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Humour, Laughter and Everyday Life in the Early Modern Period: gender, culture and politics, c. 1500-1800

Humour, Laughter and Everyday Life in the Early Modern Period: gender, culture and politics, c. 1500-1800

Friday 8th July 2022, time TBC

The puzzling joke or the ambiguous power of laughter seem to promise historians access to the unstated assumptions and anxieties of past societies. Yet the study of humour within everyday life remains a relatively under-researched field. Most studies focus on literary and graphic satire, the representation of ‘others’, humanist courtesy manuals, and philosophical discussions of laughter’s causes; or else humour has played a supporting role in larger histories of gender, civility and nationality. This workshop instead places humour at the centre of everyday life and its study. How did neighbours laugh together and, besides amusement, for what ends? How did changing contexts of gender, status, race, company, space and media shape the uses of mirth, satire and ribaldry?

By taking an integrative approach to cultural, social, literary and political history over a long chronology this workshop aims to build upon these earlier studies and explore new avenues of enquiry. Longstanding questions over continuity and change remain open for debate. To what extent was there a transition from vulgar belly laughs to polite smiles? Can we bridge historiographical divides in the study of gender (and politics) between the pre-1640s, the Civil Wars and the long eighteenth century? Established topics might be approached in new ways, such as the relationship between satire and ‘humour’ more generally, the navigation of stereotypes, and the blurry boundaries between civil mirth, raillery and violence. In addition, everyday humour could be connected to other fields such as postcolonial, memory and disability studies, or material culture and the histories of environment and emotions. Papers are welcome, but not limited to, topics on the following themes:

  • Humour and status: hierarchy, civility, the natural world, popular/elite culture, subaltern groups, etc.
  • Gendered expectations and practices: e.g. homosocial laughter, sexuality, courtship, the family, patriarchy, femininity and masculinity.
  • How did humour figure in interactions within transnational, travel or colonial contexts and how did it shape national and racial identities?
  • Religio-political division and community-building.
  • Satire and its reception during the post-Reformation period, the first age of party, or the long-eighteenth century.
  • Forms and genres: the joke, wit, drama; non-verbal, gestural and scatological; public shaming; print, manuscript and oral cultures; changing reading practices.
  • Methodology: how to find/analyse humour and laughter in court depositions, lifewriting, literary sources; intentional and non-intentional humour; psychological or other interdisciplinary approaches.
  • Changing contexts: spaces (alehouses, church, the study), time, company, festivities, etc.
  • Concepts of laughter: medical, philosophical and behavioural and how these relate to the everyday, such as ‘relief’ theory.
  • Laughter and the history of emotions, disability, or the environment.
  • Humorous material culture, collective and personal memory.

Guest speakers: Dr Kate Davison, Prof. Tim Harris & Dr Adam Morton

Please send an abstract (c. 200 words) for 20-minute papers before 31 January 2022 to: