English Society, 1580-1680

English Society, 1580-1680

English Society, 1580-1680

English Society, 1580-1680

Excerpt

No historian writes a book alone and this book is no exception to that rule. It would never have been conceived had it not been for the wave of new thinking about English social history which swept through the universities of the English-speaking world in the 1960s and 1970s. It could not have been written but for the painstaking research and constructive imagination of dozens of scholars in recent years and the pioneering efforts of the more isolated scholars of earlier generations upon whose shoulders they stand. In attempting a general study of English society in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, my intention has been that of rendering some of the findings of recent research more accessible, while at the same time suggesting ways in which the discoveries and insights of the last two decades can be worked into a coherent whole. I have not, however, attempted a comprehensive account of English society in this period. To do so would be premature. My aim has been to provide a selective, interpretative approach to the period viewed from a particular personal perspective. Selectivity, of course, implies the existence of lacunae. Personal interpretation inevitably involves the likelihood of disagreement. Nevertheless, I have chosen to argue a case as I presently see it.

In preparing and writing this book I have incurred many debts. The greatest and most long-standing is to the many research students and scholars of diverse nationality who contributed, however briefly, to the discussion of English social history in and around the Cambridge research seminars of the early 1970s. No-one who participated in that activity, much of it informal, is ever likely to forget it or to escape its influence. It was historical inquiry at its best: generous and constructive; spirited indeed, but free of the dogmatic posturing which sometimes disfigures academic debate. A second debt is to the members of the Modern History Department of the University of St Andrews, who from 1976 encouraged me to teach the social history of this period as a special subject. That

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