In Praise Of Ordinary People: Early Modern Britain And The Dutch Republic

In Praise Of Ordinary People: Early Modern Britain And The Dutch Republic
Tags: Margaret C. Jacob

The discipline of social history has for many decades focused on the lives of so-called "ordinary" people. Less studied, however, has been the ways in which the perceptions and roles of these individuals changed over time - both in historical theory and practice. In particular, in Europe beginning in the sixteenth century, they were no longer simply ignored, feared, or denigrated by elites: they came to be seen, however cautiously, as having value through their skills and crafts, or in their ability to reason, or even in their contributions to anchoring the stability of the state. It is not accidental that these sorts of practices on the part of ordinary people became valorized more visibly in the English and Dutch contexts. After 1550 the Dutch Revolt cast ordinary people, particularly in urban settings, as participants on either the Catholic Spanish side or among the Dutch rebels and their reformed churches. Meanwhile, the English civil wars of the 1640s did something similar, and also produced a body of theoretical literature on the capacities of ordinary men and even women that became central to Western democratic thinking. In the fascinating array of studies gathered here, we see how the study of these participants' social identities imparts historical texture and enables us to understand early modernity with greater clarity.