Edinburgh – cradle of the Scottish Enlightenment – hosts ISECS 2019… don’t miss out!

Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle.

Last summer’s ISECS Executive Committee meeting and conference left its mark on me. It took place in Edinburgh – also the location of the next ISECS Congress in 2019 – and I was both overwhelmed and impressed by the vibrancy of the city and the thoroughness of the preparations for the 2019 Congress. So admittedly, this blog is my direct appeal to all eighteenth-century scholars to mark the 2019 Congress, which takes place from 14th to 19th July 2019, as a ‘must attend’ in their conference diary. Held every four years and bringing together over 1,000 researchers from all disciplines related to eighteenth-century studies, ISECS congresses are ideal opportunities for scholars to present their latest work, establish new collaborative networks, and, of course, discover great places.

The Voltaire Foundation’s links to ISECS (and indeed Scotland) run deep. Both the VF and ISECS were the brainchild of Theodore Besterman, and the second ISECS Congress was held in St Andrews, just up the road from Edinburgh. Indeed, it was at that very meeting that the idea for the Complete Works of Voltaire (Œuvres complètes de Voltaire) was hatched, and where Besterman established its first editorial committee, headed by William Barber (University of Oxford). Now, over 50 years on, we look forward to celebrating the completion of the project – over 200 volumes in total – at the 2019 Congress.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

Organised by BSECS (British Society for eighteenth-century studies) and hosted by the University of Edinburgh, putting on such a large-scale meeting is no mean feat! Preparations for Edinburgh 2019 were a key topic of discussion at this year’s Executive Committee meeting. From facilities planning (where to run umpteen parallel sessions, making sure that locations are accessible and near each other for possible session-hopping? … what about refreshments?…), establishing the academic programme, organising the early career scholar bursary scheme, to planning an enticing variety of cultural events, I can honestly say that Brycchan Carey and his team have everything covered.

For ‘newbies’ to Edinburgh, consider the city as a place of two halves. To the north of Princes Street, the main thoroughfare, lies New Town, which was built in the late eighteenth century and still boasts fine Georgian houses. To the south is the Old Town, location of the University of Edinburgh and the Congress itself. Edinburgh is compact, and the main tourist sights such as the Castle, the Royal Mile and the Palace of Holyroodhouse are all within easy walking distance.

Edinburgh New Town.

Edinburgh New Town.

So, if you only read one section of this blog, this is why I think ISECS 2019 is a ‘must-attend’ … where else will you be inspired by such a diverse range of papers addressing the central – and pertinent– theme of ‘Enlightenment identities’? What better opportunity to make new connections with early career and established scholars from around the world? What better time to meet publishers face-to-face, discuss your future projects and browse the wealth of books and resources available?

…And some practical tips!

  • bring good sturdy shoes: Edinburgh is ‘undulating’, and your feet are your best means of transport.
  • consider staying in one of the quieter areas of South Side or St Leonard’s (still only a 10-15 minute walk from the University).
  • plan to dress like an onion, i.e. in layers… there’s a reason why the parks are green….
  • don’t limit yourself to the Old Town… walk over to New Town at dusk and admire the sumptuous neo-classical architecture whilst the sun sets over the Firth of Forth in the distance.
  • for refuelling, the Mosque Kitchen is a local gem, tasty, cheap, eat-in or take-out food and right next to the University.

– Lyn Roberts



The formation of a revolutionary journalist: Jean-Paul Marat

Nigel Ritchie is last year’s recipient of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Travelling Award. Please note that the deadline for 2017 is 17 Jan. 2017.

My thesis aims to link the experiences, influences and ideas gained from Jean-Paul Marat’s pre-revolutionary career as a doctor, scientist and political theorist to an analysis of the content, strategy and reception of his journalism during the first year of the French Revolution. This was a time when Marat reinvented himself, first as a pamphleteer reaching out to ‘advise’ the new parliamentary elite, and then, when that failed, as a popular journalist reaching out to ‘educate’ a much broader audience with the benefit of observations, conclusions and experiences accrued from earlier political and legal publications and his 10-year stay in England from 1765 to 1776.

Limbering up on the steps of the book-shaped TGB (“Trés Grande Bibliotheque”) before a long session underground

Limbering up on the steps of the book-shaped TGB (“Très Grande Bibliothèque”) before a long session underground

I am very grateful to the Voltaire Foundation and BSECS for a generous research grant that allowed me to complete vital research Paris during July and August 2016, including accessing reports of legal actions and denunciations in the national, judicial and police archives. These included not only seizures of Marat’s manuscripts and correspondance – the only traces that survive of his personal papers and working methods – but also a unique collection of hand-corrected copies of his Ami du peuple newspaper intended for a later collected edition, and a comprehensive collection of contemporary pamphlets revealing early signs of engagement, often hostile, from other pamphleteers. The correspondance in particular, although a mere snapshot, is invaluable for attempting to trace the extent, and social standing, of his network of subscribers across France.

The Fuksas-designed Pierrefitte Archives currently houses around 180 km of records for the French state since 1789

The Fuksas-designed Pierrefitte Archives currently houses around 180 km of records for the French state since 1789

There is an ongoing problem in the French Revolutionary historiography in understanding the extent of Marat’s contribution to the formation of public opinion in his role as a radical journalist. There is much disagreement between historians over his consistency, his strategy, his style, and even his sanity. However, a closer reading of his work reveals a far more coherent social and political vision, stretching back over twenty years, than previously credited, which allowed Marat to rapidly play an important role during the first year of the Revolution. In particular, the thesis will emphasize how, after switching his focus to journalism in September 1789, Marat’s subsequent persecution by the revolutionary authorities for his relentless critiques of leading figures and institutions – especially former ancien regime legal ones – helped to crystallize his transformation into the ‘Ami du peuple’ persona, a powerful symbol of freedom of expression and resistance to oppression. It will argue that this was largely the result of Marat’s strategy of continually pushing at the boundaries of press freedom and publicizing the consequences, a lesson inspired by the examples of the notorious polemicist Junius and raucous popular support for the politician-journalist John Wilkes, which he had witnessed during his earlier stay in England.

Sustained immersion in the Paris libraries and archives over a seven-week period helped me to build a much richer, composite picture of the nascent revolutionary environment in which Marat was operating, than would otherwise have been possible. As did the extended opportunity to visit and explore many of the places where Marat and his colleagues lived, worked and, occasionally were put on trial, adding spatial awareness and visual texture to an otherwise two-dimensional textual dimension.

– Nigel Ritchie, Queen Mary University of London