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Social crisis and the imaging of England’s history : representing medieval Norfolk in the early 19th century Musto, Sylvia Synnove

Abstract

This thesis examines a wide range of publications on medieval antiquities which emerged in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These ranged from large and lavish scholarly publications to popular tourist guides tracing travellers' itineraries to famous British antiquities and sites. While at its broadest level this study assesses how the visual and textual representations of medieval monuments and ruins gave form to the nation's history, its particular concern is to explore how regional and local conflicts and their relations to larger national issues intersected with and were negotiated through representations of the medieval past. A particular region of Britain, the county of Norfolk and its capital city Norwich, provides a focus for this analysis. Norfolk as a region usefully exemplifies many of the contentious issues at stake in the early decades of the century—issues that were repeatedly evoked in the ongoing debates concerning both the nation's past and its present. It is part of the argument of this thesis that many of the tensions variously articulated in the descriptions and illustrations of Norfolk's medieval past emerged from the conflicts between modern social upheavals and political and economic contestations, and the current fascination with the nation's medieval history. These tensions concerned 'racial' and political associations relating to Britain's Saxon and Norman past. They also involved modern conflicts concerning the urban public sphere, changing relationships between country and city, disputed questions of land-ownership and social allegiances, and religious controversies involving the Established Church and Catholic and Protestant Dissent. Such issues had an important bearing on the ways in which medieval architectural monuments and ruins were visually represented to the reading and viewing publics. As this study shows, representations of medieval antiquities of Norfolk and Norwich in antiquarian and travel publications, as well as in artistic works like those of Norfolk artist John Sell Cotman, constituted important sites--ones where contemporary conflicts and debates were rendered visible, and where changing and shifting social relationships were continually and variously played out and negotiated.

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