08th September 2021

Book in Focus

Varieties of History and Their Porous Frontiers

By R.C. Richardson

Varieties of History and Their Porous Frontiers is the third volume of collected essays by R.C. Richardson, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Winchester, UK. The previous two (Social History, Local History and Historiography and Receptions and Re-visitings), also published by CSP, came out in 2011.

Publishing a collection of essays by the same author serves a number of purposes at the same time:

  • It brings together material which had diverse, sometimes inaccessible, origins;
  • It helps underline common denominators in subject matter and methodology;
  • It presents the component parts to a wider audience.

All the essays, mostly written in the last ten years, have been updated for this collection. Two of them are published here for the first time. Historiography is the principal connecting common thread and the Porous Frontiers referred to in the title are chiefly those which lie between—but do not rigidly separate—social history and regional and local history. Interdisciplinarity figures prominently in this book, as does the effort to link texts with contexts. All the essays are based on new research and have a pronounced problem-solving agenda. Graduate students taking taught Master’s programmes in these fields will find the subject matter and methodology in these case studies very instructive. Indeed, this very serviceable book shows the historian at work in his laboratory.

Chronologically, the essays range over four centuries and look to both the northern and southern counties of the UK for their material. One of them, ‘Babels of Profaneness and Community’, provides the first local case study in print of the Ranter sensation of the late 1640s (in this case in Hampshire and Wiltshire), when frenzied, freedom- and attention-seeking lower class radical men and women strove to turn the world upside down by defiantly rejecting accepted social, political, religious and gendered norms while looking towards a brave new world of their own invention. Short-lived though it was, the Ranters’ noisy and shocking outbursts alarmed contemporaries and threatened de-stabilisation. Echoes of the Ranter presence and theology lived on—partially and in different guises—to a later century in Primitive Methodism and Trade Unionism.

Another chapter focusses on a nineteenth-century Hampshire clergyman (Richard Chevenix Trench), whose etymological endeavours deserve recognition as the foundation of the later Oxford English Dictionary. In essence, the outline for the dictionary was of his making, and, in two best-selling books on the history of words, he paved the way for it and built up an audience eagerly waiting for its publication. Later in the book, a northern historian, G.H. Tupling (1883-1962) is put back firmly on the map as the trail-blazing pioneer of a new kind of regional economic history. Twentieth-century historian Joan Thirsk receives careful analysis in another essay as someone who was much more than the principal founder of early modern agrarian history, the field in which she became particularly famous.

The final chapter looks to the Festival of Britain of 1951 and the morale boost it gave to a war-weary, but optimistic, nation. Here, the specially commissioned series of regional guidebooks—originally produced with strictly utilitarian purposes in mind to assist tourists on their journeys around the country in that Festival year—are re-read here as social history and as an exhaustive exercise in cultural mapping which, at one and the same time, took stock of the past but looked forward confidently (and at times not altogether realistically) to a promising and more secure future.

Ten essays in total comprise this volume. Mutually reinforcing, they add up to a meaningful and significant whole.


R.C. Richardson is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Winchester, UK, where he taught for much of his working life. He has held visiting professorships at a number of American universities, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. He was co-editor of the international journal Literature and History for over three decades, and has served as General Editor for Manchester University Press for two highly successful series. He is himself the author and editor of a large number of books, including Puritanism in Northwest England (1972), The Debate on the English Revolution (3rd ed., 1998), Images of Oliver Cromwell (reprinted 2015), The Changing Face of English Local History (reprinted 2018), and Household Servants in Early Modern England (2010). Two earlier volumes of his collected essays, Social History, Local History and Historiography and Receptions and Re-visitings, were published in 2011.


Varieties of History and Their Porous Frontiers is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter the code PROMO25 at the checkout to redeem.

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