Another award for Anna

Congratulations again to one of our CECS doctoral students, Anna Mercer, on being awarded a Stephen Copley Postgraduate Research Award this year. This is a highly competitive annual bursary scheme run by the British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) in order to support postgraduate research in the UK or aboard.

Anna will be going to the USA for her research trip:

‘In October/November 2015 I will be travelling to the USA to study specific manuscripts at three libraries: The Library of Congress, Washington DC, and the New York Public Library (NYPL) and the Morgan Library in New York City. My PhD study includes work on the manuscripts of Percy and Mary Shelley, specifically instances in which Mary Shelley influences Percy Shelley’s writing in draft. I have identified particular sources in the USA that will provide potential examples of this in manuscript evidence not previously studied for the purposes of understanding the Shelleys’ collaboration. For example, in the Library of Congress there is a notebook used by both Shelleys from 1814-1818 that is not available in any other format (online or facsimile). Informed by my previous critical and analytical study of Shelley texts, I will apply my rethinking of their collaborative working style directly to these original manuscripts. As well as receiving the BARS Stephen Copley Postgraduate Research Award I have also been awarded money from the University of York’s AHRC-funded Research Training Support Grant. I am very grateful for the funding awarded to me to allow me to carry out this research.’

Keats-Shelley essay prize success

keatsshelleyprizeannamercerCongratulations to one of our English Phd students, Anna Mercer, for winning the runner-up Keats-Shelley essay prize, awarded annually by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association.

Her essay was entitled ‘Beyond Frankenstein: the Collaborative Literary Relationship of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley’, and is based on her thesis work. Carol Ann Duffy was the prize chair this year.

There’s more information on the prize here:

Waterloo 200 Public lectures at York

The first in this series of public lectures organised by Catriona Kennedy for CECS was held on Tuesday evening to a packed room of nearly 100 people. Many thanks to Professor Alan Forrest, who gave a wonderful paper,  ‘Waterloo, France and the Napoleonic Legend’, to a very appreciative York  audience.

A very appreciate audience

The next lecture in the series will be on Tuesday 5th May at  6.30pm in the Huntingdon Room at the King’s Manor. Dr Martin Howard will be giving the paper ‘Wellington’s Doctors and Waterloo’, with apparently some rather gory images.

British Studies Centre, Bardic News, and the Highlands

**********IMPORTANT OSSIAN CONFERENCE 18-19 APRIL 2015**************

Emma Major reports:

Earlier this month I went to the Highlands to bring a York Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies perspective to the very exciting new interdisciplinary MLitt in British Studies that Kristin Lindfield-Ott (English Literature) and Jim McPherson (History) have developed together with their colleagues archaeologist Simon Clarke and Innes Kennedy from Philosophy.

This brilliant MLitt enables students to explore and interrogate Britishness from the Roman era to now. From Britishness in sport to Britain’s colonial legacies, and from Adam Smith and his legacy to ideas of nation, the MLitt encourages critical thinking about communities and identities. The Highlands setting itself is central here, problematizing the dominant, often English, often metropolitan, accounts of Britishness. My own sense of terms such as ‘north’ and ‘south’ was stretched and eventually inverted as, a southerner by birth and upbringing (England, Barcelona, and south Wales) and Yorkshire resident for almost 20 years, I crossed snowy mountains to reach the most northern point of Britain I’d ever seen, only to find my UHI colleagues travelling south to meet me there. Their explanation of the various locations of the university’s colleges was fascinating, and I left with a much more vivid sense of the patchwork of northern identities that proliferate across the hills and islands of Scotland.

On my visits in January and March I was deeply impressed by the interdisciplinary intellectual community at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Through video-conferencing and email they’ve managed to forge a genial and inspiring network community. Kristin and Jim are kindly continuing to educate me in the ways of twenty-first century sociability and I am now proud to be part of this circle through iMessages and boozy FaceTime conversations – all, of course, of a purely intellectual and interdisciplinary kind. The eighteenth-century writers and philosophers in whom we share research interests would (probably) have approved. When Jim was an invited speaker at a UN conference in New York recently we even fell back on that very eighteenth-century form of communication, the transatlantic epistle.

Kristin’s innovative work on Ossian – her current book project – was the inspiration for the major Ossian conference she is running in April. It’s attracted the attention of the national press and the approval of Alexander McCall Smith… Find out more at

Cromarty, with Archie the first British Studies Dog

Cromarty, with Archie the first British Studies Dog

This is of course a very interesting time to be thinking about national identity and Britishness. The YES TO SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE campaign is still going strong… This is of course a very interesting time to be thinking about national identity and Britishness. The YES TO SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE campaign is still going strong…

University of Scottish Highlands and Islands logo



John Brewer’s visit to CECS

Sarah Goldsmith

On the 24-25th February, CECS and the Department of History had the privilege of hosting Professor John Brewer for two days. On Tuesday night, speaking to a packed room of staff, postgrads and even some stray undergrads, John gave a paper on his latest research project: ‘Sublime Tourism, Neapolitan Science and Counter-Revolution: Vesuvius and Pompeii in the late 18th and early 19th century’.

Citing Vesuvius’s consistent, but low-level eruptions as creating the perfect sublime site, John began with his analysis of Vesuvius’ remarkable 1824 Visitors Book (kept at the Hermit’s Hut, in case you were wondering). The book contains over two thousand entries from men, women and children of numerous nationalities, including the enormously fat Duke of Chandos. John explored how these entries, written in the immediate aftermath of visiting the fiery abyss, revealed an emphatically social experience that could range from standard expressions of Sublime appreciation to resolute refusals to never venture hence again, tales of male bravura, and the stirrings of lava-fuelled romantic passion.

Outlining the conjunction between the Sublime and the scientific, John argued that the first acted as a stimulus for the second, while the second allowed for a sublime experience to remain undisturbed by ignorant terror. Building upon this, John pointed towards the two perspectives typically used in Pierre-Jacques Voltaire’s numerous depictions of an erupting Vesuvius. Commissioned by the French aristocrats, the first “close” perspective revealed these men as the Philosophical traveller, calmly admiring the Sublime spectacle of flowing lava with an Enlightened observational and aesthetic gaze. The second “long-range” perspective, with a fiery, erupting Vesuvius in the background, depicted panic-stricken Neapolitans fleeing with only Catholic superstition as their guide to understanding the terrors around them.

"Eruption of Vesuvius" by Pierre-Jacque Volaire, 1774

“Eruption of Vesuvius” by Pierre-Jacques Volaire, 1774

"Eruption of Vesuvius in 1771", Pierre-Jacques Volaire, 1779

“Eruption of Vesuvius in 1771”, Pierre-Jacques Volaire, 1779

John’s consideration of Sublime tourism formed but one strand in his wide-ranging and fascinating consideration of the shifting European and Neapolitan approaches to Vesuvius. Covered everything from the tri-yearly liquefaction of St. Januarius’ blood (videos available on Youtube for the curious) to Giovanni Pacini’s 1825 opera, L’ultimo giorno di Pompeii, he made a convincing argument for the broad psychological appeal of the volcano. Within this, in examining the relationship between Vesuvius and the excavation of Pompeii, John explored how the volcano became a historical artifact. John argued that the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century discovery of bodies in Pompeii fundamentally shifted the perception of the site and its relationship with Vesuvius to one of human tragedy. Driven by an ethos of sympathy, AD 79 became, and remained, Vesuvius’s biggest historical eruption. This almost totally supplanted the eruption of 1631, which had been the historical eruption most commonly associated with the volcano.

Shifting back and forth as a symbol of divine wrath in the early modern period and mid-nineteenth century to the focus of eighteenth-century rational Enlightenment phenomena and the pride of the nineteenth-century Neapolitan scientific community, and functioning as an important symbol of both the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries during the French Revolution, John highlighted Vesuvius as a powerfully versatile, unpredictably obedient symbol throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

The following day, John led a Master Class, ‘”Historical Distance” and Scale’, for postgraduates. Leaving the lava and eruptions of Vesuvius behind us, we instead explored concepts of distance and perception as useful tools for framing historical inquiry. Over two hours, John led us in a wide-ranging discussion, considering everything from issues of power and ethics in history (does the historian have a role, right, or even a duty, to make interventions into the present?) to the aesthetics aims of writing history, the role of veracity, problems of narration, and the theoretical possibility of using “distance” as a barometer rather than “difference” or “otherness”.

Feeling challenged by the need to avoid giving “armor-plated” papers that are so coherent that all criticism bounces off, we thanked John for his wisdom and generosity in giving two hours of his time to being pelted with post-graduate questions and retired, allowing him to (hopefully) get a very well-earned cup of tea.

Jon Mee and an Amphibious Animal

I was lucky enough to be involved at a Library Day at the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne yesterday. Thanks to the good offices of the President Paul Gailiunas and the Librarian Kay Easson I was able to get access to the archives. Paul showed me this page from the minute book for February 1800 where a member seems to have tried to sketch the platypus newly arrived from Port Jackson. The specimen still seems to survive in the Hancock Museum, although the member didn’t seem to know what to call it at the time. Platypus large Paul also showed me the newly rediscovered recommendation book, which suggests that the LPS committee was equally confused about its attitude to women. It appears that they had always been allowed as members – from the inception of the Society in 1793 – but the committee didn’t really want to encourage it despite the efforts of one member John Clennell. I’ll post a blog over at the Networks of Improvement blog on the exchanges between Clennell and the committee soon.

I should add that Paul, the President of the LPS, told me that when they received a wombat they didn’t know what to do with it, so it was stuffed standing on its hind legs