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BSECS 2016. Day 3 – Highlights.

January 9, 2016



I don’t think there’s anything more melancholy than the spectacle of people dragging suitcases around on the last day of a conference.

It’s always a bitter-sweet sort of day – even the best of conference panels is shadowed by the knowledge that everything is starting to wrap up.

And the panels remained of a very high quality.  The Pope panel which started the day for me would have graced any table.  Not that I’ve ever been to a bad Pope panel.  We learned about the degree of political, legal and even physical threat to which Pope was exposed – further destabilising (not that it’s very stable any more) any notion of a Habermasian public sphere of largely uncensored discourse.  And we also learned more of the complexities of Pope’s theological politics – the extent to which he occupied a strange yet urgent position of Catholic yet ecumenical opposition to the soul-less place seeking of the Whig episcopacy.  Oooh and Homer – let’s not forget Homer – and the extent to which Pope’s Homer created a kind of hypnotic diction that influenced and determined the rhetorical choices of even those translators who declared themselves most keen to free themselves from Pope’s influence.

More fun to follow.  The readoutloud session that was instituted a few years ago – and which this year involved reading out loud from John Gay’s Trivia.  Some of had been fighting over Trivia in the days leading up to the reading.  Good natured fighting I should say.  The Art of Walking the Streets in London is a kind of mock georgic (to go with Gay’s great mock pastoral The Beggar’s Opera – published two decades later) – and this is the poem’s tercentenary.  In between readings we had some commentary – regarding the odd seriousness of the poem, its reflections on death, its useful information regarding dodgy neighbourhoods and appropriate footware – but nothing that allowed us to forget the rhythmic enjoyment of the poem – its enduring bounce and energy.

Did I have lunch?  I have no recollection.

I was then despatched to the most secretive and sequestered of BSECS panel venues  – the Old Law Library, to chair the panel with the shortest title on the programme – just called “Orient” – its obtrusively abbreviated moniker serving to highlight the reductive implications of Orientalist reductions of all things “eastern”.  It was a liquid sort of panel, embracing discussion of Rasselas and the Ethiopian origins of the River Nile, with corresponding implications for weather manipulation as well as Andrew Marvell’s single drop of dew – and the distilled possibilities for imperial and counter imperial discourse as well as a discussion of tea, and tea’s place in sinophile and sinophobe discourses in an English context of naturalising different forms of consumption.

Several years ago, it was decided that the best way to get people to stay to the very end of the conference was to put a Champagne Reception at the very end of it.  This very crude and obvious strategy has proved immensely successful.  Four distinguished speakers gave upbeat commentaries on the state of eighteenth century studies and we all agreed that we need more.

More public engagement.
More Historians.
More engagement with museums and galleries.
More discussion of undergraduate teaching.




And then as the final applause was subsiding I fled instantly away towards Oxford train station.  Because BSECS goodbyes are unbearable.



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