Introduction: Petitions and Petitioning in Historical Perspective

Richard Huzzey, Maartje Janse, Henry Miller, Joris Oddens, Brodie Waddell

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This Introduction to the volume begins by charting the growth of a vibrant but fragmented field of research on petitions and petitioning across a wide range of different chronological and geographical contexts. The development of this literature has a number of causes, including dissatisfaction with established narratives regarding the 'rise' of democracy that has prompted an examination of non-electoral political practices, the emergence of e-petitions in the early twenty-first century, and the utility of petitions for recovering the voices of groups, such as women, colonised or indigenous peoples, or refugees, that have been marginalised within the official historical record. Mirroring the structure of the book, the Introduction considers questions of definition, chronology, and impact in turn. With regard to defining petitions as a genre, the Introduction outlines a number of different typologies before analysing the key elements that have historically characterised petitions. The history of petitioning over the longue durée, it is suggested, includes moments of transformation and rapid change that map onto a broader story of social and political modernisation, but these exist alongside deep continuities that remain remarkably stable across long periods and regime changes. Finally, petitions have mattered, regardless of the success or failure of specific requests, because of their many uses for both petitioners and authority. In particular contexts, petitions and petitioning have had the potential, sometimes realised, to catalyse sudden, unpredictable upheavals in politics, society, and the state.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPetitions and Petitioning in Europe and North America: From the Late Medieval Period to the Present
EditorsRichard Huzzey, Maartje Janse, Henry Miller, Joris Oddens, Brodie Waddell
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press/ British Academy
Number of pages30
ISBN (Print)9780197267721
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2024

Publication series

NameProceedings of the British Academy
PublisherOxford University Press/ British Academy

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