This spring we will be holding a series of Extended Director’s Seminars, with papers given by Junior Research Fellows from the Institute. These will be held on Tuesdays, 11am-1pm, on the following dates: 21 April, 28 April, 5 May, 12 May, and 26 May. The full programme is below.
These seminars are an integral element of the Junior Research Fellowships programme at the IHR. They provide our Fellows with the opportunity of presenting before, and discussing their work with, their peers. They also offer the audience the chance of listening to engaging research being undertaken by a new generation of scholars.
We do hope you will be able to attend some of these seminars, which are open to all.
Junior Research Fellows’ seminar series
All seminars will be held in Wolfson II, on the lower-ground floor of the IHR. Coffee and tea will be served.
Tues 21 April 11am – 1pm
Róisín Watson – Lutheran piety and visual culture in the Duchy of Württemberg, 1534–c.1700
Carolyn Twomey – Living Stone: Early Norman Baptismal Fonts of the Yorkshire East Riding
Tues 28 April 11am – 1pm
Courtney Campbell – ‘The 1954 Miss Universe Pageant, the City of Salvador, and the Tale of the Famous Two Inches’
Jordan Claridge – Managing Milk, Making a Living: Dairying and Dairypeople in Medieval England c.1250–1450
Caroline Nielsen – Disabled by the state: the pensioners of the Chest at Chatham and their communities, 1660–1807
Tues 5 May 11am – 1pm
David Baillargeon – Slaving on the “Imagined Frontier”: Britain, Burma, and the Political Economy of Empire, 1795–1900
Will Pooley – Magic and the Law in France in the Long 19th Century
Tues 12 May 11am – 1pm
Kate Imy – Spiritual soldiers: masculinity and the body in the British Indian army, 1900–1940
Joshua Bennett – Baron Bunsen as historian
Tues 26 May 11am – 1pm
Catherine Arnold – Objects of charity: Britain and the development of a humanitarian politics, 1680–1748
Mellon Fellow Kate Imy recently published an article in Gender and History that was based in part on a conference paper that she gave at an IHR-funded conference during her time as a Fellow at the IHR. ‘Queering the Martial Races: Masculinity, Sex and Circumcision in the Twentieth-Century British Indian Army’ can be found in the Wiley Online Library.
Past & Present Fellow Courtney Campbell has accepted a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship to teach and research at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Tougaloo is a historically black college- it was Medgar Evers base during the Civil Rights Movement. She is very excited about this opportunity to teach, research, and serve in new ways.
Courtney has an article forthcoming in Slavery and Abolition, another under review at Past & Present; has an IHR conference series volume under review (with Allegra Giovine and Jennifer Keating, other Junior Research Fellows from 2014-15) and she is working on a virtual issue of Past & Present on the theme of “Space and Place”.
An Endangered Archives Programme project grant that Courtney is co-director of was also approved through the British Library. It is for just over £39,000 and will digitize 18th and 19th century notarial and criminal documents in the state of Paraiba in Brazil over the next two years.
Past & Present Fellow Will Pooley was very pleased to be offered a lectureship in modern European history at the University of Bristol starting in September. He is also looking forward to submitting his book manuscript to the Past & Present series at OUP.
Kevin Lewis, a Past & Present Fellow earlier in the academic year, is one of the co-editors for a Festschrift to be published by the University of Wales Press in honour of Professor Denys Pringle (Cardiff) in 2016. This has received financial support from the IHR’s Scouloudi Trust, in addition to a number of other funding bodies.
The execution of Jan Hus, as depicted in Ulrich Richental’s chronicle.
This post has kindly been written for us by Duncan Hardy, a Scouloudi Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research
Six hundred years ago on Monday a former priest, preacher, and university master known to posterity as Jan Hus was burned at the stake in Constance (Konstanz in modern-day Germany), a city in the Holy Roman Empire. For more than a decade Hus had been fulminating against what he perceived as the abuses and errors of the Church in his native kingdom of Bohemia, inspired by a unique Czech brand of vernacular piety, his own understanding of the Scriptures, and the writings of the English heretic John Wyclif. After eight years of disputations and trials before ecclesiastical officials in Prague, Rome, and Bologna, Hus had travelled to Constance in 1414 to defend his views before the enormous assembly of prelates that had gathered there for a General Council of the Church. Despite a safe-conduct from Sigismund, the king of Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire, Hus was put on trial by the finest canon lawyers of the day. On the morning of 6 July 1415 he was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death before the entire Council of Constance, then handed over to the secular authorities for execution. What followed was recorded in detail by a chronicler, Ulrich Richental, a citizen of Constance who witnessed the events of 6 July:
‘Then Duke Ludwig [a prince-elector of the Empire and Sigismund’s marshal] ordered the city guard and the hangman to take him [Hus] out to be burned, and to remove his clothes and possessions… And he had a white mitre made of paper placed on his head, on which were painted two devils, and in between them was written “Heresiarcha”, which is to say an archbishop of all heretics. And more than a thousand armed men led him out of Constance, as well as the princes and lords, who were also armed. And he was not bound because they surrounded him completely, and they called me, Ulrich, over to them. And the city council’s guards went before and behind him. And they led him to the Geltinger gate, and thence out of the city… And during this outward journey he said nothing other than “Jhesu Christe, fili dei vivi, misere mei”. And when he came to the field outside the city and saw the torches, timber, and straw, he fell three times to his knees and said in a loud voice “Jhesu Christe, fili dei vivi, qui passus es pro nobis, misere mei”. Then he was asked if he wished to make confession. He replied: “Gladly, but it is too crowded here”. People were making a ring around him. Then I asked him if he wanted to make confession. There was a priest there called Sir Ulrich Schorand, who had the authority of the General Council and the diocese. I called over the same Sir Ulrich. He came to Hus and said to him: “Dear sir and master, if you will turn away from your unbelief and heresy, for which you must now suffer, I will gladly hear your confession. If you do not want to do that, you yourself know well that according to canon law one cannot administer any sacrament to a heretic.” And Hus replied thus: “It is not necessary, I have committed no mortal sins.” After that he tried to start preaching in German. Duke Ludwig did not want this, and ordered him to be burned. So the hangman took him and bound him with rope to an upright plank. And he placed a small stool under his feet, and light wood and straw around him, and then he poured some pitch over it and set it alight. Then Hus began to emit horrifying shrieks, and was soon burned. […] Thereafter all of Hus’s ashes that were lying there were thrown into the Rhine.’ (My translation from the frühneuhochdeutsch original in Chronik des Konstanzer Konzils 1414-1418 von Ulrich Richental, ed. Thomas Martin Buck (Stuttgart, 2010), pp. 64-6).
What was the significance of Jan Hus’s execution, and why should we care about it? For centuries scholars and polemicists of every political and religious persuasion have examined and written about the striking life and death of this cleric from Bohemia. The story of Jan Hus as an individual certainly has some allure, in that it involved the dramatic actions of a hero of the faith or an infamous heretic (depending on one’s perspective) on an international stage at a time of profound crisis but also of political and intellectual ferment in Europe. Furthermore, accounts of Hus’s last days and moments, such as the narrative of Ulrich Richental, are simultaneously fascinating, moving, and horrifying to modern readers. The punishment of burning at the stake is emblematic for what are perceived today as the worst excesses of late medieval and early modern cruelty, and Hus was one of the most iconic victims of this method of execution. Because of his fate – suffering a gruesome death for standing by his convictions – we tend to look upon Hus with an instinctive sympathy, or at least to assume that his judges and executioners were inherently unjust and vindictive.
Some scholars, including Paul de Vooght, Jiří Kejř, and Thomas A. Fudge, have sought in recent years to establish whether Hus was indeed a heretic by the standards of contemporary canon law, and therefore legitimately sentenced by the Council of Constance, in an attempt to move beyond these emotive and moralistic interpretations of his trial and execution, and to analyse and reconstruct them in their late medieval context. Other historians, armed with the critical apparatus furnished by the various recent ‘turns’ in the humanities, are not convinced that the contemporary category of ‘heresy’ can be accessed and defined objectively, and conceptualise cases like Hus’s in terms of a power dynamic between ecclesiastical authorities and the increasingly complex societies in which they operated.
Yet the importance imputed to Jan Hus far exceeds the questions raised by his own life, trial, and death. At a broader level, historians have considered the events of 6 July 1415 to be an important manifestation of a range of developments that shaped European history in the early fifteenth century. The Council of Constance (1414-18) that condemned Hus had been convened in order to resolve a decades-long schism in the Church. By the 1410s there were three competing popes jostling for the allegiance of Catholic princes and subjects. In much late medieval historiography, Hus represents a widespread anxiety about ecclesiastical corruption and division, while his trial has become a famous example of the measures taken to try to restore clerical authority. Hus’s name also became linked to a religious and political movement within Bohemia that emerged around the time of his death. The ‘Hussen’ (or ‘Hussites’ in English) – so called by their German enemies – emerged in the 1410s as a heterogeneous group united loosely by a shared commitment to some of the principles defended by Hus himself, notably the taking of the Eucharist in both kinds and the transfer of ecclesiastical properties and jurisdictions into secular hands. Many Hussites also opposed the succession of Sigismund (the Hungarian and Roman monarch) as king of Bohemia in 1420. These conjunctures led to a series of extremely violent wars in Bohemia and in the regions surrounding it in the 1420s-30s, including five failed Crusades launched from within the Holy Roman Empire.
These broader developments associated with Jan Hus have been fitted into two main interpretive and narrative schemes. The first sees Hus as a hero of the Czech nation, who – in a nineteenth-century idiom – galvanised the people of Bohemia into following their ideals and fighting against their German oppressors, and – from a post-Soviet perspective – inspired the humanistic and tolerant values that are now held to be the hallmarks of contemporary Europe. The second situates Hus within the teleology of the Reformation, often including him within a triad of Great Men – John Wyclif, Jan Hus himself, and Martin Luther – who are thought to have spearheaded the call for reform in an age of ecclesiastical corruption, leading to what is typically characterised as an epoch-making rupture circa 1517 and, ultimately, to the birth of the modern world.
Both of these narratives are much in evidence in the various commemorations marking the 600th anniversary of Hus’s death. In the Czech Republic, for instance, a national festival entitled ‘Jan Hus – European of Modern Times’ is being held this year with the patronage of the president, Miloš Zeman, and the Charles University of Prague. In the documentation associated with this festival, Hus is described not only as a prominent reformer but as ‘a personality of pan-European significance… thanks to [whom] we can celebrate essential human qualities that are nowadays so important: personal responsibility, perceptive consciousness, insusceptibility, veracity, thoughtfulness, diligence, and heroism.’ On 1 July a four-hour biographical film of Hus’s life – the product of collaboration between the Czech broadcaster Česká Televize and the Franco-German channel Arte – was shown on television in several European countries. According to its producers, the film depicts Hus as ‘one of the most significant figures of the Reformation movement… [who] still has much to teach us today’.
As somebody who studies the later middle ages, I am pleased that Jan Hus and his era are currently receiving so much attention. Although the rhetoric of many of these commemorative events appears, from the perspective of academic history, anachronistic and transparently presentist, they are understandably seeking to convey some well-established narratives accessibly to broader audiences. However, I think that there is a key element in the Jan Hus affair that has been missed in all of the narratives and interpretations, scholarly and ‘popular’, discussed so far: the Holy Roman Empire. The Empire was the overarching political context within which the lives and actions of Hus and his opponents unfolded. Certainly, the proto-national dimensions of Hus’s vernacular preaching is significant, so politics within the kingdom of Bohemia needs to be taken into account; and there is no doubt that clear links can be made between Hus and the Hussites and the sixteenth-century reform movements (Martin Luther, for instance, explicitly identified with Jan Hus). However, this was not just a ‘Czech’ event, nor was it confined to the ecclesiastical sphere.
The first page of a mid-fifteenth-century copy of the Reformatio Sigismundi (München, Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 702). The title, ‘Kaysers Sigmunds Reformacion’, is written in the top-right corner.
Indeed, if we are to make sense of the meaning of the concepts of ‘reform’ and ‘Reformation’ as people living in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and early sixteenth centuries understood them, we will need to pay more attention to the Holy Roman Empire as the political framework within which many reformist impulses emerged and played out. Jan Hus’s career and his trial at Constance were two instances amongst many of the inhabitants of Central Europe attempting to address the perceived problems of the Church and the Empire – two interrelated bodies in contemporary understanding. While the Council of Constance condemned Hus – a self-proclaimed reformer – the professed aim of its members was also ‘the alleviation and reformation of the Roman and Universal Church’ (Romane ac universalis ecclesie relevationi ac reformationi). Polemicists at both the Council of Constance and its successor, the Council of Basel (1431-49), called for the simultaneous reform of the Church and the Empire. Especially notable in this respect was the Reformatio Sigismundi, a vernacular tract written in the name of King/Emperor Sigismund which called for the radical centralisation of religion and politics in the Holy Roman Empire. It met with enormous success, and was printed in multiple editions in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Bohemia, Hus’s homeland, was not cut off from these Empire-centred calls for reform, but inextricably bound up within them, despite the rhetorical enmity between Czech-speaking Hussites and their German-speaking neighbours. The kingdom of Bohemia was a part of the Empire, and its kings were prince-electors. Under the Luxemburg dynasty of Charles IV, Wenceslas, and Sigismund, the Empire, Bohemia, and Hungary came to be ruled by the same family, and similar dynastic links – this time generated by the house of Habsburg – would hold these regions together in the sixteenth century.
The Holy Roman Empire, then, was not simply the backdrop for the dramatic deeds of ‘Great Reformers’ like Jan Hus and Martin Luther. ‘Reformation’ was a multi-faceted and widely employed concept, and discussion of reform addressed a series of intertwined religious and political issues which were anchored in the specific structures, practices, and discourses of the Holy Roman Empire in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. For instance, the Empire had an unusually acute degree of crossover and friction between ecclesiastical and secular jurisdictions, owing to the high number of its bishops and abbots who were also temporal princes. In this context, debates about reforming the Church – and, in particular, of curtailing its powers and possessions – were especially highly charged. Equally, I have found in my research into the core lands of the Empire that elites across the political spectrum, from princes to guild masters, articulated their concerns about violence, conflict, and corruption, both religious and secular, in terms of what might be called ‘reformist’ concepts such as peace (Friede), necessity (Notdurft), and the common good (gemeiner Nutz). Long before Luther famously faced the emperor and the papal legate at the Diet of Worms in 1521, the means of implementing these pressing reformist goals had been discussed at many imperial diets (gemeine Tage, Reichstage) and myriad conferences organised by regional leagues of princes, nobles, and cities throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Often these meetings resulted in manifestoes and legislation which explicitly appealed to reformist ideals, such as the königliche Reformation issued by King Frederick III and the imperial estates at Frankfurt in 1442, an edict which sought to curtail feuding, protect priests, and regulate coinage throughout the Empire.
As we move from the 600th anniversary of Hus’s death to the 500th anniversaries of Luther’s deeds in 2017 and beyond, we should bear in mind the long and diverse history of religious and political reform in the Holy Roman Empire, much of which remains to be explored in relatively untapped archival collections throughout Europe.
This post has kindly been written for us by Róisín Watson, a Scouloudi Fellow at the IHR.
Theological assumptions about the material nature of the divine were central to the debates of the Reformation. The accessories of late medieval Catholic piety, in the form of multiple altarpieces, relics and reliquaries, and tabernacles, to name but a few, fed reformers’ attacks on Catholic worship and its associated beliefs. They argued that the sacred could not be accessed through these material trappings. The materiality of the divine also divided Protestants. Zwingli and Luther disagreed on whether a spiritual reality could be represented physically. For Luther, there was no clear separation between the material and the spiritual. God had revealed himself through the flesh of Christ. For Zwingli, the spirit and the material were irreconcilable – ‘what you give the senses’, he wrote, ‘you take away from the spirit’.
While such debates of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries framed the experiences of a theological elite, the everyday experience of the Reformation was far removed from these discussions. However, the materiality of religion is no less important for understanding how individuals interacted with the divine and defined their confessional identities. How were confessional cultures differentiated by the relationships they fostered with their material world? How did objects communicate the new theology? How can non-verbal expressions of confessional identities challenge the historical paradigms we currently use to understand this period?
As Scouloudi fellow, in early June I ran a one-day workshop at the V&A, funded by the IHR, RHS and GHS. It was designed to tackle these questions. The workshop brought together museum curators, historians, art historians, and archaeologists for an inter-disciplinary discussion on current research. It also provided the opportunity to integrate the V&A’s collections into our discussion. We were very grateful that curator Kirstin Kennedy was able to bring a smorgasbord of objects for participants to inspect up-close.
Many of the day’s papers revealed the ambiguity of objects, which stemmed from their malleability. The functions and significance of religious objects were defined by their owners or by the spaces that they inhabited. This was particularly true in the case of Allison Stielau’s study of the afterlife of the shrine for the bones of Saint Liborious in Paderborn. When the Catholic city was captured in 1622 by Protestant Christian the Younger, Duke of Braunschweig and Lüneburg, the shrine was melted down and turned into coins known as ‘Pfaffenfeindtaler’. For Protestants, the coins represented their iconoclastic triumph, as well as proof of the impotence of Catholic relics. However, Catholics used these coins too. They believed that touching them was analogous to touching the saintly relics the metal had previously protected. Stielau argued that despite the re-casting of the silver, the material retained the memory of its previous form.
The malleability of the meaning of objects has meant that they defy the neat labels placed upon them by scholars. In her paper, Suzanna Ivanič challenged the distinction historians have drawn between magic/superstition and religion in the early modern world. The inventories of citizens in Prague contain objects that resist this simple binary opposition. Catholic rosaries might contain non-traditional materials such as coconut shells, snake’s tongues and wolves’ teeth. Ivanič argued that these items demonstrate the co-existence of magical and religious beliefs, which in the mind of their owners were not discrete categories.
Lutherhaus in Wittenberg
Lutherans, too, actively engaged with their material surroundings. Distinguishing what was a ‘Lutheran’ object as opposed to a ‘Catholic’ one was not straightforward, as Mirko Gutjahr demonstrated. Gutjahr is currently curating an exhibition on what he refers to as ‘Luther’s rubbish’, that is the archaeological finds from Luther’s house in Wittenberg from the 1530s and 1540s. Gutjahr argued that there was, in fact, very little to distinguish the site as Lutheran. Catholic objects and motifs remained, indicating that a ‘Lutheran material culture’ did not exist at this early stage. Lutherans did occupy a middle ground, neither embracing the spiritual power of the object nor rejecting the utility of material religion indiscriminately. In her paper, Margit Thøfner demonstrated how Lutherans in Denmark consciously edited their catholic past by re-framing medieval altarpieces to suit the new theological standards.
Another theme that many of the speakers touched on was the agency of objects and how this could make them dangerous and subversive. This was most clear in Lloyd de Beer’s paper on the destruction of English alabasters in the Reformation, where these objects had been consciously disfigured. Irene Galandra Cooper also addressed the subversive qualities of religious materiality. In 1582 Francisco de Cordoba was brought to trial for wearing a pouch containing a variety of suspicious items, such as flesh that looked like a beating heart. Francisco insisted he was simply carrying an Agnus Dei, a wax disc blessed by the pope during the first Sunday after Easter. The object was traditionally hung within homes above the bed, but this case reveals the concerns the church had about their sanctioned sacramentals being used in ways that deviated from their stipulations. Edmund Wareham demonstrated how stone tablets decorated with text in the convent of Villingen allowed the nuns there not to be subversive, but to transcend the restrictions of enclosure. They used these tablets to aid their mental pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The women placed them around the convent to signal different locations on their pilgrimage, which established a sacred topography within the enclosed convent.
Object handling session at V&A.
The material culture of early modern religion had multiple meanings, but also multiple uses. It defined relationships between and within confessions, between local and official religions, and between different spaces. The workshop demonstrated how difficult it is to speak of a single Lutheran or Catholic identity and to characterise its relationship with the material world. Such relationships were negotiated and in constant dialogue with local customs, the availability of materials, contemporary understandings of the nature of materials, as well as the character of religious reform.
This post has kindly been written for us by Jennifer Keating, RHS Marshall Fellow, Institute of Historical Research
How is emptiness made, and what purposes does it serve? What cultural, material and natural work goes into maintaining nothingness? And why have a variety of historical actors, from colonial powers to cartographers, sought to construct, control and maintain physically and discursively ‘empty’ space? In April, three other IHR fellows (Courtney J. Campbell, Allegra Giovine and Will Pooley) and I organised a conference on the theme of ‘Empty Spaces’ that brought together speakers from a variety of historical backgrounds to tackle these very questions. The day saw an intriguing selection of inter-weaving topics, from ruins to representations of the sea and sky, and from vacant urban space to voids in history-writing. A hugely enjoyable keynote speech given by Matt Houlbrook reflected on the ways in which we all as historians have to engage with ‘emptiness’ in some form, whether as a specific aspect of our own topic of enquiry, or in the more historiographical sense of writing to fill gaps, voids or empty spaces – or conversely, embracing this emptiness – in our collective knowledge.
This theme of empty space provided me with a new angle from which to view my own work on Russian settler society in late tsarist Central Asia, the write-up of which is currently being funded by the IHR and the Royal Historical Society. In essence, the thesis investigates the ways in which the Russian settler community, presented with a territory far from the imperial centre that was commonly acknowledged as being ‘vast and alien’, sought to transform, appropriate or reject its ‘strange and Other-worldly’ terrain. Furthermore, I consider how ideas about Central Asia as a colonial space drove, and were driven by, these physical interventions in the landscape, as part of a broader perspective that considers the intersections between the actual reshaping of land and the social production of space in texts and images.
For the most part, I consider places and sites that we might think of as the opposite of empty space: work on irrigation projects, afforestation, railway building and settlement creation. Yet almost all of these activities and their representations were underpinned by pervasive Russian notions about the emptiness of rural Central Asia. Besides its settled river valleys and oases, over 75% of Turkestan’s territory comprised arid and semi-arid steppe and desert, and the perceived emptiness of these areas served a compelling ideological purpose in Russian discourse. Descriptions of the steppe commonly referenced landscape conventions of the sublime, awesome and terrifying in equal measure. These lands were held to be ‘lifeless’ and ‘deathly’, and visitors described in great detail the bewildering scale of an ‘empty’ environment that resembled ‘a circle of which the centre was everywhere, and the circumference nowhere’.
Claims that rural terrain was nothing but ‘one vast waste’, or a ‘monotonous Sahara’ were initially sustained by a lack of local geographical knowledge. With few accurate maps, Russian explorers and geographers set about ‘discovering’ the landscape, rendering it textually, cartographically and in photographs, acts which were very much part of the scientific and cultural exercise of colonial power. The documentation of this terrain generated discursively ‘empty’ space that had significant use and potential. Firstly, words and images were powerful tools that could be used to frame an empty landscape as an environment open for improvement. Engineers, irrigation specialists and state officials embarked on numerous projects to ‘fertilise this huge and hitherto unproductive space,’ casting the land as a potentially useful resource that had deteriorated into a state of dis-use. Secondly, emptiness acted as a convenient foil for exploitation. The aesthetic image of unproductive rural space provided the foundation for Russian claims to have transformed the land, resurrecting what was discursively labelled as ‘dead’, ‘empty’ and ‘barren’ into ‘fertile’ and ‘productive’ fields of irrigated land on which could be grown cereal crops, orchards and cotton, or beneath which coal, graphite, gold and other precious resources could be mined.
In the east of Russian Central Asia, where land was readily admitted to already be far more fertile than in the more arid regions of the Caspian, emptiness had rather different connotations. Here, rural land was occupied largely by Kazakh and Kirgiz nomads, yet local Russian officials confidently proclaimed that as the nomads had no fixed abode, the land was ‘obviously empty’. Such statements had the effect of discursively dispossessing indigenous peoples of their land, emptying the landscape of any inhabitants with sovereign claim to it. In turn, the Russian Resettlement Administration, a department of the imperial government that encouraged and oversaw the state-sanctioned resettlement of millions of land-hungry peasants from Central Russia to the empire’s Asiatic lands, made available large parts of rural land to incoming settlers.
Rural emptiness was clearly very much in the eye of the beholder. It could be both a hostile, threatening feature, in need of correction, and something to be embraced, under the right conditions. It legitimised colonisation, in terms of the ‘transformative’ effects on the land of Russia’s self-styled ‘civilising’ mission in Central Asia, and as a means of validating the settlement of tens of thousands of incoming Russian and Ukrainian peasants. At the same time however, the construction of empty space was far more than a tool to be wielded by the imperial state. Everyday Russian settlers also actively engaged with and referenced ideas of emptiness, very often for their own private gain. The portrayal of empty surface land, beneath which lay myriad natural resources was used in petitions to the state to grant mining and industrial concessions, while similar notions were employed to try to win railway-building contracts and to receive permission to build new homes and businesses. Thus the construction of emptiness was part of an ‘imperial language game’ in which many – consciously or unconsciously – participated.
The framing of empty rural land had numerous implications. The tsarist desire to exploit the land by means of irrigation and crop planting would reach its apogee in the Soviet period, actions that have had, and continue to have, severe environmental ramifications for the whole of the Central Asian region. Meanwhile, the sustained distribution of nomadic land to incoming settlers lead both to the incremental destruction of the nomadic way of life, and also to an escalation of inter-ethnic tensions that would contribute in no small part to the widespread violence of the 1916 uprisings. Notions of emptiness, as produced by Russian settler society, reveal not only colonial attitudes to geography, space and environment, and the desire to re-make landscape, but also some of the conflicting outcomes of such ideas.
This post has been kindly written for us by Ian Stone, Isobel Thornley Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.
I first saw the Curriers’ Company London history essay prize advertised about this time last year. To be considered essays have to be submitted to the IHR, who judge and administer the prize, and submissions can be on any aspect of London’s history. At that point I had submitted a junior research fellowship application to the IHR and was awaiting a reply. I was looking at various prizes offered by institutions as I had the germ of an essay in mind which I thought could be formed into something more concrete. I wanted to write about an essay about politics and identity in thirteenth-century London, focussing on the career of an alderman of the city, Arnold fitz Thedmar, the first layman in this country to write a historical account of his time. I did not expect to find something with so wide a remit and so generous a prize.
By the time I had written this essay up and submitted it I had been contacted by the IHR and awarded a fellowship. Being awarded a fellowship has given me the opportunity to really widen the scope of my doctoral research. Thanks to the IHR I am currently in the process of writing up a chapter which will add depth and context to my doctoral thesis; I have also rewritten substantial sections of my earlier work to take account of new research I have been able to undertake this year.
In addition to being awarded the fellowship, I was lucky enough to find out subsequently that I had won the inaugural Curriers’ Company prize. To win such a prize, when I knew that the judging panel had received so many good entries, was a wonderful surprise. The standard of entries was so high that several of the essays which were submitted were recommended for publication in the London Journal; I know that mine and at least one other has since been accepted for publication.
On Thursday 9 April 2015 the Curriers’ Company held a prize-giving ceremony at the Mansion House in London. The Lord Mayor of London presented the two prizes on the evening; the judging panel and staff from the IHR attended; and members and officers from the Worshipful Company of Curriers were there to celebrate with us all. The Mansion House is a beautiful venue and that the Lord Mayor of London was happy to host the event, and that so many people from the Curriers Company came, shows just how much support they have for young researchers working on the history of London.
Thanks to the opportunities offered by the IHR, I have been fortunate enough to be awarded a junior research fellowship, win the Curriers’ Company essay prize and have an essay accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. My advice to anyone who is thinking about applying for a fellowship or submitting an essay for the prize is to go for it. There are so many fantastic opportunities at the IHR and the Institute really does want to support early career researchers.
This post has kindly been written for us by Catherine Arnold, Mellon Dissertation Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.
When does a state’s treatment of its subjects warrant foreign intervention? As we do today, men and women in early eighteenth-century Europe struggled to answer this question. Throughout this period the British government received formal and informal petitions for aid from religious minorities across Europe. And, in many cases, British officials responded. Between the 1690s and the 1710s, British diplomats negotiated international treaties that guaranteed rights—including liberty of conscience—for Protestants residing in Catholic states. From the mid-1710s, British ministers also instructed diplomats to petition European rulers for redress of the grievances of non-Protestant minorities or granted these groups asylum in Britain and its empire. By the 1740s, British diplomats had interceded on behalf of Jansenists in France and Jews in Portugal, Bohemia and Moravia. In my dissertation I seek to explain why this was so. Why did the British government begin to intervene on behalf of Catholic and Jewish communities—while also negotiating on behalf of Protestant minorities—between the 1690s and the 1740s?
In 1745, the British ministry responded to a transnational lobbying campaign and interceded with the Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa, in an effort to halt the expulsion of Ashkenazi Jews from Bohemia. This print, titled “Exodus of the Jews from Prague, 1745,” and published in the same year, shows the Jewish community of Prague leaving the city. See: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12329-prague
To answer this question, I’ve chosen to examine the British government’s interventions on behalf of five minority communities during the early eighteenth century: Huguenots, or French Protestants, in France and on the Continent; Vaudois, or Reformed Protestants, in the duchy of Savoy, in northern Italy; Jansenists in France; and Jews in Portugal and in the territories of the Habsburg monarchy, Bohemia and Moravia, in the present-day Czech Republic. I argue that British politicians’ negotiations on behalf of Protestant and non-Protestant minorities between the 1690s and the 1740s were, in large part, the result of extra-governmental diplomacy and lobbying. Protestant and non-Protestant minorities coordinated transnational lobbying campaigns intended to convince European governments, like Britain’s, to maintain their privileges and protect them against repressive policies.
In making the case for intervention, lobbyists, propagandists, diplomats and politicians in Britain and on the Continent frequently characterized government interventions as charitable projects and justified them on moral grounds. Minorities were often referred to as “objects of charity” rather than as Lutherans, Calvinists, Catholics, or Jews. Although justifications for intervention predicated on “compassion to those poor People,” as one of the British Secretaries of State put it in 1745, had sixteenth- and seventeenth-century antecedents, my research suggests that, during the early eighteenth century, these justifications were invoked with greater regularity. What’s more, these arguments were used to justify the British government’s intercessions on behalf of non-Protestant minorities, including Jansenists and Jews.
Henri Arnaud (above) was a pastor of the Vaudois church. In 1699, when the Vaudois were forced to convert to Catholicism or leave the duchy of Savoy, Arnaud was deputized to lobby the English government for aid. See http://www.huguenot-museum-germany.com/huguenots/galleries/huguenot-portraits/a-b/arnaud-henri-1.php
How did these ‘objects of charity’ plead their cases to Britain, as well as to other European states? In my research so far, I’ve found that Protestant and non-Protestant minorities lobbied the British government by several routes. In some cases, a member of the community might be deputized to petition the British Secretary of State or a member of the royal family directly, either in writing or in person. In addition to this direct approach, communities arranged for influential British subjects to lobby on their behalf. To do so, deputies or other community members wrote to politicians, members of voluntary religious societies and members of early Enlightenment correspondence networks in Britain, asking them to plead their case to the British ministry. They also mobilized members of longstanding religious institutions across Europe—such as churches, consistories, and synagogues—to petition the British government in their favor. Communities even pressed other European governments to lobby Britain on their behalf. By convincing the British government’s constituents at home and its allies abroad to lobby on their behalf, while also conducting direct petitioning campaigns, minorities pressured the government to consider their appeals and intercede on their behalf.
As minorities mobilized acquaintances, fellow scholars, and co-religionists across Europe to lobby on their behalf, they also put pressure on European governments, like Britain’s, by publicizing their lobbying. When they lobbied the British government, members of these communities ensured that news of their appeals for aid—and, just as importantly, the ministry’s response to those appeals—circulated among European diplomats and politicians by presenting petitions to the Secretary of State in public audiences. At the same time, lobbyists often made these audiences known to a wider reading public, in Britain and in Europe, by selling printed copies of their formal petitions. News of minority grievances was also disseminated, at times, through sermons given by sympathetic clergymen or rabbis. And, not least, British and European newspapers, reported on the treatment of these communities and on their campaigns for aid, sometimes even printing letters that described minorities’ grievances or governments’ intercessions on their behalf. The public nature of these lobbying campaigns meant that the British government risked alienating sections of public opinion at home and abroad, as well as damaging its reputation at those European courts sympathetic to minorities’ grievances, by ignoring their petitions.
An example of a formal petition that also circulated in print. In 1712, as the British government began peace talks with France at the Congress of Utrecht, French Protestant “Refugees” in Britain asked the British ministry to insist that Louis XIV restore the Edict of Nantes, which had granted limited rights to French Protestants. Their petition and its accompanying memoranda (shown above) were printed and sold by French Protestant booksellers in London. Memoires, avec la garantie d’Angleterre, Presentez a son auguste Majesté la reine de la Grande Bretagne, par les François refugiez, pour obtent retablissement de l’edit de nantes. Londres, 1712. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Yale University Library. 27 Apr. 2015
So why do these cases matter? My research suggests that, during the early eighteenth century, intercessions and lobbying constituted an increasingly differentiated sphere of international politics, one in which informal lobbying and private negotiating coexisted with, and gave direction to, governments’ formal diplomacy and policy-making on the issue of how to treat foreign minorities. On this issue, members of civil society and religious personnel from across Europe could influence British foreign policy and diplomacy through their lobbying. And, I believe, the same argument could be made for other European governments. I’ve found evidence that France, the Netherlands, the Evangelical Swiss Cantons, the Republic of Geneva, Prussia, Sweden, some German principalities, Portugal, Spain, and the Habsburg monarchy were involved in negotiations about minority communities in their own or in other states’ territories during the early eighteenth century. Over the next eight months, I will visit archives in Italy, Geneva, the Netherlands, and France to develop this argument further. At the moment, though, I argue that through these lobbying campaigns and state interventions questions of minorities’ civil and religious rights, repatriation, and asylum gradually became a part of early eighteenth-century international politics.
It’s been argued that the experience of the seventeenth-century confessional conflicts led to the emergence of the modern state system, founded on the principles of state sovereignty and nonintervention, during the late seventeenth century. My research indicates that although confessional military interventions ceased during this period – Protestant governments no longer formed leagues to defend their faith, for instance – states did continue to intervene in each other’s internal affairs. By the early eighteenth century, politicians in Britain and on the Continent had begun to undertake a type of diplomatic intervention, which was intended to protect minorities’ rights and justified on moral grounds. Transnational non-governmental organizations, including religious institutions, played a significant role in this transformation. Well before the so-called ‘humanitarian revolution’ of the later eighteenth century politicians, clergymen, and members of civil society across Europe debated whether foreign governments like Britain’s should aid repressed religious minorities in other states. By further exploring these interventions I hope to offer a new perspective on the development of modern international relations and elucidate the emergence of an international politics centered on humanitarian concerns.
This post has been written for us by Ralph Stevens, Jacobite Studies Trust Postdoctoral Fellow at the IHR, @HistoryRalph, email@example.com
This coming September will mark the three-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, the unsuccessful attempt to restore to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland the male, Catholic, ‘Jacobite’ line of the Stuart dynasty, deposed in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688-9. Though the imminent anniversary will no doubt prompt scholarly interest in the Rebellion, as a Jacobite Studies Trust Fellow at the IHR I have looked not at the military aspect of Jacobitism, but rather at a cultural – and more specifically literary – facet of the movement. My focus has been on the life and works of the Irish Protestant clergyman and ardent Jacobite Charles Leslie (1650-1722) and my aim is to use Leslie’s Jacobite propaganda as a lens through which to explore the relationships in this period between political, religious, and national identities.
Leslie’s prolific literary output – 81 publications from 1691 onwards, not counting 397 issues of his periodical The Rehearsal (1704-9) – represented one of the most significant ideological challenges to the establishment in the decades after 1688. Not for nothing would he be characterised by Bishop Gilbert Burnet of Salisbury as the ‘violentest Jacobite in the nation’. One of the very few Irish Protestants and fewer Church of Ireland clergy unwilling to at least acquiesce to regime change in 1688-91, Leslie forfeited his Irish offices – Chancellor of Connor Cathedral and Justice of the Peace for Co. Monaghan – for his refusal to swear allegiance to William and Mary or their successors. He settled in London and emerged during the 1690s as a leading Jacobite polemicist, evading arrest for his clandestine interventions in what many historians regard as an emerging ‘public sphere’, a conceptual space in which authors and actors appealed to the increasingly influential force of public opinion.
In Queen Anne’s reign Leslie’s at first weekly and later biweekly periodical The Rehearsal (1704-9) presented Tory ideology with a Jacobite edge, pricking the consciences of conservative gentry and clergy by reminding them of political and religious certainties bent or broken in the Revolution of 1688-9. Week by week Leslie engaged in polemical back-and-forth with Daniel Defoe’s Review and John Tutchin’s Observator, periodicals orientated towards the Whig party, written by Presbyterians, and presenting interpretations of the constitution in Church and State which radically differed from Leslie’s. The Rehearsal was, however, suppressed by the then Whig-dominated government in March 1708. Facing prosecution for his subversive journalism, Leslie fled in 1711 to the Jacobite court in exile at Paris. He would accompany the ‘Pretender’ James Francis Edward Stuart across Europe to Lorraine, Avignon, and Rome, but, aware of his declining health, in 1721 he obtained permission from George I’s government to return to Ireland, where he died the following year.
My research has concentrated on issues of identity displayed in Leslie’s prodigious printed works and suggests that his political identity as a Jacobite, someone loyal to the exiled Stuart dynasty, was intimately linked to his understanding of the proper relationships between England, Scotland, and Ireland. Leslie understood the link between the Three Kingdoms as not only the person of a shared monarch, but also a shared Protestant episcopalian church settlement, a group of churches governed by bishops. He displayed in his works an intense concern with Scottish affairs and particularly with harassed Scottish episcopalian Protestants, whose troubles he placed before the readers of the Rehearsal week after week. North of the border the Revolution of 1688-9 had been an avowedly Presbyterian one, not only effecting regime change in favour of William of Orange but also deposing the bishops and securing purely Calvinist government in the Scottish national church. Though he is not known to have ever visited there, Leslie’s references to Scottish affairs in fact far outnumbered references to Ireland, his place of birth, education, and early career, but it is not difficult to locate the source of this fascination.
Though born in Ireland, Leslie was in effect a second-generation Scottish immigrant. His father John Leslie (1571-1671), a native of Aberdeenshire, had been a leading clergymen in the early-seventeenth-century Scottish church, then episcopalian in structure, and had risen to become Bishop of the Isles. Bishop John had in 1633 been transferred by Charles I to the northern Irish diocese of Raphoe and there organised military resistance to first the 1641 Catholic Rebellion and then at the end of the decade the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. Following the Restoration the elderly bishop had been rewarded for his loyalty to the Stuart dynasty by promotion to the more lucrative Ulster see of Clogher and established his family’s seat at Glaslough, Co. Monaghan. Charles Leslie, named by his father for the Stuart king ‘martyred’ the year before his birth, not only grew up in an atmosphere of fervent royalism, but partook in an ‘Ulster-Scots’ version of Irish identity, which was yet distinct in religious terms from that of the Presbyterian majority of the Scottish population settled in Ulster since the early seventeenth century. Leslie’s episcopalian Protestant identity, bound to notions of tradition, hierarchy and ceremony, transcended national borders and allowed him easily to assimilate an ‘Anglican Tory’ religious and political identity upon settling in England after the Revolution.
Leslie’s fascination with Scottish affairs suggests an explanation for his almost unique position among the clergy of the Church of Ireland, adhering to the Stuart dynasty in spite of the fact that in Ireland the brief reign of James II had been marked by a Catholic counter-revolution that threatened to overturn Protestant social and political ascendency. It seems that Leslie was a Jacobite, at the cost of his career and social standing in Ireland, as much from a desire to restore bishops to the Scottish church as from loyalty to the Stuart claimants to the throne. What differentiated Leslie from vast majority of Irish clergy, either actively supporting or acquiescing to regime change, was precisely his inherited ‘Scottishness’, for all that it was the Scottish identity of many other Ulster Protestants which made them some of William of Orange’s staunchest Irish supporters. Leslie’s intense concern for the state of the Scottish church highlights the often overlooked episcopalian strand within Ulster-Scots Protestantism, overshadowed in demographic and cultural terms by Presbyterianism, and suggests that Leslie should not be understood as an ‘Irish’ Jacobite so much as one whose identity and motivations were bound up with the politics and religion of all three Stuart kingdoms. Above all, his life and works illustrate the potential complexities of identity created by the interactions between England, Scotland, and Ireland in this period.
Indian troops during a physical training. Copyright IWM (Q52701)
This post has kindly been written for us by Kate Imy, Mellon Dissertation Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.
Contemporary debates about “religion” often emphasize that which is supposedly “irrational,” metaphysical or anciently doctrinal, ignoring the intimate, ever-shifting, disciplined and resolutely global ways in which beliefs develop in certain places at certain times. In order to investigate these complexities, I examine the meanings and uses of the word “religion” within the British Indian Army—a resolutely cosmopolitan, multi-linguistic, interracial, multicultural and overwhelmingly “religious” force. This massive military establishment—which played a decisive role in most of the major armed conflicts of the first half of the twentieth century—is perhaps one of the most potent symbols of faded European empires. Despite being a paragon of disciplined, secular, and imperial rationality, the army used “religion” for everything from recruiting soldiers, to encouraging men to fight and die, to occupying “holy” lands. My project therefore attempts to see how the army used the concept of “religion” to assign value to certain bodily performances of masculinity at a definitive moment in late-colonial British and South Asian history. By focusing on the intimate encounters between British and South Asian men, and the ways in which soldiers and civilians made meaning of, represented and interpreted soldiers’ bodies, this project hopes to better understand the processes through which soldiers’ bodies—as both “religious” and “martial” beings—helped give birth to contemporary notions of masculinity and violence in the late and postcolonial world.
Memories and popular perceptions of the British Indian Army are often defined by imperial nostalgia or post-colonial regret. Both narratives hinge upon shifting concepts of masculinity and perceptions of British and South Asian bodies. For the former, the proud and glistening British and Indian men in impeccable dress, and the paternalistic relationship between British officers and Indian soldiers, was at once intimate and familial, while also laying important groundwork for India’s postcolonial army. The latter interpretation, however, focuses on the imbalances of colonial power and the restrictive theory of “Martial Races” which deemed some men worthy of becoming warriors, at the expense of those “emasculated” men who were not. This perspective locates service to the empire somewhere between slave-like servitude, necessitated by limited job prospects, or a mercenary labor force that begrudgingly sold its martial prowess to the highest bidder. My study falls within the purview of more recent interpretations which have moved beyond these powerful yet restrictive interpretations by focusing on the complex networks of ideas guiding attitudes toward spiritual beliefs, bodies and “selfhood” that made the British Indian Army a powerful international force until the Second World War.
During war and peace, “religious” concerns were central to the efficient functioning of the colonial army in India. British army officials recruited South Asian soldiers based on a matrix of region, caste, and religion, for instance praising Sikhism as having “martial value” because it discouraged so-called “caste prejudices” while celebrating martial strength and disciplined living. Meanwhile, British soldiers marched into church armed every Sunday to receive the divine wisdom from chaplains who encouraged them to live their lives free from sin—especially the debilitating and fiscally costly conditions of venereal disease and alcoholism. Fears of anti-colonial “sedition” among South Asian soldiers meant cultivating allies among “religious” leaders and appointing religious teachers to exert an educational, social and ceremonial influence among the men to prevent them from seeking wisdom and guidance from the outside world. During wartime, army officials played an active role in regulating soldiers’ bodies, shaping the performance of even pillars of Islam such as the fast of Ramzan (Ramadan) and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). Each of these bodily interventions played a crucial role in demarcating which types of bodies and beliefs were most conducive to military order and discipline, limiting financial and social opportunities to certain subjects of the British Empire.
One of the most widely debated aspects of daily life in the British Indian Army was the relationship between food and “religion.” While military officials hoped to build strong bodies and encouraged recruitment through the promise of stable rations, many officials condemned “the contagion of Hinduism” for impeding military discipline by making group messing more difficult. In the twentieth century, this was largely dictated by the limited and faulty memories and stories of the 1857 Uprising, which was widely regarded as stemming from improperly adhering to “Hindu” and Muslim dietary practices. However, arrangements for a diverse range of British and South Asian soldiers required considerable attention. Military officials strongly discouraged British soldiers from consuming numerous goods, including bazaar fruits and non-packaged drinking water, and often condemned and ridiculed them for contracting “preventable” maladies such as enteric fever and diarrhea. Similarly, many Muslim soldiers worried about finding food that was prepared “halal,” or carrying out the fast of Ramzan, while Gurkha soldiers’ food was often subject to considerable scrutiny including inspection of water tanks on ships and the use of exclusively Brahmin cooks. While military officials were willing and able to cater to such dietary needs of the “Martial Races,” they condemned the so-called “prejudices” of Indian Hindus. These dietary debates revealed the unstable boundaries between science, health, “religion,” custom and personal preference. They solidified the importance food in defining martial masculinity and the unequal application of what was “religious” and what was merely “rational.”
By placing British and South Asian bodies and beliefs in conversation with one another, my project hopes to create a more varied portrait of the relationship between belief, martial prowess, masculinity and violence in the making of the modern world. By looking at a disciplined and highly centralized military force and the ways in which “religion” shaped and was shaped by a diverse range of British and South Asian actors, my dissertation suggests that concepts of masculinity and the body were both global and local—spiritual and secular—and forever influenced by the uncertainties, opportunities, inequalities and instabilities of the imperial world.
Will Pooley is a Past & Present Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. He blogs at https://williamgpooley.wordpress.com and you can follow him on Twitter @willpooley.
I’m not the first person to point out that witchcraft exerted a fascination over doctors and physicians. Historians of early-modern Europe have long argued that separating the science from the supernatural in medical writings is impossible.
But France makes a bit of an odd case. The medical fascination with witchcraft had largely dissipated in other European countries by the nineteenth century, yet in France this period saw a boom in serious medical writings about possession, sorcery, and alternative healing practices. The interest may have waned as the twentieth century progressed, but French doctors have continued to occasionally publish investigations of magical practices and epidemics of ‘demonopathy’ up until very recently.
(One of the many medical theses written about ‘superstitions’ and witchcraft. See http://gallica.bnf.fr)
This raises two questions:
why this continuing interest?
why should historians care?
At this stage in my research, it is easier for me to answer the second question than the first, although I do have some working hypotheses for why not only doctors, but also psychologists and veterinary professionals in France took such a pronounced interest in sorcery.
For a start, there was a lot of it.
My research uses newspaper reports to trace criminal cases involving witchcraft from the 1790s to the 1930s, and even at this early stage it is apparent that crimes related to witchcraft were prosecuted with depressing regularity across this period. In the secondary literature alone I have identified 15 cases of people who were murdered for being witches in this period. There were many more cases of attempted murder or assault which were not reported so widely in the newspapers, not to mention a multitude of prosecutions for fraud and illegal medical practice. Sometimes, men and women sued their neighbours for defaming them as witches. What all of this suggests is that witchcraft beliefs, fears, and fantasies were surprisingly widespread in France during this period.
And perhaps this is partly related to the other key explanation for why doctors and scientists took such an interest in sorcery: the tumultuous religious history of France during this period. The struggle between the Catholic Church and secularists inspired by Voltaire and the French Revolution had two contradictory effects on French culture.
On the one hand, there was an apparent hardening of boundaries, especially during periods when regime changes abruptly shifted the balance of power between the scientific establishment and the Church. The struggle over Bernadette Soubirous’ visions at Lourdes would be just the most obvious example of a case where Church and Doctor faced off over an issue of national importance and supernatural significance.
(Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes. See: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/Bernadette_Soubirous_en_1861_photo_Bernadou_4.jpg)
Yet on the other hand, I think a strong case could be made for seeing this as a period when a cultural vacuum opened up. The very intensity of the public conflict between scientific secularists and defenders of the Church led to a willingness, at least among some elements, to court public opinion, to take seriously the feelings and beliefs of ordinary people such as the visionary Bernadette, or the many people who flocked to witness the miracles of Lourdes.
Many within the Church might have felt that condemning the ‘superstitions’ of the population was a slippery slope. Priests, too, read Voltaire and they were only too aware that condemning a belief in the supernatural powers of black masses and ringing church bells could seem inconsistent with the claims the Church made for the supernatural efficacy of its key rites.
And scientists also had to court public opinion. What use were immunization or pasteurization if the people could not be persuaded that they worked? Promoting professional midwifery, or psychology, or veterinary medicine partly depended on proving to a population that was predominantly rural that these new methods and theories were more than simply a way to interfere, charge higher fees, and defraud the paysans.
(Léon-Augustin Lhermitte, ‘La paye des moissoneurs’. The rural population were not always known for their approachability… See: http://www.histoire-image.org/site/oeuvre/analyse.php?i=43)
This brings me on to my second question: why historians should care about all of this? It might be weird that French doctors were so interested in sorcery, and it is equally odd that witchcraft seems to have been so important to so many people among the general population, but why does it matter?
The answer, I argue, has to do with what a remarkable case study this odd convergence makes for ‘history from below’. I have been strongly influenced by historians such as Andy Wood, Guy Beiner, Katrina Navickas, David Hopkin, and by the Many-Headed-Monster blog symposium from last year on revisiting ‘history from below’ (see: http://bit.ly/17h9jmV).
These historians, I think, have developed incredibly subtle understandings of concepts such as ‘popular culture’, ‘social class’, and ‘resistance’. We recognize that such terms are always problematic, and we recognize how hard it can be to recover the ‘voices’ of the people history too often forgets, but we maintain that there is still value in trying (http://wp.me/p3QdQ9-2E).
And it seems to me that the point where medicine and witchcraft met in France is a particularly rich example for pursuing the kinds of complicated questions of cultural repression, resistance, and agency that the new history from below addresses. Yes, doctors and other scientific ‘experts’ attempted to impose their understandings of causality, the human body, and illness onto the general population. But ordinary people took these ideas and refashioned them to fit what was important to their lives, forcing the ‘experts’ to deal in the languages of possession and malevolence.
Far from being a simple case of ‘superstition’ swept away by reason, witchcraft and medicine in France during this period is a much more interesting story of accommodation and cultural negotiation, and one that puts working men and women into the spotlight as often as middle-class doctors and scientists.
What is more, this was not unique to medicine. As I have mentioned, the related disciplines of psychology, psychiatry, and veterinary science were also caught up in witchcraft debates. But sorcery also touched even wider domains. Victims and suspected witches related their experiences to new technologies and the ‘modern wonders’ that Bernard Rieger has studied, and addressed new theories of radiation, ions, and the laws of physics. They also argued about the law, challenging the basis for criminal and civil prosecutions, and provoking a series of legal theorists to address the problem of witchcraft in the same period.
This is why I have found that the more I study the witches and their accusers, the less drawn I am to the early-modern parallels that at first appear so obvious. Witchcraft was modern, and has a lot to tell historians about the agency and constraints of ordinary people grappling with new authorities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.