Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History

First Advisor

Antonio Feros

Abstract

In 1640s and 1650s Britain the world was turned upside down. This dissertation argues that the tumultuous political and religious developments and changes to the media environment of the mid-seventeenth century encouraged readers throughout the English-speaking world to approach history in new ways. People engaged with and rethought the role of history and what it could tell them about their present. Rather than simply draw on history for its analogical comparisons or exemplary models of action, people began to turn to the past for causal explanations of their current circumstances, seeking clarity or solace or justification in recent and more ancient history. This was made possible due to long-term structural changes in education, politics and religion, as well as a series of contingencies that reshaped the London and British print world in the 1640s. It built, for example, on centuries of development in humanist historical practice, but it was the huge increase in inexpensive historical material circulating in print as well as the firm establishment of printed news periodicals in the early 1640s that led to this type of thinking to become increasingly common across middling society rather than simply in elite, educated circles. It is the premise of this project that reading history, alongside a range of other materials, shaped how people responded to the present. In the 1640s and 1650s, as today, individuals were confronted with the problem of making sense of the multiple versions of the past that were in circulation. Ultimately, they came to make sense of and rethink their understanding of history in a moment (similar to our own) when divergent representations of the past were deployed by political and religious writers in vicious polemical battles.

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