Dr Jonathan Willis BA (Hons), MA, PhD, FRHistS, FHEA

Department of History
Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History

Contact details

Address
Arts Building
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston
Birmingham
B15 2TT
UK

I am a historian of the English reformation, with interests in the history and theology of late-medieval and early modern Europe more broadly.  My research focuses on the religious and cultural history of England over the course of the long sixteenth century. 

 

Qualifications

  • PhD in History, University of Warwick
  • MA in Religious and Social History 1500-1700 (Distinction), University of Warwick
  • BA (Hons) (First Class) in History, University of Warwick 

Biography

I joined the Department of History at Birmingham in September 2011 as Lecturer in Early Modern History.  I grew up in Sprowston, just outside the city of Norwich in Norfolk, and studied history as an undergraduate at the University of Warwick, where I remained for my MA and PhD studies, as well as teaching on the BA and MA programmes there.  Following the award of my PhD in 2009 I spent six months as an early career fellow at Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Study, and in 2009/10 I lectured in reformation history and theology at Durham University’s Department of Theology and Religion.  Between September 2010 and August 2013 I held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (for one year at Durham, then for two years at Birmingham) for a project entitled ‘The Ten Commandments and the English Reformation.’  I formally took up my post as lecturer in early modern history at Birmingham in September 2013, and became senior lecturer in May 2016.

Teaching

During autumn 2016 I am teaching the following courses:

Undergraduate:

  • First Year: lectures on 'Reformation, Rebellion and Revolution: The Making of the Modern World'
  • Second Year: convenor of Group Research module; tutor for 'Imagined Communities: Tudor History on Film and TV' Group Research option

Postgraduate

  • Convenor, MA and MRes Early Modern History
  • Convenor and tutor on 'Introduction to Early Modern History'
  • Convenor and tutor on the MA core course 'Historical Methods'
  • I will also be supervising early modern MA, MRes and PhD students

Postgraduate supervision

I am interested in supervising research projects on most aspects of the social, cultural and religious history of reformation-era England, especially concerning questions of theology, popular belief, religious practice, puritanism, parish religion, material and musical cultures, and religious education.

I have been/am currently involved in supervising MA disserations, MRes theses and PhD theses on the following topics:

MA Dissertations:

  • 'The doctrine-making of 1537-8: the "Bishops' Book"'
  • 'The material significance of stringed instruments in the domestic environment in early modern England'
  • 'The Early Elizabethan Voyages of Exploration'
  • 'Female virtue and the ideal woman as presented in seventeenth-century English funeral sermons'
  • 'Divine wrath and punishment: a warning to mankind'
  • 'Archbishop Matthew Parker and the 1567 whole Psalter translated into English metre'
  • 'Experiencing fire in early modern England, c.1580-1680'

MRes and PhD Theses:

  • 'The changing interior of the English parish church, 1560-1640'
  • 'Representations of Hell in Post-Reformation England'
  • 'Early English Drama and the Supernatural, 1530-1642'
  • 'Environmental Change, Natural Disaster and English Communities, c.1550-1650'
  • 'Liturgical and musical change in the cathedral and parish churches of Salisbury, c.1480-1650'
  • 'The Careers of Ladies in Waiting at the Henrician Court'

Research

My research explores the nature of religious, social and cultural change during the period of the Reformation, both in the lofty realm of doctrines and ideas, and also in terms of the effects of religious change on the lives, values and beliefs of the great majority of the people; who lived and died without ever reading, much less writing, a work of sophisticated theology.  On the most fundamental level, I am concerned with questions of belief and identity, the relationship between the two, and in the cultural history of theology.

My doctoral research looked at the relationship between church music and Protestant religious identity formation in England during the reign of Elizabeth I.  This involved considering the philosophical and theological origins of ideas about music, as well as a detailed exploration of the practice of music-making in key religious sites, the parish and cathedral church.  I also explored the ways in which music was used as a tool of religious instruction, propaganda and devotion, as well as its ability to foment both harmony and discord in a range of different communities.  I have published a monograph and a number of essays and articles stemming from this research, and this is an area in which I retain an active interest.

My last major research project, for which I was awarded a three-year Early Career Fellowship from 2010-2013 by the Leverhulme Trust, was on the Ten Commandments and the English Reformation. The Commandments were a vitally important text, little known for most of the middle ages due to the pre-eminence of the Seven Deadly (or Cardinal) Sins.  All that changed around the time of the Reformation.  In England especially, the Decalogue rapidly became ubiquitous: a staple of religious education, church decoration, liturgical invocation, theological speculation and moral instruction.  Taken separately, the commandments speak to some issues of enormous significance for early modern belief and society – iconoclasm, violence, criminality, gender relations – but, taken together, the Law of God also assumed a central role in determining the new Protestant interpretation of  key theological concepts such as faith, good works, justification and sanctification.

My current project involves recovering some 'lost voices of the Elizabethan age' by examining a collection of virtually unknown letters in the English State Papers.  I am interested in recovering the religious, cultural, social, political and economic views, values and identities of a group of 'ordinary' people, whose voices would not ordinarily have been preserved by the historical record.  As part of this, I am also interested in exploring the cultures of counsel and complaint in Elizabethan England, by which ordinary people felt that they could legitimately seek redress for their personal troubles and grievances by writing to the Queen herself and her chief representatives.

Other activities

I regularly speak at conferences and seminars in Europe and North America, and I am currently the director of Birmingham’s Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS), for which I also manage the website and social media.

I am a member and was also (between 2011 and 2015) General Secretary of the European Reformation Research Group (ERRG).

I sit on the editorial board of the monograph series St Andrews Studies in Reformation History, formerly published by Ashgate, now by Brill.  I also peer-review articles and am a frequent reviewer of books for journals including English Historical Review, History, Journal of British Studies, Reformation and Renaissance Review and Journal of Early Modern History.

I contribute to a collaboratively-authored early modern blog, the many-headed monster.

Some recent conference papers:

  • August 2016.  'Lost voices of the Elizabethan age: the religious identities of some "ordinary" people as seen through their extraordinary letters.'  Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, Bruges, Belgium.
  • May 2014.  'Music in the post-reformation parish church: a theme and variations...'  Warwick Symposium on Parish Studies - Parish Soundscapes, University of Warwick.
  • April 2014.  'Picturing the Ten Commandments in the Post-Reformation English Parish Church.'  The Ten Commandments in medieval and early modern culture, University of Ghent.
  • October 2013.  'Keeping it Holy: Remembering the Sabbath in Reformation England.'  Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico, US.

Some recent seminar papers

  • 11 November 2015, 'Decalogue Boards and Popular Belief in Post-Reformation England', Centre for Early Modern Studies seminar, University of Exeter.
  • 3 February 2015, 'Puritanism and the Ten Commandments in Post-Reformation England', Religious History of Britain 1500-1800 seminar, Institute of Historical Research (IHR), London.
  • 16 October 2014, 'Picturing the Ten Commandments in the Post-Reformation English Parish Church.'  Thursday afternoon seminar, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.
  • 20 November 2013, 'The Ten Commandments in the Post-Reformation English Parish Church.'  Early Modern British and Irish History Seminar, University of Cambridge.

Publications

Monographs

  • Jonathan Willis, The Reformation of the Decalogue: The Ten Commandments in England, c.1495-1625 (forthcoming).
  • Jonathan Willis, Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England: Discourses, Sites and Identities (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).

Edited volumes

  • Jonathan Willis and Laura Sangha (eds), Understanding Early Modern Primary Soruces (Routledge, 2016).
  • Jonathan Willis (ed.), Sin and Salvation in Reformation England (Ashgate, 2015).
  • Jonathan Willis and Elizabeth Tingle (eds), Dying, Death, Burial and Commemoration in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Britain and Europe (Ashgate, 2015).

Articles

  • Jonathan Willis, 'The Decalogue, Patriarchy, and Domestic Religious Education in Reformation England', in John Doran and Charlotte Methuen (eds), The Church and the Household (Studies in Church History vol. 50.  Woodbridge: Boydell, 2014), pp. 199-209.
  • Jonathan Willis, 'Nature, Music, and the Reformation in England', in Peter Clarke and Tony Claydon (eds), God's Bounty? The Churches and the Natural World (Studies in Church History vol. 46. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2010), pp. 184-193.
  • Jonathan Willis, '"By These Means the Sacred Discourses Sink More Deeply into the Minds of Men": Music and Education in Elizabethan England', History, 94.3 (2009), pp. 294‐309.

Essays

  • Jonathan Willis, 'Music and Religious Identity in Elizabethan London: the Value (and Limitations) of the Churchwardens' Accounts', in Valerie Hitchman and Andrew Foster (eds), Views from the Parish: Churchwardens' Accounts c.1500-c.1800 (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), pp. 179-198.
  • Jonathan Willis, 'Introduction: Sin and Salvation in Reformation England', in Jonathan Willis (ed.), SIn and Salvation in Reformation England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), pp. 1-22.
  • Jonathan Willis, '"Moral Arithmetic" or "Creative Accounting"?  (Re-)defining Sin through the Ten Commandments', in Jonathan Willis (ed.), SIn and Salvation in Reformation England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), pp. 69-87.
  • Jonathan Willis and Elizabeth Tingle, 'Introduction: Dying, Death, Burial and Commemoration in Reformation Europe', in Jonathan Willis and Elizabeth Tingle (eds), Dying, Death, Burial and Commemoration in Reformation Europe (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), pp. 1-24.
  • Jonathan Willis, 'Repurposing the Decalogue in Reformation England', in Dominik Markl (ed.), The Influence of the Decalogue: Historical, Theological and Cultural Perspectives (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013), pp. 190-204
  • Jonathan Willis, 'Protestant Worship and the Discourse of Music in Reformation England', in Natalie Mears and Alec Ryrie (eds), Worship and the Parish Church in Early Modern Britain (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 131-150.
  • Jonathan Willis, '"A Pottle of Ayle on Whyt Sonday": Everyday Objects and the Musical Culture of the Post-Reformation Parish Church', Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson (eds), Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture, (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 211-220.
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