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Accounting for OneselfWorth, Status, and the Social Order in Early Modern England$
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Alexandra Shepard

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199600793

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199600793.001.0001

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Self and Society in Early Modern England

Self and Society in Early Modern England

(p.1) 1 Self and Society in Early Modern England
Accounting for Oneself

Alexandra Shepard

Oxford University Press

After surveying the existing historiography on the social order, selfhood, and autobiography, this chapter proposes a new method for approaching the construction and experience of social identities in early modern England. Designed as a corrective to top-down, male-centric accounts of the social order penned by elite observers, a ‘bottom-up’ approach to social relations and social change is advocated on the basis of the language of self-description deployed by witnesses when they were examined in court. This chapter also introduces the data set of 13,686 witness statements on which the remainder of the book is based. Drawn from a variety of regions, and representative of a very broad social reach of women as well as men at various points in the life cycle, witnesses’ statements of their ‘worth’ both attest to, but also demand that we reconceptualize, a period of profound social change.

Keywords:   social order, social identity, selfhood, autobiography, self-description

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