Monthly Archives: August 2019

Speaking of the People…

by Dr David Coast (Bath Spa University) Want to liven up your conversation? Try adding some sixteenth-century proverbs to your repertoire: Has something gone wrong? Say ‘the Bishop hath blessed it’. Overcooked a pudding? Say ‘The Bishop hath put his foot in the pot’. Someone getting above themselves? Call them a ‘pontifical fellow’. Have a friend who wants to oppress the common people? Tut tut. Wag your finger at them and say ‘cut not the bough that thou standest upon’. That’ll learn ‘em. These sayings were recorded by the renegade evangelical priest and Bible translator William Tyndale in his Obedience of a Christen Man (1528). The reason Tyndale included them in his book was to show that before the Henrician reformation even got going, there was already a popular groundswell of hostility to the clergy. Although the bishops tried to dupe and mislead the people, popular proverbs seemed to suggest that ordinary subjects were naturally suspicious of the clergy and perhaps even sympathised with Lutheran ideas like justification by faith alone. The people, in other words, were on Tyndale’s side – which was all very convenient. Tyndale was in good company. The German reformer Andreas Karlstadt idealised simple peasants so […]

The Paperback Revolution in Cultural and Intellectual History

by Prof. Peter Mandler (Gonville and Caius, Cambridge) My Past & Present article ‘Good Reading for the Million’ began with Margaret Mead. While writing a book about her attempts to bring anthropology to bear on international relations in the Second World War and the Cold War, I was curious to find out more about her impact on public opinion through the direct influence of her books. I had had a longstanding interest in the growth of the audience for serious non-fiction books, including academic books; I’d written a column on the subject for a Christmas round-up in The Times newspaper in 1993, a short book of my own on the market for history books, and an essay for History Today in 2009 for which I interviewed the pioneers of popular series like the Fontana Modern Masters, Oxford’s Past Masters and the more recent Very Short Introductions. But I was still taken aback by the scale of Mead’s audience when her books went into paperback – I estimated that she had sold a million paperbacks by 1960. I knew that Mead was an unusual academic who angled her books (from the very beginning, with Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928) […]

Manumission and the Making of a ‘Russian Manchester’

by Prof. Alison Smith (University of Toronto) As I spent time reading files and writing about Ivanovo, one of the things I wondered about is how exactly the spate of manumissions that first created this odd part-serf/part-industrial society happened. My full investigation into this has now been published in Past & Present (#244) as “A Microhistory of the Global Empire of Cotton: Ivanovo, The ‘Russian Manchester’”. Obviously it happened when a group of serfs gained their manumission, but that’s not actually a simple thing. Manumission was not in general an unknown part of serf life, and a number of accounts of Ivanovo note that the Ivanovo serf E. I. Grachev had received his freedom back in 1802. But that had been a single instance of manumission, and since then Ivanovo had been developing into a major textile center without additional cases over the next two decades. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the 1820s, something changed, as a dozen or so serfs gained their freedom over the course of just a couple of years. The short time period in which this number of serfs gained their freedom is still a clear sign of some specific event. Part of the answer […]