Monthly Archives: February 2024

Solitude and Soul Union: the Seraphic Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin

by Barbara Taylor (Queen Mary, University of London) What is solitude? The question tends to stop people in their tracks. The commonsense definition – an absence of other people – clearly won’t do, first because one can be wrong about this, that is be in the presence of others when one thinks one isn’t, but also because being with others is for many people the most solitary condition of all. Isolation, seclusion, privacy: none of these are solitude, although some may be preconditions for it. Sometimes aloneness is lonely – for some people unbearably lonely: ‘Solitude,’ the poet John Donne wrote after a period of confinement with illness, ‘is a torment which is not threatened in hell it selfe’. For other people – especially but not exclusively religious solitaries – solitude is a privileged site of intimate connection, an always-accompanied condition. ‘Never less alone than when alone’; ‘[nothing] so companionable as solitude’; ‘Alone in a crowd’; ‘solitude is best society’…The famous epigrams say it all; the language of solitude is crammed with such paradoxes. Solitude is a human eternal that is nonetheless historical, its meanings and valuations varying over time. Its history is one of controversy: from antiquity on people […]

E.P. Thompson Centenary

by the Past & Present editorial team Saturday 3rd February 2024 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edward Palmer Thompson (best known by his publication initials E.P.). E.P. Thompson was a key member of the Communist Party Historians Group out of which Past & Present emerged. However, he is widely remembered today for his pioneering approach and significant contribution to the study of social history, exemplified by the work The Making of the English Working Class, as well as his trenchant interventions in the fields of historiography and politics. Between the 1960s and the 1990s Thompson published three articles in Past & Present. The first of which “Time, Work Discipline and Industrial Capitalism” (No. 38, 1967) is according to Altmetrics the “most citied” in the history of the journal. In honour of Thompson’s centenary our publisher Oxford University press has made his three articles for the journal free to read for the next fortnight: *“Time, Work Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism”, Past & Present, Volume 38, Issue 1, December 1967, Pages 56–97 *“The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century”, Past & Present, Volume 50, Issue 1, February 1971, Pages 76–136 *”Hunting the Jacobin Fox”, Past […]

Germs of doubt

by Will Pooley (University of Bristol) Where did “Doubt and the dislocation of magic: France, 1790–1940” my piece in Past & Present No. 262 come from? All origin stories are, of course, excuses. Historians are no more immune than anyone else from inventing their own pasts to suit the present. After all, historical fictions are fun. So let me tell it like this: I wanted the piece to do what the Wild on Collective have called ‘historically grounded theory’. I wanted to take seriously the possibility of ‘alternative epistemological inquiries, orientations, or starting points’. Historians are not passive consumers of ‘theory’: we have a record of proposing theoretical categories that are applied in other fields, too: ‘emotives’, ‘moral economy’, ‘critical fabulation’. I did not want to take a set of existing theories and applying them to an example, but wanted to ask how historical evidence challenges historians to – perhaps – rethink categories that appear commonsensical. What does it mean to say that people in the past ‘believed’ something? Is ‘belief’ really what the sources convey? And how do historians think about what the sources habitually omit, mischaracterise, or misunderstand? So, the truth is that I started with the category […]

How can we best use sound to support access to heritage?

by Suzie Cloves (Manchester Metropolitan University) As part of Disability History Month 2023, Past and Present funded an event designed to answer “How can we best use sound to support access to heritage?”. This was hosted by Manchester Centre for Public Histories + Heritage (MCPHH) and its aim was to generate practical ideas that would encourage thoughtful use of sound to support access to heritage. The discussion was recorded so it could be shared as a freely available podcast and transcript, which you can find on the MCPHH blog. “I believe that our futures are defined by the elements of our past that we choose to preserve, display, destroy or keep hidden. So I view heritage as a sort of public vocabulary for defining our identities and perpetuating our values. All the different elements of heritage – be that a shoebox of letters, or a meeting place, or a memory, or a tune – are potential parts of an ongoing conversation about what matters and where we’re going next. If any one of us is excluded from that conversation, we are excluded from exploring our identity, finding our connection to community, and from defining how we’re treated in the future. This […]