J.S. Morrill, 7 May 1981
Alan Macfarlane likes to shock historians out of their complacency and out of a narrow preoccupation with their own period or their own mode of historical study. He is a professionally-trained historian and a professionally-trained anthropologist and his approach is truly interdisciplinary rather than multidisciplinary. He is also a polemicist of great power, as his demolition of the notion of an English peasantry in The Origins of English Individualism showed. In that work his canvas was broad, covering five centuries, and both argument and evidence were deliberately diffuse. Now, continuing his campaign against those who would see Tudor and Stuart England as a great watershed, as the time of transition from one social and economic order to another, he asks: how violent was early modern England? The question is aggressively posed and boldly answered, but the technique on this occasion is different: Macfarlane concentrates on explicating one involved case-study. Opinions are bound to vary on the appropriateness of his approach.