Skip to content

Blog Posts

Currently Filtering by Category: my NACBS

March
27
2018

My NACBS: David Clemis

Posted by StephenJackson under my NACBS | Tags: David Clemis, early modern, spotlight | 0 Comments

BlockView

My NACBS

This is the second post in our new series designed to introduce and connect NACBS members. Taking our lead from the American Historical Association’s member spotlight posts, we hope to deepen our sense of community through short posts that delve into who we are and what we value. For more information on this new series, contact Blog editor Stephen Jackson at Stephen.Jackson@usiouxfalls.edu.

Name and title: David Clemis, Associate Professor of History, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

What are your fields of interest?

British intellectual and cultural history, 1600-1800. More particularly, the history of understandings of moral agency, cognition and identity in “the British enlightenment.” My current work is on the social and cultural history of alcohol use in England, 1600-1830.

What are you currently working on?

I am writing an article on “Galenic medicine” and conceptions of intoxication and addiction in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  This work fits into a larger study of legal and medical understandings of intoxication and addiction in early modern Britain.

Do you have a favorite archive, digital or physical? What about it draws you in? 

Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online are indispensable.  Given that where I live, I can manage only a few weeks per year in relevant physical archives.  Although the Rare Books Room of the present British Library is serviceable and pleasant, one longs for the very different atmospheres of the old round Smirke and north library reading rooms.

What is the most fascinating text, artifact or object you’ve encountered in your work?

I have recently been fascinated by Humphrey Brooke’s Ugieine or a Conservatory of Health (London, 1650). I am intrigued by the striking parallels between Brooke’s conception of the causes and nature of chronic drinking and very recent researchers’ notions of addiction, not as a disease, but rather as more of a matter of habit. Despite the obvious differences in this seventeenth-century “Galenic” physician’s views and modern neuro-scientific models, it is interesting how they both thread together the physiological effects of alcohol, the social context of its consumption, and a degree of moral agency on the part of the chronic drinker. 

What attracted you to this work? Why British Studies?

When I was undergraduate and master’s student there was much excited talk of “postmodernism.” I was rather interested in finding out what “the modern” was and where it had come from before it vanished. That led me to studies of the period 1450 to 1800. Of course, Britain and its history figured conspicuously in most accounts of the development of modernity. Further, as graduate student at the University of Toronto, I found the most interesting and challenging historians generally happened to study Britain: J. M. Beattie; Michael Finlayson; and Trevor Lloyd.

Who most influenced your academic work?

As an undergraduate studying philosophy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Norman Brown and Carlos Prado kindled the conceptual, analytic, and epistemological character of my academic interests. While at Queen’s, the philosopher Michael Tanner, a visiting professor from Cambridge, inspired my passion for the historical study of culture. Those teachers at Queen’s lit a passion for intellectual life that thwarted my family’s intention that I should practice law.  John Beattie at the University of Toronto was an excellent teacher of social history methods, a great model of scholarly rigor and integrity, as well as an indispensable supporter of my career, however, bogged-down it has occasionally been. As a co-supervisor of my doctoral thesis and the indomitable, ebullient leader of the IHR’s “Long Eighteenth-Century Seminar,” Penelope Corfield has been wonderful inspiration for both my teaching and research. 

Less personal but important early influences on the kind of history I try to practice have been the work of E.P. Thompson, Natalie Zemon Davis, Keith Thomas, and Roy Porter. The endeavor to understand values, attitudes, and beliefs within their social contexts is a matter of great interest to me. More recently, in the field of drug and alcohol history, the work of Phil Withington, Mark Hailwood, and James Nicholls has also shaped the direction of my research interests.

Have your academic interests transformed over time?

As a graduate student, I was privileged to have John Beattie and Peter King as supervisors. Under their influence I was much engaged by the social history that developed in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the study of crime and local authority in the eighteenth century. Over time, however, my deep-seated interests in cultural history and the history of ideas have become more pronounced in my teaching and research activity. In 2001, I left England for a job in Western Canada, which meant I was able to spend only a few weeks a year in local archives, the British Library, and the National Archives. Digital versions of printed sources necessarily became by the greatest objects of my study. This has reinforced the intellectual and cultural historical turn in my work. 

Does your project have any particular relevance to the contemporary—political, social, cultural, etc.? 

Addiction is, of course, a matter of much public concern, particularly since the emergence of the opioid crisis in recent years. One hopes that historical studies of the changing conception of chronic drinking and compulsive behavior might enrich contemporary, much vexed, debates over the nature of addiction. More broadly, I hope that this kind of study of historical medical and legal texts, and the understandings they convey of human behavior, moral agency, and personal identity, will constitute some kind of contribution to wider debates within the humanities.

Do you have a favorite text to teach?

Voltaire’s Candide, which I teach in an Enlightenment survey course, is always a lot of fun for students and it nicely engages a variety of course themes. That experience tempts me to try to teach Tristram Shandy as a cultural history text in an eighteenth-century Britain course, but that seems too big a challenge and is best left to colleagues in the English Department.  The Old Bailey Online - The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 is a fabulous resource to use with students because it affords explorations of so many interesting themes. 

When you’re not working, what do you like to do?

Worry about how much work I need to get done?? But, I also enjoy cycling and travel. I love reading and seeing Shakespeare performed.

 

0 Comments Read full post »