Early modern literacy

This week we present an essay by Niamh Brown on early modern literacy.

What impact did the spread of literacy and print have on the traditional oral culture?

In early modern England, literacy rose notably; J.A. Sharpe estimates that twenty per cent of men and five per cent of women were capable of signing their own names in the mid sixteenth century, a figure that had increased to sixty per cent of men and forty per cent of women by 1760. This increase mainly affected the ‘middling sorts’; tradesmen and the yeomanry in particular.1 This spread of literacy and also print culture had a variety of effects upon traditional oral culture. It consolidated previously oral and customary traditions in writing, heightened awareness of English rather than simply local history and heritage, and changed the way in which information was transferred. However, it also gave rise to a backlash from the lower, largely illiterate sorts and exacerbated tensions between those with access to written laws, and those who relied on custom and de facto justice; in short, those who had legal power and those without. This essay will aim to determine the impact on oral culture of literacy in print in a variety of ways. First it will assess the texts to which the literate had access and what changes these texts exerted on those who read them. It will delve further into the impact of the spread of literacy and print, examining both the causes and effects of this spread across the social spectrum, with particular attention to the tensions caused between ‘educated’ and ‘popular’ culture, and will ascertain to what extent these changes affected oral culture in different geographical areas.

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Changing Partners in Martial Training


So this week I have decided to post an essay from a book I am working on regarding instruction, mainly as it relates to the practise of martial training. I have had many instructors across a wide range of martial disciplines (army, karate, archery, horsemanship, HEMA…) and as such I have experienced both good and bad instruction. I have been an instructor since I was fifteen and although I have bad habits I do feel I have learned a lot of good habits over the past decade. So the thing I would like to discuss today is a small issue but it is one that has a great effect on the success of a class and sadly has led to many otherwise good classes being extremely disappointing for me…the bane of being stuck with the same partner for a whole class.

Before I begin please don’t get me wrong I have enjoyed the vast majority of my training partners and largely am happy with the experience of practising with them. What I do not enjoy is practising for two hours with the same person especially if there are size differences, ability differences or, and perhaps the worst, concentration differences.

I am going to try with this essay to put forward the argument for the switching of partners and the benefits that can come from an instructor ensuring this happens in their class.

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Review of Fechtschule Scotland 2012

On the 31st of March and the 1st April, the Academy of Historical Arts was proud to host Fechtschule Scotland. This was a two day event specifically for the study of longsword, with instruction given by several different instructors, from various different groups around Scotland (and one instructor from the Netherlands). The aims of the event were to provide focused instruction in German longsword, to promote HEMA in Scotland, and to do this for as cheaply as possible (tickets were only £10). I believe we succeeded in all our aims, and we look forward to hosting Fechtschule Scotland again.

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Bardic poetry of Medieval Ireland has been described as ‘highly political and historical’ and a contemporary source of great value. What does it reveal about the society in which it was commissioned?

Bardic Poetry of Medieval Ireland has been Described as ‘Highly Political and Historical’ and a Contemporary Source of Great Value. What does it Reveal About the Society in which it was Commissioned?

Irish bardic poetry is a complex and difficult tradition which is hard to replicate or to forge. In many respects it is an extension of an essentially oral tradition using a complicated array of rhyme schemes, conventions of syntax and repeated metaphors, motifs, themes and symbols. These stylistic differences are wildly different from the poetic traditions of non-Celtic countries and Ireland’s maintenance of them may stem from the fact that Ireland was never successfully conquered by Rome and so had remained outside of much contemporary European tradition. Not only is Irish poetry an example of a literary tradition however. Its multifaceted nature reveals a great deal about the society which created it and its recurring themes are often those of social commentary. Bardic poetry is also one of the few surviving contemporary sources for Ireland alongside the few, often fragmented, annals, genealogies, records by the clergy and state papers. Read more