Month: January 2016

Week in Review – 28 January

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Cyanotypes of British Algae by Anna Atkins (1843)

Firstly, I’ve been completely enchanted by the images from Anna Atkins’ Cyanotypes of British Algae, reproduced by the brilliant Public Domain Review. Atkins is considered to have been the first female photographer, and was also a prominent botanist and illustrator. See a wider selection of images from the book here.

I was excited to delve into OAPEN-UK‘s final report on open access monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences, available here.

The following seminars, CFPs and events caught my eye:

  • Dr Johnson’s House‘s upcoming events series, including a talk on the relationship between black slaves and lapdogs in eighteenth-century Britain by Stephanie Howard-Smith.
  • Allison Ksiazkiewicz’s forthcoming research lunch on ‘Primitive forms and prospects: geological landscapes in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain‘ at the Paul Mellon Centre.
  • The CFP for the All the Beauty of the World. The Western Market for non-European Artefacts (18th-20th century) conference.
  • The CFP for this Panel on Miscellany in British Consumer Culture.
  • The forthcoming Art History for Artists conference.
  • The programme for Animating the Georgian London Town House.

I greatly enjoyed reading Douglas Fordham’s chapter, ‘Satirical Peace Prints and the Cartographic Unconscious’, in Exhibiting the Empire: Cultures of Display and the British Empire, edited by John McAleer and John MacKenzie (Manchester University Press, 2015): 64-89. The chapter is open-access on Fordham’s page.

I found David Thackeray’s list of film culture sources for historians of empire to be a vital source for asking: what can visual sources tell us about imperial history?

And finally, I’m dying to go to the Millennium Gallery’s exhibition In the Making: Ruskin, Creativity and Craftsmanship, which explores Ruskin’s ideas on making through a broad range of historical and contemporary art and craft, and includes work by Grayson Perry.


Nineteenth-Century Research Seminars

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Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 09.02.03.pngOn 26 May, I’ll be presenting new research on the commonplace books of Ellen Warter at the University of Edinburgh’s Nineteenth-Century Research Seminars. The title and abstract for the paper are below, and the programme for the series as a whole can be found here.

Object biographies: family histories and textual afterlives in the commonplace books of Ellen Warter

This paper will focus on two commonplace books made by Ellen Warter c.1885 (CRC, University of Edinburgh). Unlike many commonplace books, which tend to comprise transcriptions from a wide variety of texts by a range of different authors, over 300 pages of Warter’s texts refer to the history and literary productions of the Brontë family, including excerpts from the sisters’ writings, literary criticism relating to their publications, and information pertaining to their home in Haworth, North Yorkshire. Beyond her documentation of the Brontës, the practice of commonplacing was firmly intertwined with Warter’s own family history. Her father had edited the letters and commonplace books of his father-in-law, the Romantic poet Robert Southey, whilst her mother’s own commonplace book was published in 1861. For Warter then, commonplacing was not only an educative practice, but also an inherently familial one, with her compilation of ‘Brontëana’ consistent with the domestic material practices of her own literary family.

This paper will situate the books between other examples of ‘Brontëana’ and the ‘culture of commonplacing’ more broadly. Employing the framework of the object biography, the paper will consider Warter’s commonplace books as literary assemblage, tracing the constitutive elements of Warter’s commonplace books as they passed from one literary form into the next. At the same time, the paper will demonstrate how the books were inherently biographical objects, redolent with potent familial association, both of Warter’s own family, and that of the Brontës, and whose compilation created material and familial afterlives for its collected contents.

Pedagogy Matters – Set Readings

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This is the first in what I hope will become a regular series about teaching. I currently work as an undergraduate seminar tutor across three of the University of Edinburgh’s departments: History of Art, Architectural History, and Celtic and Scottish Studies. I also contribute to the University of Ohio’s yearly historical linguistics and cultural history summer school, and this year I’ll be teaching as part of the Sutton Trust’s widening participation project for the first time. As such, I consider myself to be a fairly experienced and adaptable teacher. Nevertheless, I’m consistently coming across areas that I’d like to improve upon, or problems that need solutions. It is these that I’m hoping to think about in this series.

On Monday of this week, a fellow History of Art 2 tutor posted John Warner’s blog post ‘When Students Won’t Do the Reading’ to our tutor’s group facebook page. It is, as the author states, a common and complex problem, and one not easily solved. Whilst I enjoyed Warner’s post as an exploration of the topic, I felt that it lacked practical advice on solutions to the issue.

Accordingly, I shared the post on twitter and asked the following question:

I received a relatively large number of responses, many of which reaffirmed the importance of the issue, and many more of which offered advice on how to deal with it. Some suggested emphasising to students the importance of reading as a task, and stressing that attendance is about more than simply showing up. Some also shared their own experiences of what works in class, including the following tasks, some of which I myself have used in the past:

  • dividing students into small groups and giving them a source/piece of writing to respond to
  • having students actively lead seminar groups
  • having students set and ask questions
  • allocating secondary readings to pairs of students, which they present on the following week
  • multiple choice tests
  • using social media
  • giving students a list of questions to discuss as first activity

A few thoughts:

Firstly, I’m not sure that this list necessarily solves the problem of how to ensure the reading is done prior to the seminar itself. Instead, I think that the list offers a number of practical and creative solutions for tutors running classes in which you have a number of students who have yet to do the reading. Certain tasks, such as dividing students into groups and asking them to respond to sections of text, provide time to read and respond to reading not yet complete, saving both you and your class from agonising minutes of silence because, for example, your seminar fell on the day that the essays were due.

Perhaps more significantly though, the list also suggests that the not-reading isn’t really that much of an issue. As such, it provokes a question: is the primacy of the ‘set-reading’ waning? Humanities courses are well known for having heavy reading loads for both lectures and seminars. Yet, practical demands on students’ time (such as the sheer amount of reading and competing ‘hard deadlines’) often mean that they cannot complete reading, even if they’d like to. Whilst I’m sure no one is suggesting that students shouldn’t read deeply and widely into their subject, it seems that perhaps weekly seminars are not the time to ensure that they do. Far more important seem to be ways of getting students to meaningfully participate within the class itself, where discussion can operate alongside, or even independently from, the reading. Here, I refer you to Dr. Lucinda Matthews-Jones’ excellent discussion on ‘Notes on Seminar Participation’ over on her blog, another response to our twitter discussion.

Just as I noted regarding Warner’s original post, I’m not sure I’ve offered any real solutions here. Instead, writing this post has encouraged me to reflect on the idea that whilst talking about a set-reading is a traditional format for a seminar, it shouldn’t be the only one. Digital technologies, group work, and student-led tasks all offer valid and important additions and alternatives to discussing the reading, and I look forward to exploring them further in my own tutorials.


ECRS – Monday 18 January 2016

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Please join us for the second session in the Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar series. Yuanyuan Liu (University of Edinburgh) will be speaking on ‘Garden, City and Visuality: The Twenty-Four Views of Yangzhou in Yangzhou huafang lu (1797)‘, and Carlos Portales (University of Edinburgh) will be discussing ‘Unity in Multiplicity towards the Eighteenth-Century: The Objective Formula of Beauty and its Transition to Subjectivity’.

All welcome. Seminars held at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities,
University of Edinburgh, from 4:30-6pm. 

Week in Review – 16 January

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The Lent Term programme for the Things 1400-1900 research seminar series, themed around ideas of construction and reconstruction in material culture.

Notches Blog’s Archives of Desire project.

This podcast review of Empires and Colonies in the World.

The CFP for the Domesticating the Exotic, Exoticising the Domestic: Global Movements of Goods and Practices c.1750-1850 conference.

The programme for The University of Oxford’s Photography Seminar. 

The CFP for the fascinating sounding Gendering Museum Histories conference.

The York Summer Theory Institute in Art History on the subject of Art and Temporality.

Michael Ralph’s Histories of Capitalism syllabus – a fascinating and useful resource.

This CFP for a panel at this year’s BAVS conference, on ‘Travel Writing and the Periodical Press‘. N.B. The theme of this year’s BAVS conference is Consuming (the) Victorians.

The Maritime Mobilities: Critical Perspectives from the Humanities conference.

The CFP for Sacred stuff: Material Culture and the Geography of Religion.

The Spring 2016 programme for the Wellcome Library’s History of Pre-Modern Medicine seminar series.