Online early modern philosophy

I should definitely draw your attention to what Brandon is up to at Houyhnhmn Land, where he’s starting to post useful resources on early modern philosophers (Blogger allowing…). The process, unfortunately, tends to draw attention to just how little there is out there, even allowing for the fact that he’s starting with some relative unknowns. (I’m looking forward to its development, not least since it’ll save me a lot of work hunting down such things at EMR…)

At Siris, Brandon also has a typically thoughtful discussion on the lack of good online philosophy resources.

To be sure, this is not entirely surprising. Philosophy is, after all, the Infinite Field of Study. We scholars of philosophy may build our little villages (schools of thought) and, when doing history of philosophy, turn the dark footpaths (influences, parallels) between the villages into well-lit roads, and even discover new villages; but there are continents upon continents, planets upon planets, galaxies upon galaxies, universes upon universes, of work to be done.

It got me thinking that the internet – for all its potential in many areas – may never be very well suited to the needs of philosophers – apart from the publication of primary texts, not least its potential for making accessible the works of more obscure philosophers whose (known) audience is too small for even academic presses to be interested in making them available in print. That would, of course, be no small thing in itself.

But what I mean is that the medium may be ill-suited to serious, detailed, sustained philosophical analysis and commentary. It’s a physical thing: you can only read so much close-spaced text – and what discipline is more heavily textual than philosophy? – on a computer screen at a time, before your eyes and brain begin to hurt and you end up having to print it off to read it properly. There are many things for which the internet is, I’d argue, better than the printed book: searchable reference works and bibliographies (etc), experiments in multi-media presentations and formats, interaction between writer and readers… But maybe with the discipline of philosophy, much more than history, it’s right up against its limits.

Which is not to say that things couldn’t be better than they are right now (even allowing for my lack of expertise, philosophy links at EMR are not exactly overwhelming). Certainly, things will soon be improving if Brandon has anything to do with it.

On the other hand, it’s not so much depressing and sad as challenging and exciting. It is not the case, after all, that things are much different in Real Life; the serious books and articles written on Campbell would not make a very long bibliography. And quantity of the sort found in, say, Hume or Aquinas studies, isn’t always quality. So perhaps even more importantly than turning up philosophy resources, I am turning up where such resources are needed (even more than I had previously thought); and that’s information worth having.

I’ll also repeat Brandon’s request: if you’re aware of good quality but hard-to-find early modern philosophy resources online, please let him know.


Around the Early Modern World: East and South East Asia

East and South East Asia: Directory of Web Resources
WWW-VL South East Asian Studies
WWW-VL Asian Studies
Internet East Asian History Sourcebook
Maritime Asia
Silk Road Narratives at Silk Road Seattle
Historical source publications on early modern Asian history
East Asia 1500-1800
South east Asia, 1400-1600
South east Asia, 1600-1800
South-east Asia 1500-1800
Pacific Region 1513-1798

Japanese history
Greater Learning for Women (18th century Japan)
Japan’s ‘Christian Century’ 1549-1639
Japan: Muromachi period
Art history resources, Muromachi period
Muromachi period art
Japan: Azuchi-Momoyama period
Japan: Edo period
Japan, 1400-1600
Japan, 1600-1800
Japanese pottery: Mino ware
Oribeism and the arts in sixteenth-century Japan

China: Late Imperial Era Resources
The Chinese Educational System (16th century)
A Chinese Traveller Views the West (18th century)
The medieval and early modern Chinese state
China, 1400-1600
China, 1600-1800
China in the early modern world: shortcuts, myths and realities
‘Early modern China’: a preliminary postmortem
Re-thinking eighteenth-century China
The Jesuits and evidential research in late imperial China
Late imperial China: the Qing
Sex, status and the cult of the early modern
China’s growing trade with European ships 1517-1800
Honorable merchants: commerce and self-cultivation in late imperial China
Ming’s fall and the Manchus’ rise
Kin networks, marriage and social mobility in late imperial China
Sex, law and society in late imperial China

Korea, 1400-1600
Korea, 1600-1800
The Journal of Hamel and Korea
Korean History Bibliography (scroll down to Choson period)
Life in Early Choson Korea
Life in Late Choson Korea
Sea of Korea Maps
Social Class in Choson
Click into the Hermit Kingdom

Taiwan timeline
The birth of Taiwan: Formosa in the seventeenth century

M-rauk U period in Arakanese history: reading list
The Arakan Society
Rediscovering Arakan
Arakan during the Mrauk U period: the political success of a Buddhist border state

Indonesian history timeline 1500-1670
Indonesian history timeline 1670-1800
Upstreams and downstreams in early modern Sumatra

Cambodia 1500-1800
Cambodia’s struggle for survival 1432-1887
Cambodia: the Middle Period

Gender, sexuality and the sacred in early colonial Philippines
Philippine churches
Philippines: Early Spanish period
Church and State in the Philippines during the Spanish Colonial period

There were further links on Japan and China at this previous post:

Early Modern Japan bibliographies
Early Modern Japan: course
Tokugawa Japan
Samurai Archives
Early Modern Japan: Politics
Sex in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan
Mining communities in early modern Japan

Qing China Bibliography
Missionaries and Mandarins: the Jesuits in China
Printing and Publishing in late imperial China
Chinese History: Ming Dynasty
Chinese History:Qing Dynasty
Chinese History: Imperial Period
The Peony Pavilion

Historical needles in haystacks, conundrums and controversies

Erin O’Connor at Critical Mass has been doing family history, clearly a moving experience. On ‘rediscovering’ an ancestor, David Sells, killed in the Civil War, lost in an unmarked grave and misremembered by subsequent family:

How do you find someone who has been twice lost–once by his country, and a second time by his own family? What do you really know about him from a letter and a photo and a small, sadly generic collection of facts? What can you know? It’s the grand conundrum of historiography writ small, as genealogy.

I often have doubts about family history when it seems to be simply genealogy, the collecting of names for a family tree, with no apparent desire to know more than those basic dates – birth, marriage, death – or to learn about the lives, the experiences, the societies in which those lives were led. Yet that may, I realise, be unfair; behind those lists of bald names and dates could lie all kinds of frustrated efforts to fill in the gaps. I should know all too well from working with poorly indexed archives that – certainly before the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – that searching for those lives beyond the parish registers and census listings must be an immensely difficult task.

When so much early modern government and administration was done in courtrooms, there’s a good chance that somewhere in there you’ll find something rewarding. We’re not just talking ‘criminals’ here (to take just one example: if your ancestor ran an inn or alehouse, and there were a lot of them about, they were supposed to be licensed by magistrates, and documents relating to this frequently turn up in Quarter Sessions records – as do prosecutions of those who didn’t get licences…). But could even the most devoted family historian afford the time it would take to comb through the vast swathes of the early modern legal records, the maze of local and central criminal and civil courts, church courts, manorial courts, borough courts, special jurisdictions, in the hope of finding just a handful of people?

This is not just a problem when hunting for individual people. One of the reasons new online resources like the Old Bailey Proceedings are so important is the way in which they make it possible to search for needle-in-haystack topics. This has the danger that it can lead to decontextualised cherry-picking (there was at times a little of that at the Tales of the Old Bailey conference I went to last month and never got round to posting about), but the benefits – especially if we can get to the point where we have a wide range of such resources to search through and combine – to my mind outweigh that risk. (If nothing else, it should make for some interesting undergrad dissertations for us to read…)

Online resources are – is this an exaggeration? I don’t think so – revolutionising family history. Hopefully they will gradually come to have a much greater impact on ‘academic’ history too. But of course, they’ll never free us from that ‘grand conundrum of historiography’ (a quote to savour, don’t you think?). And who would, in truth, wish it otherwise? Where would we be without the uncertainties, the gaps, the controversies, which force us as historians to interpret and keep on interpreting, thinking and re-thinking?

So, let me finish with this (which concludes with perhaps my single favourite ‘history quote’), from the introduction to the Dutch historian Pieter Geyl’s book on the history of the history of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon: for and against [1949], written during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands).

To expect from history those final conclusions which may perhaps be obtained in other disciplines is in my opinion to misunderstand its nature… The scientific method serves above all to establish facts; there is a great deal about which we can reach agreement by its use. But as soon as there is a question of explanation, of interpretation, of appreciation, though the special method of the historian reamins valuable, the personal element can no longer be ruled out, that point of view which is determined by the circumstances of his time and by his own preconceptions…. we cannot see the past in a single communicable picture except from a point of view, which implies a choice, a personal perspective. It is impossible that two historians, especially two historians living in different periods, should see any historical personality in the same light… A man’s judgement – for however solemnly some people may talk about the lessons of History, the historian is after all only a man sitting at his desk – a historian’s judgement, then, may seem to him the only possible conclusion to draw from the facts, he may feel himself sustained and comforted by his sense of kinship with the past, and yet that judgement will have no finality. Its truth will be relative, it will be partial…The study even of contradictory conceptions can be frutiful. Any one thesis or presentation may in itself be unacceptable, and yet, when it has been jettisoned, there remains something of value. Its very critics are that much richer. History is indeed an argument without end.

In the archives again: insults

I’ve spent a goodly portion of my research life working on insults, one way or another. My MA dissertation was on sexual defamation and slander. A significant part of my PhD thesis looked at men’s violent confrontations, and how verbal insults and affronts could spark physical violence. In both those projects, I found a lot of material to play with. But today I came across two of the most striking insults I’ve seen.

The date is August 1682. Richard Downes calls Richard Davenport a “courtly rogue”, and a “circumventing knave” (there was also “barking coward”, but that was pretty, well, ordinary after the other two…). They fought; Downes was badly hurt and died a couple of weeks later (possibly of some kind of infection).

Now, “rogue” and “knave” were pretty commonplace insults for men (though both could spark violent responses). But “courtly” and “circumventing”? I have never seen either of those as insults before. I could make reasonable guesses at what both meant in this context, and why they had the effect they did, but decided to go to the OED online (using my university Athens password; why pay for a subscription if you don’t need to?) for a closer look.

Seventeenth-century British historians will be aware of the proto-party-political groupings of “Court” and “Country”. “Courtly”, as I expected, is a word with both positive and negative meanings. Elegant, refined, polished, having good “breeding”, etc (“befitting a court”); or simply “of or pertaining to the Court”. On the other hand, “characterized by the fair words or flattery of courtiers” (“To Promise, is most Courtly and fashionable”: Shakespeare); “disposed to favour or be subservient to the Court”. The pejorative associations, then, are of fawning obsequiousness. But there’s also more that doesn’t seem to be in the OED, but could hardly be avoided in the Restoration period, surely, not least luxury and excess, effeminacy and softness. I wish I had a copy of John Spurr’s book on the 1670s with me in London. That has plenty to say on the subject, as I recall, not least in its subtitle: “This masquerading age” (the quote is from William Wycherley’s The gentleman dancing master [1672]).

“Circumventing”, I was pretty sure, would be related to that idea of falsity, dishonesty, lack of directness and openness. There’s a bit more too, perhaps: explicit trickery and deceit to gain advantage. “Circumvent” includes meanings such as “to encompass with evils, with malice, or enmity; to try to entrap in conduct or speech”; “to get the better of by craft or fraud; to overreach, outwit, cheat, ‘get round’, ‘take in’.” And so this early seventeenth-century usage: “The circumuenting hollow-hearted friend” (Samuel Rowlands). So there you have it: a nice potent mix to strike at a man’s honour.

(If you want more background, read this at EMR.)

Folger Institute Program

The Folger Institute has announced a 2004/5 program that almost makes me wish I lived somewhere near Washington DC.

Religion and toleration in the early modern world (seminar)
Culinary Cartographies: Food, Gender, and Race in the Early Modern Black Atlantic (seminar)
Emerging Ethnographies in Shakespeare’s England (seminar)
Renaissance Paleography in England (skills course)
Rethinking Word and Image: History/Literary History/Art History (colloquium)
British Political Thought in History, Literature, and Theory (conference)
In the Maelstrom of the Market: Women and the Birth of the European Market Economy (seminar)
Early Modern Books and Readers (seminar)
Ballads, Broadsides, and Eighteenth-Century Culture (seminar)
Technologies of Writing (seminar)
Reformation Transformations of Visual Culture (seminar)
Garrick and Theatrical Death (lecture)


UK and Ireland

Conference: Turning Points: Time and Place in Early American History, Norwich, 3-5 September 2004. Annual meeting of the British Group in Early American History. Notification by 15 August.

Conference: National Identity and Cultural Exchange in Ireland and Scotland, Edinburgh, 9-11 September 2004.

CFP: Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery, Liverpool, October 2005. An international conference “which will reflect advances in research on transatlantic slavery” in the past 25 years. Deadline: 30 September 2004.

CFP: 34th Annual Conference of the British Society for Eighteenth-century Studies, Oxford, January 2005. Deadline: 30 September 2004.

North America

Conference: Creating Identity and Empire in the Atlantic World, 1492-1888, Greensboro, North Carolina, 17-18 September 2004. To “examine the varied forces which forged new identities among the communing and colliding inhabitants of the “Atlantic rim”-of the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe”.

Conference: North East Conference on British Studies, Montreal, Quebec, 1-2 October 2004.

CFP: Custom, Ritual, Fetish: Idols of the Eighteenth Century, Indiana University, May 2005. “Religious ritual, pagan fetishes, the customs of the unwashed, the habits of the unlettered: these were the idols eighteenth-century men and women sought to cleanse from human society and culture, at times by force of conquest…” Deadline: 4 January 2005.

CFP: Crossing the Atlantic: European Dimensions of American History, 1600-2000, Washington DC, March-April 2005. Graduate students in history and other disciplines are invited to “discuss the variety of cultural, social, political, intellectual, and economic encounters of the European world with the North American continent over the last 500 years.” Deadline: 1 October 2004.

CFP: The Nature of Knowledge: Eighteenth-century Engagements with the Natural World, Tampa, Florida, February 2005. “As evidenced by key works ranging from Robinson Crusoe to the writings of Rousseau, nature was a constant preoccupation of the eighteenth-century imagination. But what, exactly, was this thing called nature?”. Deadline: 30 September 2004.

You should also check out the STAR project’s CFP and Events pages, which have several more events of interest to early modernists.