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The John Rylands Library and The University of Manchester hosted an International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ISECS) International Seminar for early Career Scholars, co-sponsored by the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS), 8-12 September. The Conference was directed by Professor Jeremy Gregory, President BSECS, University of Manchester, and Professor Penelope Corfield, Vice-President ISECS, Royal Holloway, London University.

ISECS conference delegates

Delegates and organizers of the International Conference for Early-Career Scholars in Eighteenth-Century Studies, outside the John Rylands Library.

The Conference was an immense success. One of the Early Career Scholars called it ‘transformative’ and all were awed by the surroundings of the John Rylands Library in which the event took place, several taking the opportunity to pursue research in the Reading Room. The fourteen participants (it should have been fifteen but one Russian delegate was refused a visa) came from twelve countries around the world, including Russia and Ukraine. Several colleagues from the University and Library came to individual sessions, including Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Frank O’Gorman. One of the current John Rylands Research Institute Fellows, Dr David Manning, also made a valuable contribution to the discussions and questions following individual papers. A new feature of this ISECS event was an introductory workshop on presentational and chairing skills, while Dr Gareth Lloyd spoke on developing editorial skills, based upon his experience of editing the Charles Wesley letters project.

Cartoon by one the delegates to the International Conference for Early-Career Scholars in Eighteenth-Century Studies, showing her colleagues.

Cartoon by one the delegates to the International Conference for Early-Career Scholars in Eighteenth-Century Studies, showing her colleagues.

The Conference theme was ‘Eighteenth-Century Arts of Communication: in manuscript, in print, in the arts, and in person’. It was addressed in fourteen specialist presentations, plus three keynote lectures. The outcome was a stimulating set of discussions. Specific case-studies included the changing nature of interpersonal greetings; the role of periodicals; the advent of the novel; the art of close reading; communication by sight and sound in the theatre; theatre design; monarchical play-writing; the use of letters and personal journals; letter-writing manuals; the role of laughter and bawdy sociability; the impact of imaginary cross-class and cross-ethnic dialogues; and links between graphic satire and conventional art. In the final roundtable session, participants reflected on emerging big themes such as the importance of printed texts as a mechanism of change; the role of religion; the use of old works in new ways; ideas and thinkers to be understood in the context of their social reception; and the stimulus of dynamic cross-cultural changes.

Professor Corfield paid handsome tribute to the contribution of The University of Manchester and in particular to that of the John Rylands Library and for the provision of some late opening. She writes: ‘The John Rylands Library provided an atmospheric and congenial seminar venue plus very helpful guidance to their Special Collections’.

Some of the papers drew upon the Library’s own 18th-century literary and historical collections, notably that of Dr Natalia Voloshkova (University of Donetsk, Ukraine) whose paper utilised the Library’s recently acquired papers of the 18th-century bluestocking Mary Hamilton, in particular Hamilton’s travel journals relating to her visit to Spa in 1776. Dr Voloshkova’s paper forms part of a larger future project using the Mary Hamilton papers, ‘Intellectual “Salon” Culture: the Bluestocking Identity and Lifestyle of Mary Hamilton and her Circle of Female Friends’.

The proceedings of the Conference will be published in the Honore Champion Editeur series Lumieres internationals (Paris), while studies using material in the Library’s collections may also be considered for publication in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library.

Peter Nockles