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The Memory of the People
Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England


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  • Date Published: August 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521896108

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About the Authors
  • Did ordinary people in early modern England have any coherent sense of the past? Andy Wood's pioneering new book charts how popular memory generated a kind of usable past that legitimated claims to rights, space and resources. He explores the genesis of customary law in the medieval period; the politics of popular memory; local identities and traditions; gender and custom; literacy, orality and memory; landscape, space and memory; and the legacy of this cultural world for later generations. Drawing from a wealth of sources ranging from legal proceedings and parochial writings to proverbs and estate papers, he shows how custom formed a body of ideas built up generation after generation from localized patterns of cooperation and conflict. This is a unique account of the intimate connection between landscape, place and identity and of how the poorer and middling sort felt about the world around them.

    • The first major study of popular memory in the early modern period
    • Broad-ranging, interdisciplinary approach will appeal to historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and historical geographers
    • Written by a leading social historian
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    • Winner of the 2014 Leo Gershoy Award, American Historical Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'This is a book to read slowly and to savour. It is exceptionally rich: in fresh and illuminating material; in historical imagination and insight; in conceptual sophistication and in interpretative implications. It combines breadth of vision with vivid specificity, and is written with fluency and power, from its arresting opening to its trenchant conclusion. It is a truly major work.' Keith Wrightson, Townsend Professor of History, Yale University

    'The Memory of the People is a tour de force, its conceptual sophistication and empirical rigor representing social history at its very best. Based on protracted and sensitive engagement with a huge range of manuscript source material derived from the law courts (especially the equity jurisdictions of early modern England), it draws inspiration not only from historical studies of the significance of custom, but also from the work of sociologists, socio-linguists, social anthropologists and historical geographers. Andy Wood's penetrating analysis of plebeian culture will radically transform the way historians think about popular understandings of time and space in the English past.' Steve Hindle, W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research, Huntington Library

    'A dense, thought-provoking and penetrating book that will inspire a new generation of students of early modern history.' History Today

    'The study of popular perceptions of the past has taken a dramatic step forward with this splendid book.' Daniel Woolf, Renaissance Quarterly

    'Beautifully, and very accessibly, written, this book deserves to be recognised as an instantaneous classic.' Rural History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2013
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521896108
    • length: 412 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 156 x 27 mm
    • weight: 0.72kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Reformation, custom and the end of medieval England
    2. Custom and popular memory
    3. Rights, resources and social alignments
    4. Topographies of remembrance
    5. Textual and verbal ways of remembering
    6. The politics of popular memory.

  • Author

    Andy Wood, University of Durham
    Andy Wood is Professor of Social History at the University of Durham. He writes about the poorer and middling people of Tudor, Stuart and Georgian England, and has published on a wide range of issues, including popular politics, class relations, rebellion, the mid-Tudor crisis, the English Revolution, local communities, literacy, oral culture, memory and customary law. His last book was The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2007), which the American Historical Review described as 'social history at its best … passionate and committed while at the same time judicious and balanced … an extraordinary book, imaginative in its conceptualization and wide ranging in its implications'. Professor Wood is also the author of The Politics of Social Conflict: The Peak Country, 1520–1770 (Cambridge, 1999) and Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (2002). He has held Research Fellowships with the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust and the Institute of Advanced Studies at Durham University. The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England is based on twenty years' research and thought.


    • Winner of the 2014 Leo Gershoy Award, American Historical Association

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