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Keywords and semantic change in the early modern period

Posted on 18 July 2018

A York professor has brought together historians, that specialise in history and literature, to analyse conceptual revolution of the early modern period.

Stuart Carroll, professor of Early Modern History at the University of York organised a workshop, which took place on 5 to 6 June 2018 and brought together historians and literature specialists of France and England to explore the conceptual revolution of the early modern period.

From the mid-twentieth century onwards historians and thinkers began to use semantic change and keywords as a means of understanding and exploring this revolution. The peculiar Anglo-French dynamic in these semantic shifts has long been recognised.

Recent research, which exploits the possibility of digital technology, confirmed the importance of the Anglo-French dynamic. However, understandings of the migration of keywords and semantic change tended, until very recently, to be framed within a national history and dominated by teleological assumptions of linear progress.

The 12 speakers at the workshop presented new evidence on familiar keywords, such as 'Democracy’, ‘Politics’, ‘Conversation’, ‘Civilisation‘, 'Class', 'Addiction’, ‘Atrocity’, ‘Medieval’, ’Settlement’, ‘Circulation’, and ‘Reciprocity. They also suggested new chronologies of semantic change, and discussed the significance of newly uncovered keywords. Time was also set aside to discuss ways to take this project forward.

Read more about Professor Stuart Carroll and his research

Find out more about University of York Department of History