Great Courses: A History Of England From The Tudors To The Stuarts: Part 2, by Professor Robert Bucholz
One of the unfortunate consequences of the rising struggle between various cultural views of history in the past few decades is that there is such a sharp divide about what people most appreciate when it comes to history. A traditional focus on narrative history that consisted of biographical accounts of elites and a strong interest in military history has been countered by a more contemporary focus on history from below that is strongly based on previously ignored prosography and a strong interest in data-driven statistical history that points to a much more complex history than that which focuses solely on elites . This course seems intent on splitting the difference between the two approaches, and I must admit I find its mixture of approaches immensely appealing, since rather than providing half of the historical content that others manage, it provides double by giving multiple perspectives on the same time period and often the same people. This professor has a great deal of enthusiasm and knowledge for his subject and it makes for compelling listening or viewing, depending on how one takes this particular course.
This particular series of lectures consists of the second quarter of the professor’s studies on Tudor and Stuart history and ends at the midpoint, both literal and symbolic, of the course. The first seven lectures of this particular collection, each about half an hour long, cover the narrative portion of the professor’s approach, beginning with the last years of Henry VIII, then one lecture each for the short reigns of Edward VI and Bloody Mary. Four lectures then encompass Elizabeth’s reign, from the beginning of her reign, the settlement that she established in politics and religion, the dangerous world she inhabited, and her heart and stomach as a queen from the successful repulse of the Armada to her death in 1603 that ended the Tudor dynasty. The last five lectures take a turn towards the social historical approach at which the professor also excels, starting with a look at the land of England and its people in 1603, to a look at the private life of elites and commoners in two lectures, and then a look at both the ties that bound people together (especially neighborliness) as well as a look at order and disorder. The end results is to add a great deal of compassion as well as respect for the complex and nuanced relationships within society as well as the fragility of life for most people during the time, especially those who were vulnerable.
If you liked the first part of the course, this second part of the course will likely be one that you enjoy as well. This particular course largely builds upon the promise of the first course and carries it forward a few decades. This is not a problem as well. This particular audiobook is six hours of video that is time well spent getting to know the Tudors and some of their overmighty subjects as well as the common people who are largely neglected in many studies of the period. The professor deserves considerable credit not only for giving voice to the lives of a diverse group of 16th century Englishmen, as well as a few Scots and Irish, but also for introducing students to some of the debates and theories about life in Tudor England. This is a course that really fulfills on a considerable amount of promise in giving a genuinely exciting and insightful look at an important period of history and in framing that history in contrast with the American contemporary experience, which serves larger aims about the worth of the study of history for the wider public.
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