One does not have to be a card-carrying postmodernist to understand that historical periods do not possess inherent characteristics. ‘Eras of Reform’, ‘Ages of Revolution’, ‘Triumphs of Reform’, and ‘Centuries of Reformation’ exist only in, and as, texts. They represent, in the simplest of forms, readings of the past. The nomenclatures we employ to demarcate and characterise particular historical moments embody fundamental ideological assumptions, encapsulating an idée fixe, and exposing the crux of the creative—or, if you prefer, the scholarly—process. Traditionalists might already be crying foul, insisting that our titles, or period characterisations, reflect rather than impute salience. History, as Geoffrey Elton might have instructed us, reports rather than constructs the past. The writing of history, Elton suggested in 1967, ‘amounts to a dialogue between the historian and his materials. He supplies the intelligence and the organising ability, but he can interpret and organise only within the limits set by his materials. And those are the limits created by a true and independent past.’ Revealingly, though, our book titles generally describe or construct processes, rather than recall events; and processes are abstractions whose full meaning, as Vico told us long ago, is apparent only in retrospect. Of course the Reformation happened, but not in the same way as the Battle of Trafalgar happened. Thus describing the sixteenth century as ‘The Age of Reformation’ orders the experience of the European West in a very particular way. It was also, and some might say equally, an age of exploration, of empire, of inflation, of hunger, and of the explosion of print culture.