Dr Courtney Thomas is an Edmonton-based historian of early modern Britain and Europe. She received her BA (honors) and MA from the University of Alberta and received her doctorate in History and Renaissance Studies from Yale in 2012. Her doctoral dissertation was supervised by Keith Wrightson (dissertation committee members included Keith Wrightson, Carlos Eire, Charles Walton, and Brendan Kane) and her work was awarded the Hans Gatzke Prize for Outstanding Dissertation in a Field of European History.
Dr Thomas’s dissertation project, entitled “Honor and Reputation Among the Early Modern English Elite, 1530-1630,” focused on a close reading of multi-generational family paper collections in order to develop a fuller picture of how the concept of honor was employed in daily life. Dr Thomas was drawn to this area because honor was a ubiquitous concept in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England and was invoked in a wide range of social, political, and economic interactions. While historians have moved beyond a preoccupation with its associations to violence and sexual reputation and pointed to the other, diverse elements that constituted honor in the period, there has been no systematic, holistic investigation of its social meanings in the community of practice of early modern elites, arguably a social group who invoked the concept of honor more than any other. The varied and multi-vocal meanings of honor have been pointed to in a series of discrete contexts but no work has simultaneously connected these various strands together and extended the range of contexts in which honor was manifested. Her project achieves this. It also attends to themes such as economic involvements, the making of marriages, supervisions of servants, household management, involvement in mediation, political engagement at the both the local and national levels, and the management of family relationships as potent markers of honor. Her work, in keeping with recent insights, emphasizes honor’s complex (yet flexible) role as a representational strategy. It argues that it was, paradoxically, something that was frequently invoked as a structuring principle of social life while its meanings were diffuse and varied and that it was the malleability of honor that both made it such an enduring social value and ensured that it had very real, yet not fixed, meaning for early modern elite men and women.
The main source base for this work was an exploration of aristocratic family papers. These included such diverse materials as estate and financial records, diaries, and personal correspondence, sources which reveal much about the manner in which honor was played out in everyday social interactions and self-presentations. Research for the project was conducted at an array of archives across the UK and the US, including the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Huntington Library, the National Archives of the UK, and Cambridge University Library, among others. The material examined at these repositories was utilized to explore the manner in which claims to honor influenced and guided the actions of prominent families, in sometimes very contradictory ways, and to reassess the role of honor as a structuring principle of social and political life.
Dr Thomas is currently in the process of revising her dissertation work and is submitting the monograph for publication consideration as she works on a new project on the role of mediation in early modern English society (alongside several other projects). In addition to her academic work, Dr Thomas serves as the Director of Services and Governance for the Graduate Students’ Association of the University of Alberta.
During her tenure as a doctoral student, Dr Thomas was the holder of a fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as the recipient of several other research grants. An article based on her MA thesis (entitled “Queen Anna of Denmark: Social Roles, Political Agency and Gender Expectations at the Jacobean Court, 1603-1619”) was published in the journal Quidditas and she has also published a piece about bestiality in England in the years 1558-1625 in the journal The Seventeenth Century. An article based on her doctoral research on honor and its importance among elite families as a technique of maintaining order was published in the journal Cultural and Social History and she is currently working on a piece about the display and representation of anger among early modern English gentlewomen.
Dr Thomas’s main areas of interest are the social and political history of the Tudor and Jacobean courts, gender construction and role maintenance at the social level in early modern England more broadly, the political and cultural roles of early modern queens (both consort and regnant) and elite women, ceremony and the symbolics of display at early modern European courts, honor culture in early modern England, and the social role of violence and mediation among elites.
Dr Thomas was also featured by the American Historical Association in their member profiles spotlight series.