Since the Second World War, the cutting edge of English historical studies has been not 'world history' but English local history, a fact by no means adequately reflected in the Report of the National Curriculum History Working Group, nor even in the menus of courses currently on offer in university history departments. Local studies have been central to recent investigations of those complex processes conventionally described as the Protestant Reformation which, in the course of the 16th century and beyond, profoundly modified the civilisation of this country: but in spite of the national scope and aspirations of reforming legislation, not all at once or to the same extent in all regions and localities. If we were to ask when England became a Protestant nation, and also what it might mean so to describe it, we should have to be prepared for different answers for Essex and Sussex, Lancashire and Kent: while not forgetting that these counties, macrocosms in themselves, contained a variety of small worlds, in Lancashire as different as Bolton. 'the Geneva of the North', and the coastal Fylde, in 1600 as Popish as Ireland.
LRB 7 March 1991 | PDF Download