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Eighteenth-century histories of Norwich and the political vernacular

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British History in the Long 18th Century
Eighteenth-century histories of Norwich and the political vernacular
Daniel Howse (University of East Anglia)
11 January 2012 
 
This is a guest post by Paul McMenemy, one of IHR Digital’s winter interns from the University of Leicester.
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Norwich Market Place” by Robert Dighton

By the eighteenth century Norwich was one of the main trading and manufacturing centres of England, if slightly past its hey-day. Like most provincial cities it was to some extent ignored by the mainstream of national history, as it was then emerging. Daniel Howse argues that a different kind of history – a local history arising out of antiquarian practices – catered for such places, restoring or even creating a civic identity related to, but not dependent on, national political trends.

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A newspaper masthead (the Norwich Mercury)

The antiquarians’ process of collecting and representing historical papers left them uniquely well-placed to write local histories; and, with their sources’ inevitable bias towards local nobility and local government, these histories tended to have strong sense of civic particularism. Of course, this did not necessarily lead to a host of identical interpretations of local history, but those disagreements which did ensue were based on representations of the city first, and only secondarily on the city’s relation to the national polity. This led to local histories being part of a “vernacular”, a conception of history and politics not only more provincial, but more popular, than the grand national narratives.

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