The Teachings of Dr Rebecca Bailey and the 17th century

Students describe her challenging module as 'taught with passion'

Body, Mind and Soul: Seventeenth-Century Literature and Culture sounds stuffy and draws to mind a time of extreme class divide where a woman’s place is in the home, yet students describe this challenging module as taught with passion. 

There are traces of colonialism peppered throughout Dr Bailey’s teachings, as well as the integral role that seventeenth century English housewives played in global trade. 

Dr Rebecca Bailey, who specialises in early modern literature, boasts of a 100% pass-rate for this module, which she attributes to the research-led teaching in the team. 

Alongside these fascinating historical topics, seventeenth century writing by women feeds into Dr Bailey’s lectures and are inspired by food cultures at North Wales’ Chirk Castle. It is a medieval fortress that began its construction in 1295 and highlights oppressive global trade practices during the 1600s, and according to Dr Bailey: 

“It’s through recipes that women’s voices are most frequently heard in the seventeenth century”. 

Across the continents, a myriad of trade routes opened to introduce Britain to new cultures and made their way into women’s kitchens. 

Kim F. Hall and Gitanjali Shahani’s ground-breaking research on early modern race and colonialism, which focuses on food as the key ingredient in literature, inspired Dr Bailey and encouraged further discussions around women and the impact they had on the legitimization of an emerging system of global trade. 

In the seventeenth century, sugar travelled across the Atlantic and spices from the East Indies made their way to Britain in increasing quantities.

Dr Bailey described the sensual use of spices in the English home and said, “Through women’s use of spice and sugar in their household recipes, these “foreign” and “exotic” foods gradually lost the threat of their “strangeness” and became more familiar”. Suddenly, a world that seemed so far away was much closer to home. 

In her module teaching, Dr Bailey introduces her students to the darker side of colonial oppression and said: 

“The English housewife had no direct link with sugar plantations in the Caribbean, but she liberally used sugar in her everyday recipes, which demonstrates how the tentacles of colonialism reached even into the everyday domestic routine of the seventeenth century English household”. 

Currently, Dr Bailey is editing a James Shirley play for the Oxford University Press and throughout her teaching, invites her students to learn about the publishing process with her work on the project. Many of Shirley’s works are inaccessible yet he was a major playwright of King Charles I's reign between 1625 and 1642. Dr Bailey’s work offers invaluable insight into contemporary culture and believes this project is long overdue. By involving her students, they can learn about seventeenth century language and overcome the difficulties of working with a language that is now relatively different to the modern-day version of our own. 

Dr Bailey teaches across LJMU’s English Literature programme and engages her students with such fervour, they choose to return to specialise in her subject matter for 3rd year projects and dissertation research.

Danielle Fleming is an LJMU MA in Journalism student writing about putting Students at the Heart at Liverpool John Moores University.

The Student at the Heart Conference is on June 15 & 16.  Updates about the conference and related-topics are available at the SATH hub.


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