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Call for papers: The Beauty of Letters – text, type and communication in the eighteenth century

THE CENTRE FOR WEST MIDLANDS HISTORY and the BASKERVILLE SOCIETY are pleased to announce their annual conference will take place in Birmingham, 14-15 March 2015

In his preface to Paradise Lost (1758), John Baskerville described himself as ‘an admirer of the beauty of letters’.

This conference takes his phrase as a starting point to explore the production, distribution, consumption and reception, not only of letters, but also words, texts and images during the long eighteenth century (c. 1688-1820). This conference will consider how writing, printing, performance and portrayal contributed to the creation of cultural identity and taste, assisted the spread of knowledge and contributed to political, economic, social and cultural change in Britain and the wider world.

Writing: teaching ofwriting and penmanship; styles of handwritten script; copybooks; shorthand;handwritten documents such as diaries, account books, letters, legal and parliamentary documents; the creation of texts by authors, poets, playwrights of the eighteenth century.*

Printing: printers and typefounders; technology and technology transfer; typefaces and typography;manufacture and distribution of texts; libraries, and education; publishing and bookselling; the production of different forms of print media: books, newspapers, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, conduct manuals, scientific and medical literature, histories, travel literature, religious, legal and political texts, ephemera and street literature.

Performance: the enactment and communication of text in theatre, music, politics and education through writing and performance of plays, ballad operas, songs and lyrics; the presentation of scripts and musical scores; censorship; theatre programmes; theatre merchandising; speeches; sermons; scientific lectures.

Portrayal: the visual representation of text in maps; scientific drawings; architectural drawings; astronomical sketches; political/satirical cartoons; posters, labels; signs and shop-fronts including both architectural and fascia lettering; advertising.

*please note the conference is not exploring literary criticism


Jenny Uglow: author, critic, historian, and editor. Her books include Elizabeth Gaskell: a habit of stories; Hogarth: a life and a world; The Lunar Men: the friends who made the future; Nature’s engraver: a life of Thomas Bewick; and A gambling man: Charles II and the Restoration. Her latest book– The pinecone– is a study of a forgotten Romantic heroine, the Cumbrian, Sarah Losh, an antiquarian, architect and visionary. Jenny also reviews for press and radio and has been an historical consultant on bbc classic serials.

Susan Whyman: a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She is the author of The pen and the people: English letter writers, which won the Modern Language Association prize in 2010; Sociability and power: the cultural worlds of the Verneys. Susan is also co-editor of Walking the streets of eighteenth-century London.


Professor Caroline Archer and Dr Malcolm Dick invite contributions from academics, research students independent scholars, and heritage professionals. Please send a suggested title, synopsis (200 words) and biography (100 words) via a Word attachment to both: caroline.archer@bcu.ac.uk and m.m.dick@bham.ac.uk.

Closing date: 31 August 2014.

This conference is organised in conjunction with The University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University


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