Dominic Birch is taking our next seminar on Tuesday 28 February, 18:00. Dom will be talking about ‘The Construction of Early Modern Social Reality’ and, as usual, tea and biscuits will be served from 17:40.
Below we chatted to Dom about Northern England, strong women and linguistics.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?
I’m Dom, and I’m studying for an MA in Economic and Social History. I’m from a small village called Long Newton which is in between Stockton (where Queen’s campus is) and Darlington (the stop before Durham on the train). Sadly, my parents have just moved down to Cambridgeshire meaning that they’ve left me and my brother (who lives in Newcastle) to represent up here.
What brought you to Durham?
Despite it being so close to my home I didn’t really consider coming to Durham originally and applied for my undergraduate course due to it being one of the few places that offered an English and History degree. Then, one day, I had an epiphany and—four years later—I’m still here!
It was actually a bit more complicated when applying for the masters degree. As time passes I feel increasingly North-Eastern and don’t want to leave the hills, the people and the coastline.
What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?
I love the shared humanity we have with the early modern period that’s combined with a huge distance between our cultures. It’s that contradiction that makes historical work often so exciting. A lot of my work concerns disputes about sex or drinking and often they’ll be something that sounds like it could be at home in a soap opera (‘she’s my husbands whore’, that sort of thing) but coupled with an early modern twist—like the involvement of some kind of rogue clergyman. Such fun!
What does your research focus on?
I’m an early modern social historian—so my work aims to get at the lived experiences of the vast majority of the population in the past. Right now I’m looking at how personal disputes were resolved without individuals suing each other. Early modern England was quite litigious but we have a lot of cases where individuals didn’t take their disputes to the law and I want to know why. Did neighbours help quell the quarrel? Was there a stand procedure for this? What types of location were important? That sort of thing.
I also have a huge historiographical interest in developing an ‘ethical’ understanding of what it means to write history.
What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?
I’m going to focus on how the social structure of this period helped shape the linguistic systems and ideologies that individuals lived through. It sounds a bit mad. The essential premise is that language, being social, always reacts to how our society is structured. So I try to identify salient aspects of early modern society and link them up how early modern people understood and used language.
If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
I like to think I’d have pursued my maths degree and ended up as the Economist‘s token leftie columnist.
Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?
It’s hideously unoriginal but I love Anthony and Cleopatra. I have a rather strange obsession with strong female characters (Hedda Gabler, Thelma & Louise, The Bride). And I think Cleopatra is a badass bitch.