Nurturing Happiness: Affective Health and Wellbeing in the North West of England

A CASE project in Economic and Social History exploring the affective health and wellbeing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Partner Overview 

Little Moreton Hall is a Tudor household located in Congleton, Cheshire. It is now part of the National Trust’s portfolio of historic properties, and is therefore a registered charity.

Project background

Little Moreton Hall

This CASE PhD project (2019-2023) challenges the widespread belief that happiness is a modern phenomenon and confronts the accompanying assumption that people prior to the eighteenth century were particularly sad and melancholic. It rehabilitates a positive history of affective health and wellbeing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and establishes that people could and frequently did attain happiness in practice.

It teases out the multiple ways that people in the North West of England actively nurtured and invested in their happiness through exploring the relationships between people, objects and environments. In collaborating with the National Trust’s Little Moreton Hall and the New Vic Theatre Company, as well as Chorley Council’s Astley Hall and the University of Manchester’s Institute of Cultural Practices, the project disseminates its findings in interactive and innovative ways that will speak to different demographic groups.

Research team

  • Lead PhD Researcher: Abigail Greenall, PhD Candidate, Department of History, SALC, University of Manchester. 
  • Industry Supervisor: Kate Picker, visitor experience manager at Little Moreton Hall, National Trust. 
  • Primary Academic Supervisor: Professor Sasha Handley, Department of History, SALC, University of Manchester. 
  • Secondary Academic Supervisor: Dr Stefan Hanß, Department of History, SALC, University of Manchester. 

Research approach

The project is underpinned by an innovative approach to the history of happiness. It juxtaposes a broad range of historical sources and methodologies to uncover new information about daily life and events in the past. It combines a detailed analysis of written, material and archaeological sources belonging to eight families across the North West of England. The diversity of sources and the project’s focus on people’s everyday lives relies on the successful fusion of interdisciplinary research methods: historical, archaeological, anthropological and philosophical. 

The project will result in two pieces of written work — a masters dissertation and PhD thesis — that will contribute to and transform current social, cultural, emotional and material histories of the early modern period. It will also bring historical and archaeological methods to bear on public history by liaising with local heritage sites in the redevelopment of their current historic interpretation packages and ongoing public programming. 

Expected outcomes

Little Moreton Hall’s current interpretation is based exclusively in the Tudor period. There is a wealth of previously unexamined documentary evidence (including hundreds of family letters and no less than four household accounts books) pertaining to the seventeenth century at the British Library. By photographing, transcribing, critically analysing and contextualising these important sources, the project will provide the site with a wealth of new information, and, in the long run, enable the Interpretation team to expand their current focus on the Tudor period. In sharing this research and in leading skill share sessions with National Trust volunteers the project also intends to enrich their historical knowledge and provide them with important new skills.

Follow Abigail’s work as resident PhD researcher at the Hall here. can be seen here

Abigail's research will finally be condensed and brought in-line with the National Trust’s programming guidelines and brand standards for it to be disseminated more widely to a non-academic audience. She will also play a crucial role in the design and creation of a 3D model and online exhibition of Chorley Council’s Astley Hall, which will play a key role in enriching Astley Hall’s Arts and Heritage team school outreach programme and public accessibility.

In shadowing Kate Picker as she plans a new exhibition at Little Moreton Hall and in receiving visitor experience training from her, Abigail will  develop the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to become an active participant in the design and creation of an interpretation package and public programming schedule at an important local heritage site, which is valuable for a social historian who seeks to make an impact within academic institutions and the wider community. 

This CASE project in Economic and Social History is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) via the North West Social Science Doctoral Training Training Partnership (NWSSDTP).