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Ideas and Beliefs

Ideas and Beliefs focuses on interpreting and understanding political and religious values. We look at the attitudes and convictions of past societies.


Our research draws together academics from across the School. It links with other schools in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and beyond.

We're dedicated to understanding ideas and beliefs across historical periods and geographical boundaries. We make use of perspectives to study the past that span our subjects.

Research interests

We have a wide range of research interests, including:

  • republicanism
  • Protestant and Catholic belief and practice
  • revolutionary ideologies
  • the reception of classical culture in later periods
  • pagan-Christian relations
  • ancient divination and providence
  • musical theory
The Roman republican statesman Cicero.

Newcastle History of Scholarship Reading Group

The last few decades have seen the history of scholarship emerge as a recognised methodology for approaching the history of early modern Europe. This reading group is composed of Newcastle-based historians working either on the history of scholarship or on related fields in early modern intellectual history. Our primary interest is in situating the history of scholarship as a field and making sense of its relationships with the history of political thought, the history of religion and belief, and the history of ideas and intellectual culture in early modern Europe. In monthly meetings we discuss themes in the history of scholarship, recent publications, present our own work in progress, or host external contributors. We also tend to discuss the contemporary relevance of the history of scholarship for understanding the institutional infrastructure of research, the academy and higher education. 

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Research focus

The strand's research focuses on the following areas:

  • civil religion (we run a reading group on this theme and a range of workshops and conferences)
  • ways belief manifests itself in landscape, space and rituals (with McCord Centre For Landscape)
  • the study of intolerance
  • how it forms and sustains
  • the role it plays in animating historical action
  • how peoples of different belief systems interact (hosted several conferences and published widely)
  • the role of ideas and beliefs in provoking, and resolving, historical action, including:
    • conflict
    • revolution
    • state formations
Maximilien Robespierre led to the guillotine.

Research-led teaching

These research strengths are also reflected in the teaching on offer in the School.  Ideas and beliefs are an integral part of many of the School team's taught modules, including:

Stage 1

Stage 2

  • HIS2318 ‘Revolutions of the Mind: European Thought from late Renaissance to early Enlightenment, 1550-1750’
  • HIS2319 ‘Reformation and Revolution: British History from the Tudors to the Georgians’
  • HIS2301 ‘Ideas and Beliefs in Medieval and Early Modern East Asia’ (Launching 2022)
  • CAC2063/3063 “Approaches to Greek Myth”
  • CAC2058/3058 “Food for thought: Greco-Roman dining and sympotic culture”.

Stage 3

Postgraduate Taught (MA)

  • HIS8104 ‘Ideas and Influences in British History’

Theme modules include Ideas and Influences in British History and Pathways in British History. They  involve a focused study of the ideas and beliefs of peoples in the past. There's a range of similar modules in MA Classics and Ancient History. These include Roman Egypt and The Archaeology of Byzantium and Its Neighbours

Collaborating across research themes

Synergies exist between our work and other areas of research strength in the School. We tie in with the work of  Conflict and Revolution and the Empires and After research strands.

Our researchers work with the Medieval and Early Modern Study Group (MEMS). They work collaboratively with scholars in English Literature, Music and French.

We foster a supportive research environment for developing research projects in these fields. We're keen to offer research supervision in these areas.

We provide a home for post-doctoral projects, and visiting scholars. We have a proven track record in these areas.


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    Our People

    Research Fellows

    Tim Somers (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow)

    Project Title: ‘Humour in Early Modern Print Culture’ 

    This project investigates humour in early modern print culture. To our modern eyes and ears, the humour of the past can seem distinctly alien. Scholarship on this topic is scarce, and where it does exist, it focuses on discrete themes and periods. This project will provide the first dedicated study of humour over both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It will use jestbooks to create a quantitative survey of changes and continuities; it will explore the visual and musical aspects of humour in popular ballads; and it will uncover the reception of humour amongst readers using manuscript collections. 

    Gaby Mahlberg (Marie Curie Fellow)

    Project Title: ‘The dissemination of English republican works and ideas in Germany’

    Ideas have always travelled across borders. An example is the transmission of 17th-century English republican ideas in the German lands before the revolution of 1848-1849. This EU-funded project will investigate the distribution, dissemination and reception of English republican works in Germany in a variety of languages, including English, Latin and French in addition to German. Specifically, this transnational and multilingual project will focus on how printed works were translated, edited and rewritten for new contexts and audiences (in this case, German society from the later 17th century to the Vormärz period that preceded the 1848 March Revolution in the states of the German Confederation). 

    Nicholas Mithen (Marie Curie Fellow)

    Project Title: ‘The scholar, the jurist, the priest: Moderation on the Italian peninsula, 1700-1750’

    The crisis of liberalism and vacating of the political centre ground in the West has led to an interest in ‘moderation’. A ‘fuzzy concept’, at once a political stance and moral virtue, one way to cast light on moderation is to historicise it. This project is one episode in an attempt to do just this, excavating appeals to moderation in eighteenth-century Italy. I am looking at three kinds of moderation: political moderation, religious moderation and scholarly moderation. Tracing the boundaries of and interplay between these ‘moderations’, my project poses a reinterpretation of the Italian Peninsula in the early enlightenment. 


    PhD students

    • Lauren Emslie – 'The Gods and the Intellectuals: Theological discussions of the late Roman Republic in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum'
    • Harriet Frears (CDA – starting September 2021)
    • Meg Kobza - 'Ulterior Identities: Anonymity in the London and Transatlantic Public Spheres'
    • Emily Mitchelson – 'Agrarian Land Law and the Commonwealth Tradition'
    • Harriet Palin
    • Sam Petty - 'That Colonies have their Warrant from God'- English Protestant thought and theories of colonisation in the seventeenth-century'
    • Alex Plane (CDA)
    • Jerome Ruddick
    • Jen Scammell – 'Comparative Responses to Royal Deaths in the Atlantic World, 1751-1817'
    • Amy Shields - 'Republicanism in a European Context: The Influence of the Dutch and Venetian Republics on Seventeenth-Century English Thought'
    • Leanne Smith - PhD Title: No King but Jesus’: The Fifth Monarchist’s idea of a Christian Commonwealth'. This research focuses on the intellectual thought of the millenarian sect the Fifth Monarchy Men as they sought to establish a godly commonwealth in seventeenth-century England. 
    • Tom Whitfield - 'An Historical Archaeology of Later Eighteenth-Century Popular Protest in England'

    Recent graduates

    • Andrew Newton - 'The location of early medieval churches in Northumbria: conversion to a Christian landscape in northern England'
    • Victoria Hughes – 'The culture and political world of the fourth century AD: Julian, paideia and education'
    • Chris Mowat – 'Engendering the Future: Divination and the Construction of Gender in the Late Roman Republic'