Local Consciousness in Renaissance England

  • John M. Adrian
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


In the past fifty years, the main proponents of early modern local identity have been, not surprisingly, local historians. In following H. P. R. Finberg’s famous charge to portray the ‘origin, growth, decline, and fall of a local community,’ local historians have produced numerous studies of particular villages, parishes, and hundreds.1 These studies have been invaluable in revealing what provincial life was like in a variety of places. While some historians have been content to focus solely on a few square miles, others — like Eamon Duffy and David Underdown — have endeavored to show how national events like the Reformation and Civil War played out in particular local communities.2 More recently, scholars have begun to rethink some of the basic terminology — like ‘identity’ and ‘community’ — on which Local Studies has been built. One point of emphasis has been to attempt to identify the boundaries of the local community. Suggestions range from the relatively large (county) to the medium-sized (hundred) to the small (parish or village).3 Others have eschewed ‘artificial’ administrative units in favor of more natural divisions like landscape or agricultural regions.4 Christopher Lewis, however, has argued that the single-community approach ignores the complexity of individual identity, which is actually best imagined as a series of ‘concentric circles’ that radiate outward.5


Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Local Identity Local Place Early Modern Period 
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  1. 1.
    H. P. R. Finberg, ‘The Local Historian and His Theme,’ in The Changing Face of English Local History, ed. R. C. Richardson (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000), 115. Originally published as The local historian and his theme; an introductory lecture delivered at the University College of Leicester, 6 November 1952 (University College of Leicester, 1954).Google Scholar
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© John M. Adrian 2011

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