Pasts in Early Modern British Perception and Representation (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a 2017 faculty weekend seminar led by Daniel Woolf.

The past is itself arguably plural, not singular. Studies of early modern historical thought and writing have proliferated over the past quarter century and have broadened their scope beyond the traditional “great texts” to include everything from oral tradition to nationalist sentiment to the mnemonic function of landscape. Several recent works remind scholars that the past was not an objective, monolithic concept, or even a single set of facts. Rather, it was a somewhat “wild” field of human interest that provided useful tools for making sense of the contemporary world. It simultaneously lay increasingly heavily upon the present as a set of constraints and limits on how early modern English people were able to make sense of and deal with change in their own time. This seminar will examine the segmentation of the past along social, political, and gender lines and explore the emergence of what might be called a “national” British past, which solidified in the eighteenth century. Participants from history, literature, and related disciplines are welcome.

Director: Daniel Woolf is Professor of History at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is author of The Social Circulation of the Past (2003) and A Global History of History (2011) among other books. He is working on a series of essays on women and historical thought and writing from 1500 to 1800.