- Fellowship year:2019-2020
- University: University of Pennsylvania
- Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern Europe
- Dissertation Title: Uncertain Presents, Unstable Pasts: History and memory during the British Civil Wars, 1638-1660
My dissertation explores perceptions of the past in the British Isles and English Atlantic during the mid-seventeenth century. The upheavals of this period, including a disastrous civil war and the overthrow of the monarchy, profoundly shaped the way Britons thought and wrote about their past. Historians such as Daniel Woolf have argued that the jarring period was central to "the emergence of a sense of the past as continuous process and the establishment of the primacy of causal relationships between diachronically contiguous or proximate events," but the existing literature provides only suggestive evidence of this in nebulous, abstract terms. Though scholars have exhaustively detailed conceptions of the past in the early years of the Stuart monarchy as well as in the Restoration era, relatively little has been written about the mid-century years of war and interregnum. The focused narratives at the center of this thesis provide a concrete framework to address this lacuna and to interrogate Woolf's comments. Through these narratives, I argue that a variety of developments during this period, from the rise of serial printed news to the increase in prominence of millenarian thought, led to a broad reshaping of how individuals thought about history and developed a more coherent, causal sense of a shared British past.
This thesis approaches perceptions of the past during the period from a variety of angles, drawing on methodologies from the history of the book and bibliography to chronicle the publishing approaches and reading practices that shaped the way history was circulated and understood during the period. It relies on an extensive archival base of printed and manuscript material from archives and libraries in England, Scotland, Ireland, and the United States. While centered on historical thought, the specific focus of individual chapters allow the thesis to contribute to a variety of other topics of study, such as the fate of Royalism during the 1650s, early modern life writing practices, and the European-wide transformation in knowledge collection and information management that took place during the seventeenth century. Ultimately, this thesis provides an outline of how individuals came to make sense of history in a moment (similar to our own) when divergent representations of the past were deployed by political and religious writers in vicious polemical battles.