Principal Investigator: Professor Jon Mee
This project challenges the idea of literature as the product of isolated genius read in private. It looks at the sociable life of reading and writing in clubs and societies in a period that saw a rapid expansion in all forms of civil association, especially those committed to the idea of ‘improvement’. The project examines the role of the ‘literary’ in a world of rapid technological and commercial expansion, where associations formed to conduct scientific experiments or combine for the improvement of roads and street lighting or argue for parliamentary reform. In the process, it also attempts to examine how definitions of the ‘literary’ were changed and contested in these associations; their relationship to nineteenth-century disciplinary specializations; and how they defined themselves in relation to other ideas of ‘improvement.’ The project will also explore the politics of inclusion and exclusion, how these related to questions of location, in the home, the coffee shop or tavern etc, and how participation related to issues class, gender, national identity and race. This work builds on Jon Mee’s Conversable Worlds: Literature, Contention, and Community, 1762-1830 (Oxford 2011), funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2006-2009).
During the course of the project (2011-2015), we will build a database of clubs, memberships, and activities in Britain and empire, including America, over the period, tracking the movement of people, texts, and ideas. Ultimately, this database will be accessible through a website.
The project is funded by a Leverhulme project research grant.
We’d particularly like to hear from current societies that descend from the eighteenth-century clubs we’re studying.
Visit the Networks of Improvement blog
Principal investigator: Professor Jon Mee firstname.lastname@example.org
Research fellows: Dr Georgina Green email@example.com
Dr Cassandra Ulph firstname.lastname@example.org
Doctoral candidate: Jennifer Wilkes email@example.com
Eighteenth-Century Clubs, Societies and Networks (ECCSN)
- Programme -
10.30-11.15 Registration and Coffee
11.30-13.00 Panel 1: Metropolitan Societies
Georgina Green (University of York): Translating hemp into a 'Band of Reciprocal Interest': The Society of Arts and the construction of a trans-Atlantic actor-network in the 1760s
Matthew Sangster (University of Birmingham): British Institutions, Literary Production and National Glory in the Romantic Period
14.00-15.30 Panel 2: Book Clubs and Reading Societies
Ina Ferris (University of Ottawa): Bordering Literary Culture: The Place of Rural Book Clubs
Christy Ford (University of Oxford): Urban reading associations in Britain: practices and representations
15.45-17.15 Panel 3: Scotland and Improvement
Alexander Dick (University of British Columbia): Reading, Religion, and the Politics of Improvement in Eighteenth-Century Scotland
Mark Towsey (University of Liverpool): 'Attended with great improvement as well as entertainment': Reading for Improvement at the Selkirk Subscription Library, 1772-1814.
17.15-19.30 Convivial conversation at a local hostelry
9.30-11.00 Panel 4: Convivial Societies
Rhona Brown (University of Glasgow): Literary Communities and Commemorations in the Edinburgh Cape Club
Kate Compton (York Army Museum): "Improved by friendship": York's Good Humour Club and the founding of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society
11.15-12.45 Panel 5: Authors and Networks I
David O'Shaughnessy (Trinity College Dublin): Stages of Irish patriotism in 1780s London: Irish Playwrights and the Benevolent Society of St Patrick
Julian Pooley (University of Leicester): ‘A Laborious and Truly Useful Gentleman’. Mapping the Networks of John Nichols (1745-1826), printer, antiquary and Biographer
13.45-15.15 Panel 6: Authors and Networks II
Mark Philp (University of Warwick): Converazioni in Prison - Godwin's networks
Timothy Whelan (Georgia Southern University): Mary Steele, Mary Hays, and the Convergence of Women’s Circles in the 1790s
15.30-17.00 Panel 7: Transpennine Enlightenment
Cassie Ulph (University of York): ‘Under the existing rules’: Anne Lister and the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society
Jon Mee (University of York): Transpennine Enlightenment: The Northern Lit Phils
Location: Huntingdon Room (K/122), The King's Manor
Registration will is available here