Monday, May 23, 2011

Early Modern England - Yale

The Yale history course Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts with Professor Keith E. Wrightson was delivered in 2009. It took the university however until now to publish the recordings as podcast and in that sense the course is brand new. The time in between has apparently been spent on careful post-production of the materials, the audio, the video and the transcripts. From the sessions page of the course one can select additional information per lecture and there you will also find a full transcript. (audio feed, video feed)

I have started this course and am about to listen to the 6th lecture. Up until this point Professor Wrightson has not yet 'told' any history narratives, but rather spent his time in carefully describing the English society's structures from where we start our history. The result is more than four hours of introduction to the action, which has a bit of a tendency to become too lengthy. I would want to recommend however to patiently sit through.

In time I began to appreciate the descriptions a lot. Apart from the fact that I expect that such subtle realities around land ownership and family relations are going to turn out to be relevant for understanding the narrative that is to follow, it also helps to bring the message home how deeply different English society around 1600 was from today, despite the label 'early modern'. The concept of family, for example, is deeply alien when you consider that servants and apprentices that live in the house are considered to be part of the family. This goes even as far as the epitaph of an apprentice which would name him 'Johnson's man' when he was learning with master Johnson in stead of his own personal and family name - so much for being an individual.

However, this weird picture did not provoke too much estrangement as a result of the circumstance that I was simultaneously watching some televised productions of Dickens novels. Charles Dickens, while criticizing the new modernity that is developing in the 19th century, clearly references to the earlier mode of society. With the help of Wrightson's depictions, I could much better appreciate where Dickens was coming from.
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