In his inaugural lecture, Professor Collinson makes his own distinctive contribution to the national debate on the teaching of history recently stirred up by the Education Reform Act of 1988 and the place of history in the National Curriculum.
Keeping in mind that this speech was given over twenty years ago, the first four parts of this speech bear little relevance to the contemporary debate about education. It was, however, at the time a - I assume - major development for historians involved in education and academia.
Leaving aside this now largely irrelevant introduction, it is Part V where this 'contribution' is made, when Prof. Collinson begins to 'introduce himself'. After giving an outline of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the political climates at the time, he continues to discuss how England's political society functioned:
'[I]t is apparent that early modern England consisted of a series of overlapping, superimposed communities which were also semi-autonomous, self-governing political cultures. These may be called, but always in quotes, 'republics': village republics; in the countries, gentry republics; and at transcendent level the commonwealth of England, which Sir Thomas Smith thought it proper to render in Latin as Republica Anglorum.'
Collinson argues that not only notable lawyers and 'parliament-men' were political animals, but also mathematicians, specialists in engineering and navigation and authors. He also recognises the gaps that scholars have recently began to address, namely the complexity of social and political alliances amongst the gentry, across and within county boundaries, 'the verticality and horizontality of county society and county politics'. Moreover, Collinson points out the opportunities for new and extended political history at the lower - if not lowest - levels of social hierarchy and he wonders 'how nine thousand parishes composed at a higher level a single political society'. All in all, a good starting point for early modern English politics.