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Ah, I get to see the Menu. BSECS 2016.

November 18, 2015


If you’re like me, and the prospect of a huge eighteenth-century studies conference in early January is the only thing that reconciles you to the onset of Christmas, then an early peek at the Oxford BSECS programme is like the chiming of magical little bells.

And the Bill of Fare illustrating what will be my twenty-first consecutive BSECS conference is looking predictably appetising.  Titles like “They knitted and saw nothing”: Women, the French Revolution and the French National Narrative” are typical of a first day that blends high politics with detailed material culture – finding new (or rather old) systems of signification to help us reconceive associated threads of hope and fear in a revolutionary age.

Who could not love a conference that includes a panel paper with the title “Not just kissing butchers: The 1784 Westminster Election and the growing masculinisation of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire”?  Although this clashes with another panel with a paper just called “When film gets Austen right”.  Given how apoplectic I get when film gets Austen unforgivably wrong – I feel almost duty bound to attend that one.

But I’ll feel a bitter sweet sense of loss whichever panels I do and don’t go to.  Papers heard are sweet but papers unheard – sometimes – are sweeter still.

But the papers don’t have to have funky titles.  I’ll attend the annual Pope and Swift panel if I can just because I know the speakers are marvelous and any excuse to listen to people be erudite about Pope and Swift offers a sublime morning as far as I’m concerned.  And there’s a deal of Richardson – which will be good for me – and – ultimately – my students.

There also appears to be rather a lot of “masculinity” in Oxford in 1916 – not macho posturing of course – we’ll have none of that – but serious interrogations of how masculinity was constructed in the eighteenth-century – with a view to testing the uncertain and fearful limits of what it meant to be a man rather than a woman in the age of so-called enlightenment.  “Swearing or not Swearing? Performing Manliness in Eighteenth-Century Theatre” is just one representative title that gives 2016 its very gendered and self conscious character.

The official theme for the conference is ‘Growth, Expansion and Contraction’  – which is about as sexy as title as you can get, if you stop and think about it.  As usual, I suspect this will turn out to be more of a leitmotif than a theme – something that floats through the conference giving a sense of rhythm and occasion rather than something that constrains or inhibits.

So – my twenty-first consecutive BSECS awaits.  It is, after all, the most wonderful time of year – the beginning of a new year which is always heralded for me by a wonderful staging of the height, depth and breadth of my own ignorance.

There is nothing I need more.



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