Prof. Chris R. Kyle, Syracuse University & Prof. Jason Peacey, UCL (Editors)
Historiography on early modern Britain arguably suffers from two related problems: the divergent approaches of social and political historians; and an inadequate conceptualization of the distinction between – and relationship between – ‘centre’ and ‘locality’. In this situation, there is a danger of accentuating the gulf between local politics and society, on the one hand, and the ‘national’ scene at Westminster and the Court, on the other. Indeed, while attempts have been made to challenge older ideas about the persistence of the ‘county community’, and about either of these worlds being entirely ‘closed’, attempts to explore the interactions between them nevertheless remain preoccupied by the ‘reach’ of the state, by local reactions to central power, and by the penetration of national debates in local settings. The aim behind Connecting Centre and Locality is to bring together social and political historians, and to help reframe our understanding of the politics – and especially the political dynamics – of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.
Key to the volume is the idea of using different modes of political communication to explore the links and networks of exchange that developed between the ‘centre’ and the ‘localities’, and to challenge simplistic assumptions about the nature of the relationships that emerged, and indeed about whether or not to conceptualize localities simply in terms of distance from seats of power in London and Westminster. In doing so, contributors do much more than explore how texts radiated from the capital to integrate local people and their communities into a national political culture, or indeed how localities remained immune to centralizing forces and wedded to localist perspectives. Instead, they reveal a much more interactive and cohesive political culture than has hitherto been recognized.
By exploring different kinds of communication and a variety of textual genres – including proclamations, private letters and official accounts, as well as administrative and bureaucratic correspondence, news and the kinds printed texts that proliferated in an age of political and religious upheaval – contributors rethink issues such as ‘state formation’ and the implementation of legislation, political literacy and popular agency, and the constraints placed upon centralized institutions and bureaucratic processes by local issues and actors, not to mention the need to rely upon local knowledge and local expertise. By focusing upon textual dynamics, and upon circuits of interaction and communication, it is possible to build upon recent work that signals the possibilities for convergence between the ‘new political history’, with its interest in the social depth of politics, and the ‘new social history’, with its determination to recover the politics of those non-elite groups whose perspectives might easily be overlooked. Political communication, in other words, provides new perspectives upon pressures from and upon the ‘centre’, and new evidence about the possibilities for autonomy, agency and ideological contestation within local communities, while also providing ways of rethinking the very categories of ‘centre’ and ‘locality’ as clearly identifiable geographical entities.
Ranging widely over a broad swathe of early modern British history, the essays in this volume question existing models of ‘centre and locality’ without rendering the terms redundant. They suggest that communicative practices serve to highlight complex relationships between different institutions, interest groups and individuals in diverse settings, and that by recovering the complex processes by which information and ideas circulated it is possible to complicate our understanding of contemporary power dynamics in important and fascinating ways.
Contributors: Dan Beaver (Penn State), Tom Cogswell (UCR), David Como (Stanford), Ann Hughes (Keele), Chris Kyle (Syracuse), Noah Millstone (Birmingham), Lindsay O’Neill (USC), Jason Peacey (UCL), Rachel Weil (Cornell), and Jennifer Wells (GWU).
About the Editors:
Jason Peacey is Professor of Early Modern British History at UCL. His publications include: Politicians and Pamphleteers. Propaganda in the Civil Wars and Interregnum (Ashgate, 2004); Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2013); and The Madman and the Churchrobber: Law and Conflict in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
Chris Kyle is Associate Professor of History at Syracuse University. He is the author of Theater of State: Parliament and Political Culture in Early Stuart England (Stanford University Press, 2012) and has edited a number of volumes on Tudor/Stuart history. Kyle is currently completing a monograph on Proclamations in Early Modern England.