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Seminar 2: The Letters of James Ussher and Samuel Ward

James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland (1581-1656). Wikimedia Commons.

In the second installment of the Project’s seminar series on Thursday 6 May, Dr Elizabethanne Boran (The Edward Worth Library, Dublin, and formerly The Ussher Project) provided another capacity audience with a detailed paper entitled ‘“Live and speak unto the Church, when you are dead”: The Correspondence of James Ussher (1581-1656) and Samuel Ward (1572-1643)’. Focusing on the letters exchanged between the Irish primate and the Master of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge from 1625 – a corpus of around 45 extant documents – Boran used the correspondence to shed fascinating light on the religious preoccupations and perspectives of the two scholars (the letters frequently cover church history, doctrinal controversies, religious radicals, and Arminianism), as well as their unequal personal dynamics (Ussher, the younger but more senior of the two, frequently adopts a superior tone). The paper also used the Ussher/Ward case study as the basis for many suggestive insights into the structure and functioning of correspondence networks more generally, in particular regarding the ‘temporal flow’ of the seventeenth-century Republic of Letters (the rhythm of which was heavily influenced by the seasons and the weather), the complex relationship between the content of correspondence and the itineraries of the senders and receivers as well as their opportunities for verbal forms of contact (letters sent during 1626, when both men were in close physical proximity, are generally ‘staccato’), and the extent to which epistolary networks were mapped onto and relied upon adjacent professional, social, and economic modes of exchange (in particular mercantile and friendship networks, and practices of academic visiting). Seminars take place in the Faculty of History on George Street on Thursdays at 3pm. For future seminars in the series, please see here.