Early Modern European Societies and Cultures, 1500-1800

EIU His 5400.001 [37170], Spring 2013, Newton Key
19:00-21:30 W, Coleman 2750
Syllabus as pdf (brief version)
This seminar explores two key themes in European history – social order and disorder, and popular cultures/print cultures – as tools to reveal both the practical and the mental world of early modern men and women. What are the benefits and problems of either identifying popular culture with plebeian culture and/or suggesting the withdrawal or separation of an élite culture? How can we apply the concept of Herrschaft outside German rural communities? How might we use print cultures to understand alternative societies and the world of non-elites?

Available from Textbook Services:

  • Underdown. David Underdown, Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century (Random House, 1992, 2003) [17.506]
  • McKeon. Michael McKeon, The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) [17.502]
  • Sabean. David Warren Sabean, Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge University Press, 1988) [17.504]
  • Wahrman. Dror Wahrman, Mr. Collier's Letter Racks: A Tale of Art and Illusion at the Threshold of the Modern Information Age (Oxford University Press, 2012) [17.508]



week 1. 9 Jan. Early or Modern; Social or Cultural?

Culture Wars

DISCUSSION THEME: What is the evidence for a reform of popular culture, or for the identity of popular culture with plebeian culture and the withdrawal of a separate élite culture? Alternately, can there be a popular Puritan culture?


While maskinge in their folleis all doe passe (1607) BM, AN118365001


week 2. 16 Jan. Politics Round the Village Pump

  • Underdown, 1-166 (pre-war Dorchester)
  • Hindle, “A sense of place?”
  • Samuel et al., “What Is Social History?” (part)
  • Hilliard, Fire from Heauen (1613), title page
  • Dorchester parish & other records online


Richard Gough, "As the Church is now 1701," from his History of Myddle

week 3. 23 Jan. (Un)Civil Wars & The Newsbook (EEBO)

  • Underdown, 167-260 (Dorchester in Civil Wars and after)
  • Burke, “The Discovery of the People” & “The Triumph of Lent”
  • Earls Colne Project Database

brueghel (16th) battle of carnival and lent

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564/65–1636), Battle of Carnival and Lent

week 4. 30 Jan. Restoring Community? & The Pamphlet (ESTC)

  • Underdown, Preface & Epilogue
  • Muir, “The Idea of Community in Renaissance Italy”
  • Sabean, Preface & “A Prophet in the Thirty Years’ War” (ch. 2)
  • Culture Wars Papers Due
downfall of may games (1661)

Order and Disorder

DISCUSSION THEME: Can we apply the concept of Herrschaft outside German rural communities? To what degree is the individual psyche social?

week 5. 6 Feb. Herrschaft and Agency

Thomas Rowlandson, "Ballad Singer" (1789), National Library of Wales, PZ52

week 6. 13 Feb. Authority and Community & The Pamphlet (EEBO)

  • Sabean, “The Sacred Bond of Unity” & “Blasphemy, Adultery and Persecution” (chs. 3-4)
  • Thompson, “The Patricians and the Plebs”
  • Wood, “”Interpreting Popular Politics in Early Modern England"
troops ravishing peasants

week 7. 20 Feb. Interrogating Popular Culture & The Pamphlet (Google Ngram Viewer)

  • Sabean, Preface & Conclusion
  • McKeon, “Introduction” & “The Devolution of Absolutism” (xvii-xxvii & 3-48)
  • Ginzburg, “The Inquisitor as Anthropologist”
  • (Dis)order Papers Due

The Public and the Private

DISCUSSION THEME: Did privacy exist in early modern Europe? How might public and private relate to social as well as cultural history?

week 8. 27 Feb. The Hall & The Ballad (Bodleian)

  • McKeon, “The Age of Separations” (Part One)
  • Darnton, “Introduction,” “Peasants Tell Tales,” & “Workers Revolt”
  • Eley, “What is Cultural History?” (part)
  • 1 March –[Rare Book Room, University of Illinois, tentative]
William Hogarth, from Hudibras (Hudibras confronts the burning of the rumps and Sir John Presbyter)

week 9. 6 March Domestication & The Broadside (Bute)

  • McKeon, “Domestication as Form” (Part Two)
  • Harvey, “Men Making Home”

week 10. 20 March Public Secrets & Images (Lewis Walpole)

  • McKeon, “Secret Histories” (chs. 10-12)
  • Reay, “Orality, Literacy, and Print”

week 11. 27 March Publishing Interiority & The Newspaper (Early English)

  • McKeon, introduction & conclusion
  • Cowan and Yetter, “Publicity and Privacy in Early Modern Europe”
  • Public/Private Papers Due

Print Culture as Popular Culture

DISCUSSION THEME: Was there a Print 2.0 or is it a trope? If so, when was it?; what was it? Does the print/image tell us about the author/artists or the reader/viewer?

week 12. 3 April The Audiences for Printing and Writing & The Pamphlet (Google Ngram Viewer)


week 13. 10 April Painting Prints & The Periodical (British Periodicals)

  • Wahrman, chs. 3-7
  • St. Clair, “The Political Economy of Reading”
  • Burke, “Learned Culture and Popular Culture in Renaissance, Italy”


week 14. 17 April Art Trade and Artisan Knowledge

  • Wahrman, chs. 8-12, & epilogue
  • Reay, “Popular Cultures”
  • Print/Popular Culture Papers Due

week 15. 24 April/1 May Early Modern Society in Print

  • Conclusion: Oral Reports (Essays due during finals)

requirements, papers, and exams

office hours
last modified on June 24, 2013