Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Cultural Creativity in the Early English Renaissance: Popular Culture in Town and Country

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Cultural Creativity in the Early English Renaissance: Popular Culture in Town and Country

Article excerpt

Elisabeth Salter, Cultural Creativity in the Early English Renaissance: Popular Culture in Town and Country (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). xii + 231 pp. ISBN I-4039-9179-0. £45.00.

Elisabeth Salter uses the term 'cultural creativity' to describe the ways in which ordinary people in urban and rural communities, during the period c. 1450-1560, creatively define themselves, their families, and their social networks. Salter's strikingly original and intelligent new book explores how individuals in this period sought to articulate a sense of selfhood to themselves and others through a variety of textual and cultural transactions: to literally create themselves. The book responds to a perceived crisis in interpretation in cultural history whereby academic scepticism about knowledge and the loss of confidence in absolute explanatory structures have devalued detailed investigations of empirical evidence, embracing the fact that we can never fully reconstruct the past. Salter defiantly maintains that empirical evidence is of immense value for the cultural historian when approached from the perspective of a 'historical ethnography', the attempt to 'reconstruct contemporary experience imaginatively' (p. 5). Salter takes pains to set out and defend her methodology at length in two long introductory chapters addressing the nature of evidence and linguistic tools used in reconstructing the perception and experience of her subjects in the case studies forming the core of the chapters that follow. In each of the subsequent five chapters Salter examines a 'site' of cultural creativity: inheritance strategies, personal possessions and their meanings, the daily fashioning of identity, attitudes to commemoration after death and the creative nature of reading. Testamentary texts form the bulk of Salter's primary evidence here, which are approached in a manner that consciously signals an affinity to Natalie Zemon Davis's method of identifying narrative structures in legal documents. …

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