Robert Southey and Romantic-era literature, culture and science: 1797, 1817, a Bicentennial Conference

Robert Southey and Romantic-era literature, culture and science: 1797, 1817, a Bicentennial Conference
The Clifton Club, Clifton, Bristol 11-13 April 2017

In the 1790s, an extraordinary confluence of poets, scientists, publishers and political campaigners came together in Bristol. An important port city and center for the slave trade, Bristol became a hub for a radical coterie of writers whose work and conversations bridged nascent divisions between humanistic and scientific concerns.

By 1817, many of these same writers - including Humphry Davy, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge - had emerged as establishment figures calling for radical journalists to be imprisoned and laboring-class inventors to be prosecuted. This bicentennial conference focuses on the transformation of Bristol’s radical writers, doctors, and experimentalists in the aftermath of changes that transformed the city, most importantly the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, and the formation of the Bristol Philosophical and Literary Institution in 1817.

The conference will explore several linked concerns: How does our perspective on Romanticism shift when we take Bristol as an evolving center for Romantic scientific and literary culture? What does the 1797-1817 frame reveal about the changing relations between poetry and science, and between both and politics? What questions does the twenty-year trajectory of Southey, Davy, Coleridge and their circle pose for Romanticists in 2017?

Confirmed keynotes include: Ian Packer and Lynda Pratt, editors of Southey’s Collected Letters, on “Southey in context, 1816-18”. Frank James, editor of Faraday’s Collected Letters, on “Davy of the Pneumatic Institution and Davy of the Royal Society in 1817”. We envisage days of intense discussion in the Regency rooms of the Clifton Club, and evenings of relaxed conviviality in the many bars that surround it. The conference fee – to include dinner in the stunning surroundings of the Clifton Lido – will be ca. £100-120. Five bursaries of £100 each are available for graduate students/independent scholars.

Proposals for 20-minute papers, of no more than half a page, are welcomed on all aspects of Southey and the Bristol circle and its legacy – including, for instance, Thomas Beddoes, Erasmus Darwin, the Edgeworths, Joanna Baillie, Hannah More, William Godwin, Francis Jeffrey, Leigh Hunt, Mary Robinson, Robert Lovell, Joseph Priestley, William Taylor, William Hazlitt, William Wollaston, William Wordsworth; slavery and abolition, medicine, chemistry, experimentalism, political writing, travel and exploration.

Send your proposal by email to by 10 November. Be sure to write ‘Southey conference’ in the subject line and your name and email at the top of the proposal. If you’d like to be considered for a bursary, say this at the head of your proposal.

The conference is organised by Tim Fulford and Dahlia Porter. It is supported by the Friends of Coleridge, De Montfort University, and the University of Glasgow.

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