Disobedient archives: writing critical historical geographies of protest and dissent

Authors: Briony McDonagh*, University of Hull, UK
Topics: Historical Geography, Gender, Environment
Keywords: protest, dissent, commons, enclosure, court records, fragments, scarcity, abundance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper explores the challenges of researching critical historical geographies of protest and dissent in pre-modern Britain. The sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries witnessed huge numbers of small-scale enclosure riots particularly in the English Midlands, as well as larger outbreaks of regional and national unrest. These typically aimed to resist enclosure and the loss of common rights within local communities, at a time when modern concepts of property rights were first beginning to emerge. Yet for all their importance to the history of modern property relations, the records of these episodes of resistance are patchy, poorly catalogued and produced wholly as a result of individuals’ and communities’ engagement with legal process (in this case, the Court of Star Chamber at Westminster). Hence the surviving archive is vast but necessarily fragmentary and partial, and usually consists of inconsistent and deliberately conflicting accounts of events. As a result, it has been almost entirely untouched by historical geographers. The paper considers the possibilities for using this material for both qualitative and quantitative historical geographical research, as well as the opportunities to combine it with other approaches and methods (including landscape analysis). I discuss opportunities for reading this material critically and against the grain in attempting the recover stories of people and things usually written out of existing histories of the British landscape, including women, the poor, animals and the more-than-human. In doing so, I interrogate the uses of difficult and unruly archives in writing pre-modern historical geographies of protest, dissent and disobedience.

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