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Farmers, innovators, and consumers: the world of Joan Thirsk celebrated at a conference in Leicester

The day began with a reminder that in the first part of her career Joan Thirsk had spent 14 years at Leicester, where she devised many of her ideas. At that time she also played an important part in founding the BAHS, and editing the first volume of the Agrarian History of England and Wales to be published (volume IV). The conference then explored the three themes identified in the conference title: farmers, innovators and consumers.

Farmers

For the ‘farmers’ theme, Tom Williamson spoke about tilling the fields, mainly in the middle ages; James Bowen’s paper explored the shifting use of Shropshire’s common lands and fields; and community relations and land disputes in Norfolk were revealed by Nicola Whyte.

Innovators

In the section devoted to ‘innovators’, Craig Muldrew spoke about cloth making, beginning in the early modern period but pushing back before 1500. Jon Stobart discussed seventeenth- and eighteenth-century village shops, especially in Cheshire. After a lunch break, John Broad, John Chartres and David Hey discussed the economic, social and cultural dimensions of regional differences, reflecting Joan Thirsk’s pioneer work on farming regions.

Consumers

The final section, on ‘consumers’, brought together Susan North, who gave us insights into dress and fashion in the early modern period, Mark Dawson, with an exploration of the north midland oatcake, and Richard Hoyle, whose Lancashire farmer found it difficult to participate in the consumer revolution, but easy to write a voluminous diary.

There was a lively buzz of conversation at the breaks between papers, and delegates seemed to enjoy the atmosphere of the event as well as the formal talks. Richard Jones and Christopher Dyer, the organisers of the event, expect to edit the papers to make a attractive (but inexpensive) book, to be published in 2015.