Life in early modern Britain was replete with stereotypical representations: of the poor, of the foreigner, of the woman and of the ‘noisome air’ to mention but a few. Mark Knight’s Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain (2005) has shown us that popular preconceptions and artful misrepresentations were both central to partisanship in the ‘First Age of Party’. Public discourse in early modern Britain was far from ‘rational’. As Peter Lake and Steve Pincus have suggested in their Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (2007), it becomes thus vital that we go beyond the Habermasian model of public sphere.

Historians have not, however, fully developed comparative analysis of stereotypes or their impacts on society. To do this, we would first need suitable analytical tools that enable us to characterise and compare the relative absence of Habermasian rationality across different spheres of life. We can then take a step further and delve into libraries and archives to think comparatively about the social impact of stereotyping. Such studies would throw new light on how stereotypical representations influenced the negotiation of power across early modern politics, religion, economy and science.

This conference contributes to this larger task by bringing together historians and social scientists interested to learn from and discuss historical fieldworks. In order to introduce fresh analytic (and empirical) insights to early modern research, scholars from the humanities and social sciences working on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries will be invited as presenters and commentators. By assembling different sub-themes within early modern history as archival ‘fieldworks’, and by juxtaposing them with more recent fieldworks, the conference will enrich both studies of public spheres, opened up by Lake and Pincus, and research into the negotiation of power, pioneered by Braddick and Walter, Negotiating Power in Early Modern Society (2001) and carried to new directions by Andy Wood, The memory of the people: custom and popular senses of the past in early modern England (2013). Finally, if early modernists can learn from more recent fieldworks, in what ways might early modern research in turn speak to the present and highlight its ‘policy relevance’ without being anachronistic?

The conference, in short, has three features:

  1. It will bring together historians of early modern Britain interested in the role of stereotypes across economy, politics, religion, and knowledge-construction. This will facilitate comparison across different spheres.
  2. To ensure cross-fertilisation, history contributions will be followed by comments by social scientists and C20 historians working on similar topics.
  3. The concluding session, chaired by Lucy Delap, the director of the History and Policy Website, will tease out policy relevance of early modern papers.