Agreements of the People

Britain’s seventeenth century history has lumbered into the news this week, with the High Court of Justice’s judgment that, according to the law of this country, the government cannot trigger the EU-exiting Article 50 without direct parliamentary approval. Two of the key precedents cited by the judges are the writings of Sir Edward Coke, an influential early-seventeenth-century constitutional lawyer, and the Bill of Rights, which was produced after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688-9. Both state that parliament is the sovereign maker of law in Britain, and are therefore the only ones who can change the law. These documents were originally produced in very specific contexts, and certainly not everyone at that time would have agreed with them (least of all ‘divine-right-of-kings’ Charles I, who literally lost his head over this matter), but their enduring legacy evidently cannot be denied.

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All Aboard

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The figurehead of the Batavia.

I have wanted to vist the Bataviawerf since I learned about it some years ago, and researching in the Netherlands finally gave me the chance to go. It is a museum in Lelystad, northeast of Amsterdam on the shores of the Zuiderzee, based around a replica of the Dutch East India Company ship the Batavia (if you want a quick introduction, there is a handy In Our Time episode from last March about the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC).

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Boaty McWhoseface? Or, some thoughts on ships’ names

You must have heard of it – the online poll to name a polar scientific research vessel, won by a humorous (but, it must be said, not particularly inspired) choice that is considerably less august and impressive than the Natural Environment Research Council were probably hoping for. As it turns out that the voice of the people may be ignored and some other name chosen, it is being taken as a parable about democracy in our time. On a slightly different note, over at the History@Manchester blog Linda Briggs has written about the rituals with which early modern French monarchs and merchants named their ships. This seemed to me a good excuse to borrow the idea and take a look at early modern ship-naming in Britain and Europe more generally.
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The water is too deep

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on this blog, so I’ll try to get it going again by posting about some of the research I am currently doing in the Netherlands (I’ll be digging around the Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Dutch national archives for the next few months). I’m here looking for evidence about sailors from Britain and Ireland during the seventeenth century, and what they got up to in another country. Did they take work on Dutch ships, or with institutions like the navy or the various trading companies? What kinds of relationships did they form with people and communities in the Netherlands? I hope that by building up a picture of their activities from the perspectives offered in Dutch records I can complement my research in British collections, and start to think about questions like how much national identities mattered to sailors.

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Toe-dipping in the mainstream

These days, academics are encouraged to appeal to big audiences. We are told that we must have ‘impact’ (teaching 2.2 million university students doesn’t seem to count, oddly enough – but let’s leave that for another time). Just over a fortnight ago I had my first proper taste of this when I got involved in a collective letter published in History Today, whose readership and twitter followers represent a much bigger audience than I am likely to reach through my academic writing and teaching. Continue reading