Report on first Annual CRECS Conference, 17 May 2016

On Tuesday 17 May 2016, Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR) opened its doors to welcome the attendees of the first annual CRECS student conference.

After partaking in a welcome hot beverage—at a safe distance from the special collections of course!—the morning was devoted to student papers. These papers were delivered by a wide array of students from second year undergraduates to third year postgraduate researchers. The atmosphere was splendid, everyone delivered fantastically confident and supremely interesting papers on topics from counterfeiting coinage to memory in Wordsworth. For myself, what struck me as a common theme of all the papers was a demonstration of the richness of eighteenth-century language, and the complexities it yields. From the emotive rhetoric of court cases to the poetics of Ann Yearsley, Hannah More and William Wordsworth, from the complex doubleness of gothic rhetoric to the voice of the traveller in Welsh and Scottish tours, the presentations captured the richness and diversity of the period. For many student delegates, it was their first experience delivering a conference paper and you could not have asked for a more supportive and engaged audience. All the students have been invited to publish their papers on this blog so watch this space!

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Following a quick lunch break, the afternoon sessions were devoted to interactive workshops. The first workshop was run by the Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour (1760-1820) project, hosted by Dr Mary-Ann Constantine and Dr Liz Edwards. Curious Travellers is a four-year AHRC-funded research project, launched in September 2014, and jointly run by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) and the University of Glasgow. Its purpose is to explore Romantic-period accounts of journeys into Wales and Scotland. The focus is on the writings of the Flintshire naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) and the aim is to open a window into the vivid and entertaining accounts present in travel diaries.

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Dr Mary-Ann Constantine and Dr Liz Edwards introduce the travel writing workshop.

The workshop was divided into two parts, the first focusing on the travel writing of Thomas Pennant and run by Mary-Ann. We were shown extracts of Pennant’s accounts of Holywell and St Winefred from his 1778 Tour in Wales. We were initially invited to consider the rhetoric of Pennant’s writing and Mary-Ann drew our attention to the ways in which nature is explained by religion. We then compared the extract from Pennant to extracts from Richard Warner’s A Second Walk Through Wales: August and September 1798, William Bingley’s North Wales and Henry Skrine’s Two Successive Tours throughout the whole of Wales, all also discussing the well of St Winefred. This exercise demonstrated how echoes of Pennant’s writing reverberate throughout subsequent travel accounts, particularly the terminology. It also revealed the importance of reading travel accounts and their relation to historical study. For example, Bingley’s account discussed the manufacturing at the Brass Battery Mills and implicated the factory in the slave trade and global capitalism.

The second exercise, led by Liz, introduced us to women’s travel writing with extracts from Hester Piozzi, Mary Anne Eade and Mary Brunton. Tentatively titled ‘Borders and Boundaries’, this aspect of the project seeks to explore the invisible and yet policed boundaries that faced women in the eighteenth century. We were invited to peruse the extracts and offer our thoughts on any aspects that interested us. Fashion and dress were two topics that arose, from what the women were wearing to the comical descriptions of ‘dirty’ French garments. Tying in with the title of ‘Borders and Boundaries’ there did seem to be aspects of impediment in the women’s work, from walks not undertaken to languages not understood.

The second workshop was devoted to the Lady’s Magazine project, hosted by Dr Jennie Batchelor, Dr Koenraad Claes and Dr Jenny Diplacidi. Based in the University of Kent, The Lady’s Magazine: Understanding the Emergence of a Genre is a two-year Leverhulme-funded project that will provide a freely accessible and fully annotated index of the magazine’s contents from its first issue in 1770 to the launch of its new series in 1818. We were lucky enough to view SCOLAR’s own collection of bound copies of the Lady’s Magazine for the duration of the workshop. Jennie Batchelor began by asking a seemingly simple question: who is the magazine’s imagined audience? Purporting itself to be an entertaining companion for the fair sex; with essays on female manners, fashion plates and musical scores, the magazine was seemingly marketing itself to young ladies. And yet, on closer inspection many of the contributors were male and Jennie informed us that school boys and girls would have read the magazine. Not merely just for women then, and at a price of sixpence, the magazine was one of the most popular periodicals of the time. At its height the circulation was ten to fifteen thousand copies a month and the topics within it were fantastically diverse, from reviews of the first coffee machine to accounts of English birds.

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Dr Jennie Batchelor, Dr Koenraad Claes and Dr Jenny DiPlacidi introduce the Lady’s Magazine workshop.

The second part of the workshop saw each table assigned a topic: celebrity and fame, news, fashion and masculinity. We were invited to discover what the Lady’s Magazine had to say about each of these topics. It soon became abundantly clear that it was impossible to form an opinion in a short ten minute browse since the content was so diverse and expansive. What particularly struck us as a collective, were the similarities to magazines published today. For example, the description of ladies dresses at a party was reported in much the same way as dress at the Oscars is reported today. One particularly entertaining aspect of researching the ‘news’ segment was the treatment of America during the American Revolution, in which the editors seemed undecided as to whether report on America in the ‘Home News’ segment or the ‘Foreign News’ segment. This workshop demonstrated the importance of looking at periodicals and their particular materiality.

Our final workshop of the afternoon was delivered by Professor Tim Stretton of St Mary’s, Nova Scotia. In Tim’s own words, the focus of his research is ‘the legal position of married women in the English past, tracing the Common Law idea of ‘coverture’ over many centuries, prior to the dismantling of most of its effects between the 1870s and 1925.’ In his research, a key aspect is the study of court cases and the literature surrounding them. One such example of this was the focus of Tim’s workshop, ‘The True Case of the Lady Lawley’. As background to the case, Tim informed us that Lady Lawley had been accused of being an accomplice of Japhet Crook. Crook was an infamous fraudster who sold Irish mineral mining rights to Ireland, knew the method for restoring virginity, a serial bigamist who reportedly arranged a double wedding for himself, whilst in prison, to the prison landlady and his maid. There was certainly a collective curiosity about what this man must have looked like!

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Professor Tim Stretton introduces the final workshop on law, crime and matrimony.

Tim introduced us to the study of court cases by stating that he regards them as fiction, owing to the use of rhetoric and the fact that they are always presented to an audience. Tim invited us to consider what we thought of the pamphlet detailing the case of Lady Lawley. In terms of Lady Lawley being a married women, the pamphlet attempts to distance Lady Lawley from the crime of financially supporting Crook through the emphasis on the fact that it was her Uncle who initiated payments and that she had no legal control over her money. And yet, the pamphlet is filled with financial details such as interest rates and exact amounts of transactions, which seems to contradict the earlier point. Tim informed us that while legally women had no control over their money, in reality this was not the case with many of London’s merchant wives acting as important money lenders. The pamphlet clearly tries to portray Lady Lawley as a victim, duped by her generous and sympathetic nature. In doing so the pamphlet goes into amazingly accurate details concerning words uttered and timing of meetings. The purpose of this is clearly to lend authenticity to the pamphlet, and yet, the level of detail renders the text almost too accurate to be true.

And so, following closing remarks by Jamie Castell and Damian Walford Davies re-iterating praise for the speakers and pleasure at the whole event. The inaugural CRECS mini conference drew to a close and we retired upstairs to enjoy a well-deserved wine reception to reflect upon the delights of the day and start working on a screenplay of the life of Japhet Crook …

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