The Paper Parish: The Parish Register and the Reformation of Parish Memory in Early Modern London

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This essay explores the development of parish record-keeping in early modern London, examining the implications of changing practices for communal memory. Building on the study of more than 50 parish registers, it investigates who wrote the parish records, how they were kept and how they were used. Many of the extant records are the product of a ‘memorial moment’ at the turn of the seventeenth century, involving a concerted attempt to re-order and re-present parish papers as memorial objects: the material representations of parish memory. These registers highlight the emergence of an ongoing communal investment in and oversight of record-keeping practices, while the evidence of annotations and corrections in parish registers demonstrates the persistence of oral forms of communal memory, contesting the textual record. The development of the parish register in the period thus emerges as a key site for renegotiating the forms and habits of parish memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-68
Number of pages23
JournalMemory Studies
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

I wish to record my particular gratitude to the staff of the London Metropolitan Archive for their assistance during the research for this article. Thanks also to the editors of this special issue and to audiences in Newcastle, Reading and London where early versions of this material were delivered.

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


  • communal memory
  • early modern London
  • parish record-keeping
  • parish registers


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