The much-anticipated blog post, or: Commemoration and Oblivion in Royalist Print Culture, 1658-1667

I first became interested in the variety of ways in which people and cultures remember their pasts while studying for a Master’s degree in Cultural Memory in 2008. Since then, my thoughts have mostly turned to mid-seventeenth century England – a place and period in history that was also fascinated by the uses of the collective past and the malleability of memory. As a result, my new book represents a culmination of my research and thinking on the workings and narrations of collective memory in Restoration England over the better part of the last decade. The book is forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan and I have presented several conference papers based on the research for various chapters, most recently at the North American Conference on British Studies in Washington DC (Nov. 2016).

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The North American Conference on British Studies was held in Washington DC this year.

‘Commemoration and Oblivion’ explores the measures taken, during the early Restoration, by the newly-installed royalist regime and its supporters to address the events of the previous two decades. It does so by offering an in-depth analysis of inexpensive, popular print materials that were ubiquitous during these years. Profoundly preoccupied with – and, indeed, anxious about – the uses and representations of the nation’s recent troubled past, the returning regime, as this study demonstrates, heavily relied upon the dissemination of prescribed varieties of remembering and forgetting in order to inaugurate itself. Actively shaping the manner in which the Civil Wars, regicide and the Interregnum were to be embedded in national collective memory was a key strategy of Charles II’s government and, it is argued, a dominant formative aspect of the print culture of the 1660s.

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Procession of Charles II’s Restoration (1660)

With this in mind, ‘Commemoration and Oblivion’ represents a concentrated history of early modern cultural memory, exploring as it does the significance of collective remembering and forgetting in Restoration England’s efforts to come to terms with the events of the previous two decades. By adapting a range of concepts associated with modern Memory Studies for a seventeenth-century context, this study illustrates and explains the ways in which the Restoration regime utilised widely distributed inexpensive pamphlets, broadsides, and newspapers for ‘memory creation’ purposes. It shows, moreover, that the delayed re-processing of war-related trauma resulted in an inability to control the tensions between the official conciliatory policy of forgetting past deeds and an insistent popular demand for war offenses to be publically remembered and atoned for. Ultimately, this study argues that early Restoration England was characterised, in an intriguing paradox, by a simultaneously commemorative and oblivial culture of considerable complexity, especially at the intersection of individual and collective memory. This complexity manifested itself in many unresolved contradictions in regime-sponsored and regime-friendly publications: on the one hand, the return of the king was depicted as a founding moment and the Interregnum was a period to be consigned to oblivion, while, on the other hand, memories of the Civil Wars and Interregnum were deliberately evoked in order to be appropriated in an authorised royalist interpretation of the past. The combination of these contradictory efforts blurred the division between past and present, and remembering and forgetting.

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