By expanding the geographical scope of the history of violence and war, this volume challenges both Western and state-centric narratives of the decline of violence and its relationship to modernity. It highlights instead similarities across early modernity in terms of representations, legitimations, applications of, and motivations for violence. It seeks to integrate methodologies of the study of violence into the history of war, thereby extending the historical significance of both fields of research. Thirteen case studies outline the myriad ways in which large-scale violence was understood and used by states and non-state actors throughout the early modern period across Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Atlantic, and Europe, demonstrating that it was far more complex than would be suggested by simple narratives of conquest and resistance. Moreover, key features of imperial violence apply equally to large-scale violence within societies. As the authors argue, violence was a continuum, ranging from small-scale, local actions to full-blown war. The latter was privileged legally and increasingly associated with states during early modernity, but its legitimacy was frequently contested and many of its violent forms, such as raiding and destruction of buildings and crops, could be found in activities not officially classed as war.
Our choice of the gerund – stereotyping – is deliberate. By it we wish to direct our critical attention not only to the contents of any stereotypical representations, but also to the ways in which these representations were put to use in polemical exchanges, often appealing to existing prejudices and invoking ideologies. This volume of essays explores stereotyping as a form of contested practice embedded in various negotiations of power concerning spheres of life such as politics, religion, everyday life and knowledge production.
Stereotyping in early modern England calls for our scrutiny now because then – as now – stereotypes were pervasive and even affected the unfolding of events of profound consequence. In recent years, such events include two political upheavals of 2016: the British referendum on Brexit, and the American presidential election through which Donald Trump entered the White House, a property tycoon with no previous experience of political office. In both events, competing camps – including those self-styled defenders of progressive values – stereotyped the other as unacceptable parties perpetrating great wrongs to the countries which they were supposed to serve. In the process, a wide range of stereotypes were marshalled to orchestrate support and attack opponents – of immigrants, of African Americans, of conservative southerners, of incompetent bureaucrats, of metropolitan elites and of autocrats.1
Walter Lippmann, who helped define the term stereotype, would have considered this a uniquely modern phenomenon, modern in that its diffusion and impact supposedly rested on a range of modern mass media and the large literate audience consuming them.2 Such views are no longer sustainable. Stereotyping has also been found across virtually every aspect of life during the early modern period.
In this volume, we define stereotyping as the attribution of certain characteristics to some category of person, institution, event or thing.3 Shared by a large number of people, stereotypes usually have negative connotations.4 We use stereotypes as a window into the early modern past because they shaped, and were shaped by, broader ideologies, prejudices and polemics. Take English stereotypes about patriarchy and Roman Catholics. Such early modern stereotypes were integral to wider ideologies like the divine rights of monarchy and the reformed Anglicanism. While closely tied to elaborate doctrines, stereotypical representations of failed patriarchs, unruly women and papists (i.e. those accepting the authority of the papacy) also reflected existing prejudices, embodying popular culture, that elusive ‘mentality’ of the population.5 These highly charged stereotypes were often employed in Parliament, in law courts and in local parishes to sway opinion. As such, stereotyping was a key component of the broader manifestations of power across centre and peripheries. Practices of stereotyping played a critical role during the moments of intense political crisis, such as the unfolding of the Civil Wars in the 1640s and the so-called Exclusion Crisis between 1679 and 1681. Stereotypes also circulated widely beyond moments of crisis, shaping religious identities, fuelling political debates, picked up in theatre plays and disseminated via prints, woodcuts, manuscripts and oral gossip. Stereotypes thereby conditioned civic participatory politics, while also shaping knowledge about the self and influencing the advancement of learning about non-Christian faiths inside and outside Europe.
Here, then, is an unexpected overlap that will emerge from this volume: if societies in the early modern period and in the twenty-first century are both profoundly affected by stereotyping, would it be possible for historians of the early modern period to learn from social science research into present-day stereotypes, while at the same time offering useful insights into the dynamism of stereotyping based on early modern case studies? In 2012, Vlad Glăveanu and Koji Yamamoto edited a special issue of the journal Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, titled ‘Bridging history and social psychology’, in which five historians responded to psychologists’ articles. They all questioned psychologists’ depictions of ‘traditional societies’ as static and monolithic, and showed that uses of memories and representations in pre-modern societies have more similarities to modern-day practices than hitherto assumed by social scientists. In 2014, Mark Knights further explored the possibility for interdisciplinary engagements by paying critical attention to visual, linguistic and cognitive elements of historical stereotypes.6 This volume complements these interventions by focusing on mobilisation and contestation – what people did with stereotypes.
This is a timely exercise. Traditionally, psychologists understood stereotypes as an ‘automatic and inevitable consequence of categorization’, a mental process required to ‘simplify the cognitive tasks confronted by the social perceiver’.7 As we shall see, more recent accounts have also begun to pay attention to how stereotypes are used in particular contexts, suggesting parallels with historians’ turn toward practice and process. This volume invites readers to pursue further cross-fertilisation between history and social science, especially aspects of social psychology and sociology. We do this not because we wish to celebrate interdisciplinarity for its own sake. Rather, we urge historians and social scientists to keep crossing boundaries because doing so will render historical scholarship more analytically rigorous while making its findings open and freshly relevant to social scientists and broader audiences more interested in contemporary societies.
So far, stereotypes about religious faith, gender, race, poverty and other themes in the early modern period have tended to be studied separately. This is partly because scholars have not necessarily used the same terminology, but instead separately discussed representations and images in their respective subfields. Few accounts nowadays treat early modern stereotypes as mere myths or errors, or view those holding stereotypes as simply irrational. Even so, there still is a related tendency to suggest that those holding stereotypes were the victims of scare-mongering.8 At worst, such approaches can lead us to reproduce the traditional psychological model and project it back on past societies. Doing so induces us to trivialise the agency of historical actors – to treat them as passive components with few other options but to process information through a series of simplistic stereotypes that derived from and lent legitimacy to the existing social order.
Instead of treating stereotyping as an inevitable cognitive propensity, we would do well to follow Peter Burke’s dictum that images and representations are themselves events, and heed Roger Chartier’s advice that the consumption of these images be studied as ‘another production’.9 Building upon these views, we suggest that stereotyping must also be examined as events with far-reaching repercussions, an integral component in so many negotiations of power as most notably studied by Susan Amussen, Michael Braddick, John Walter and Bernard Capp, among others.10
If we take this perspective and begin to bring together studies of early modern stereotypes often conducted separately, we can reveal the remarkable extent to which early modern actors – far from being irrational – were more capable of mobilising and contesting stereotypes than hitherto has been allowed. Crucially, close comparative scrutiny of stereotyping and its repercussions also enables us to explore a striking paradox: actors’ attempts to refute and control the effects of stereotypes hardly led to their complete removal; rather the reverse. Efforts to confront stereotypes and control and contest their meanings often led to the escalation of polemics and conflict, and to the further reproduction of stereotypes and to their perpetuation. Stereotyping all too often bred more stereotyping. What does progress mean if stereotypes were so pervasive in the early modern period and beyond?
For this interdisciplinary engagement to flourish, we must ensure that our research is accessible to non-experts in the early modern period. A fuller introduction to seventeenth-century British politics and religion, and the role of stereotypes, will be provided by Tim Harris’s chapter. The following paragraphs sketch some of the important themes about early modern England before turning to relevant historiographies and key interventions of this volume.
Early modern England, here defined for our convenience as between 1550 and 1750, witnessed a series of geopolitical, religious, economic and intellectual transformations. At the beginning of this period, England was a modest country on the periphery of Europe, having recently broken away from the Catholic church. Within two centuries, post-Reformation England became Europe’s leading trading entrepôt, an emerging empire boasting expanding north American colonies with strong overseas trade, backed up by thriving industries at home.
In the process, inhabitants of the British Isles witnessed a series of upheavals. First was constant warfare abroad: the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the Thirty Years War which England joined in 1618, the three Anglo-Dutch Wars in the 1650s, 1660s and 1670s, the Nine Years War that followed the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the ensuing War of Spanish Succession.11 Though fought abroad, these wars nevertheless expanded government debts and put unprecedented fiscal pressures upon the population. These battles were mainly fought against Catholic countries, one of the factors that ensured the ongoing circulation of the anti-Catholic stereotypes like ‘popery’ discussed throughout this volume.
Inhabitants of England witnessed domestic turbulences too: the Civil Wars of the 1640s, the beheading of King Charles I in 1649, the republican experiments led by Cromwell and others, followed by the restoration of monarchy with the return of Charles II in 1660. Charles II’s brother James was Catholic, and between 1679 and 1681 there was an attempt to exclude him from the line of succession – the Exclusion Crisis. In 1685, the succession of James as the Catholic king of a Protestant nation led to his expulsion only three years later, the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. The British Isles thus saw at least two revolutions and more political crises during this period. As we shall see, stereotyping was never directed solely against Catholics. Other types of stereotype also proliferated; studying them will help us to throw fresh light on many of these moments of profound social, political and religious crisis.
Despite successive political crises, early modern England also witnessed economic expansion and development.12 By 1750, navigable rivers had been extended, the granting of patents to promote technology transfer became more common, new urban and rural industries had been set up and numerous schemes enhanced productivity in various sectors such as textiles, agriculture and mining. Regional economies became more specialised, and expanding networks of rivers, highways and ports turned them into something of an integrated national economy, which in turn was fuelled by incoming raw materials from colonies, to be processed and finished for re-exporting back to colonies as well as to European cities. Fruits of such expansion were never distributed evenly across social hierarchies or regions. There were a number of cold winters and bad harvests, and much dearth; poorer landless labourers were driven to starvation, and many flooded into expanding urban centres, especially London, only to suffer from contagious disease, dirty water and the thick smoke of coal burning, all of which kept infant mortality dangerously high. Hostility against foreign immigrants intensified, especially during the periods of hardship and depression.
And then there was a wave of intellectual experiments and transformations, often called the ‘scientific revolution’.13 This is the age that witnessed the diffusion of the telescope, the invention of the microscope and a series of discoveries by luminaries such as William Harvey of the circulation of blood, Robert Boyle of the weight of the air and Isaac Newton of the law of gravity. Historians of science, technology and medicine have now moved firmly beyond the study of their great discoveries. More recent works have instead explored how methods of biblical criticism and interest in alchemy provided templates for reforming ‘natural philosophy’; they have unearthed how social practices surrounding ‘credible witnesses’ lent themselves to the staging of experiments, and the reporting of their results as ‘matters of fact’.14 Contemporary norms and expectations about status, gender and civility turned out to be as crucial as intellectual traditions. We can begin to see why historians of science and medicine therefore have long paid close attention to various stereotypes about the ‘scholar’, the ‘quack’, the ‘empiric’, the ‘midwife’ and the ‘projector’, all of which conditioned the production of knowledge in the early modern period.15
Early modern responses to this period of successive crises and profound change were far from impartial. Communications were so problematic that even appeals to impartiality lent themselves to polemics and the pursuit of power and authority. Peter Lake and Steven Pincus captured this well in their introduction to The politics of the public sphere in early modern England (2007):
it was out of the need to navigate their way through the consequent welter of claim and counterclaim, plot and counter-plot, conspiracy and counter-conspiracy, that contemporaries developed standards and expectations about rational argument and proof, credibility and civility, even as their own political and discursive practices and manoeuvres continued to contravene, and perhaps even to subvert, those very standards.16
Such divisive exchanges were fuelled by the growing print industry, and from the 1570s also by commercial theatres in London and theatre companies touring across regions.17 Early modern observers were aware of the danger. As Thomas Hobbes wrote in the immediate aftermath of the English Civil Wars, by the art of words ‘some men can represent to others, that which is Good, in the likenesse of Evil; and Evill, in the likenesse of Good; ... discontenting men, and troubling their Peace at their pleasure’.18
Stereotyping was everywhere to be found because it was a vital part of such manoeuvres. Consider the case of religious stereotypes. ‘Under the name of a puritan all our religion is branded’, declared Sir Benjamin Rudyerd in November 1640, highlighting the profound impact of the image of the puritan that had begun to gain currency from the end of Elizabeth I’s reign.
Under a few hard word[s] against Jesuits all popery is countenanced, whosoever squares his actions by any rule either divine or humane he is a puritan ... he that will not doe whatsoever other men would have him do he is a puritan ... Mr Speaker let it be our special cares that those ways neither continue nor return upon us[.]19
Unfortunately for Rudyerd (and perhaps unsurprisingly for Hobbes) stereotyping of this kind thrived, rather than declining, for the rest of the century. The image of the lawless, promiscuous Ranter pervaded interregnum England. From the late 1670s, images of nonconformists and popery played a vital role in the succession crisis surrounding the Catholic Duke of York; once he acceded to the throne as James II, the repealer movement of the 1680s faced strong public suspicion fuelled by deep-rooted stereotypes about popery (once again) and the perceived danger of arbitrary government. Stereotypes were not limited to the sphere of religious politics, however. Early modern England was replete with stereotypical representations, not only of the puritan and popery, but also of the poor, the foreigner, the monopolist, the projector, the woman, and even of the ‘smoky air’ due to increasing fossil fuel consumption. What unites the chapters in Stereotypes and stereotyping in early modern England is the close attention that each essay pays to the pervasive stereotypes of various ‘others’ that shaped the religious, political, economic and social life of early modern England. Rhetoric, polemics and prejudices had, and continue to have, a startling capacity to disrupt communication in the public sphere and affect private lives.
The present volume brings together essays that explore such a prevalence of stereotyping and does so with fresh conceptual tools. In doing this, we build on three broad areas of early modern historiography: mentality and popular culture; the turn towards ‘practices’ via the ‘linguistic turn’; and studies responding to (and moving beyond) Jürgen Habermas’s account of the public sphere. Each strand is rich and warrants closer scrutiny in its own right than is afforded here. What follows instead is a necessarily limited overview, which we hope nevertheless enables us to situate the conceptual thrust of this volume.
Stereotypical representations have featured prominently in studies of early modern popular belief and ‘mentality’ since the early twentieth century. As Lucien Febvre declared in 1938, it was deemed vital for historians ‘to establish a detailed inventory of the mental equipment of the men of the time, then by dint of great learning, but also of imagination, to reconstitute the whole physical, intellectual and moral universe of each preceding generation’. This was the context in which scholars of the Annales school set out to explore senses of time, food, comportment, popular belief and mentality in past societies. Historians of subsequent generations have studied stereotypes because these were also part of the ‘mental equipments’ (outillages mentaux) that informed experience and shaped social life.20
One prominent example building on this tradition is Bob Scribner’s study (first published in 1981) of the popular visual propaganda for the German Reformation. Scribner’s goal was to understand how ‘visual propaganda’ helped promote religious reform.21 He argued that visual propaganda effectively exploited ‘cultural stereotypes such as the opposition between darkness and light’, stark dichotomies that their target audiences readily understood. For example, labelling ‘the pope and his followers as spiritual wolves’ devouring the innocent in the darkness of night made it possible for reformers to present themselves as the defenders of true religion, bringing brethren to the light of the biblical Word.22 Such visual stereotyping enabled evangelical reformers ‘to occupy the positive ground of saving belief’. In this account, ‘the most observable feature’ of their campaign was ‘the presentation of a simple black-and-white contrast between the opposing views’. This depended on ‘a process of simplification’ and of ‘reification’ – the ‘reducing [of] the complex issues involved in the Reformation to a number of discrete and easily identifiable symbols’.23 This account views early modern religious life as being organised around a series of familiar, often dichotomous, symbols tapping into deep-held values, and even fears and prejudices.
This was a groundbreaking work in that it firmly integrated elements of popular culture and thereby established that the Protestant Reformation was much more than the history of great leaders in religion and politics. All the same, this approach risks treating stereotypes as monolithic, a kind of mentality that was pervasive among the otherwise diverse population. Such an impression of uniformity is carefully rejected in Stuart Clark’s landmark study of early modern demonology. Clark argued that stereotypical representations of demonology were closely interwoven with a bundle of intellectual traditions such as natural philosophy and Aristotelianism.24 His account urges us to consider witchcraft as something in dialogue, and often in creative tension, with these intellectual currents. This study reminds us that certain stereotypes and the manner of their mobilisation were often informed by ideologies – a set of doctrines, values and assumptions lending themselves to challenging or legitimating relations of power. Pari passu, certain stereotypes therefore became the virtual carriers of wider bodies of assumptions and principles in such a way as almost to have become ideologies in and of themselves. Clark’s opus has shown that stereotypes were often shaped as much by these ideologies as by the popular beliefs studied by Scribner.
Yet, like Scribner’s work, Clark’s analysis also hinged upon the key feature of early modern culture and mentality – binary oppositions: ‘[i]f early modern thought was pervaded by dual classifications of things “positive” and things “negative”, this was due in no small measure to the absolute primacy of the opposition between God and his adversary and its asymmetrical, yet complementary, character’, such as the witch who represented the inversion of God and the social order He created.25 According to Clark, this network of binary symbols lost its intellectual appeal once its governing logic of oppositions and inversions no longer looked natural or preordained, once what he called their ‘linguistic instability’ was laid bare through repeated religious polemics and rising natural philosophical enquiries. This is a rich argument. Yet it is true that this account focuses primarily on reconstructing what Clark calls the system of signs and symbolic structures.26 Accordingly, this account tells us relatively little about dynamic aspects – how men and women put these signs to use to reproduce, sustain, question and eventually modify the system of beliefs. If we want to understand how stereotypes affect behaviour and change courses of events, then it is vital that we focus squarely upon such processes of stereotyping and examine individual and collective agency over those processes.
We find seminal works in this direction by the early 1990s. This owes partly to the evolution of the ‘linguistic turn’, the second theme with which this volume engages in addition to that of popular culture and mentality.27 Admittedly, the linguistic turn is an amorphous concept, and it certainly includes the analysis of ‘linguistic structures’ exemplified by Clark’s study of demonology. Yet, equally relevant here is the increasing appreciation of language and discourse as something open to creative subversions. Literary scholars like Jonathan Dollimore and Patricia Parker were alert to just such potentials and revealed how Shakespeare and other writers playfully inverted grammatical order, reversed plot lines, swapped social roles and even disrupted expectations of their audience in ways that questioned order, hierarchy and political status quo.28 In an analogous fashion, by the 1990s it became increasingly common for historians to give greater attention to stereotypes in action. How were stereotypes put to use by a range of actors and disseminated to discrete or public audiences via scribal, print or visual media? In political and religious history, the analysis of anti-popery and anti-puritanism has become an important lens through which to explore both popular politics and religious polemics of post-Reformation England.29 In social history, the complementary images of the ‘deserving’ and ‘idle’ poor have become paradigmatic for understanding the politics of poor relief.30 In the history of science and technology, too, we have learned that natural philosophers such as Boyle and other Fellows of the Royal Society distanced themselves from ‘mechanics’ and ‘artisans’ in order to lend credibility to their own claims to truth and trustworthiness.31
The analysis of practice and mobilisation has become prominent also in studies of gender – one of the most important themes related to stereotypes. Maria Ågren and her team have taken seriously the analysis of performativity pioneered by Erving Goffman and Judith Butler: ‘the idea that situated practice is fundamental to identities and social relations’. Applying this to social and economic history, Ågren’s team has examined ‘constitutive tasks’, the kind of daily work activities undertaken by early modern Swedish women and men that gave rise to their individual and group identities.32 Lisa Hellman’s work on Swedish merchants in eighteenth-century Canton has likewise examined ‘practices of group formation in relation to ethnicity, class and gender’.33 Amanda Herbert has shown that female Quakers travelling to Ireland and the American colonies often ‘resorted to early modern stereotypes of femininity [as a weaker sex] in order to solicit sympathy and empathy’ from distant readers. Eleanor Hubbard has revealed that some women in London tried to present themselves to church courts deliberately as a ‘whore’ so that they could win divorce from an abusive husband refusing separation. Even the negative stigma attached to the whore could be tactically co-opted.34
These studies of gender, religion, poor relief and science are richly varied, and cannot be taken as a coherent body of scholarship. All the same, these works highlight scholars’ linguistic turns moving towards the analysis of situated practices. They thereby invite us to move beyond the contents of given stereotypes towards their deployment in concrete local settings.35 The analytic potential of such an approach is well articulated in Lake’s analysis of anti-popery, published in 1989. Lake, too, began with Clark’s idea of inversion and binary oppositions, this time between true (Protestant) religion and popery but his analysis moved far beyond describing the binary opposition as the ‘symbolic structure’, only slowly changing over time. On the contrary, in the run-up to the Civil Wars, Lake suggested, a loosely knitted group of puritans were able to ‘lead bodies of opinion which in normal times could scarcely be called Puritan’.36 Admittedly, the ‘grounds for and intensity of their opposition to popery might vary considerably from group to group and individual to individual’; yet they were able to turn ‘the “serial group” of the non-popish’ into something of a temporary alliance thanks to their ‘common opposition to popery’.37 Notice that in this analysis the fear of popery and the Antichrist pertains not so much to the seemingly stable popular mentality, nor to a complex system of signs, as to the world of politics in which various groups and individuals vied to win greater support for their causes. Lake’s underlying analytic move is succinctly summarised in a sequel published in 2006. The attention to anti-popery and anti-puritanism tells us ‘a good deal more about the people doing the constructing and the labelling – what and who they hated, what they wanted, what they feared and what they hoped for – than it does about the persons being labelled’.38 In other words, this account is already alert to the fact that stereotypical representations lent themselves to the formation of group identities, to the orchestration of diverse bodies of opinion for a particular cause and to the unfolding of political crises leading to the Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century. This is the direction that we want to take further.
Now we can see clearly why political and religious historians of early modern England were among those who came to question the notion of the public sphere as developed by Jürgen Habermas – the third historiographical element addressed in this volume. In his once-influential formulation, the public sphere was said to have first emerged in eighteenth-century Britain, a society dotted with lively coffee houses, awash not only with hot beverages but also with prints, periodicals and newspapers. It was argued that citizens were able to use these media and locales to scrutinise conducts and misconducts of the state. The eighteenth-century public sphere was depicted as something rational and idealistic.39
Early modernists know well that this rosy picture has been thoroughly revised, in terms of its chronology and its contents. As for chronology, Lake and others have shown conclusively that concerns about, and practices of, public politics came to maturity much earlier, certainly by the end of Elizabeth I’s reign. Civic participatory politics evolved further during the 1640s and the 1650s, in the heat of the Civil Wars and the ensuing republican experiments.40 Even more crucially, however, recent studies have demonstrated that early modern public discourse was far less rational. Mark Knights’s works are especially important. He has shown that popular preconceptions and artful misrepresentations were in fact central to partisanship in the ‘First Age of Party’, and indeed to the early Enlightenment culture in eighteenth-century England more generally.41 Political debates were very often ‘intemperate, personalized, abusive, passionate, and ... traded printed accusations of lying and manipulation’.42 The ‘degradation of the public sphere was apparent at its very inception.’43 This is why stereotyping in early modern England should be of interest to a broader audience beyond specialists of the period.
This broader audience includes social psychologists. For, having studied public opinion and attitudes, they too have come to question Habermas’s notion of rational communication, as we see below. Psychologists’ parallel critique of Habermas makes sense if we turn to the history of these disciplines. Though rarely noted by historians (or by social psychologists for that matter), the two fields have arguably evolved in tandem towards dynamic conceptions of culture and practice. This shared trajectory and perspective is most evident in Durkheim’s notion of ‘collective representations’ and its legacy. For Durkheim, collective representations are produced and reproduced through events like religious rituals, and then come to have a life of their own. Irreducible to individual sense impressions, these representations help symbolise, express and interpret existing social relationships, thus motivating and inhibiting individual actions. Collective representations are accordingly central to social cohesion and constitute a central subject of Durkheimian sociology: ‘collective psychology’.44
The concepts of collective representation and collective psychology inspired generations of scholars, both historians and psychologists. French historians including Lucien Febvre, Marc Bloch, Georges Duby and others set out to examine collective psychology of the past. The history of mentality discussed above emerged in this context, with the notion of ‘popular mentalities’ eventually taken up by Scribner’s study of visual propaganda.45 As historians in the French and Anglophone traditions later became critical of the underlying monolithic conception of culture, so too did social psychologists.46 The most significant revision came from Serge Moscovici. His work has been significant for social psychologists because he proposed ‘social representation’ as a conceptual alternative to Durkheimian collective representations. Social representations are defined as representations that could be deployed by people of different positions in society in ways that affirm their entrenched beliefs and/or advance their own positions. Thus, in Moscovici’s renowned study of the notion of psychoanalysis in the French press in the 1950s, he found that psychoanalytic idioms were used very differently by liberal newspapers, Catholic newspapers and Communist party propaganda. Psychoanalysis was co-opted in strikingly different contexts, essentially to confirm and advance the respective ends and positions of these presses. Particular social representations – such as of psychoanalysis – can hardly be equated with a widely shared belief. Rather, Moscovici’s work urges us to pay closer attention to specific milieus in which representations were mobilised and put to use.47
Social psychological literature has evolved in ways that invite readers to explore the fundamentally pluralistic, dynamic and even contradictory nature of representations. This helps us understand why some scholars writing after Moscovici have (as have early modernists) questioned Habermas’s notion of communication as potentially rational and transparent.48 Like early modernists, some psychologists have now begun to explore representational practices as inherently plural and dynamic, open to manipulation and negotiation.49 Some of them have turned to early modern studies as a field that is good to think with.50 Given these striking parallels and comparable orientations, social psychology literature and some of their conceptual idioms represent useful, yet under-appreciated, tools for historical analysis. We shall accordingly draw on their conceptual idioms and do so without necessarily subscribing to all of their theoretical assumptions.51 If we proceed with caution and critically engage with psychological literature, we might even be able to throw fresh light on some aspects of stereotyping and psychological dynamism that have been relatively under-theorised.
Unlike colleagues in psychology or sociology, historians have not yet developed comparative analyses of stereotypes or their repercussions during the early modern period. Instead, existing accounts have tended to be thematically or chronologically isolated. Lake’s seminal studies of anti-popery (1989) and anti-puritanism (2006) have indicated the vitality and centrality of these prejudices by focusing on the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. While Knights’s 2011 monograph covered a wider range of subjects (such as gender, Grub Street journalism and the birth of the novel) within the five decades between 1670 and 1720, the Lake and Pincus volume has covered a longer chronology (c. 1550–1700) by focusing on politics and religion.52 Few attempts have been made to juxtapose stereotypes in different contexts, say in religious and party politics and in discussions of urbanisation, political economy and European understanding of non-Christian faiths.
One important exception is the volume of essays, Moral panics, the media and the law in early modern England (2009) edited by David Lemmings and Claire Walker.53 Under the rubric of ‘moral panics’, it has brought together a range of case studies from anti-Catholicism in the late sixteenth century, witch-hunts and the popish plot in the seventeenth, to legislations against forgery in the eighteenth century and anti-Jacobinism in the 1790s. Crucially, these case studies do not treat stereotypes involved as mere myths or errors, or view those holding stereotypes as simply irrational. These case studies have instead explored how various actors, including huckster writers and government-backed polemicists, helped incite latent fears and prejudices and thereby gave rise to legislative interventions. The volume is attentive to social processes involving the media, ‘moral entrepreneurs’ (stirring up popular anxieties) and ensuing governmental actions. Alexandra Walsham’s elegant analysis of the Jesuit missions to England during the 1580s has taken a step further to acknowledge the remarkable agency of the Jesuits targeted by scare-mongering: the Catholic missionaries themselves co-opted the looming fear about them, and actively spread the idea ‘that their first entrance to the country had greatly disturbed the English government and its subjects’.54 Yet on the whole, the concept of moral panic lends itself more readily to the analysis of actors forging the panics and political authorities acting upon them. It is less well equipped to unpack the responses from reading publics or the likes of Jesuits who became the subject of the panic. Lemmings thus indicates that eighteenth-century polite readers may have been ‘early victims of the “incapacitating anxiety” often associated with modern urban living’, thus in need of ‘scapegoating cultural enemies’.55
This view is dangerously close to the traditional psychological view of stereotypes mentioned above, in that the media and ‘moral entrepreneurs’ are held to be activating a quasi-automatic mental process of categorisation and scapegoating. It is also at odds with Knights’s analysis of public appeals to reason in the incipient public sphere. Knights suggests that both Tory and Whig polemicists accepted and appealed to ‘a notion of a polite, rational nation capable of discerning, judging and discounting irrational public discourse’ in favour of more reasonable, balanced and moderate opinions.56 Admittedly, ‘the language of rational evidence was appropriated by the most rabid of partisans.’ Even so, ‘the more frequently it was invoked by partisans and by those who attacked partisanship, the more embedded an ideal it became and hence, ironically, a cultural restraint on party zeal.’57 Reading Knights’s works alongside Lemmings and Walker thus forces us to raise the following question. Why, despite the possible cultural restraint, did stereotyping and ensuing media frenzy come back again and again? It remains difficult to make sense of the resilience of stereotypes across time and different spheres of life without presupposing ‘incapacitating anxiety’ or similar, allegedly widespread, mentality. We still know relatively little about how concrete social processes of stereotyping led to more stereotyping, more contestation and further social divisions over time.
If we want to tackle these questions, we must scrutinise two underlying assumptions: firstly, that the mobilisation of negative stereotypes had predominantly harmful effects on society; and secondly, that stereotyping and attendant appeals to reason contained a cure to its own escalation. We can start by taking a closer look at how stereotypes were invoked alongside their inversions. For example, when attacking opponents as puritans or popish Antichrist, defenders of Anglican orthodoxy often lent legitimacy to their own cause by invoking the image of the defender of true religion.58 This normative position-taking is crucial for our analysis because it often exposes those marshalling stereotypes to reasoned critique and even polemical backlash. Are promoters of ‘true faith’ living up to the exalted image with which they associate themselves? Are they not indulging in hypocrisy, or worse using the veneer of religion to promote tyranny over the church and state? Are self-styled promoters of true religion not Machiavellian Antichrists in disguise? By stereotyping puritans, defenders of the Anglican church thus exposed themselves to these searching questions which included stereotyping. Notice that a wide range of actors, puritans under attack, lay people in local parishes and even Anglicans themselves could pursue such scrutiny. By simultaneously reproducing images of true and false religion familiar to a wide range of actors, stereotyping could facilitate not only polemical debates, but also participatory politics.59
The implications are threefold. First, it is likely that appeals to reason were often themselves part of the polemical exchange, as Knights has suggested. Second, those contesting certain stereotypes were capable of marshalling the same or other stereotypes when occasion suited them. In such cases, responses to stereotyping could lead to further exchanges of stereotypes and escalation. Third, it is highly likely that stereotyping was not always simply harmful to society. Rather, stereotypes provided partial, yet powerful, frameworks for understanding and engaging with complex reality, and even taking political actions. Print, pulpit, the stage and other oral literate and peripheral media all took part in such sense-making practices, and often lent themselves to the escalation of stereotyping. Taken together, we suggest, the early modern politics of stereotyping points to what we call a dialectics of stereotyping: stereotyping was so foundational to social life, and yet so very liable to escalation, that collective engagements with stereotypes often ended up perpetuating or even accelerating the very processes of stereotyping. This explains why stereotyping then, as now, had such powerful impacts on society.
If we are to test these hypotheses, we must do more than go beyond the older accounts of stereotypes as indicative of shared mentality or of a system of signs. What we now need is to adopt a set of analytic idioms suitable for analysing stereotyping as a process, and to bring together local case studies so that we can start building a larger picture from the ground up and eventually arrive at broader conclusions about practices of stereotyping and their persistence in early modern England. This is the larger task to which this volume contributes.
Concepts and arguments
In the remainder of this introduction, we outline how the chapters in this volume adopt fresh analytic tools and jointly advance our understanding of early modern politics of stereotyping.
Stereotypes as ‘false composites’
If we wanted to recover stereotyping as concrete processes, then we must first ask how far we can draw on older social scientific literature and portray stereotypes as fixed images or mere prejudice with which to simplify an otherwise complex world around us. Harris’s opening chapter tackles this question by outlining religious and national stereotypes in early modern England. He acknowledges that racial and religious stereotypes were often fuelled by prejudices and ideologies. Yet there were further complexities, as Harris shows through a letter sent by an English army officer. In it the English officer described the enemy (Scottish men) as at once ‘filthy’ and ‘barbarous’ (thus stereotypical Highlanders), while also being ‘develish’ and ‘puritanical Crue of the Scotch Covenant’, thus invoking Presbyterians from the Lowlands. Here we have a typical example of what Harris calls a false composite – in this case a description which adeptly combines ‘stereotypical characteristics supposedly evinced by different types of Scots but which were never [in reality] found together in one’ individual. Historical evidence of such false composites enables us to make an important methodological point: our sources can rarely be treated as unproblematic reflections of prejudices or mentality. Rather, ‘they are works of polemic designed to exploit existing stereotypes and latent prejudices’, as Harris suggests.60 Typical examples of such polemical uses would include accusing opponents of popery or sectarian puritanism in order to undermine them and dissuade a silent, moderate majority from supporting them.
False composites can also be found outside religious topics, for example in depictions of foreigners in sixteenth-century London, a thriving capital that attracted immigrant artisans as well as richer bankers and merchants enjoying royal patronage.61 Guild members’ petitions and pedlars’ bills not only viewed these ‘aliens’ as a threat to their livelihood, but also mixed this accusation up with other kinds of allegation of criminality, immorality and privilege. In reality, it was clear that only a small minority of immigrants were powerful enough to enjoy protection by the Crown and by the City of London. Yet when immigrants were stereotyped as the ‘alien’, such a distinction was often elided, and they were depicted as crime-ridden, deceitful aliens who were impoverishing native inhabitants and still evading justice thanks to some perceived political privileges. This pattern of perception is being repeated today. For example, conservative Americans in Louisiana interviewed by the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in fact viewed African Americans as a class of (potential) criminals that paradoxically enjoy privileged access to welfare benefits and even to the American Dream.62 Stereotyping ‘others’ such as immigrants and African Americans as false composites makes it easier to stigmatise minorities while bringing together otherwise diverse ‘in-groups’. More immediately for the purpose of this volume, the analysis of false composites and their deployment is important because it provides us with a departure point for subsequent chapters by alerting us to the complexity of seemingly simple stereotypes, and to the variety of uses to which they could be put.
Stereotypes as heuristic device
Even if we find powerful negative stereotypes of the Scots, the Irish or the alien immigrant, we must not suppose that stereotypes were weapons always wielded by the powerful against the subordinate. It is of course important to emphasise how racial stereotypes, for example, served colonial projects. In plantation societies in which slaves far outnumbered white inhabitants, emerging stereotypes presenting African slaves as property helped induce poor white labourers to ‘define their interests as coincident with those of planters rather than slaves’.63 Racial stereotypes thereby helped prevent cross-racial alliance at the bottom of the colonial hierarchy. Here is a classic example of stereotyping wielded against an out-group to forge an impression of coherent ‘white’ in-group identity.64 At the same time, there are other, perhaps less well-explored, aspects of stereotyping such as explaining failure, displacing anxiety, revealing corruptions, encouraging scrutiny and even facilitating intellectual discovery. The three following chapters, written by Lake and Yamamoto, examine just such aspects – what we might call heuristic functions of stereotypes.
Chapter 2 (by Lake) focuses on the puritan stereotype as a case study and reappraises its virtually forgotten heuristic functions. Famously, studying Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, the historian of Reformation England Patrick Collinson once argued that the puritan identity came into being ‘by virtue of being perceived to exist, most of all by their enemies, but eventually to themselves and to each other’ and that it was the writers close to the establishment who first used theatre plays to forge the negative image of the puritan.65 The puritan stereotype was accordingly believed to have been created (like racial stereotypes) as a weapon for the powerful in-group to label and persecute an out-group. Lake’s chapter challenges this account by looking closely at printed literature by George Gifford in the 1580s. Three decades before puritans were mocked in London theatres, the godly reformer Gifford in fact complained that his effort to adhere to tighter religious disciplines attracted mockery as being mere ‘puritain’. Gifford himself elaborated the self-image in print in order to explain the lack of thoroughgoing Protestant Reformation around him. The popular reactions – even hostility – to the likes of him (again analysed by Gifford in print) cannot be taken as evidence of the inherent, timeless, conservatism of the English believers. Rather, as Lake suggests, it is indicative of a ‘tense interaction between the claims of the godly and the (often frankly hostile or assertively indifferent) reactions thereto of their neighbours’.66 Such neighbours’ ridicule of Gifford as a puritan, he argues, was a sign of their reprobation. The puritan stereotype thus initially served the godly as a heuristic tool for understanding their own relative isolation, only to be co-opted against them later by their more powerful enemies. Lake’s chapter forces us to recognise that the social function of a given stereotype can change dramatically depending on actors’ positionality and the contexts of its mobilisation.
Yamamoto’s Chapter 3 complements Lake’s by focusing on another heuristic stereotype frequently associated with Jonson: that of the ‘projector’. In the history of science, mercantilism and political economy, the image of the projector (what we would call an entrepreneur today) has recently attracted much attention, but historians in these related fields have rarely considered how the pioneers of commercial theatre plays active from the 1580s depicted the abuse of royal prerogative and other corrupt behaviours associated with the projector. Yamamoto’s chapter reveals that Elizabethan history plays staged characters strikingly similar to projectors decades before Jonson developed the stereotype in the early seventeenth century. These earlier plays about monarchical excess and failure exposed proto-projectors’ vices and their abuse of royal power in ways that were as unforgiving as Catholic attacks upon the Elizabethan regime. The Elizabethan history plays even invited the audience to detect corruptions and condemn the underlying insatiable appetite for power, profit and sex in ways that anticipated the mobilisation of the projector stereotype on the eve of the Civil Wars. Far from being invented singlehandedly by Jonson, the potent image of the projector emerged from existing efforts to discover corruptions symptomatic of the contradictions of rapidly commercialising society with an ambitious monarch heavily dependent on the collaboration and goodwill of both official and unofficial collaborators.
The ensuing Chapter 4, co-authored by Lake and Yamamoto, pushes the analysis by exploring how Jonson developed representations of the puritan and the projector in the 1610s. By elaborating on the two stereotypes, Jonson highlighted his mastery over two highly explosive topics. Also noteworthy is that Jonson staged these two characters in comedies, implying that both projecting and godliness represented ridiculous excess of ambition, greed and hypocrisy, and not so much real threats to the church and the state. Jonsonian stereotypes thus achieved what Harris calls anxiety displacement, thereby trivialising the remarkable extent to which royal finance in reality relied upon projecting, and the degree to which the voice of the godly and its suppression were central to the religious politics of the period.
Here it is worth remarking that the theatre was an emergent form of commercialised mass media, in direct competition with the popular pulpit for audiences, attention and esteem. This highlights the role of stereotypes in selling not merely opinions, political or ecclesiastical platforms, or rival claims to authority or status, but also actual commodities, in this case access to the theatre. The wholly commercial nature of the theatrical project also shows just how such competition for audience and market share not only led to the appropriation and intensification of existing stereotypes – stereotypes which, as in the case of anti-puritanism, had often been generated and deployed for quite other purposes – but also helped to develop entirely new ones. Here the standout example is what Jonas Barish famously called the anti-theatrical prejudice, which was rooted in a series of tropes and stereotypes going back to classical antiquity and was also inflected by the contemporary polemical conflict between the pulpit and the commercial theatre for popular attention and social and cultural esteem.67
Ben Jonson is important as he is a perfect example of the contradictory impulses in play here. In going after puritans he was taking down the enemies of the stage – the godly – while, through his image of the projector and his dupes, and in his famous prefaces and asides satirising the taste and discernment of his own audiences, also distancing himself from any taint of the market. Jonson thereby sought to identify and stage a series of extremes, between which he could then locate himself, and thus establish his claims to ‘moderation’.68 Here was no hack writer, desperate for a popular audience or court connection, but rather a distanced and moderate observer of human folly, a true poet, capable of instructing his contemporaries on the nature of vice and the path of virtue.69 Nor was such elaborate self-positioning limited to Jonson, as we shall see in William Cavert’s and Bridget Orr’s chapters discussed below.
Thus, the three chapters by Lake and Yamamoto demonstrate that we cannot understand stereotypes only in terms of weapons for persecuting the minority. At the same time, stereotypes were generated and invoked in order to provide rationales for religious reform or the lack thereof, detect corruptions at the intersection between the political and economic spheres, facilitate political participation, highlight one’s mastery over sensitive subjects and even displace anxiety about them by replacing real threats with comic relief. But even within these contexts, stereotyping did – and probably still does – contain seeds for further escalation. In other words, we need to explore not only the contents of any given stereotypes and their development, but also their mobilisation and responses to them, topics explored in depth by Chapters 5 and 6, by Kate Peters and Adam Morton respectively.
We argue that the set of notions developed by the sociologist Erving Goffman and his followers is highly relevant when studying responses to stereotyping. First, the notion of stigma consciousness is useful when describing those exposed to the threat of stereotyping.70 Puritans, projectors, wives, widows, stepmothers and those receiving aid from a local parish, for example, were acutely aware of the danger of being stereotyped, and often tried to do something about it – pursuing what sociologists would call coping strategies.71 A case in point is Peters’s analysis of powerful stereotypes about the Ranters and the Quakers, groups of religious radicals who were both denounced for their alleged religious heterodoxy and moral and sexual deviance. These stereotypes were so powerful and prevalent that scholars have found it worth their while to treat them as so much social reportage, in the process, with A. L. Morton, either endorsing or, with J. C. Davis, refuting their accuracy. Thus, Davis has argued that the Ranters were little more than a myth, a product of a ‘moral panic’ that in turn called for the control and persecution of religious radicalism.72 Historians and literary scholars have now challenged Davis’s view and have shown that Ranters did exist albeit in less well organised form than A. L. Morton supposed.
The concept of stereotyping, Peters shows in Chapter 5, enables us to take an exciting step further by focusing on the mobilisation of the stereotypes about the Ranter and the Quaker and contestations of their veracity. Hostile accounts of the Ranters not only vilified Ranters themselves, but also stereotyped their alleged followers. Far from pushing for the unconditional rejection of the out-group, however, these accounts included a variety of responses from prosecution to toleration, from avoidance to rebuttal. Evidence regarding Quakers is even more telling. For Quakers were acutely aware of their bad name and tried to dispel this, for example by asking their opponents to provide evidence for their accusations, and thereby reducing generic stereotypes into deniable instances. Quakers were pursuing the coping strategy that was also adopted by women accused of ‘whoredom’. As Capp and Laura Gowing have shown, early modern women often challenged their adversaries in court ‘by demanding to know whose whore she had been’, likewise reducing the general accusation to deniable instances.73 The case of Quakers thus suggests that, far from being indicative of a simple myth or a moral panic, stereotyping and ensuing responses tell us much (as in gender history) about the remarkable individual and collective agency in bringing stereotypes under control.74
Even more unsettling in terms of sociopolitical consequences is what we have chosen to call counter-stereotyping, a process whereby those prone to a given stereotype pick up its core contents and turn the accusation back on the accusers themselves. This concept allows us to bring together similar observations made in isolation. For example, we know that early modern women traded accusations, calling each other ‘whore’ as they sought to defend their reputation in and outside courts. Licensed physicians and ‘irregular’ medical practitioners likewise traded accusations of ‘quackery’ in all directions. Accusing the rival party of ‘hoarding’ and ‘monopoly’ was a standard practice when challenging projects for economic improvement.75 Similar rhetorical practices are also found in the politics of religion. The defenders of the Anglican church who had been accused by puritans of being popish would in turn argue that these ‘hot’ puritans were themselves behaving in a ‘popish’ fashion, feigning true faith, undermining the English church and destabilising the Protestant monarchy, as all Jesuits would do.
We must be careful not to treat these cases as mere squabbles accidentally sharing similar rhetorical patterns. Something larger was at stake, as Morton’s Chapter 6 suggests. It explores such a case of counter-stereotyping by focusing on a period of intense political crisis: the so-called Exclusion Crisis. By the end of the 1670s, Charles II was ageing and the royal succession was high on the agenda. His younger brother, the Duke of York, was a Catholic, however, and this created a heated controversy. Then came the popish plot of 1678, in which Titus Oates claimed to have ‘discovered’ a plot to assassinate Charles II and force the Catholic succession. Morton demonstrates that stereotyping and counter-stereotyping were central to the ensuing explosion of print polemics. Predictably, Whigs (who often had long-held puritan connections) drew on anti-popish stereotypes to denigrate the imminent Catholic succession as the coming of tyranny, persecution and bloodshed. Significantly, Tory royalists fought back, not by accusing Whigs of using stereotypes, but by arguing that Whigs/nonconformists (rather than Tories) were the true source of ‘popery’ because they were the ones who posed a greater risk to England’s constitution by disrupting peaceful succession and questioning the existing church and state. Morton examines this royalist counter-stereotyping by focusing on the polemicist-in-chief, Roger L’Estrange. Polemicists like him were more than capable of thinking beyond existing stereotypes, and crucially expected their readers to do so as well. Perhaps this is hardly surprising given that men and women of different ranks were indeed trading accusations and challenging stereotypes in their everyday life.
Stereotypes, their uses and counter-uses, were therefore crucial for mundane social relations, for the promotion of health and economic improvement, and even for debating the nature and future of English church and state. Concepts like coping strategies and counter-stereotyping are useful for historical analysis because, we argue, adopting them enables us to move firmly beyond content analysis and start exploring rich processes of stereotyping, ensuing contestation and their repercussions that were central to the unfolding of events. Only by doing so can we begin to reappraise not only the remarkable agency of individuals in coping with particular stereotypes, but also the paradoxical resilience of stereotypes more broadly, something that we continue to find to this day.
Ambiguity, irony and subversion
In highlighting the (often unintended) escalation of stereotyping, we are not suggesting that stereotyping can be adequately understood in terms either of escalation or of containment. Another aspect worthy of our critical attention is the coexistence of contradictory explanatory frameworks about a single subject – what social psychologists would call cognitive polyphasia.76 Stereotypes play an important role in the plurality of logics within society and within individuals. In early modern England, for example, youth represented at once a foundation for adulthood, industrious labour and mature Christian piety, and excess, idleness, lust and sin. Informed by Scripture and rooted in daily experience, such contradictory perspectives in turn informed impulses to control youth conviviality and play, regulate courtship and household relations, punish illicit sex and discipline the ‘master-less’ idle youth. Representations of youth thus operated as ‘contested territory’, as Paul Griffiths put it.77
By contrast, David Magliocco’s Chapter 7 explores the plurality of logics within one wealthy individual: Samuel Pepys. We thus move from the world of print polemic (studied by Peters and Morton) to that of fashionable sociability and cultural distinction. In Pepys’s diaries, Magliocco detects an exceptional frequency with which Pepys recorded all things French – music, language, clothing and people – with striking ambiguity. On one hand, French Catholicism was linked with absolutism and arbitrary government (as discussed by both Harris and Morton), and more generally with excess and the lack of moderation. At the same time, Frenchness was also associated with prestige, refined taste and distinction. It was possible for individuals like Pepys to embrace these contradictory stereotypes, invoking different aspects of them depending on context. Transnational interactions often gave rise to repulsion and ethnocentrism as well as to the emulation of the ‘others’.
The rich, seemingly contradictory, dynamics of stereotyping can be further illuminated by looking at jocular, ironic, uses. The earlier chapter on Jonson by Lake and Yamamoto focused on how Jonson’s comic rendering of the puritan and the projector helped deflate anxiety by trivialising the threat they posed to post-Reformation church and state. There was another scenario. If public audiences were urged to see beyond any given pejorative stereotypes (as Peters and Morton show), then it was also possible for early modern people to draw on stereotypes without necessarily accepting all of their pejorative connotations. Indeed, it was possible to allege that stereotypical representations (for example, of the Ranter) were totally absurd, and that those promoting them were utter hypocrites, those accepting them at face value no better than gullible fools. It was possible to invoke such stereotypes in ways that undermined their very validity. Such was the case explored by Cavert’s Chapter 8 on stereotypical representations of London’s dirty, smoky air. The capital’s population increased tenfold between the mid-fifteenth and the mid-eighteenth centuries. The growth of the city led not only to a larger number of opulent mansions, but also to the burning of coal in greater quantities that in turn polluted the air.78 By the 1630s, the images of smoke and sin, of ‘sin and sea coal’, became a powerful metaphor for talking about sins associated with urban life, especially the excessive consumption of luxuries and the attendant pursuit of vanity and extramarital sex. One might expect such a trope to boost serious anti-urban critique. Strikingly, however, the image was taken up not only by those criticising urban immorality, but also by those embracing it as something inevitable. This inversion was accomplished in particular through comical depictions of those innocently subscribing to an extreme aversion to urban ‘sin and sea coal’. Cavert presents several examples – many of them comedies – in which characters either positively thrive on urban immorality or hate urban ‘sin and sea coal’ so much that they end up becoming a gullible, parochial Englishman who also readily accepts all kinds of simplistic stereotypes – of the French, of popery and of the courtly life.
His analysis of the anti-urban stereotype does more than nuance the standard chronology of metropolitan imagination which is often said to have shifted from condemnation to celebration. The persistent image of ‘sin and sea coal’, drawn from across Caroline England and The Spectator of the early eighteenth century, reminds us of the possibility of knowingly accepting urban imperfections as a necessary evil consequent upon urban growth and economic improvement. Here, then, is another example of stereotypes facilitating anxiety displacement, but this time through reductio ad absurdum, rendering moral objections to urban growth hilarious and less threatening. Instead of escalating polemics or fuelling violence, the artful practice of stereotyping made it possible for early moderns to explore and even accept an urban identity that was highly ambiguous.
Stereotyping and the production of knowledge
Magliocco’s and Cavert’s chapters establish that the heuristic value of stereotypes was never confined to the political and religious spheres. Building on this perspective, the final two chapters of this volume go on to explore how stereotyping conditioned the production of identity and knowledge more broadly during the eighteenth century, the age of Enlightenment frequently associated with reason and progress. Orr’s Chapter 9 does this by exploring the elaboration of new and existing characters in the theatre. At the heart of her analysis lies an insight into how identity and subjectivity emerge from one’s negotiation with stereotypes: ‘[s]ubjectification per se … depends on our being cast in gendered, raced, classed and sexual roles from our first appearance in the theatrum mundi’.79 As earlier chapters have shown, men and women, much like professional actors and actresses, frequently negotiated, ignored or redefined the roles, expectations and stereotypes cast upon them. Orr demonstrates that the theatre of the long eighteenth century is important because it was a ‘laboratory of subjectification’, a venue in which ‘its dependence on stock types and stereotyping’ was used in order ‘to model the process of differentiation from norms by which individuality is in general achieved’.80 Thus, the commercial stage did much more than produce and circulate new stereotypes (as indicated by Lake and Yamamoto in their earlier chapters). On the stage the audience found dramatic struggles with social, political, racial and gender stereotypes, in other words heightened comic and moralised versions of their own experience, anxieties and aspirations. Creative engagement with stereotypes was therefore central to theatre’s capacity to attract and retain genuinely popular, socially heterogeneous, audiences. Orr shows this was how the theatre continued to play a pivotal role in developing and disseminating new stereotypes, giving rise to a wide range of stock characters and even national identities.
The process of stereotyping was foundational also in the production of knowledge about nature, God and non-European civilisations. As Rob Iliffe has suggested, English natural philosophers of the late seventeenth century often alleged that their Continental rivals were given to too much talking and the uncritical adoration of ancient authorities. Stereotyping Cartesian philosophy as idolatry and labelling Spinoza’s method atheism profoundly shaped the range of scholarly methods that could be taken up with respectability. It was against such stereotypes that Fellows of the Royal Society defined their experimental methods and presented themselves as defenders of truth in a superior ‘Land of Experimental Knowledge’.81 Such boundary-drawing exercises were hardly limited to English philosophers, as shown by recent works by Yoshi Kato, Han van Ruler and Kuni Sakamoto. Descartes’ mechanical philosophy challenged conventional views of God and divine will, and hence was accused of promoting heresy. In order to avoid this accusation, his Continental followers accordingly found it prudent to omit certain controversial elements of Cartesian doctrines while emphasising other aspects – clear examples of coping strategies to avoid stigmatisation. Such coping strategies conditioned wider philosophical debates to such an extent that indifference to the danger of being stereotyped was crucial for Spinoza’s radicalism.82 The role of stereotyping in the entangled evolution of natural, moral and political philosophies on the eve of the Enlightenment represents a promising field of enquiry.
How did European practices of stereotyping condition their encounter with non-European civilisations? Huiyi Wu and Thijs Weststeijn have shown that eighteenth-century French writers understood aspects of Chinese philosophy and Japanese Buddhism by comparing them to Spinoza’s radical philosophy: ‘otherness within Europe gives meaning to the otherness of an extra-European reality’.83 William Bulman’s Chapter 10 enriches this line of enquiry by asking how post-Reformation religious stereotypes discussed elsewhere in the volume provided a fertile ground for understanding non-Christian faiths. By the mid-seventeenth century, the detection of religious deviance associated with popery and puritanism – such as imposture, priestcraft, enthusiasm and fanaticism – became a powerful template not only for understanding Christian sects, but also for making sense of other world religions such as Judaism and Islam. In the writings of the diplomat Paul Rycaut and others, oriental non-Christian religions were no longer explained in terms of diabolical operations but explored as different forms of religious deviance that could destabilise society. Anti-popery and anti-puritanism became useful focal points because, for travel writers and learned authors debating English and Islamic societies, these notions provided a yardstick for debating which groups in England or Ottoman Turkey or elsewhere were engaged in practices that fuelled religious intolerance and sectarian violence, thus ultimately tending to the destruction of church and state. The Enlightenment understanding of non-Christian faiths owed much more (than hitherto accepted) to well-established post-Reformation stereotypes. Orr’s and Bulman’s chapters, alongside works by intellectual historians like Iliffe, thus warn us against equating the age of Enlightenment with the march of reason and progress. The production of knowledge and identity in the age of Enlightenment owed much to the process of stereotyping and ensuing negotiations.
Why early modern stereotypes now?
We believe that bringing together these early modern case studies has civic as well as scholarly implications today. Collectively, this volume enables us to understand why stereotypes were so very pervasive in early modern England. Far from being tools merely to simplify complex realities or to persecute out-groups, stereotypical representations were elaborated, put to use, contested and subverted with surprising inventiveness in plays, print polemics, travel writings, songs and petitions, and in places like parish churches, meeting houses, busy theatres and in Westminster. In the process, stereotypes provided a powerful framework for explaining religious tensions, encouraging participatory politics, inciting laughter, displacing anxiety and making sense of gendered self-identity and of religious ‘others’. Stereotypes were so very versatile and pervasive that even attempts to bring them under control often led to more stereotyping. It is therefore hardly surprising that even the advancement of knowledge in the age of Enlightenment hinged heavily upon stereotypes and their mobilisation.
In this volume, we have chosen to bring together studies loosely related to politics, religion, economy and knowledge production. This is partly because the editor’s research interests cut across, but rarely go beyond, these areas. Accordingly, many important subjects are not given systematic attention – stereotypes related to gender, occupation, race and colonial slavery, to mention but the most notable omissions. It is possible that, while those who were labelled puritans, papists or projectors produced plenty of written responses, as for themes like gender and colonial slavery, those liable to stereotyping left far fewer ‘ego documents’ in their responses. Accordingly coping strategies in these areas would have to be recovered somewhat differently.84 We hope that the case studies contained in the present volume will provide us with a series of reference points for future comparison and for developing a more comprehensive account of early modern practices of stereotyping.
As for civic implications, we hope that bringing together early modern cases of stereotyping carries more than an antiquarian interest today. Doing so enables us to raise an even larger question about the nature of progress in relation to stereotyping. Proponents of liberal progress have nowadays suggested that religious superstition will soon go away, prejudices will be gradually removed and rational scientific knowledge will ultimately triumph over vulgar errors and ‘identity-protective cognition’.85 The underlying assumption of progress seems to derive from a daring hope of ameliorating the society in which we find ourselves. This is a laudable ambition. But if stereotyping persisted before the advent of the Enlightenment, if the Enlightened projects of learning and science also drew heavily on stereotypes, and if stereotyping continues to persist to this day, it is vital that we face such evidence and scrutinise our assumptions. What does progress stand for in relation to stereotyping?
We can rephrase the question: have we outlived the dialectics of stereotyping that is documented through the early modern case studies collected in this volume? Or are we left with no other option but to keep reproducing stereotypes as we combat what is deemed blatant racism, bigotry, misogyny and hypocrisy in our world? At its very best, historical investigation has the potential to refine our everyday assumptions by connecting the past and the present while avoiding undue anachronism. To begin with, we can start questioning the powerful assumptions that stereotypes are inherently negative and that they can be gradually removed like vulgar errors and superstition. Moreover, once we focus squarely on social processes of stereotyping, we no longer have to rely on preconceived notions of human nature or cognition to explain why stereotyping persists over time. We can avoid viewing stereotyping as a fixed cause affecting social interactions. Stereotyping and its pervasiveness can instead be laid open to analysis and empirically examined as a result of rich, yet often divisive, social interactions. Only by shifting our perspectives and treating stereotyping as socially constructed and sustained can we begin to understand, from the bottom up, why stereotypes have been so difficult to eradicate.86 We believe that future hopes of mitigating stereotypes and their adverse consequences rest on such empirical investigations.87 Early modernists working in libraries and archives have the potential to challenge and possibly even transform our assumptions about the turbulence of the twenty-first century, a point to which we shall return at the end of this volume.
We would like to thank Tim Harris, Sandra Jovchelovitch, Brodie Waddell, Shaun Yajima and an anonymous reviewer for valuable suggestions.