Addressing Authority: An Online Symposium on Petitions and Supplications in Early Modern Society

On 18 March 2016, a symposium which was co-funded by the BIH, brought historians and literary scholars together to talk about the history of ‘addressing authority’. The symposium asked: How can people without official political power push the authorities to act? Historically, one of the most common tactics was to present a petition or supplication.  In early modern Europe, petitioning was ubiquitous. It was often the only acceptable way to address local and national authorities when seeking redress, mercy or advancement. As a result, petitioning was a crucial mode of communication between the ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’.

The Humble Petition of Jock of Bread (1648)The discussion at the symposium suggested that petitioning was one of the most vital ways in which the supposedly ‘powerless’ were able to speak to ‘the powerful’. Indeed, it was argued that studying petitioning can complicate and challenge the idea of a dichotomous relationship between ‘rulers’ and ‘ruled’ in early modern society.

Following on from the success of the event, the organisers are widening the conversation by presenting their thoughts in an open forum and inviting responses from anyone with an interest in the topic.

The online symposium will feature regular posts by the speakers at the event and so far four pieces have been posted:

·         Shaping the ‘I’ and the State? Petitions in Early Modern Europe, Andreas Würgler, University of Geneva.

·         Was early modern England a petitioning society? Brodie Waddell, Birkbeck, University of London

·         The London Lives Petitions Project: What can you do with 10,000 18th-century petitions? Sharon Howard, University of Sheffield.

·         ‘2000 Wives’: Women Petitioning on Barbary Captivity, 1626-1638 by Judith Hudson, Birkbeck, University of London

You can read all the posts here





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