Institute of Historical Research: Society, Culture and Belief Seminar Season 2016-17

Seminars will take place in the John S. Cohen Room (203, second floor) at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London, WC1, on the following Thursdays at 5.30 p.m. All are welcome!

13 October
Chris Kissane (London School of Economics)
The Eaters: Deciphering Early Modern Food Cultures

Long overlooked by historians, food has in recent decades become a prominent subject in historical study. Food cultures and 'foodways' have emerged as a growing focus of early modern cultural history. The study of food, however, often remains diffuse in its methodologies, and its relationship to wider cultural history is unclear. Examining fast-breaking events in Reformation Zürich, this paper asks how we can more rigorously approach and 'decipher' early modern food cultures.

10 November
Tawny Paul (University of Exeter)
Work culture, occupation and masculine identity in eighteenth-century Britain

It is well known that people in early modern Britain undertook multiple jobs in order to make a living. The occupational titles that men claimed in legal and institutional settings did not necessarily reflect the work that they undertook. While this relationship between title and work poses challenges for understanding men’s productive activities, it also opens up a number of questions related to identity. Work is often given a central place in accounts of masculine status. What happened, however, when men undertook multiple jobs? How did men account for their worth and status against plural employments? This paper draws on the diaries of three male artisans in the pre-industrial eighteenth century to investigate how men “accounted” for their work in social and cultural terms. It challenges some of the prevailing associations between occupation and masculinity, and investigates the interrelationship between labour, leisure, skill, income and status.

8 December
Jennifer Spinks (University of Manchester)
Magic, Emotions and the Global Supernatural in Sixteenth-Century Northern Europe

16th-century European Christians collected and circulated many reports of magical rites, figures and objects from beyond Europe’s borders. Chronologically, these coincided with an increasing fear of the Devil and of witchcraft within Europe. This paper draws upon a range of printed travelogues, wonder books and demonological treatises to explore the powerful emotions depicted in and roused by reports of non-European diabolical magic. It asks why this material gained so much polemical traction within northern European print culture, and examines what it can tell us about domestic European anxieties during an era transformed by religious conflicts and global encounters.

19 January
James Fisher (King’s College London)
The Creation of “Book-Farming”: Appropriating and Codifying Agricultural Knowledge in 17th & 18th-Century England

The growth of agricultural books in the early modern period is usually interpreted in terms of how they facilitated the spread of knowledge and contributed to innovations in the practice of farming. However, this focus on the relation between books and technological changes ignores their role in relation to social and institutional changes. This paper argues that agricultural books facilitated a redistribution of knowledge within rural society, by appropriating and codifying the knowledge possessed by common husbandmen in the interests of gentlemen landowners and large tenant farmers. It aims to highlight the hidden struggles around “book-farming”.

16 February
Richard Thomas Bell (Stanford University)
The Company of Inmates: Collective Identity and Self-government in the Seventeenth-century London Prison

This paper will analyse the collectives and customs through which inmates managed life in prison in seventeenth-century London, from the formal and officially sanctioned to the informal and subversive, uncovering their potential to ease hardships and provide solidarity, as well as exposing risks of inefficiency, constraint and corruption. It will discuss how and why prisoners laid claim to certain models of authority and communal identity—especially office-holding and the notion of prisons as ‘little commonwealths’—and the implicit claim to a place within wider civil society and politics that this entailed.

16 March
Jennifer Bishop (Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge)
Making a Record of the Self: Individual Stories and Collective Histories in the Archives of the London Livery Companies, c.1540-1660

11 May
Tim Wales and James Brown (University of East Anglia)
'Shamefully Disordered with Excessive Drinking': Clerical Intoxication in Early Modern England

Allegations of drunkenness in a range of social spaces loomed large in the trials of many clergymen prosecuted for misbehaviour in early modern England's ecclesiastical courts. However, the issue of clerical intoxication has received little sustained attention, either from church historians or within the burgeoning field of alcohol and drug history. Drawing on fresh archival research undertaken by the ESRC/AHRC research project 'Intoxicants and Early Modernity: England, 1580-1740' (, this paper uses systematic analysis of over fifty trials from the well-documented dioceses of Norwich and Chester to explore the practices, representations, and legal uses of the drunk vicar in the long 17th century.

Katharine Hodgkin
Professor of Cultural History
Director, Raphael Samuel Research Centre
School of Arts and Digital Industries
University of East London
Docklands Campus, University Way
London E16 2RD
020 8223 2934