Saturday, July 03, 2004

Help! Blogger quirks?

Does anyone reading this know why it is that after using BLOCKQUOTE when writing a post the format changes to single line spacing? There are several examples in recent posts. Is it something to do with XML/XHTML? (At least I think that's what the Blogger editor is generating. I only know HTML.) The odd thing is that it doesn't show in the preview pane, so I didn't notice it was happening straightaway. (I checked Netscape and Opera in case it was a strange IE bug and they looked the same.) This is probably just me being picky, but it offends my aesthetic senses somewhat, so if anyone can explain - and tell me how to prevent it - I'd be very grateful. Oh lord, am I going to have to learn XML as well now?

Early Modern Links

Another roundup of interesting links for early modernists. They're arranged roughly under the same thematic headings used at Early Modern Resources. But NB that these are categorisations based on very brief scans of the resource...

Many of these have come from Library and Archival Exhibitions on the Web, a splendid resource from the Smithsonian Institute.

Old and New Worlds
Inuit and Englishmen: the Nunavut Voyages of Martin Frobisher
Trading Places:The East India Company and Asia 1600-1834 (via scribblingwoman
Italy on the Grand Tour (also from scribblingwoman)
Hudson's Bay Company (from scribblingwoman)
Spanish Exploration and Colonization of 'Alta California' 1774-1776
Virginia Runaway Slaves
Aaron Thomas: Caribbean Journey of a Royal Navy Seaman
History of Ukraine: Sixteenth Century; Seventeenth Century; Eighteenth Century

Material and symbolic cultures
The Festive Renaissance
Yesterday's News: Seventeenth-century English Broadsides and Newsbooks
Seeing what Shakespeare means
Connoisseurs, Collectors and Copyists
A Concert of Mourning: the Death of George Washington
A Nation of Shopkeepers

Social, economic, local
Early Modern Chester
Tudor Hackney
London 1753
Myer Myers: Jewish Goldsmith in Colonial New York

Politics, revolution, war
Elizabeth I, then and now
The Restoration 1660-1700
Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents
The Decisive Day is Come: the Battle of Bunker Hill
Maps of the French and Indian War
George Washington
Revolution Rejected: Canada and the American Revolution
What is the Third Estate?

Religion, science, learning
Cardinal Pole's Mission to England
Biblical Metaphors of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe
The Devil and the Religious Controversies of Sixteenth-century France
Leonardo and the Engineers of the Renaissance
The Measurers: a Flemish Image of Mathematics in the Sixteenth Century
The John Evelyn Archive
Scottish Thought and Letters in the Eighteenth Century
Origins of Modernity

Women, gender, sexuality
My Gracious Silence: Women in the Sixteenth Century
Shakespeare's Unruly Women
Women who Ruled: Queens, Goddesses, Amazons 1500-1650
A Woman's Work is Never Done

Crime, deviance, law
The Damned Art
Witchcraft, Demonology and Inquisition

Arts, literature, music
Jacob Cats' Emblem Book at Giornale Nuovo, via scribblingwoman
Impressions of Wenceslaus Hollar
Henry Purcell (also from scribblingwoman)
Musick of Sundrie Kindes
Early Modern French Literature
Tudor Poems

Umm... undecided, general
Tudor and Stuart Treasures and Exhibitions
Eighteenth-century Treasures and Exhibitions
Best of History Web Sites: Early Modern Europe

Friday, July 02, 2004

Early modern related blogs (or, 'Hey, that's my template!')

To reciprocate on a link (thank you): Siris, a history/philosophy (slightly scary stuff) blog, whose author also runs Houyhnhnm Land, for early modern philosophy students.

Selling essays - with ethical standards

It was irresistible, after yesterday's post about plagiarism. When I came to the blog this afternoon, the normally ignored Blogger ads at the top were for companies selling essays to students. What could I do but go and have a look?

This UK-based company is totally, utterly brazen. And clever. They take an investigative Sunday Times report into student cheating and turn it into an advert for their service (whilst complaining about the ' tabloidesque... sensationalism of the headline'). You might wonder how? Because the report demonstrates the quality of the essays provided, which is what students prepared to buy essays will care about.

And I hope you're sitting down before you read the next bit. "Welcome to the beginning of the advancement of educational standards in the UK. Welcome to the beginning of an academic revolution, and in short, welcome to knowledge." Yep, the world just turned upside down before your very eyes. In fact, the emphasis most of the time is rather more honest than that: "Our essays service allows you to get a whole lot closer to achieving that crucial 2:1 or 1st Degree, and that career and salary that you've always dreamed of."

And they've got moral standards, you know, unlike some of their competitors. They not only guarantee the marks, but also that the service is fully personalised, essays will never be re-used, and amendments will be made if requested. (But don't try asking for your money back if dissatisfied: they have a 'strict refund policy'. Legally, I'm not sure they can do that - but hell, what are you going to do about it if you're not happy with the essay? Take them to court?) And this may be the best bit of the lot: "The copyright in the all [sic] [the company's] work remains ours, under no circumstances is our work to be distributed or passed off as your own". Yep, they are serious. Go look at the FAQs page. "You must assure us that you will use [the essay] as an educational research tool only. The work remains our copyright and is not yours to hand in. It is there to inspire your final piece. If we believe any other motive exists for purchasing the work then we will not supply you." Those plagiarism and cheating FAQs are pure sophistry.* Read 'em and weep.

I've deliberately avoided giving the company's name (and any extra links) so as to minimise the possibility of adding further to their advertising; that may seem pointless, since any CHEATING BASTARD who happens on this page after a keyword search looking for places to buy essays can just follow the main link anyway. Ah well. But as academics, we need to know what people like this are up to, so I'll take that pretty small risk on the grounds that this is educational, OK?

* and covering of legal arses, of course.

What's the point of a PhD in history?

A bit more from the British Academy report. This is concerned more broadly with arts, humanities and social science degrees, of course, but it may also be encouraging for all those students worried about what their history Phd might be any use for beyond the narrow confines of academia, and how they should 'sell' themselves to non-academic employers...

Benefits of an education in the arts, humanities and social sciences

The variety of subjects within the arts, humanities and social sciences means that different subjects will relate to employment in different ways. Graduates of subjects such as law, economics and business studies will often enter employment that has a clear and direct link to their subject of study. The starting salaries that these graduates can command are often high. For other subjects within the arts, humanities and social sciences, the link may be less direct and the transition from graduation to employment may be longer and more complex. But graduates with a non-occupation-specific degree are suitable for a wide variety of employment and are less pressurised to find work that exactly fits their training because they have skills that are applicable to a large number of different sectors. ...

Graduates in the arts, humanities and social sciences achieve leading roles in public life. History, for example, is the third most popular subject studied by the main board directors of the FTSE top 100 companies. Currently, seventeen of the twenty-one Cabinet Ministers hold degrees in subjects falling wholly within the arts, humanities and social sciences. Dr John Reid who has a PhD in History and is now Secretary of State for Health, formerly Northern Ireland Secretary, has been quoted as saying, when he was in Northern Ireland, that History presented a context and a perspective on one of the longest-running conflicts in European history – 'if you have some interest in the history of Ireland, it certainly helps you to appreciate why some of the present problems seem intractable to those on the outside'. ...

The UK economy is moving from one that is based in the industrial sector to one that is dominated by the service sector: in 2000, the traditional manufacturing and agricultural production occupations accounted for less than 15 per cent of all employment. Many of the most versatile people in the economy are coming from the arts, humanities and social sciences because the skills of analysis, research and presentation acquired by graduates in the arts, humanities and social sciences can be applied in a wide variety of nondiscipline-specific areas. ...

This is worth repeating, too: 'It has repeatedly been stressed that graduates have to be able to articulate their skills and aptitudes to employers. It has also been argued that academics in many subjects falling within the arts, humanities and social sciences are not always aware of the extent to which the skills that graduates gain whilst studying for their degree are valued by employers.' (Three qualities of graduates in English were appreciated by employers who took part in a recent study: 'persuasiveness, conceptual thinking and confidence'.) In other words, while you can turn to lecturers and supervisors for advice on many things, this may not be one of them. But in any case a PhD is supposed to foster independent thinking, right? Add that to versatility, skills in analysis, research and presentation, understanding of complexity and historical development (and other things I don't have time to think of because I have to go and do some work) ...

Thursday, July 01, 2004

History research not just an indulgence

I like to be reassured that the public money (ie a junior lecturer level salary for my post-doc fellowship) I'm getting for three years to do my pet research project is more than a wasteful indulgence. Report stresses importance of the arts: 'study and training in the arts, humanities and social sciences provide the high-level skills required to sustain an increasingly knowledge-based society and economy, at a relatively low cost'.

The report has been published by the British Academy*; see their press release. I quote:

This Review demonstrates that the arts, humanities and the social sciences provide high-level skills and ground-breaking research essential to a knowledge-based economy. It also shows how the cultural, intellectual and social well-being of the UK depends on the nurturing of these branches of knowledge. And not least it asserts their complementary function within the spectrum of intellectual discovery. Studying human beings as creative individuals and as social creatures is crucial not only in its own right but is also crucial to the study by natural scientists of human beings in terms of their biology and physical environment. The central point is not simply that every branch of knowledge makes an important contribution to the whole, but rather that no branch of knowledge contributes effectively unless the others are granted the same recognition.

Link to the full report in either HTML or PDF format. I think I'd better read this! (I'll maybe post a longer article about it later.)

The Guardian article also reminds us that one of the less publicised elements in the controversial Higher Education bill (voting today in the House of Commons) is to make the Arts and Humanities Research Board into a full Research Council (the AHRB and the Economic and Social Research Council are the main funders of history postgrads in the UK, for readers outside Britain). Does that mean they actually get any more money though?

*The nice people who gave me the fellowship and pay the aforementioned salary. (OK, so they're not exactly disinterested observers.)

The Ottomans website

This is well worth a visit (plenty for early modernists).

Which reminds me: Why we have the Turks to thank for defeating the Armada

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Plagiarism again

The evidence is mounting that large numbers of UK students are plagiarising from the internet, and that Michael Gunn was merely an extreme example of a worrying trend. I had very little sympathy for Gunn, and still do. But I went on record somewhere to somebody's blog with the naive belief that he was a rarity. I was clearly wrong. Add this to the situation revealed in Mum, will you write my dissertation? (via PhD Weblogs), and it becomes clear that there are some out-and-out, deliberate cheats out there, but equally there are many students who are extremely fuzzy in their minds about what constitutes cheating in the first place.

You don't have to teach history undergrads for long to discover that some (certainly not all), no matter how many times you spell it out, do not understand footnoting. They do it, kind of, but badly and perfunctorily and without any discernible system for formatting the notes. And you strongly suspect that they've never read the departmental handbook - or any of the other booklets and handouts that we go to the trouble of preparing, either - where they might learn these things as well as seeing the bold-type page on plagiarism. They don't really care, they can't be bothered. They are the scraping-a-lower-second coasters; they have no real ambitions, they're just getting through their (increasingly expensive) three years because it's pretty much expected of middle-class kids rather than because they really want to be here. (And is it just me or are most of them male?)

Even if they know that it's wrong to buy other people's essays whole, or to copy chunks out of published history books, it does seem that students often think that cutting-and-pasting from the internet is somehow different. (Perhaps they just know that they're less likely to get caught.) Actually, I suspect that cut-and-paste isn't necessarily that easy an option; unless a student is lucky enough to find long chunks that match the set essay question, they have to select the right bits to cut and weave them together to make anything like a coherent discussion. (I do wonder if, rather than a wish to steal other people's ideas, is this sometimes in fact about stealing the writing itself, by students for whom the real difficulty is communicating on paper the perfectly good ideas that they have?)

The good thing is that according to the poll of students reported by The Guardian, 75 per cent said they had never cheated, and only 16 per cent had cheated more than once. It's more than a few rotten apples, but it could be a lot worse. As long as they were telling the truth, of course. Yet it does seem that if we're to get to the bottom of the causes of plagiarism we do need to get out there and ask students about it themselves. For some, it seems to have been a simple, practical matter of lack of time. And - guess what - the poll also found that boys were more likely to cheat than girls...

Anyway, we're going to have to get more sophisticated at catching internet plagiarism, that's for sure. (A three-day conference has just been taking place on precisely these issues.) We're also probably going to have to spell it out that this form of plagiarism is no different from any other. It shouldn't need saying, but there you go.

David Starkey pontificates

A report in The Independent on a speech by David Starkey at the Prince of Wales' summer school a couple of days ago.
The cult of the celebrity historian is destructive to the way the subject is approached in schools, the historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey told a teachers' conference yesterday.
There was too much concentration on "new'' theories of history, rather than a basic knowledge and understanding of the past, Dr Starkey said.

When you see 'celebrity historian', don't you think immediately of people like Starkey and Schama on TV? (I did anyway) And since when did that kind of TV history involve much 'theorising'? But the first line is just misleading: Starkey is not in fact complaining about that kind of history (which is a shame: I had the 'celebrity historian shoots himself in the foot' header lined up in my head), according to the rest of the article. He's criticising history education in schools for spending too much time on 'theories' - by which I think is meant historiography - and skills, rather than on 'factual content'. (I took a look at some GCSE History revision resources like these at the BBC and it didn't seem at all 'content indifferent' to me. Too heavily focused on the 20th century perhaps, but that's another matter.)

The report immediately goes on to an example of a recent AS-Level question that he thinks 'insane': "discuss the role of Archbishop Cranmer in the formation of religious policy between 1534 and 1540".
Dr Starkey said: "I'd love to have seen the examiner's notes as to what was the right answer to the question, because there are only two people in the country who can answer that question, and one of them is standing here."

'The right answer'? If Starkey doesn't know that there is no 'right answer' to a question that begins 'discuss', we should probably be glad that he's no longer teaching university students. Now maybe that question is rather narrow in focus, but given how much has been written on the English Reformation over the years, it's probably perfectly doable.* If at least two historians (and what about historians in other countries?) have published on it, you certainly have a starting point for a discussion. But there's the problem for Starkey, isn't it? I can't help wondering if his ego is a little uncomfortable with the idea of mere A-level students criticising his work. The trouble is precisely that 'discuss' word. His whole point is that school students should not be discussing the ideas of historians, they should be acquiring facts (whatever those are: the thousands of published words on the question of what is a 'historical fact' strongly suggest that it ain't that simple).

"One of the reasons we have lost the debate is we stopped teaching the history of our nation and of our own culture properly," he said. "I'm not calling for 'our island story' and tub-thumping accounts of the British Empire, but we need to have a sense of history's importance and also that it can be fun."

Have we lost the debate? (Umm... Which debate?) (This is like Schama telling us that boring historians are turning people off history when the bookshops are full of both popular and serious history and sales are through the roof.) And then... why do we need to study British history a) to get history's 'importance' and b) for it to be 'fun'? Don't get me wrong: I'm a British historian by trade. I don't think it's of no importance. But there's a whole world out there, and I fail to see how anyone understands the significance of history properly if they only really know the history of one country. Besides, we learn our own national histories (however badly) all the time, through the news, from the people we mix with. You can't avoid it. It's much harder to learn other countries' histories that way.

The only reason to focus heavily on British history in British schools is if we're going to subject the 'bad' history, the myths, the easy but dodgy stuff that we learn out on the street to serious, sustained criticism: to make us better-informed, questioning citizens. But that's precisely what it seems Starkey doesn't want taught. He doesn't want children in schools taught the critical skills that are the whole point of discussing and evaluating sources - whether they be secondary or primary sources (Starkey doesn't even mention - or isn't reported as mentioning - what I think is one of the best trends in recent history education, the turn to using primary source material far more than was ever done when I was at school). Skills that have far wider application than studying history (or utilitarian employment uses).

'He told the teachers: "It is not your job to reflect the latest little bit of academic fashion."' Historians all go 'out of fashion'. Even David Starkey (although, by implication, he apparently thinks G R Elton is still in fashion. Hmm). But that's such a superficial way to express it. Historians don't just go out of fashion like clothes; their ideas are tested against evidence, debated, revised, superseded, because history is much more about the contestable 'why' and 'how' than the relatively easily verifiable 'what' and 'when'. 'Content' cannot be so easily separated from the historians who communicate it, any more than the past can be neatly and safely separated from the perspectives and priorities and hangups of those who study it.

My view is fairly simple: you cannot study 'content' properly if you don't learn the skills and tools with which to do it. But learning 'skills' and 'theories' divorced from context and content is useless. (I've become a little concerned about stand-alone historiography courses - students all too often seem to finish with no idea of what relevance all that boring stuff about dead historians has for the rest of the degree.) And this isn't something to be reserved for university level study. Why shouldn't teenagers get their teeth into Dr David Starkey?

Still, you can't help kinda liking the guy: An interview with Dr Rude.

* I would be concerned if the entire exam consisted of narrow-topic questions like this. I hope not.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Never satisfied

An interesting day in the archives today: rebels in and around Chester in the early years of the Civil Wars. I'm working in the Public Record Office (still stubbornly refusing to think of it as 'The National Archives'), going through seventeenth-century Cheshire court records. I've been bored lately because the gaol files have few of the depositions (witness statements) that I most enjoy working with; now I've got a huge box of them to work through and I'm feeling completely overwhelmed! Never satisfied, eh?

I'm staying at home to work tomorrow. I don't think I can face travelling there during the Tube strike (it's going to be a nightmare on the buses and the few overground trains that run from Richmond to Kew), so I'll have a go at working on thesis revisions for the book submission, which I want done by Christmas at the very latest. (I WILL NOT SPEND ALL DAY BLOGGING repeat I WILL NOT SPEND ALL DAY BLOGGING.) And maybe that 'Cultures of violence' conference proposal. And although I WILL NOT SPEND ALL DAY BLOGGING I'll post something here, no doubt.

St Winifred's still going strong

Nowadays, a pilgrimage to St Winifred's Well at Holywell, Flintshire, is a curiosity to be reported indulgently by the BBC. In the seventeenth century, it was a much more serious, political, matter. Flintshire was, by the Restoration if not much earlier, one of the few Welsh counties with significant numbers of Catholic 'recusants' (the other main centre was Monmouthshire), and moreover the well attracted many Catholic pilgrims.

It's a wonder the well was never shut down (especially as, apparently, the Gunpowder Plotters went there); it's not that far from the English border and hardly in what you'd call remote moorlands. It did have some powerful patrons at various points. Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mother, was its most important late 15th-century patron. Two centuries later, James II and his second wife made a pilgrimage in 1687, hoping for the saint's intervention to give them an heir. And we know the trouble that led to in 1688.* The well was ransacked by anti-catholic rioters after the Revolution, but was going strong again in the eighteenth century - more as a bathing 'spa' than a site of religious pilgrimage.

The Cistercian Way: Holywell
St Winefride's Well

The BBC recounts the well-known legend: a local chieftain beheaded the maiden Winefride after she rejected him. A spring rose from the point where her head fell (before it was miraculously restored to its owner's neck, which the BBC doesn't mention). And "the stones surrounding the fountain were stained forever with her blood, and the blood falling in the water coloured also the moss that grows there and which has the perfume of frankincense, though some say of violets." The BBC also doesn't go on to mention the story Celia Fiennes told about the moss, the locals and the pilgrims:
I saw abundance of the devout papists on their knees all round the well; poor people are deluded into an ignorant blind zeal and to be pitied by us that have the advantage of knowing better and ought to be better. There is some small stones of a reddish colour in the well said to be some of St Winifred's blood also, which the poor people take out and bring to the strangers for curiosity and relicts, and also moss about the banks full of great virtue for every thing - but its a certain game ['gaine' in my text] to the poor people, every one gives them something for bringing them moss and the stones.

This online extract doesn't add the postscript (and I don't have my notes here to quote it, unfortunately): Celia notes that she was told that the local poor didn't simply go down into the well to fetch moss for the pilgrims: at night they took moss taken from elsewhere and stuck it onto the sides of the well in order to meet demand!

BTW, if Winifred sounds familiar to crime fiction readers, she is the same saint who is so dear to Cadfael in Ellis Peters' A morbid taste for bones.

*For anyone reading this who doesn't know much seventeenth-century history, it was the birth of a male heir and hence the prospect of a Catholic succession that sparked off the 'Glorious Revolution'. This heir was James, 'The Old Pretender'.)

Monday, June 28, 2004

Early modern book reviews

Recent H-Net reviews of books (English language) relating to the early modern period.

Essex pauper letters, 1731-1837
The evolution of the English churches, 1500-2000
German secular song-books of the mid-seventeenth century
Glimpses of glory: John Bunyan and English dissent
The ingenious Henry Care, Restoration publicist and The Restoration: England in the 1660s
Judaism and Enlightenment
Military governors and imperial frontiers, c.1600-1800: a study of Scotland and empires
Nobody's perfect: a new whig interpretation of history
Pamphlets and pamphleteering in early modern Britain
Queen Elizabeth I
Reading, society and politics in early modern England
The trials of Phyllis Wheatley: America's first black poet and her encounters with the founding fathers
A woman's kingdom: noble women and the control of property in Russia, 1700-1861
The age of Elizabeth in the age of Johnson
The Cambridge history of the book in Britain, 1557-1695
Crime, gender and social order in early modern England
Three books on George III and Georgian politics
Families and frontiers: recreating communities and boundaries in the early modern Burgundies
Puritan iconoclasm during the English civil war
The Cromwellian protectorate

Essay competition, Local History of England and Wales

Early modernists may be interested in the following:

The John Nichols Prize is awarded annually by the University of Leicester through its Centre for English Local History for an essay on any aspect of the local history of England and Wales.

Essays must be submitted on or before 31 December. They must be typewritten, on one side of the paper only, with double spacing for the text, and single or double spacing for the footnotes. They must not exceed 20,000 words in length, excluding footnotes. References should be given as footnotes at the foot of the page and in a style recognized in Humanities publications (not Harvard and not endnotes). Unrevised dissertations may be submitted provided that they have been awarded a distinction by a Higher Education institution (HEI). Ph.D./D.Phil dissertation and thesis chapters may be submitted provided the chapter also elucidates the general context and importance for research into the local history of England and Wales.

Essays should be sent to: John Nichols Prize, Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester, Marc Fitch Historical Institute, 5 Salisbury Road, Leicester, LE1 7QR. A stamped addressed envelope should accompany the typescript for return.

Informal enquiries made be made to:

Sunday, June 27, 2004

On 'history' and 'fiction' and 'literature'

The Little Professor discusses the conventions of historical non-fiction and fiction (also posted at Cliopatria), sparked off by a letter by one Ken McGoogan (via a link at scribblingwoman), defending his book, Ancient Mariner: The Arctic Adventures of Samuel Hearne, and his methodology, following two highly critical reviews in The Arctic Review. (The reviewers were, it seems, particularly hostile to his habit of inventing passages of dialogue between his subjects.)

Anyway, McGoogan enthusiastically joins the ranks of those who blithely and crudely misrepresent current and recent historiography: 'One can't help wondering what would happen if superlative historians like Glyn Williams stopped pretending that they practice science and accepted that they write literature. Maybe history would begin to regain its audience?' 'The writer of historical fiction, I believe, has taken out a license to change dates, names and venues, and to invent, combine or kill off characters, whatever; the writer of historical nonfiction, on the other hand, must work within the known facts, changing and ignoring none of them. I take the position that, having assimilated the relevant journals, letters, biographies and histories, the non-fiction writer can then use imagination and craft to bridge gaps in the record.'

As the Little Professor comments, in what parallel universe does history need to 'regain its audience'? Popular histories have a huge readership (and quite scholarly ones sometimes cross over and sell well too), and although sometimes we academic specialists complain about them for being too broad-brush, insufficiently sceptical about sources, and so on, they do nonetheless adhere to certain 'rules' of evidence, without which writing, as she says, simply cannot be classed as 'history'.

Secondly, the characterisations of historical nonfiction vs. fiction are frankly absurd, crude and inaccurate polarisations. As a historian, I cannot simply write what I like, but I do not accept that abiding by the constraints of the sources entails dull writing and prevents all imaginative creativity. Any more than fiction is inevitably creative, interesting writing... The Little Professor also makes telling points about historical novels. Their writers are more bounded by 'fact' than we tend to realise; the best historical fiction is backed by serious research and is careful about what it does with 'real' historical actors. Here's a question: should we be asking more searching questions about the relationship between 'literature' and 'fiction', as well as that between 'literature' and 'history'? Good writers transcend the constraints of whatever genre (or discipline, or field) they work in; poor writers drag their genre down with them.

McGoogan's letter at the points quoted in fact reads like a certain kind of slightly pompous/naive undergraduate who has yet to encounter the slipperiness and ambiguity of real primary sources, the spaces (including the literal gaps) that they allow for imaginative (yet critical) interpretation. (Historical novelists use those gaps in exactly the same way as historians, even if they can get away with rather more invention and less criticism.) Possible doubts about his familiarity with primary source materials - and in particular, sources for early modern history - are heightened by a further justification of his technique in this book compared to a previous one. That, he says, came 'out of the well-documented nineteenth century, Ancient Mariner derives from the far sketchier eighteenth. Inevitably, the gaps are greater.'

Well, it is virtually a historical law that the nearer you get to the present the more source material there is available, even to the point of overload. David Starkey told the Guardian in an interview that 'he is fascinated by the Tudors because it is the first period that is suficiently well-documented to be revealing for a historian, but not so well-documented that it becomes a Sisyphean task'. Eighteenth-century historians have more, and more varied, sources than Tudor historians. Sketchy? Hmm. Certainly (unless McGoogan's field is highly unusual) not so sketchy that one is forced to resort to invention in order to have anything interesting to say. That's just cheating, bloody laziness.

I can only finish by concurring with the editor's tart response to McGoogan: 'We wish to clarify that we are certainly cognizant of the ways in which fact and fiction overlap, an ambiguity often further cloaked in the mists of incomplete records or conflicting testimony. What we object to is fiction that represents itself as fact to the reader -- who... deserves better.'

(By the way, I may be one of the few people who quite liked Simon Schama's Dead Certainties, which was also criticised for departing from the 'rules'. But Schama was honest about what he was doing, and it made for an intriguing, thought-provoking experiment.)

Web Review: Tyburn Tree

  Tyburn Tree: Public Execution in Early Modern England

(Created by Zachary Lesser of Columbia University in October 1995; expanded and maintained by Charlie Mitchell, Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

Tyburn Tree is a fine and deservedly popular online resource. It covers a range of executions - from high-profile political beheadings, burnings, to the hangings of felons. It's divided into five main sections at the front page: Background and Documents, Dying Speeches, Pictures, Bibliography, Links to Other Sites.

Tyburn Tree is a remarkably plain and simple site in these high-tech days, which means that it's simple to access and quick to load. Still, a more distinct style - if only to give the site a clear identity – might not go amiss. More seriously, it could be more clearly organised and signposted. In particular, the front page gives no clues to the diversity of the 'Background and Documents' section, which is a mixture of primary and secondary sources of different types, with both internal and (slightly confusingly, given the 'Links to Other Sites' page) external links, on several topics. The bibliography is also extensive and varied; and there is also a very useful glossary of terms. However, a substantial number of the external links on several pages are broken.

The site's own material is generally excellent, perhaps especially its pages on the locations of executions, and the standard of transcribed material seems good – as far as it goes. There are distinct limitations to the content. Firstly, it isn’t really about executions in early modern England, as its title claims, but in London (although this emphasis is acknowledged in the about page). This risks giving the impression that the London experience was representative of the country as a whole, which is problematic to say the least. The capital city is the most fertile source of information about capital punishment, especially if one is dependent on printed sources. In terms of numbers, London was quite simply the foremost site of executions of all kinds in England and Wales, not least but not only high-profile political ones. (There has been to my knowledge no systematic comparative study of the use of capital punishment relative to population across the country, but even given its size, it's quite possible that London was exceptional.) Might greater familiarity with executions and their sheer scale have meant that execution had different social and cultural significances for Londoners?

It feels rather unfair to say that my first main criticism of Tyburn Tree is that it leaves me wanting more. Charlie Mitchell comments in an interview that he wanted to balance the disproportionate attention paid to the eighteenth century with more information on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the site indeed does this. But London is not England, and it would be equally useful to see more about the provinces to redress the similarly excessive focus on the capital by many writers. Secondly, judging by the broken links (and absence of any links to recent essential resources such as The Old Bailey Proceedings), little has been done to the site in some time. And, finally, it really does need a proper site map and/or (at the very least) a slightly more informative front page.

The Week in Early Modern History: 21-27 June 1604

The first (hopefully) in a regular series. What was happening 400 years ago, according to Google? With some further links to put events in context.

London, England: Parliament has been concerned with, among other things, the removal of benefit of clergy from certain types of manslaughter; ‘popery’ and recusancy; ‘abuses’ in buying and selling fish; poaching of deer; ‘deceits’ in clothing; the plague; swearing and blasphemy.
See also:
The 'Stabbing Act' removed benefit of clergy from cases of manslaughter by stabbing
Anti-catholicism: Parliamentary statutes and religious persecution; Persecution and toleration in Protestant England (book review)
Clothing: status and regulation; morality and fashion

Ostend, Netherlands: The three-year siege of Ostend, during the eighty-years of war for the Netherlands' independence from Spain, is at its height. It began in July 1601; the town did not surrender until September 1604.
See also: Dutch Declaration of Independence, 1581; The Dutch Revolt (multi-lingual)

24 June, Gloucestershire, England: baptism of Thomas Kimberley, son of Abraham and Katherine. Thomas emigrated to New England sometime between 1628 and the mid 1630s, to become one of the original founders of New Haven, Connecticut.
See also: Emigrants and settlers; Original constitution of New Haven, 1639

24 June, London: death of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (possibly of the plague, poor sod). Some argue that this is the man who really wrote the works of 'Shakespeare'. Others use the date of his death as evidence that he did not (since there are works dated after this). Some wonder if it really matters.
And see:
Just one of the many, many web pages discussing the topic
Burial of the plague dead in early modern London

26 June, Scotland: Robert Weir was broken on the wheel for his part in the murder of John Kincaid of Warriston four years earlier (John's wife Lady Jean Kincaid and other accomplices had been executed, variously by beheading and burning, in July 1600).
See also: Execution by breaking on the wheel. Not for the squeamish. Breaking on the wheel was not used in early modern England and Wales, and was probably rare in Scotland; it's associated more with mainland Europe.

27 June, Surrey, south-east England: John Gardner has been completing his task as executor of his brother Raphe’s estate (the will is proved today).
See also: Probate records in England and Wales; Early Modern Death

c. 26-7 June, New France: French explorers found a (short-lived) settlement at St Croix Island (on the US/Canada border today) – the first French, and one of the earliest European, settlements in north America.
See also: There are many Canadian web pages at the moment celebrating these events. Try this one; or this, on the more long-lasting founding of Port Royal the following year.