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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

The Construction of (Early Modern) Social Reality

28th February 2017, 18:00, World Heritage Site Visitors Centre, Dom Birch, Department of History

This event is free to attend and open to all. The seminar will begin at 6pm, with tea and biscuits from 5.40pm.

Modern day society is structured around written, bureaucratic social rituals. In the past, these rituals were verbal rather than written. Often this is taken for granted: historians assume curses, oaths and other words had an intrinsic power in the past.

This paper will explore why words had such power in the past. I will argue that words had this power because of the way in which early modern parish communities were structured. In small communities, where there was little privacy between neighbours words had more scope to cause social disharmony, or, to use the early modern metaphor, breaking the social quiet. Within these communities, the consensus and memory of `old men' defi4ned a variety of different social facts: parish boundaries, local office structure and reputation. My paper will argue that it was these community relationships that formed the basis of the early modern verbal power. Community, in this period, was defined by verbal interaction and, verbal legal and social rituals emerged from such community.

The final part of my paper will try to put the early modern situation in context—referring to sociology and anthropology I will try to make a broader argument about the relationship between different types of community organisation and linguistic power.

Contact for more information about this event.