Monday, May 14, 2012

Invention of Early Modern England?

The blog "A Trumpet of Sedition" has published one of the lectures on "The Invention of the Modern World," given by Alan Macfarlane in March-April 2011 at Tsinghua University in China. The themes of the lecture posted (the absence of an English peasantry, the primacy of individual not familial property, the general "peculiarities of the English," to borrow a phrase from E.P. Thompson)  should be familiar to those who have or read Professor Macfarlane's works since his Origins of English Individualism (1978), or who have studied under him (as I have), or have perused his massive website on his published and unpublished work, his databases, and image archives.
Alan Macfarlane explains how the English used
the organization of public schools - Headmaster, House
masters, Prefects - as a model to run the empire.
Professor Macfarlane is also publishing chapters based on these The Wang Gouwei lectures in The Fortnightly Review, and each is available freely for about a month.  The first two chapters (What is the Question? and War, Trade, and Empire) are to be archived (only available for subscribers) from tomorrow, 15 May.  So get reading.

Professor Macfarlane "suggests that there is a great deal of continuity in England from the eleventh or twelfth century and that there is no break in the ‘long arch’ of modernity over the last thousand years." Such a long arch of modernity might make one wonder about any book titled, like ours, Early Modern England. If the conditions for modernity exist from the Normans or Angevins onwards, why point to the Tudor-Stuart period? The answer, I think, begins by noting that there is a lot of difference in English political economy under, say, Henry IV, and under Anne. Another part of the answer, drawing from Macfarlane himself, lies in the global nature of Englishness by the late 17th century.  That is, the warlike English impose their sense of modernity on many parts of the world from the mid-17th century onwards.

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