We are delighted to announce that Professor Paulina Kewes, Helen Morag Fellow and Tutor and Professor of English Literature, has been awarded a grant by the John Fell Fund (under the Main Award Scheme) for a new project entitled ‘Recovering Europe's Parliamentary Culture, 1500-1700: A New Approach to Representative Institutions’.

This international, interdisciplinary and collaborative venture will bring together scholars and institutions from Oxford and internationally, to carry out a pilot study centring on the English Parliament, the Polish Sejm, and the Dutch States General. The core project team includes Professor Steven Gunn (History, Oxford), Dr Joris Oddens (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam), Professor Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves (Political Science, Jagiellonian University, Krakow), Professor Paul Seaward (Director, History of Parliament Trust), and Dr Tracey Sowerby (Programme Director, The Europaeum).

Representative assemblies, common in late medieval Europe, faced transformative change between 1500 and 1700. Parliaments, States, Diets and Cortes varied tremendously in their organisation, customs, and functions. Yet they shared a transnational inheritance of ideas and methods that added up to a common European tradition. Intensive study has gone into pre-democratic representative institutions, and their political and constitutional histories have been exhaustively documented. However, very little has been done to investigate them collectively; to scrutinize them as cultural phenomena in their own right, or to study them in comparative perspective.

Prof Kewes’ project will explore the culture of early modern Europe's parliaments, and ask how it was expressed in language, writing, images, and symbolic practices. It will draw on literature, history, political philosophy, classics, art and material culture to investigate the literary and visual discourses and shared experiences of representative politics across early modern Europe. The pilot will provide a comparative study of the English Parliament, the Polish Sejm, and the Dutch States-General – chosen as the period's most robust national assemblies.

The John Fell Fund, organised through Oxford University Innovation, is intended to foster creativity and a proactive approach to research opportunities in all subject areas, particularly interdisciplinary fields. It makes seedcorn and start-up grants, and provides staff and funds to stimulate applications to external agencies.

This award will fund the facilitation of knowledge sharing across the core project team and the appointment of a one-year postdoc with Latin, Dutch, and ideally Polish.;. It will also support the creation of pioneering digital resources, including a model website and model database. Prof Kewes explains, “We want to create a new website that outlines the project’s aims and shares information on our research, providing bibliographies, images, and links to external resources. . It will also host a virtual interactive map of Europe’s national representative institutions, 1500-1700, with capability for expansion in chronological and geographical coverage.”

 “The website will link to a model database, each data set including a comprehensive list of a particular type of resource for the study of early modern representative institutions. These will be deposited in a series of linked databases on the Sustainable Digital Scholarship repository, which will enable public access, searching and cross-indexing, and contain links to relevant websites, collections, journals, or institutions.”

She added, “These digital resources will both facilitate the pilot and demonstrate to external funders the prospects for a large-scale comparative study of early modern Europe’s representative institutions, which is our ultimate goal.”

Prof Kewes and her academic collaborators have already begun to build an international network for the project, and have secured £15,000 for a major international conference in 2022. She says, “We are extremely grateful for this prestigious funding award from the John Fell Fund. It will enable us to develop our innovative methodology, build sophisticated sustainable digital resources, expand our international network, and produce two journal articles showcasing our results and advocating our approach“.

The pilot study will begin this autumn.