circulations in a Multi-Disciplinary Perspective – Origins, Inspirations, Ways Forward

By Dr. Nathan Cardon and Dr. Simon Jackson, University of Birmingham The genesis for Everyday Empires can be found, as is often case, in the quotidian interstices of academic life – in its linoleum-floored, poster-bedraggled corridors, as much as in the formal arenas of conference panel, seminar room or library carrel. As historians of French colonial empire, and U.S. empire respectively, we were co-teaching an MA course in Contemporary History at the University of Birmingham. Working through a syllabus that juxtaposed the work of Susan Pedersen and Joel Dinerstein with that of April Merleaux or Keith Watenpaugh, we lingered after class sessions, digesting our students’ comments and trying to parse the overlaps, gaps and tensions between the fields in play. It was clear that we were both interested in the ways empires elaborated their hierarchical “rule of difference” and in how that imperial rule was experienced on the ground level through everyday things – such as racing bicycles, or the spare parts for Fordson tractors – and through the global circuits (ideological, commodity, and military) that supported them. At the same time, it was also clear that while we were concerned with “trans-imperial” perspectives our work was very much rooted […]