This interdisciplinary Collaboratory will discuss the public sphere and emotional change in eighteenth-century Britain from the perspective of literature, philosophical ideas, political and religious debate, print culture and literary sociability. We are especially interested in: literary and political controversies; the rise and development of the novel; satire; contemporary ideas about sentiment and the passions; and the shared culture of sensibility, sociability and politeness. The principal aim of the meeting is to consider the 'emotionalization' of eighteenth-century print culture and its larger influence on contemporary public affairs via the formation of communities – either public or self-selecting – of sympathetic or sceptical readers. Indeed sympathy and the communication of ideas and sentiments among the reading public(s) are central to our interests.
The period under discussion is the ‘long eighteenth century’ (from the late 1600s to the early 1800s) wherein changes of psychological expression occurred alongside the development of wider and deeper print cultures. Various social and artistic media served to channel and contain fissile
emotions while also providing scripts for creating and communicating the sentiments. The Collaboratory is designed to encourage a more general discussion about the cultural and intellectual context of the eighteenth-century
British public sphere by looking more broadly at the growth of a print culture which seems to exemplify Hume’s (and other thinkers’and writers’) emphasis on sympathy and emotional communication. Among other things it will be important to consider how - and how far - communities were united by humorous but biting criticism, as well as
positive sympathy, and whether the balance between these emotions can be seen to change over time. This is not to suggest that there was no emotion in public discourse before 1700, but rather to argue that the coincidence of burgeoning print culture and an emphasis on feeling as the key to ‘authentic’ humanity may have had an unprecedented impact on the style of public debates, especially among a middle class readership.
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