Saturday, July 10, 2004

Names and periods: notes on the 'early modern'

A small change of title here, with apologies if it causes any inconvenience. Giving the blog the same name as my original web site, given that the two are supposed to be in some way complementary, seemed like a good idea to begin with. But it was just confusing, for me at least (although I am easily confused...). And in some posts that referred to both sites, it occurred to me that it might be confusing for others too. So it seemed best to create a clear distinction. And after some thought, 'Notes' (akin to Kristine Brorson's Historiological Notes) seemed to convey better the sense of what this blog is about.

The subtitle also just got less concise in the hope of being more inclusive and intelligible beyond the ranks of 'early modernists'. As my next-door neighbour Brandon Watson has recently commented from the perspective of early modern philosophy, not everyone knows what 'early modern' means. Even amongst those who would recognise it, it covers a pretty varied timespan; it can, I think, start as early as the mid-fifteenth century, even if c.1500 is regarded as more usual. As for endpoints: some would not allow it to extend beyond about 1750 (in fact, many books of 'early modern history', in British history at least, stop at 1640...); for others it can clearly go to 1800 and even beyond. Americanists, of course, have another (more commonly used?) name for it, with a very clear terminal date: 'the colonial period'. Or, if we are discussing the 'early early modern', up to the early seventeenth century, others - especially those focused on literature - may use the term 'Renaissance'; and the 'late early modern' might go under the headings 'Enlightenment', 'Industrial Revolution', 'Romanticism'...

And then there are nationally/regionally specific, often dynastic, titles covering various parts of the period: Tudor, Stuart, Ancien Regime, Tokugawa, Mughal, Ottoman. Those non-European ones, in their non-conformity to European periodisation, also pose some questions about spatial varieties (or even limits?) to the concept of 'early modern'. A Japanese historian may seem on the surface fairly comfortable with the idea of early modern Japan (with the dates 1600-1868) - or is that just a pragmatic way of giving Euroamerican students a label that they can recognise, to make them more comfortable?

The cultural historian Peter Burke discussed the problems with 'early modern' at some length in an interview (and he was also sceptical of the applicability of 'early modern' to Asian and African contexts).

What I am afraid of is the reification of the period, and because of division of labour we want to divide ourselves off from the mediaevalists on one side, the modernists on the other. But if we started to believe that our period is homogenous, then that would be the end. So I treat it just as a flag of convenience... the dates that matter vary according to the problem you are interested in. And so if political history need not have, probably should not have the same dates as economic history, and the history of high culture probably should not have the same dates as the history of popular culture. And yet we want to do total history, so what are we doing? I think the only thing is we use this term, but we don't pretend it's more than convenience.

I agree. (Though might a philosopher like Brandon argue that this is a typical bit of historians' fudging?) But I'd still be curious to know what historians of Asia and Africa in (roughly) the half-millennium to 1900 think about this.

And if you know of good online resources (in English) for the world beyond Europe and north America during that period, do let me know. I'm conscious that Early Modern Resources is rather Eurocentric, and will be trying to do something about it this summer.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The humble, indispensable index

Philip Hensher in The Independent discusses the enjoyment to be had from indexes. It has to be said that few of the history books I read have the opportunities to be as gloriously bitchy as the biographies he mentions, but it is true that the index, besides being a useful tool for extracting information you need from a book when you don't have time or inclination to read the whole thing, is often a quick way to get a feel of a writer's priorities (and blind spots). A good index should tell you a lot about both a book and its writer. And an academic book without an index is surely a contradiction in terms.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...

Off home to Aberystwyth for the weekend: get some nice fresh sea air, pay bills (eugh), remind myself what the office looks like, that kind of thing. Funnily enough, I found a secondhand copy of Malcolm Pryce's Last Tango in Aberystwyth right here in Richmond last week (I just hadn't got round to buying it before). A fun read (as was the first book, which I did buy and a friend 'borrowed' it...). Parallel-universe Aberystwyth, with druid gangsters, ventriloquists and sheer surreal craziness. And Lampeter is just weird... so no difference there, then.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Job opportunities

Associate Lecturer in Medieval / Early Modern History, The Australian National University, Canberra. 'The successful applicant will have completed a PhD, will have teaching experience and a record of research leading to publication in the area'. Starting salary from A$50,107 p.a. Deadline: 26 July 2004.

Post-doctoral Research Fellowship in American Literature, Goldsmiths, University of London. 'You will have recently gained a doctorate in American literature and be developing a major research project in any period of American literature'. Salary: £21,027 p.a. Deadline: 23 July 2004.

MA Studentships

A couple of funding opportunities noted at

University of Warwick: MA in the Culture of the European Renaissance, an interdisciplinary course. There are two bursaries available, each worth £2000. Deadline for applications: 27 August 2004.

University of Strathclyde, one studentship each for MRes and MPhil. Fees and stipends to the value of £6,500. Deadline: 27 August 2004.

Homophone corner

The Guardian reports that researchers at the Concise OED have worked out exactly which homophones (words that are spelt very similarly but with completely different meanings, if you weren't sure) are causing us the most trouble. Apparently the most common one is diffuse/defuse.* The Guardian has provided a list, either (it's unclear) from the Oxford people or its own database of recurring mistakes, as featured in the daily corrections column. At least Guardian writers who have seen their work featured there can take comfort in knowing that they're not alone. These are, according to the researchers, mistakes made by relatively literate people, found "in texts that are otherwise quite well spelt". They suggest that the use of spellcheckers may be at least partly to blame (surprise, surprise). Additionally, they're finding a tendency to write on the internet "as if it was a spoken rather than a written medium, with all the mistakes which arise through doing that". (Shouldn't that be 'as if it were', Mr Dictionary?)

For the few of us fortunate enough to find spelling in English instinctively easy (for me, 'diffuse' and 'defuse' sound completely different: how could I ever confuse them?), this is often less irritating than a source of entertainment, especially when the result is a good suggestive pun. But publishers looking for the successor to Eats, Shoots and Leaves may want to take note.

By the way, the same researchers have noted that the 'grocer's apostrophe' is, in fact, on the decline.

*Update: I realised that if I'd been asked which homophone I thought was the most common, I'd have plumped for 'loose' (for 'lose'), which is some way down the Guardian's list. I keep seeing it everywhere!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Bad university accommodation

Well, I had a very enjoyable conference (perhaps more thoughts later), except for one thing. I decided to stay on campus at the University of Hertfordshire - although it wasn't exactly cheap at £46 for the night B&B, compared to past experience of prices for student halls. Looks good on first sight - OK, usual boring sort of buildings, but they're only a year old, and they look clean and smart.

1. Getting into the building (and the rooms).
So many people had trouble with this. An electronic key card system had been installed. On the outside doors, the box to stick the card in had been installed so low down that you couldn't see the slot where the card was meant to go. I was actually quite relieved to discover that I wasn't the only person who stood in front of the door for a while puzzling over how was I supposed to get in (I had to ask somebody who happened to be nearby).

But even having worked it out, the key cards were ridiculously temperamental. It took me 3 goes to get the room to my door open on one occasion. At least two people couldn't get into their rooms at all: either the lock or the key was broken. One of them was in my flat; she had to call the security people to let her in at midnight.

2. But in a way, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Why? Because nowhere in any of the flats - not in the rooms, not in the kitchen - was there a single cup, mug or glass to drink from, let alone any coffee or tea (one of the organisers told me afterwards that in fact these things were supposed to have been provided). So the security guards - who were absolutely lovely - brought us some plastic vending-machine cups, which were better than nowt. We shared out the teabags that people had brought (and I had my own coffee for the morning anyway) and had a nice cuppa and complained at length about that and...

3. The buffet lunch. Now, this wasn't too bad for me (I don't eat much at lunchtime), although it wasn't exactly inspiring (coleslaw sandwich, anyone?). But one of my new neighbours had a wheat allergy and the only thing she had been able to eat was the fruit salad. And it was the same on the second day.

4. My neighbour got into her room to discover that the toilet seat (in a nasty cheap plasticky ensuite cubicle with the tiniest shower you've ever seen) was broken and on the floor. And when she got up during the night to go to the loo, the side of her bed fell off! (probably waking up any poor sod in the room below her)

5. There were fridges in each of the rooms (but not in the kitchens), which had clearly not been defrosted when the students moved out a couple of weeks ago at the end of term. One had so much ice that the door wouldn't shut and the occupant had to turn it off to defrost - and then get up during the night to empty the tray!

6. Oh, and when I went down to breakfast in the morning there was no toast left. Possibly no bread left in the kitchen at all; they'd 'just put some rolls on'. These hadn't arrived by the time I left to get to the conference. Yes, I was fairly late coming to breakfast, but there were still people coming in and officially another 15 minutes or so before they stopped serving. And how difficult is it to keep enough bread in the freezer to make toast with?

What on earth are these places like to live in for several months? They aren't cheap for students either - over £80 a week (self-catering, I think). I'm betting the soundproofing in these new halls isn't any better than usual, and they have those really annoying doors that slam, hard, unless you stop and catch them. I lived variously in old and new student accommodation as a student, and I have to say that the older buildings were consistently a) much less smart; b) better to actually live in; c) cheaper. Also, often, more care seemed to have gone into designing the furniture for the room rather than just buying bog standard furniture (the wardrobe/shelf/bookcase unit at York in particular was a space-saving miracle). And these furnishings and fittings had survived years of use by students. None had things like ensuite (I never had a problem with this, as long as there was a decent student/bathroom ratio and a regular cleaner!) - but we all know that that's not for the benefit of students but for conference business during vacations, isn't it?

The only plus point at UH was that the kitchens were much better equipped than anywhere I ever stayed in (a flat for 8 people had 2 sinks, 2 cookers, 2 microwaves and 2 freezers!) - except for the utterly stupid idea of putting mini fridges into the rooms instead of having a proper fridge where a fridge ought to be, in the room where you cook and eat. I've never, ever seen that in university accommodation before.

So, to finish this rant, if you're ever going to a conference on the de Havilland campus at the University of Hertfordshire, don't stay on campus. And if you or anyone you know is thinking of studying there, the same warning probably applies. Unless you like overpriced, shoddy quality accommodation, of course. Trouble is, off-campus accommodation in that area is probably hideously expensive too.

Oh, and feel free to share your university accommodation horror stories...

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Conferences and conferencing

Yippee! I'm off to the Tales from the Old Bailey conference tomorrow morning (not so looking forward to navigating the Tube in the rush hour, though) for a couple of days of listening to interesting-sounding papers and general schmoozing and catching up with old friends. Curious about the conference sub-title though: 'Writing a new history from below'. I wait to be convinced that this is 'new'. Has this become a seriously over-used adjective in historiography?

More Conferences...

It's probably a bit late, but there might be last-minute places at The Anglo-American Conference: Wealth and Poverty, London, 7-9 July.

Charisma and Religious Authority: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Preaching 1200-1600, London, 26-27 July.

Textual Afterlife: a conference on the uses and manipulations of texts, St Andrews, 3-4 September (papers on 'Medieval and Early Modern manuscript transmission, reception, revisions, borrowings and printed editions'). E-mail Sally Crumplin or Sumi David, or

Leviathan to Licensing Act (1650-1737): Theatre, Print and their Contexts, Loughborough University, 15-16 September ('theatre, culture and print in the "long" Restoration period').

Buyer Beware! The Business, Politics and Pleasures of Commerce, Wolverhampton, 15-16 September. Plenty of early modern, especially eighteenth-century, papers.

Looking ahead: CFPs

Foreign Policy, Religious Conflict and Public Discourse in post-Westphalian Europe (1648-1713), Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, 7-8 January 2005. Deadline: 15 August 2004.

Economic History Society 2005 Conference, Leicester, 8-10 April 2005. Deadline: 20 September 2004.

Social History Society 2005 Conference, Dublin, January 2005. Six thematic strands: Cultures and identities; Self and society; Lifestyles and lifecourses; Deviance, Inclusion and exclusion; Production and consumption; Mapping the past. Deadline: 30 September 2004.

Material Cultures and the Creation of Knowledge, The Centre for the History of the Book international conference, Edinburgh, 22-24 July 2005. Deadline: 1 November 2004. (Peter Burke, Robert Darnton and Roger Chartier are all headlined as speakers, which suggests plenty for early modernists.)

Conferences, especially the big ones over several days, can be exhausting. I came across this advice for surviving Bouchercon, the big crime fiction convention, much of which sounded equally relevant to academic conferences...

1) Stay at the convention hotel. This will minimize time wasted on travel.

2) Arrive the day before the con begins. The first day... begins early and you will want to be ready.

3) Scope out the schedule to see what you don't want to miss. ...

4) Pace yourself. B'con is intense and long. You won't see everything and that's okay.

5) Sleep when you can. The days are long and tiring. One hour power naps can really save you. [It's true! But don't forget your alarm clock.]

6) Hang out in the bar, even if you don't drink. Everyone will be in the bar and one point or another.

7) Don't be shy. People are there to meet each other and talk. If you see someone you want to meet, introduce yourself. [Why is this so hard?]

8) Prepare to go home with lots of books. Not only do you get freebie just for showing up [OK, not applicable to academic conferences], there will be tons of books to buy.

9) Please introduce yourself if you see me. I'll even let you buy me a drink! :)

10) Have the time of your life. There is no better company in the world than people who love mysteries. Make the best of it.

Since I'm away for most of two days, that of course means a break from blogging (shock! horror!). See you on Wednesday!

The 4th of July

To USA readers: have a good Independence Day.

There were some related resources in yesterday's new links post, and more can be found at Early Modern Themes: Politics, Rebellions, Revolutions. I rather like this: Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents. It ranges from the earliest drafts of the Declaration to Jefferson's last thoughts on the achievement the Declaration represented, just a few days before his death:

... May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. ...

(On a much more frivolous note: Wales' slice of American pie)

Early Modern Resources updates

Some cleaning and tidying over at Early Modern Resources I. Some stuff from the New Links page has finally made it to the appropriate pages:
Reference section
Book and Web Reviews
And links posted here at the blog a week or two ago have been put on the New Links page.

This summer I'll be making an effort to do this kind of thing much more regularly than has been the case of late, and hopefully will catch up the backlog by the autumn...* My goal is fairly ambitious: to make Early Modern Resources the best and most comprehensive gateway site available for early modernists in the (important qualification) English-speaking world (if it isn't already: effusive praise always welcome).** I don't have the linguistic skills to seek out and evaluated web sites in other languages, unfortunately. If anyone reading this does, and would be interested in providing a service, get in touch: you write it, I'll post it (I can turn it into HTML for you if needed). It'd be great to expand the site in that direction.

I'd also like to add some more original content before too long. It's possible that some of the pieces posted to the blog might end up there in more carefully researched and thought-out versions. But I have older, ongoing projects at Early Modern Resources that have seen very little development of late:
Early Modernity on Film is in danger of becoming moribund. I've had an outline for a piece on films about gender, sex and double standards (including films such as Artemisia, Dangerous Liaisons, Elizabeth...) on a piece of scrap paper for over a year now.
Wales and the Law, which is meant to be a mix of primary sources and commentary, has seen some work lately, but not as much as it needs if it's to become the teaching tool I intended.

A webmaster's work is never done.

* but at least it's kept more up to date than my other History website, which really needs some cleaning out.

** as, indeed, are criticisms (honest!) and comments on what could be added and improved.