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In Pursuit of Civility

Manners and Civilization in Early Modern England

Keith Thomas’s earlier studies in the ethnography of early modern England, Religion and the Decline of Magic, Man and the Natural World, and The Ends of Life, were all attempts to explore beliefs, values, and social practices in the centuries from 1500 to 1800. In Pursuit of Civility continues this quest by examining what English people thought it meant to be “civilized” and how that condition differed from being “barbarous” or “savage.” Thomas shows that the upper ranks of society sought to distinguish themselves from their social inferiors by distinctive ways of moving, speaking, and comporting themselves, and that the common people developed their own form of civility. The belief of the English in their superior civility shaped their relations with the Welsh, the Scots, and the Irish, and was fundamental to their dealings with the native peoples of North America, India, and Australia. Yet not everyone shared this belief in the superiority of Western civilization; the book sheds light on the origins of both anticolonialism and cultural relativism. Thomas has written an accessible history based on wide reading, abounding in fresh insights, and illustrated by many striking quotations and anecdotes from contemporary sources.

424 pages | 6 1/4 x 9 1/4

The Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures

History: European History

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Thomas explores the understanding and use of the term (‘civility’) in England from 1500 to 1800, when it referred both to manners in daily life and manners as mores: the customs and attitudes of the allegedly civilized nation as a whole. . . . Thomas paints an extraordinary picture of the values and social relationships of Britain, specifically of England, and moves outward to consider the changing global setting of trade and colonialism, and the way that the language of ‘civilization’ would underpin the imperialism of the nineteenth century.

New York Review of Books

“To ask what early modern English people thought was civil and what was ‘barbarous’ is to probe their fundamental assumptions about how society should be organized and how life should be lived. . . . This deeply informed, thoughtful, and humane book fully lives up to this ambitious challenge.”

Canadian Journal of History

"In Pursuit of Civility is an accomplishment of the first order of intellectual history and ethnographic study. By drawing upon multiple sources and providing a lucid account,Thomas has magically made the topic of civility an important and exhilarating read. At times, it confirms what you had thought; other times it confounds you. A wonderful and delightful book for those who wish to know what held England together all these years."

Voegelin View

"Anyone familiar with Sir Keith’s previous work will know to expect a tour de force of the historical imagination supported by wide and very deep reading in a multitude of primary sources—official and unofficial, proscriptive and descriptive, elite and, where available, nonelite, contemporary and modern. The scholar will delight in the breadth of quotation, the general reader in a fascinating story well told."

Journal of Modern History

Table of Contents

Foreword by David Katz • Preface • Introduction • CIVIL BEHAVIOR • The Chronology of Manners • Manners and Gentility • Refinement • MANNERS AND THE SOCIAL ORDER • The Social Hierarchy • The Topography of Manners • The Civility of the Middling Sort • The Manners of the People • Civilizing Agents • Plebeian Civility • THE CIVILIZED CONDITION • Civil Society • Civilized Warfare • A Civilized Compassion • Civilized Manners • The Fruits of Civility • THE PROGRESS OF CIVILIZATION • The Ascent to Civility • Barbarous Neighbours • EXPORTING CIVILITY • Confronting the Barbarians • Civilizing by Force • Inventing Race • Fighting and Enslaving • CIVILIZATION RECONSIDERED • Cultural Relativism • Another Kind of Civility • The Civilizing Mission Disputed • The Defects of Civilization • Civilization Rejected • CHANGING MODES OF CIVILITY • Xenophobic Masculinity • Manners and Morality • The Quaker Challenge • Democratic Civility • The Future of Manners • Note on References • Abbreviations • Notes • Index

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