We asked contributors to the current issue of Parergon to give us some additional insights into their research and the inspirations for their articles. In this post, Rickie Lette, who recently completed his PhD in history at the University of Tasmania, talks about his piece, “John Harrison: A Case Study of the Acculturation of an Early Modern Briton” (doi:10.1353/pgn.2019.0005).
My current research interests are principally focussed on the personal and wider cultural and social effects of encounter and exchange between Europeans and non-Europeans from the late medieval to early modern periods, with a particular emphasis on Christian-Muslim relations. My doctoral thesis reappraises the engagement of Britons with Moroccans between 1625 and 1684, examining not only the influence that their personal experiences had on their attitudes and sense of self-identity, but also on Anglo-Moroccan relations more generally during this formative period of English imperial development. It was a subject that combined my interest in inter-cultural relations and a country which had fascinated me from my first visit. And, it also provided scope for a challenging project through which I could, hopefully, make a substantial contribution to knowledge in the field.
North Africa, and the wider Mediterranean region, played important roles in England’s development as an imperial power, contributions which have largely been overlooked. While increasing attention has been given to the consequences of cultural interaction of Europe’s imperial expansion, like a number of other scholars working in this area, I believe that to properly historicise the resulting interactions and understand their impact it is necessary to move beyond generalisations and simplistic binary perspectives, and examine these encounters more closely at the level of the individuals who were directly involved. Doing so helps reveal a much more complex reality in which traditional prejudices were frequently challenged and new ideas and perspectives emerged. The case study of John Harrison, with which the article is concerned, embodies the approach I adopted in the wider study and some of its key general findings.
One distinctive aspect of my recent work has been my use of theories, methodologies and studies from other disciplines including literary criticism and anthropology. In particular, I have found the phenomenon of personal acculturation as expounded in cultural psychology a useful concept which can help provide novel insights into the nature and consequences of historical encounters between European and non-European peoples. Such analysis reveals that the socio-political conditions which existed in Morocco in the early seventeenth century not only affected diplomatic and commercial relations with England — which has already been studied by others — but they also had the potential to deeply impact the perceptions and responses of Britons who sojourned there. These insights assist our understanding of the broader dynamics and cultural impacts of encounter.
The article is the first published output arising from my doctoral thesis. Over the next eighteen months, I hope to publish one or two other essays as well as a monograph based on this work.
Parergon can be accessed via Project MUSE (from Volume 1 (1983)), Australian Public Affairs – Full Text (from 1994), and Humanities Full Text (from 2008). For more information on the current issue and on submitting manuscripts for consideration, please visit https://parergon.org/