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Level 5

5AAH1015 Early Modern London

Credit value: 15

Module convenor/tutor: Professor Laura Gowing
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminars (weekly) 
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment (2019/20): 1 x 1,500-word formative essay;  1 x 3,000-word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pre 2019/20: 2 x 2,500 word essays (100%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years

This course examines the history of London on the cusp of the modern age. Between 1550 and 1700 its high mortality rates, huge population growth, complex government, thriving underworld and evolving marketplaces created a city unique in Europe. The Great Fire required a huge programme of rebuilding, and plague continued to devastate whole neighbourhoods. Leisure and a public sphere were invented. Street signs and street lights appeared, and housing spread far beyond the old city walls creating new suburbs and industrial areas. Print culture exploded, and commercial theatres were introduced. New consumer goods set the fashion across the country. A class of servants appeared, many of them women from the provinces: London's sex ratio was 60:40 in favour of women. We will look, too, at crime and disorder, poverty, material culture, social space, and the environment. 

We will read recent secondary material and contemporary primary sources, from Pepys’s diary to the records of the Old Bailey, and trace some of the city’s remains in the modern environment.  Students interested in urban life, social history, and material culture should enjoy this module. Wide reading outside the set texts, especially in contemporary drama, visits to museums, and walking, are encouraged! 

Provisional teaching plan

  1. The city and its people
  2. Governing the city
  3. Crime and disorder
  4. Houses and their contents
  5. Shops and goods
  6. Apprenticeship and guilds
  7. Social life, food, and drink
  8. The urban environment: dirt, noise, disease
  9. Immigrants and minorities
  10. Cultural life

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

John Stow, A Survey of London, written in the year 1598 A 16th century history of the city and its parishes, widely available in cheap editions and with some great stories and details

Mark Jenner and Paul Griffiths, ed, Londinopolis  Useful essays e.g. on water, women, marriage, crime

Lena Cowen Orlin Locating Privacy in Tudor London Wide-ranging, stimulating examination of the idea of private worlds in the early modern city

Eleanor Hubbard, City Women New study of women in the city, with lots of detail on work and social life

Karen Newman, Cultural Capitals: early modern London and Paris

Anna Bayman, Thomas Dekker and the Culture of Pamphleteering in early modern London Fascinating biography which recaptures the everyday life of the city

Joseph Monteyne, The Printed Image in early modern London Chapters on print, coffee houses etc

Paul Griffiths, Lost Londons Compendious tome on criminal London based on the records of Bridewell

Lena Cowen Orlin, ed., Material London ca. 1600 Literary in flavour, with some great essays

Charles Nicholl, The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street Based on a recent archival discovery, a story of Shakespeare's life as a lodger in the city

Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self Great biography with excellent material on London – read his diaries too, all online


Online resources

The Map of Early Modern London – excellent website with gazetteer of the city

Old Bailey Online – criminal records of the city from 1667

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