Society in Early Modern England
Society in Early Modern England
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have traditionally been regarded by historians as a period of intense and formative historical change, so much so that they have often been described as ‘early modern' - an epoch separate from ‘the medieval' and ‘the modern'. Paying particular attention to England, this book reflects on the implications of this categorization for contemporary debates about the nature of modernity and society.

The book traces the forgotten history of the phrase 'early modern' to its coinage as a category of historical analysis by the Victorians and considers when and why words like 'modern' and 'society' were first introduced into English in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In so doing it unpicks the connections between linguistic and social change and how the consequences of those processes still resonate today.

A major contribution to our understanding of European history before 1700 and its resonance for social thought today, the book will interest anybody concerned with the historical antecedents of contemporary culture and the interconnections between the past and the present.

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  • September 2010
  • 248 pages
  • 161 x 237 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $72.75
  • 9780745641294
  • Paperback $26.00
  • 9780745641300
Table of Contents
List of Figures and Illustrations.


Introduction: Early Modernity and its Malcontents.

Section One: The History of an Historical Category.

Chapter Two: The Victorian Struggle for Modern History.

Chapter Three: The Concept of Early Modernity.

Section Two: Keywords.

Chapter Four: What did 'Society' Mean in Early Modern England?

Chapter Five: The Rise and Fall of 'Commonwealth'.

Chapter Six: 'Modern' and the English Vernacular.

Section Three: Practice.

Chapter Seven: The Sociable Self.

Chapter Eight: Colony and State.

Conclusion: We Really Are Modern.


About the Author
Phil Withington is Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge
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"This book aims high and deserves careful reading."
BBC History Magazine

"Trenchantly underscores the growing importance of sociability while challenging us to think about the work of words, and the vexed matter of periodization."
The American Historical Review

"Phil Withington's book is important as it helps to refocus the debate away from the problematic 'modernisation' theories and unto a different battleground: historcal linguistics."
Reviews in History

"Withington helps us to view the early modern period in a similar way to those who lived through it. He presents the reader with an interpretation of the early modern world that forces us to re-evaluate our preconceptions and to think about this period in terms not just of its history, but also of its language. Withington breathes new life into an often ill-defined historical period and changes the way in which we view 'Early Modern'"

"Society in Early Modern England is a major work that will command the attention of all scholars and students interested in the period. Dr. Withington reveals time and again that he is an adept thinker and careful reader, as well as a first-rate historian, as eager to struggle with conceptual problems as to analyse complicated source material. This book will force many to rethink their understanding of the early modern period and what it means, as well as the ways in which we imagine and categorise historical periods in general."
Andrew Hadfield, University of Sussex

"Withington offers a broad geneaology of historians' use of the term 'early modern', and finds striking similarities with the ways that early moderns themselves had begun to describe their world. It is a notably fresh, wide-ranging and stimulating argument about the analytic value of the term and the disinctiveness of early modern society."
Mike Braddick, University of Sheffield

"A rigorous and persuasive charting of key concepts and discourses which not only reformulates the significance of the 'early modern' period but also gives that period a new shape."
Keith Wrightson, Yale University

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