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Gossips and Goodfellows

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 24 March 2014

Social networking appears to be expanding our circles of friendship just as our sense of community is contracting: Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely, major new history of how the meaning and experience of friendship have changed over the centuries.

Episode One: Gossips and Goodfellows

In the 16th century, friendships were generally limited to an overlapping network of family members and neighbours, who lived and worked in close proximity, and shared their lives at home, in church, at the well, the bake-house and the tavern.

Today, our friendships often extend across the globe, and our Social Networks can extend to thousands.

Thomas Dixon launches the series by talking with the anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, whose influential research explores the number of people with whom each individual is cognitively capable of sustaining a meaningful relationship.

The newly named "Dunbar's Number" is around 140, and Thomas maps this figure onto the historical picture of village life. He speaks with historians Bernard Capp and Naomi Tadmor about close-knit, real-life friendships in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He learns how a group of female "Gossips" supported their friend Mary Freeman when her husband accused her of giving him the pox; and about two young "Goodfellows"in 1617, who got so drunk that they pissed into a chamber pot and shared the contents.

This is the beginning of an absorbing story in which both the similarities and the differences between friendship past and present emerge.

Producer: Beaty Rubens

Presenter: historian Dr Thomas Dixon is the Director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London.


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