The essays in this collection investigate the ways in which the past was exploited to meet the concerns of the present in early modern England. The understanding of the past in this period was characterized by a deepening and more fully articulated conception of time and history, with its roots in impassioned religious and political controversies. The discourses that arose from this dialogue informed and drew together a range of genres and activities: prose accounts, polemical tracts, poems, plays, romances, secret histories, novels. Although many of these genres are no longer recognized as history, early modern writers and readers treated them as such. In assessing the uses of the past, these essays consider "literary" and "factual" writings side by side, avoiding traditional chronological and disciplinary divisions and the artificial separation of secular from ecclesiastical history. Cumulatively, they supply the context and provide a vast array of evidence for the way in which the deployment of history for political, religious, moral, aesthetic, or commercial purposes shifted between the mid-sixteenth century and the late eighteenth.
Paulina Kewes is a fellow and tutor in English literature at Jesus College, Oxford, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. F. J. Levy is an emeritus professor of history, University of Washington.