"Community" and "belonging" in early modern England : life in the Trent River Valley, 1520-1640

Smith, Hilary Borbon, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Havran, Martin J., Department of History, University of Virginia
Schutte, Anne, Department of History, University of Virginia

In this dissertation, I address three major historical topics driven by current developments in the field of English local history. I investigate the meaning of "community" and "belonging" for one area of England during the period 1520 to 1640. Secondly, I seek to understand the dynamics of town life in Leicester, Nottingham and Loughborough. Finally, I begin what will be for me and others an on-going investigation of Professor Charles Phythian-Adams' hypotheses regarding the existence of cultural provinces, based on river-drainage systems, in early modern England.

Many factors contributed to the development of multiple "communities" and to people's sense of belonging to them. I investigate the relationships that persons in Leicester, Nottingham and Loughborough had within their towns and with persons from the wider region. The topics addressed include: the roles of men and women in early modern English ┬Ěsociety; the importance of custom and ritual to people's sense of belonging; individual and communal responses to "outsiders;" the challenges to order posed by dearth, plague, poverty and crime; and the evidence for a regional character of "community."

I argue that physical proximity and shared concerns were of primary importance in shaping a person's sense of belonging, thereby creating "community." These two criteria for community awareness often existed simultaneously, but not always. Common concerns could create a sense of solidarity among persons who did not have regular contact and did not know each other well. I maintain that the circumstances of Leicester, Nottingham and Loughborough's location in the region, and in relationship to each other, resulted in a shared culture unique to them. Phythian-Adarns states that total homogeneity within the limits of a cultural province is not to be expected. Instead, we should find recognizable similarities between places within a province, and a province should have served as a generally focused "arena" of influence and regional interaction. Based on my conclusions about "community" and "belonging" for the three towns, I maintain that the Trent River Valley region was a cultural province.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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