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Community and its Limits, 1745-1832

Friday 4 - Saturday 5 September, 2015

Community and its Limits, 1745–1832, was a conference hosted by the School of English in association with the Leeds Library, and generously supported by the British Association for Romantic Studies. We’re very grateful to everyone who came, and who helped to make the two days so stimulating and enjoyable with their expert papers, incisive questions, and convivial company.

A community needs limits: someone has to be in, and someone has to be out. What defined the limits of cultural communities—communities of writers and radicals, of artists and improvers, of faith and taste—in the long Romantic period? The theme of community has recently been powerfully invigorating for studies of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature and culture. What limits are there to that approach?

Community and its Limits will explore the making, preservation, and breaking of group identities in Enlightenment and Romantic Britain, across a chronological range from Charles Wesley and David Hume to Elizabeth Fry and Thomas Love Peacock, and across a geographical range from Canada to Italy via (among other places) the Mendip Hills, London, and the battlefields of Culloden and Waterloo.

As well as investigating communities’ temporal and spatial boundaries, Community and its Limits will reflect on critical methods for the study of social networks. Are ‘communities’ different from coteries, factions, or circles, for instance? The conference’s special focus will be on the prickly side of community: on the ways in which creative and political communities could succeed or fail in negotiating discord.


Friday 4 September

Registration from 12pm

1pm Matters of Principle
Dr Tim Milnes (Edinburgh), ‘Hume, social empiricism and the limits of trust’
Rachel Sulich (Leeds), ‘Communal deviance: Charles Moore’s “modern race of suicides”’
Matthew Ward (St Andrews), ‘Laughter, ridicule, and the limits of sympathetic feeling’

Tea and coffee

3pm National Communities
Dr Helen Stark (Newcastle), ‘A “Charnel-Vault”? Dead bodies and national identities in
Walter Scott’s Paul’s Letters to His Kinsfolk (1816)’
Dr Jane Hodson (Sheffield), ‘“I hae been sae lang accustomed to the Scots”:
Language, community and identity in novels 1800–1836’
Honor Rieley (Oxford), ‘Imagining the emigrant reader, 1802–1832’

Departure for town centre

5.45 for 6pm Keynote public lecture
The Leeds Library
Professor Murray Pittock (University of Glasgow)
Memory, Erasure, Community and Culture: The Battle of Culloden
in Scotland and the British Empire, 1746–1846

Drinks reception

Saturday 5 September

Breakfast from 8.30am

9am Satire and Sympathy
Thomas Null (Edinburgh), ‘Shelleyan poetics, Scottish Enlightenment sympathy and the limits of convention’
Anna Mercer (York), ‘Expanding perceptions of the Shelleys’ community: Epipsychidion and “The Bride of Modern Italy”’
Prof. Michael Bradshaw (Edge Hill), ‘Loitering on the threshold: Thomas Hood’s comical communities’

Tea and coffee

11.15am Places of Community, 1789–1802
Dr Joanna Wharton, ‘Material practice and “vital religion” in the Mendip schools and clubs’
Dr Matthew Sangster (Birmingham), ‘London existences and community boundaries’
Anna Fleming (Leeds), ‘Wordsworth’s creative ecotone: Navigating community boundaries and
tension in the Vagrant poems’


1.45pm Life-Writing
Dr Laura Davies (Southampton), ‘Ways of reading the spiritual “Lives” of early Methodist women’
Dr Cassie Ulph (York), ‘Domestic community or professional network? Keeping company with the Burneys’
Dr Claire Sheridan (Queen Mary), ‘Community in hindsight: Peacock’s nostalgia for the Shelley circle’

Tea and coffee

3.30pm Conference Roundtable
Community, Society, and Scholarship in Leeds, 1768–2015
Eveleigh Bradford (Thoresby Society)
Janet Douglas (Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society)
Lynda Kitching (Leeds Civic Trust)
Andrew Morrison (The Leeds Library)
Chair: Professor Jon Mee (University of York)

4.30pm Concluding lecture
Dr Felicity James (University of Leicester)
Voices of Dissent: Community, History and Difficulty in Rational Dissent, 1775-1840

Plenary Speakers

Murray Pittock is the Bradley Professor of English Literature at the University of Glasgow, and Pro Vice-Principal with responsibility for the Kelvin Hall development, bringing together library, museum, academic and commercial research. His many books include The Invention of Scotland (1991, 2014), Scottish and Irish Romanticism (2008, 2011), The Myth of the Jacobite Clans (2nd ed. 2009), Material Culture and Sedition (2013), and The Road to Independence? (2nd ed. 2014). He led the AHRC Connected Communities project Georgian Glasgow, and is currently PI on Allan Ramsay and Edinburgh in the First Age of Enlightenment and CI on Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century (the Oxford Burns). His study on Culloden: the battle in history, historiography and memory is due out from Oxford in 2016, and he is a prominent broadcaster, curator, and commentator on Scottish culture, history, politics, and national identity.

Felicity James is a lecturer in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature at the University of Leicester, and vice-chair of the Charles Lamb Society. She is the author of Charles Lamb, Coleridge and Wordsworth: Reading Friendship in the 1790s (2008) and the co-editor of Religious Dissent and the Aikin–Barbauld Circle, 1740–1860 (2014). She is currently working on a study of sociability, community, and life-writing in Dissenting circles from Mary Hays to Elizabeth Gaskell.

Conference Organisers

The conference is hosted by the Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Research Group in the School of English. As well as the organising committee members listed below, the group includes Professor David Fairer, Professor Vivien Jones, Dr Simon Swift, and Professor John Whale, along with a number of postgraduate members.

Jeremy Davies is a lecturer in English and the author of Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature (2014). A book about the role of geological time in contemporary thinking about environmental crisis is forthcoming in 2016, and his next project will look at utopian communities and non-human agents in the Romantic period.

Richard De Ritter is a lecturer in the long eighteenth century. He is the author of Imagining Women Readers, 1789–1820: Well-Regulated Minds (2014), and of articles in RomanticismEuropean Romantic ReviewScottish Literary Review, and elsewhere. He is now working on a study of wonder, observation, and animals in children’s literature by women authors.

David Higgins is an associate professor of English literature. His books include Romantic Genius and the Literary Magazine (2005) and Romantic Englishness: Local, National and Global Selves, 1780–1850 (2014). He is the leader of the AHRC research network Creative Communities, 1750–1830. He is writing a book about the Mount Tambora volcano as part of a study of Romanticism and environmental catastrophe.

Robert Jones is a senior lecturer in English literature, and the author of Gender and the Formation of Taste in Eighteenth-Century Britain (1998) and Literature, Gender and Politics in Britain during the War for America (2011). He is now engaged in two projects dealing with Richard Brinsley Sheridan: a book about his theatrical career at Drury Lane, and a study and edition of his political writings.


Community and its Limits is the latest event in an ongoing programme of research into communities of cultural production in Britain in the long eighteenth century. Scholars at Leeds and elsewhere have been working together to examine the ways in which cultural artefacts—poems, paintings, plays, scientific treatises, political essays, and more—emerged out of sociable networks and collaborative relationships. How were artistic and creative works shaped by their communal origins, and how did those artworks in turn affect the social groups that encountered and responded to them?

Over the past few years researchers associated with this programme have scrutinised a great variety of communities, ranging from private and informal friendship groups to grand national establishments. We have explored the formation of eighteenth-century and romantic culture by—for instance—publishing houses, patronage networks, book clubs, art buyers, musical societies, charities, theatres, churches, subscription libraries, civic bodies, literary coteries, self-improvement associations, and formal scientific and geographical institutions.

Community and its Limits will continue to expand the diversity of this inquiry into cultural communities. Its special focus will be on marginal and problematic cases for the idea of ‘community,’ and on the relationship between the making and the breaking of social ties.

As well as exploring the difficult side of communal sociability in the long eighteenth century, we invite delegates to think about the limits of ‘community’ as an interpretive category. By their nature, communities exclude more people than they include. The policing of the boundaries of a community might be overt or subtle, but it is rarely altogether absent. Extolling the benefits of community can sometimes be a way of constraining independence and dissent, whether deliberately or unwittingly. Thinking about cultural communities has—we hope—been a valuable enterprise for eighteenth-century scholarship. But what distinctions do we need to make between different types of communal relationship? How can we develop a critical vocabulary that responds to the endlessly muddled and variegated nature of past social and cultural organizations?

Earlier Projects

The organisers of Community and its Limits and its related projects are the members of the Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Research Group within Leeds’s School of English. From 2008 to 2012 our work on these themes took the form of The Creativity Project: 1740-1830. The aim of that project was to think about creativity ‘as a social process… to find ways of moving beyond genius, inspiration, and originality, towards thinking about literary creativity in terms of collaboration, connection, and development.’

Community and its Limits is in part a successor to the Creativity Project conference that took place in September 2008, Contesting Creativity. The programme for Contesting Creativity is here. Selected papers from that conference were published as a special issue of the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies in 2011, edited by David Higgins and John Whale.

The Creativity Project continued as a seminar series from 2009 to 2012. That seminar staged a total of fifteen events, featuring lectures by scholars from ten institutions.

Next, the AHRC research network Creative Communities, 1750–1830 staged three convivial two-day workshops between April 2013 and January 2014. The network was a partnership between the University of Leeds, UCL, and the University of Southampton, with David Higgins as Principal Investigator and John Whale as Co-I. The first workshop, in Leeds, looked at ‘Dissenters and Evangelicals’; the second, in London, at ‘Metropolitan Institutions’; and the third, at Chawton House, at ‘Regional and National Networks.’ The network’s website is

Most recently, as part of the build-up to Community and its Limits, the research group ran another series of six seminars at Leeds in 2014–15, under the theme Literature, Community, Environment, 1700–1830.

Some relevant reading

  • Behrendt, Stephen C., British Women Poets and the Romantic Writing Community (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)
  • Clark, Peter, British Clubs and Societies 1580–1800: The Origins of an Associational World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  • Cox, Jeffrey N., “Communal Romanticism,” European Romantic Review 15:2 (2004), 329–34
  • Cronin, Richard, Paper Pellets: British Literary Culture After Waterloo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • Fairer, David, Organising Poetry: The Coleridge Circle, 1790–1798 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Haslett, Moyra, Pope to Burney, 1714–1779: Scriblerians to Bluestockings (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)
  • Higgins, David, and John Whale, eds, Contesting Creativity, special issue of Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 34:2 (2011), 143–290
  • James, Felicity, Charles Lamb, Coleridge and Wordsworth: Reading Friendship in the 1790s (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
  • Krawczyk, Scott, Romantic Literary Families (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
  • Lau, Beth, ed., Fellow Romantics: Male and Female British Writers, 1790–1835 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009)
  • Mee, Jon, Conversable Worlds: Literature, Contention, and Community 1762 to 1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • Newlyn, Lucy, Reading, Writing, and Romanticism: The Anxiety of Reception (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • Pittock, Murray, Material Culture and Sedition, 1688–1760: Treacherous Objects, Secret Places (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)
  • Roe, Nicholas, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997)
  • Russell, Gillian, and Clara Tuite, eds, Romantic Sociability: Social Networks and Literary Culture in Britain, 1770–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • Schmid, Susanne, British Literary Salons of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)
  • Stewart, David, Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)
  • Stillinger, Jack, Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)