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TOWARDS A SOCIAL AND CULTURAL HISTORY OF KEYWORDS AND CONCEPTS BY THE EARLY MODERN RESEARCH GROUP

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Abstract:

This article considers different ways in which keywords and concepts have been, and might be, explored. It summarizes the methodological discussions of a project to analyse 'commonwealth' in the period 1450-1800. 'Commonwealth' was a part of a conceptual field of terms to do with the public good and thus serves as a case study for wider problems of approaching such keywords through a collaboration across disciplines and reflects the importance of recent attempts to provide social and literary contexts for political discourse. Early modern states and their authority are now recognized to be as much socially and culturally as politically constructed, thus widening not only the essential 'context' which students of political discourse must take into account, but also requiring social historians to engage with the language of politics, the metaphors, images and genres of which scholars of literature and art likewise can illuminate. This social and cultural turn to political discourse helps the recovery of the language of vice and virtue which was so intrinsic to the deployment of keywords and concepts. The German conceptual history school is also relevant and useful in requiring us to think about how concepts were constituted and change over time, though its chronological focus needs to be extended to embrace more fully the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Finally, the article offers some pointers about how technology might be utilized to maximize the necessary collaborations that have been outlined.

Keywords: Political discourse; begriffsgeschichte; cambridge school; commonwealth; concepts; cultural; dialogue; early modern; image; literary; methodology; public good; social; vice; virtue

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept of History, University of Warwick, University Road, Coventry, CV4 7AL., Email: m.j.knights@warwick.ac.uk

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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