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date: 09 May 2021

(p. ix) Preface

(p. ix) Preface

Christopher Wheeler’s unexpected invitation to edit this Handbook came towards the end of a career largely spent teaching early modern European history in British universities. It also arrived when I was spending a sabbatical year in the United States, which made me aware, fully for the first time, of the very different forms of ‘early modern’ history which thrived on the other side of the Atlantic. After some initial hesitation over whether to accept, I came to see both the opportunity presented by the Handbook to take stock of what early modern European history was and is, how and why it has developed, and where it might be going, at a time when its study is becoming less central to university and college teaching than between the 1970s and the 1990s. Yet the subject’s remarkable growth during my own professional lifetime has been such that, even within the considerable space generously allocated by Oxford University Press, difficult choices have had to be made.

The overall aim was to produce a coherent and accessible guide to the many approaches to early modern European history which have thrived during the past four or five decades. Defining the overall framework and even establishing the period to be covered, however, proved to be more problematical than I had anticipated. In the planning and commissioning stage I was fortunate to have the benefit of advice from two associate editors: Liam Brockey (Michigan State University) and Regina Grafe (European University Institute), and both helped to shape the book in important ways. Aware of contrasting approaches to this period, the scheme was then submitted to several friends for their scrutiny: I am grateful to Carlo Capra, Stuart Clark, Bill Doyle, John Elliott, David Moon, Martin Powers, and Ted Rabb, as well as Oxford University Press’s anonymous referees, for their incisive and constructive suggestions. Subsequently Sheilagh Ogilvie was a generous source of advice on economic history.

My debt to the contributors is even greater. All have responded positively and uncomplainingly to suggestions for revision intended to strengthen the unity of the two volumes, and have patiently waited for all the authors and the editor to complete their contributions. Any enterprise involving over fifty scholars is bound to have a bumpy ride to the finishing line, and I have been particularly grateful to several contributors who completed their articles despite adverse professional or personal circumstances. When it seemed likely that the volume might be deprived of a crucial chapter on ‘Historical Demography’, the editors and publisher of the Journal of Interdisciplinary History graciously allowed Anne McCants to expand and update her article, ‘Historical Demography and the Crisis of the Seventeenth Century’, which originally appeared in that journal [40 (2009), 195–214] and now appears in this Handbook in a substantially (p. x) revised version. I am deeply grateful to the journal’s editors and publisher for permitting this reprinting, and especially to Ted Rabb for swiftly facilitating this arrangement. The last-minute withdrawal of the scholar who had undertaken to write the chapter on ‘Travel and Communications’ threatened that another key topic might be omitted, and in the circumstances I decided at very short notice to write a replacement chapter myself.

The production of two such large volumes has been surprisingly easy, thanks to the skill and professionalism of the History team at Oxford University Press: Christopher Wheeler (before his retirement), his successor Stephanie Ireland, Rachel Naum and, above all, Cathryn Steele whose support and encouragement during the final stages has been particularly important. Elissa Connor skillfully copy-edited the articles, and Deepika Mercilee, Tharani Ramachandran, and Michael Dela Cruz have together made the transition from electronic files to printed book much smoother than it might have been: my debt to them is considerable. It is even greater to Nancy Bailey who—as in previous books which I have published—has not merely handled the computing side, but has provided continual encouragement and advice, and caught more of my slips than I like to remember! The presence in Glasgow of two contributors, Sam Cohn and Thomas Munck, has been a particular advantage. Both have offered wisdom and encouragement, and been ready to listen to me thinking out the problems which emerged during the editing. Alex Shephard has also been a local source of welcome guidance and practical help. Julia Smith has helped most of all, with sound advice, injunctions to press on, reviving cups of coffee, and quite remarkable toleration of my preoccupation, particularly during recent months.

Hamish Scott

December 2014