Biographies of Drink: A Conference Call

Mark Hailwood

An August evening in 1609, in the Cheshire parish of Knutsford. A weary tinker,  with ‘pannes upon his Backe, & a Trumpett in his hande’, pushes open the door to a humble alehouse, to be greeted by a crowd of merry ‘pot-companions’. Their ring leader is quick to enlist the tinker in the revelry, and before long he is sounding his horn to call together ‘all the drunkards’ to this epicentre of drinking and ‘good fellowship’.


I too would like to sound a trumpet call – not so much to ‘all the drunkards’, but instead to all those interested in the history of drinking. On a February weekend in 2013, in the Maths Building of the University of Warwick, a crowd of leading scholars in the field of drinking studies will gather to consider the role that alcohol consumption plays: in the lives of individuals; in the fortunes of families; in the creation and maintenance of communal identity; and in the concerns of governments and states. There may also be some revelry.

It is not an early modern conference, nor even just a history conference, and the papers range across time and discipline, from the material culture of Roman Britain to contemporary projects to use social media to influence alcohol consumption. If you think you might be interested you can take a look at the programme (and if that goes well, find a booking form) over at the website of the Warwick Drinking Studies Network:

The deadline for booking is 14 December.

REED all about it – Part II: Angelic sheep-stealers, iconophobia, and the unaccountable longevity of ‘Merry England’?

Jonathan Willis

Last month I wrote a REED-related post about a minor scuffle at a church ale in Bere Regis in 1590, but this time I would like to highlight a more significant and well-known case, to my mind one of the real gems of the REED material: the controversy surrounding the performance of the Whitsun plays in Chester during the early 1570s.[1]  There was a rich history of sacred drama in Chester going back at least as far as the late fourteenth century, including plays to celebrate Easter, midsummer, and Corpus Christi.  By the sixteenth century, it was held that the ‘old and Antient Whitson playes’ held annually in the city were ‘first made Englished and published by one Randall Higden a monk of Chester Abbey, and sett forth and played at, and by the Citizens of chester charge In the time of Sir Iohn Arneway Knight, and Major of Chester Anno 1268’.[2]  In 1571-2 the plays were still going strong, and detailed guild accounts give a fascinating insight into both the performances themselves, and the degree of time, effort and resource which went into their preparation.  The Smiths, Cutlers and Plumbers’ Records for that year recorded 3d for equipment (a ‘touyle’), 1s 4d for casting costs (‘seekinge our players’), and 7s 8d worth of beef to sustain them ‘for our genrall rehearse’, along with two whole cheeses and spices for the meat.[3]   An amateur dramatics group, like an army, evidently marched on its stomach, as payments for bread over three separate rehearsal days totalled 4s 10d, and to quench the assembled thirst there was 10s worth of ale and 9d of small ‘beare’.  Alongside the players, payments were also made to musicians and minstrels, as well as 4s 2d ‘to the clergy for the songes’, implying a close relationship between the professional religious institutions of the city (quite possibly the choir of Chester Cathedral) and the amateur efforts of the trade guilds. Continue reading

Twelve reasons to buy my book, or, The ancient art of self-promotion

Brodie Waddell

Brodie Waddell, God, Duty and Community in English Economic Life, 1660-1720

1. It was only officially released today, so if you buy it now, you’ll probably be the first kid on your block to have one!

2. It has seven pictures inside, a very respectable ratio of 1 for every 34 pages.

3. It has the word ‘God’ in the title, making it slightly more likely to be accidently recommended by your local Christian reading group.

4. It has a picture of Satan on the cover, making it slightly more likely to be accidently black-listed by your local Christian reading group.

5. Barack Obama called it ‘…the best book I’ve ever read on later Stuart economic culture…’ and Nelson Mandela said it was ‘… longer than I expected …’ (NB: Not actual quotes. Please don’t sue me!)

6. It has footnotes, not those horrible endnotes.

7. It cites a hell of a lot of broadside ballads.

8. I can’t think of a number eight.

9. It uses paper that apparently derives from ‘natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests’. You’re practically saving polar bears just by reading it.

10. When you put the text through Wordle, you get this…God, Duty and Community via Wordle

11. I can’t think of a number eleven either.

12. I’ve heard that ‘this book explores the economic implications of many of the era’s key concepts, including Christian stewardship, divine providence, patriarchal power, paternal duty, local community, and collective identity. Brodie Waddell draws on a wide range of contemporary sources – from ballads and pamphlets to pauper petitions and guild regulations – to show that such ideas pervaded every aspect of social and economic relations during this crucial period.’

Available at Boydell & Brewer (UK), University of Rochester Press (USA), Amazon (everywhere), Powell’s (less evil) and other fine book-sellers.

UPDATE (19/10/12): I’ve only just discovered that it’s also available as an over-priced ebook. If you’d like a sample from the text, I’ve uploaded the table of contents, introductory sections, bibliography and index.

UPDATE (12/11/12): There is now a preview on googlebooks too.

Fantastic Thoresby – Part I: Dangerous Diaries

Laura Sangha

Ralph Thoresby, 1658-1724.

The time has come to introduce many-headed monster readers to my current historical obsession: Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725). Thoresby, the son of a wool merchant, was a well respected antiquarian and topographer, a dissenter who conformed to the Church of England later in life, a husband, a father, a historian, a fellow of the Royal Society, the owner of a museum, a prolific correspondent, and a diarist. Over the summer, I had the pleasure of delving into Thoresby’s diary, which was transcribed and published by the Reverend Joseph Hunter in 1830. Future posts will deal with the content of the diary, which reveal a likeable, pious, and reflective man, but reading it also got me thinking about the ‘diary’ as a historical document, and it is this that I will deal with in this initial post. Continue reading

Eric Hobsbawm: some personal reflections

Brodie Waddell

Busy though I may be, I can’t help but note the death of Eric Hobsbawm and offer a few thoughts.

No doubt our readers will already be familiar with Hobsbawm and his work. If not, the lengthy obituary in the Guardian or this article by the historian Mark Mulholland will make clear his perhaps unmatched contributions to historical knowledge, both popular and academic.¹

Eric Hobsbawm at his typewriter. Source: John Brown via Jacobin.

Rather than recount his fascinating life or delve into his most famous works, I’d like mention how he (unknowingly) touched my life at a couple of important moments.

The first took the form of his book Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz (1998) which I received as a gift for, I believe, my seventeenth or eighteenth birthday from my infinitely thoughtful uncles. At the time, I was vaguely interested in history but my contact with truly artful historical writing was negligible. Then I opened this book and found an essay entitled ‘Political Shoemakers’:

The political radicalism of nineteenth-century shoemakers is proverbial. Social historians of a variety of persuasions have described the phenomenon and assumed it needed no explanation. A historian of the German revolution of 1848, for example, concluded that it was “not accidental” that shoemakers “played a dominant role in the activities of the people”. Historians of the “Swing” riots in England referred to the shoemakers’ “notorious radicalism” and Jacques Rougerie accounted for the shoemakers’ prominence in the Paris Commune by referring to their “traditional militancy”. Even so heterodox a writer as Theodore Zeldin accepts the common view on this point. The present paper attempts to account for the remarkable reputation of shoemakers as political radicals.²

The essay goes on to provide plenty of colourful examples drawn from across the globe, but by the time I’d read the first sentence I was already hooked. The image of the militant shoemaker, writing radical manifestos and taking to the barricades, was simply too wonderful for a nerdy teenager to forget.³

Not long after receiving Uncommon People, perhaps in my first or second year as an undergraduate, I came across his Primitive Rebels (1959) in a used book store. I think this may have been the first time I found a work of history that was not only interesting and politically appealing, but also made an important argument about the nature of past societies. Indeed, the book almost single-handedly created a whole new analytical category: ‘social crime’.⁴ I’m not going to claim it was the light on the road to Damascus that turned me into a budding historian, but in retrospect I think it helped to push me in that direction. It’s no accident that the undergrad module I put together for this year includes a week focusing on the debate that this concept spawned.

Hobsbawm’s writing room, reassuringly messy. Source: Eamon McCabe via the Gaurdian.

And then, many years later, whilst looking around for something to do at the expiration of my fellowship at Cambridge, imagine my delight at being invited for an interview for a post at Birkbeck. Founded in a tavern as the London Mechanics’ Institute back in 1823, this was the place that Hobsbawm made his academic home when become a lecturer there in 1947. He was still its nominal President when I applied there last year and, despite being in his nineties, my colleagues recount vivid memories of him still occasionally strolling into the department to chat and of course frequently showing up at conferences to engage in conversation (and disputation) with historians less than half his age. I am saddened to have never met him myself, but I hope that in some very small way I can help carry on his legacy at this wonderfully unusual institution.

I would be very curious to hear how some of the monster’s other heads or perhaps some of our readers encountered Hobsbawm’s work. Does anyone have any stories to share?


¹ See also this nice little collection of quotations from the great man himself. The final one ‘On his writing room’s bookshelves’ is particularly pleasing.

² ‘Political Shoemakers’ was co-authored with Joan Wallach Scott and originally published in Past & Present, no. 89 (1980), pp. 86-114

³ Note that this also means, strangely, that I read Hobsbawm before reading E.P. Thompson or Christopher Hill, two other members of the Communist Party Historians Working Group, whose work I cite infinitely more often.

⁴ The Wikipedia article on ‘social bandits’ isn’t bad, but for a more detailed recent discussion, see John Lea, ‘Social Crime Revisited’, Theoretical Criminality, 3:3 (1999) [ungated]. For early modernists, the work on this by Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh and E.P. Thompson, especially but not exclusively Albion’s Fatal Tree (1975) and the responses it provoked, is essential reading.