Daniel Woolf
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Speaking of history
Conversations about the past in Restoration and eighteenth-century England
in The spoken word

This chapter offers some illustrations of the ways in which history continued to be spoken aloud, in various social contexts, in early modern England. With occasional backward glances toward the Renaissance, the focus is on the period from the Restoration to the late eighteenth century, the era when the printed history book made their greatest inroads into the book-selling market. The early modern era, the age of the great transition to print culture, was perhaps the only point in human history when there has been a near equilibrium between the speaking of history and its silent reading. The commonplace books of the early modern period are littered with incidents wrenched from their temporal contexts to provide illustrations of moral or political points. Anecdotes became social tools which used to make points not only in private correspondence but also in civil conversation.

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The spoken word

Oral culture in Britain 1500–1850

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