Dr Liesbeth Corens

  • Early Modern Catholicism, specifically minorities
  • History of archives and memory
  • History of mobility and migration

My research focuses on minority Catholicism as an insightful case study to analyse the Counter-Reformation. My first book, Confessional Mobility: England Catholics and the Counter-Reformation, assesses the lay English Catholic expatriate experience in terms of a broad concept of ‘confessional mobility’ (forthcoming with OUP). This monograph offers a new approach to religious migration by adopting ‘confessional mobility’ as a useful tool of interpretation. It encourages a more flexible interpretation of movement and its implications for belonging to communities. Other terms such as ‘migration’ or ‘exile’ imply too much isolation from expatriates’ home countries or permanent departure from and projected integration within a new community. ‘Mobility’, on the other hand, incorporates temporary as well as extended stays on the Continent. Through the inclusion of temporary stays, this project avoids looking at expatriate Catholics as insular and stationary, as if they had lost relevance for their home country. By shifting the perspective from stasis to dynamic mobility, Confessional Mobility shows how English Catholics fostered a community without borders which bridged the Channel.

My current project investigates early modern Catholic minorities’ communal belonging, focusing on the role of commemoration. I ask why and how communities stuck together. For community is not a given or determined by location, network, or birth. Rather, community is active: the bonds of belonging are fostered in order to sustain their community, even in the light of dispersal across a diaspora. Commemoration is one of the constitutive forces uniting communities, whether localised or dispersed. The archives and collections which resulted from this commemoration are not solely a reflection of community, but also played an active part in constructing those communities. Therefore, rather than understanding the collections as unproblematic repositories, I acknowledge them as practices and processes. I explore how and why the compilations were put together, what selection has been made, and what the ordering of the material has done to its interpretations. An important context for these commemorations is the exclusion of Catholics from the dominant narratives of both England and the Dutch Republic. While official archives and accounts had produced a narrative of the Protestant nation in which Catholics were either excluded or acted as the villains, the Catholic collections aimed to save the memory and reputation of their ancestors. This is a very engaged commemoration. This is a comparative project, studying both English and Dutch Catholics, which allows me to study commemoration not as an abstract ideal but concretely rooted in their social, cultural, and legal lives. The differences and similarities in commemoration between these two Catholic minorities shed light on the ways in which commemoration and the resulting narratives and sources were shaped by the concrete lives of Catholics. By consequence, the collections upon which historians rely to study the past were not an abstract reflection of their recent past, but historical practices. This opens interesting questions on whether there is such a thing as a Catholic memory, or whether minority Catholicism is a valuable category of interpretation.

https://liesbethcorens.wordpress.com/

 

Publications:

 

MONOGRAPH:

Confessional Mobility and English Catholics in Counter-Reformation Europe (under contract with Oxford University Press).

 

ARTICLES:

‘Dislocation and Record Keeping: The Counter Archives of the Catholic Diaspora’, in: Alexandra Walsham, Kate Peters, and Liesbeth Corens (eds.), The Social History of the Archive: Record Keeping in Early Modern Europe, Past & Present Supplement 11 (Oxford, 2016), 269-287.

‘Saints Beyond Borders: Relics and the Expatriate English Catholic Community’, in: Jesse Spohnholz and Gary Waite (eds.), Exile and Religious Identity, 1500-1800 (London, 2014), 25-38.

‘Sermons, Sodalities, and Saints: the Role of Religious Houses for the English Expatriate Community’, Trajecta 21 (2012), 118-136.

‘Catholic Nuns and English Identities: English Protestant Travellers on the English Convents in the Low Countries, 1660-1730’, Recusant History 30 (2011), 441-459.

 

EDITED VOLUMES:

with Alexandra Walsham and Kate Peters, Archives and Information in the Early Modern World (Oxford: British Academy Publications, 2018).

with Alexandra Walsham and Kate Peters, The Social History of the Archive: Record Keeping in Early Modern Europe, Past & Present Supplement 11 (Oxford, 2016).

Confessional Mobility: England Catholics and the Counter-Reformation (Oxford University Press)

Historians are increasingly aware that our current tendency to prioritise national and geographical borders as basis for political and cultural identification is not timeless, and are questioning the assumed territoriality of most studies of pre-modern Europe. Early modern communities were fostered through bonds and allegiances which were not determined by territory. This study of the mobility of English Catholics is an extension and application of these insights. By foregrounding the movement and bonds of belonging across their dispersed community, this monograph proposes a more dynamic understanding of the Catholic community and of religious migration than the traditional focus on institutions and separation has thus far revealed. The Reformation in England encouraged many Catholics to leave for the Continent. From the sixteenth century until the French Revolution, English colleges and convents were a familiar feature of many towns in the Southern Netherlands, France, and Iberia. Given the long-term residence of these foundations, research on English Catholics abroad has long presupposed that they existed in a condition of stasis and separation. By contrast, Confessional Mobility looks at the ephemeral figures who shaped expatriate life inside and outside these houses. The picture that emerges is much more dynamic and transformative. Catholics’ stay abroad was often conceived of as temporary and a preparation for returning home, not only on an individual level but at the level of the community as a whole. Expatriates’ practices such as praying, educating, and commemorating were furthering the mission and nourished and shaped the faith and practice of a single English Catholic community, within England and abroad. Mission was a common motivation which united individuals from all sorts of backgrounds and stages of life, scattered across England and Europe. Therefore, Confessional Mobility makes the case for a new conception of the English mission: one that was shaped by actions, and not defined by the borders of England. While previous work on the English Catholic community by historians such as John Bossy, Alexandra Walsham, and Michael Questier has drawn upon work on the wider European Counter-Reformation, the focus of these historians has been on the domestic realm. By contrast, this monograph will look systematically at the experiences of Catholics overseas and analyse how these reshape our understanding of both the English Catholic community and the wider Counter-Reformation. Methodologically, this monograph offers a new interpretation of religious migration by adopting ‘confessional mobility’ as a useful tool of interpretation. It encourages a more flexible interpretation of movement and its implications for belonging to communities. Other terms such as ‘migration’ or ‘exile’ imply too much isolation from expatriates’ home countries or permanent departure from and projected integration within a new community. ‘Mobility’, on the other hand, incorporates temporary as well as extended stays on the Continent. Through the inclusion of temporary stays, this project avoids looking at expatriate Catholics as insular and stationary, as if they had lost relevance for their home country. By shifting the perspective from stasis to dynamic mobility, Confessional Mobility shows how English Catholics fostered a community without borders which bridged the Channel. This dispersed community is not to be found in conventional, comprehensive or welldefined bodies of source material such as the consistory records available for Calvinist exile churches. Rather, careful piecing together of fragmentary material preserved in family archives, religious houses, and local record offices brings to light bonds and movements hitherto undetected. Confessional Mobility is based on extensive archival research in over thirty-five repositories in the UK, Belgium, and France complemented by an investigation of a range of printed material. Not only is this source base more multilingual and diverse in nature than is often the case in studies on English Catholicism, but much of this material has been underexplored. Because of proximity and a high concentration of religious foundations, English Catholics’ communication networks are particularly dense in the Southern Netherlands and Northern France. Focusing on these areas aids in illuminating the regions’ ‘transregional’ character and significance for the development of the wider Catholic Reformation through print, communication, and migration. However, just as we cannot confine our understanding of English Catholicism to the island, we also cannot confine our understanding of the diaspora to the Low Countries. Expatriates were constantly moving and communicating across their entire dispersed community, and limiting our analysis to a particular geographical unity would be artificial. Therefore, while the heartlands of this study are the Southern Netherlands, this should not narrowly confine us to these regions but keep an eye on their position in wider constellations. A similar flexibility is required in chronological boundaries. The prime concern of this book is the period between 1660 and 1730, because this was a pivotal period in which Catholics were adjusting to a new status quo in which their existence was tacitly accepted in England, but not without constraints. However, the use of material from before the period upon which this study focuses is deliberate because expatriates were constantly and consciously building on the legacy of earlier generations. Too strict a definition in time imposes artificial boundaries which expatriate Catholics did not experience. 

I would like to hear from potential DPhil students studying: early modern Catholicism (in Britain and Europe); history of memory; early modern archives and record keeping; early modern migration and travel; history of the Low Countries.

List of site pages