At the end of April, I gave a short paper to the North West Early Modern Seminar at the John Rylands Library in Manchester.  There were lots of other interesting speakers and it was lovely to catch up with some of my Manchester friends, (especially Ros Oates and Sasha Handley, who both, at different times, supervised my doctoral research) if only very briefly!

Alice Marples – Medical Education in Manchester, 1750-1850

Medical education was bound up with industrial expansion.  Manchester had some parity with Liverpool, with the Infirmary being followed by other institutions.  Some of these provided medical apprenticeships, including ones for surgery.  Manchester was the first provincial centre of medicine.  Alice works on the variegated archive at the John Rylands University Library which contains lecture notes, commonplaces, letters  and much more. It reveals a tension between learning and practice, and ambition and locality.

Next, I gave my 5 minute paper on ballads and the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Grace Allen– Greek Political Theory and Political Professions in Late Renaissance Italy

Grace talked about her work on late Renaissance Italy at the time when politics were becoming professionalised. She described Plato and Aristotle’s influence on sixteenth century texts, especially those relating to the Roman political sphere.  Greek thought defined the court environment.  These political thinkers believed monarchy to be the best form of government, with democracy the worst. The perfect ambassador was the creature of the prince, so the prince had to be perfect.  Anyone involved in public affairs had to live under a perfect prince in order to be perfect.

James Bowen – Provincial Frost Fairs in Early Modern England

Frost fairs were held across Britain. There has been plenty of recent attention on those in London but not on the provinces.  James has studied the 1739 fair on the Severn at Shrewsbury. It reflected a trend towards leisure pursuits.  The circulation of cheap print means locals were probably familiar with the London frost fairs so chose to copy them.  A contemporary engraving shows various local landmarks while foregrounding the fair. It shows people walking and skating on the ice; there are  groups of people congregating.  We can see food sold from stalls, such as sheep roasts.  Like in London, the river was an important transport route, so there are boats frozen into the ice.  Printing was an important part of frost fairs.  This was partly because printing presses were heavy and therefore demonstrated the thickness of the ice.  They allowed the sale of ballads, poems and pamphlets printed on the ice, which encouraged consumers with the act of engaging and created early secular souvenirs. There were lots of entertainments including flying men who undertook daredevil stunts from St Mary’s steeple to the meadow on the other side of the river.  One of these flying men was killed in his attempt.

Eva Mosser – The Concept of Space in the Captivity Narrative of Nehemiah How (1748)

Eva’s research looks at space within captivity narratives in North America, combining ideas of space and colonisation.  As well as investigating physical confinement, she looks at descriptions of metaphorical spaces.

How’s description of his captivity, both travelling with his captors and then being incarcerated.  It shows how he perceives his captivity. Home is the key theme of How’s narrative, with the physical space used metaphorically to describe his emotional state.  He was not a self-determined human being but someone who had to follow the will of his captors.

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After a short break for tea and cake, we heard two longer papers.

Ros Oates – Speaking with Hands – Preaching and Deafness in Early Modern Europe.

Ros is currently a leading  part of the Communities of Print research network. She described how preaching was at heart of Protestant cultures.  Sermons were central and preachers talked about dumb preachers who couldn’t preach and deaf listeners who couldn’t listen.  But this raises the question: what about the physically deaf?

John Bulwer’s Chirologia suggested sign language for preachers, who  needed to use gesture – of eyes and hands – to help their sermons along, but this needed to be measured in order to be appropriate. It was believed that the congregation could learn as much from that as the words, therefore watching was also important during the sermon.  This research caused her to ask if there was any connection between Bulwer’s text and sign language for the deaf. In fact, Bulwer followed it up with Philocopus which was indeed aimed at the deaf.

When writing about deafness, preachers tended to mean spiritual deafness; even though they would have had many hearing impaired people in the congregation.  It was extremely difficult for a preacher to measure how well an audience had heard – but it was also really important if you wanted your flock to be saved.

Physical deafness covered a multitude of problems including illness and injury, as well as the prelingually deaf.  There was an increasing recognition that the minister had to make concessions in order for things like Communion and the Last Confesssion to be available to the deaf.   Those who were born deaf need others to be as merciful to them as God. Some preachers, however, believed that there could be no salvation for those who could not hear, because salvation came from faith which came from hearing the word of God.

Many other preachers believed that since the fall everyone was impaired and therefore deaf in some way.  This meant that the deaf were worth trying to save just like everyone else.

The final speaker of the afternoon was Annie Dickinson:

‘You are still abusing women!’: The Gendering of the Malcontent

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The malcontent was a combination of literary creation and social phenomenon; a stock character type who railed against society that he sees as in some way unjust.  Typically melancholy, he wonders why men might be merry.    But the malcontent was also seen as seditious and libellous and the use of male pronouns assumes that they are usually male.  Masculinity is central, especially since the word was often spelled male-content.  This, therefore, makes slippage easy to female-content.  They are often aggressively  mysogenistic characters.