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Department of History

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Andy Wood

2016 'Tales from the ‘Yarmouth Hutch’ civic identities and hidden histories in an urban archive', Past and Present 230, pp. 213-230

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

All archives have a purpose; their collection, organization and deployment is never neutral. Historians take from the archive those fragments that seem to us to prove a particular case, or to enrich the story we wish to tell. But it is hard for us — in our teaching, in our writing, perhaps also in our thinking — to capture the endlessly protean nature of the archive. This article tries to capture some of the ways in which an archive sustained certain stories and how it frustrated others. The tale told here is unapologetically local: it engages with a particular community at a particular time. The objective is to reconstruct something of the way in which archives made sense to early modern people.

The article resituates the town archive of Great Yarmouth — the ‘Yarmouth Hutch’ — in its original context at the heart of an urban community. We will see that the Hutch sustained a detailed sense of the past that reached back to the fourteenth century and spawned two remarkable histories of the town, written respectively by Thomas Damet in 1594–9 and Henry Manship in 1619. It is argued that rather than representing a novel expression of early modern civic humanism, these histories were formed within a longer tradition of urban historical writing, one that reached back to the late Middle Ages. Yarmouth’s corporate sense of the past was generated for a middling, bourgeois audience that was partial and, in many ways, exclusive. Urban political culture — encompassing not just political affairs, but the writing and archives within which it was recorded — thereby emerges as more elitist and divisive than recent historiography has supposed. A closer look at both the histories and at the archive that supported them, reveals the fissures and tensions that were the reality of ...