Research and reading complexity

In the course of my research a rather obvious thought has come to me. The level and quality of Tudor and Jacobean research has grown in its complexity. As with everything in the world, the development of research ideas and theories increase in complexity as technology, communication, and theory develop and mature. In the case of the Reformation in England, the complexity has caused me to take an interesting journey.

I am reading (or re-reading) two books at the same time at the moment. Alexandra Walsham’s recent publication, The Reformation of the Landscape is a tour de force of religion, identity, memory and physical landscape research. She so easily integrates present and past research into a compelling and interesting book. I couldn’t put it down quite frankly. Concurrently, I am reading John Phillip’s The Reformation of Images: Destruction of Art in England, 1535-1660 from 1973. Again, this book is equally interesting and very straightforward, but also extremely useful for my work.

Both are books representative of their time. Phillip’s research is linear and yet necessary in that it lays out the historical and necessary steps which lead up to the social, legal, and physical changes that the Reformation brought about. Worship in the form that took place in religious buildings with religious images were undermined and ultimately destroyed during the duration of the period of change in the 16th century. Walsham looks at the social impact of the reformation by discussing not just the historical tradition in which the Reformation sits, but the totality of the impact on the landscape, and the impact on the history and memory, of the Reformation. Though she roughly outlines a linear timeframe, Walsham weaves local stories and traditions into a the history of the Reformation.

There has been a move in critical thinking from the linear retelling of history to a more socially holistic approach in history. This is clearly demonstrated from more recent phd publications and the call for papers at various conferences and seminars. But I often worry that the complexity of ever new ideas and arguments will outweigh the basic facts of church warden inventories or money spent on various parish projects. One wonders if there is too much complexity in Reformation history currently?

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