Religion and the English People, 1500-1640: New Voices, New Perspectives

By Eric Josef Carlson | Go to book overview

THE REFORMATION in ITS PLACE

Robert Tittler

THE MORE ONE LEARNS about the progress of the English Reformation in specific communities the more one comes to appreciate the distinctiveness of the local experience. Much of the advent of Reform seemed to hinge on local as well as national traditions, on the role of inspired individuals in particular places, and on the circumstances of local government and politics. There is of course a danger in emphasizing this approach, for the forest must never be neglected for the trees. But there is great value as well. Such observations serve to remind us that what we know (and think we know) about historical movements such as this often reflect mere generalizations about the human experience: shorthand representations of the myriad small events and actions which come to push our perception of that broad experience in a particular direction. But however necessary the business of generalization may be, it inevitably sacrifices important nuance and detail. In the wake of such loss it is not difficult for distortions to creep in or for our understanding to be lost.

While retaining a much more traditional methodology than, for example, the Italian practitioners of "microhistory,"1 most of the essays in this collection pay close attention to the local experience in the hope of elucidating, clarifying, and accounting for the larger picture. They each consider, some of course more successfully than others, particular aspects of that monolithic term "Reformation" in particular places, the diocese, parish, town or, figuratively speaking, the guild.

Caroline Litzenberger's study of Gloucestershire wills employs wills as evidence of religious sentiment. It marks a useful contrast to Christopher

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1
See for example the pages of the journal Quaderni storici published since 1966, and the work of such pioneers as, e.g., Guido Ruggiero, Carlo Ginzburg, and their co-workers in this productive field. The distinctions between the essays in the collection at hand and the microhistory of the Italian school are several in number, mostly having to do with the greater presence of social scientific method and theory in the latter. But the close focal range and many of the objectives of both approaches are the same.

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