By Dr Angel Luke O’Donnell, Academic Liaison for the Georgian Papers Programme, and Teaching Fellow in North American History, King’s College London.
On 17 July 2017, Windsor Castle hosted the fourth GPP coffee morning. This was the first coffee morning that Windsor has hosted and it was a great chance to share the work on the programme with new colleagues in the Royal Archives and the Royal Library. Two fellows from the William & Mary College and of Early American History and Culture scheme, Ann Little (Colorado State University) and David Hancock (University of Michigan) joined us for the session. We also heard talks by Prof Arthur Burns, King’s College London, and Roberta Giubilini and Rachel Krier, both from the Royal Archives.
The session began with a welcome from Oliver Walton and a short round of introductions. Thereafter, Arthur Burns, Academic Director, shared his experience of writing research grants in the UK environment. Arthur explained that over the course of his career the development of research outputs other than books, and especially digital products such as database, is becoming an increasing priority for funding bodies. As such, the development of GPP digital outputs will have important implications for academic colleagues over the coming years.
Ann Little gave us a fascinating overview of how clothing has shaped women’s torsos from the Elizabethan period to the early nineteenth century. The ideal female figure changed from a flat triangular shape, in which women’s breasts were flattened and the waist cinched in, to an Empire waist in the nineteenth century that accentuated the bosom. Ann’s research focuses on the political significance of fashion at the turn of the nineteenth century, and in particular the politics of the new exposure of European and Euro-American women’s breasts in the high-waisted fashionable gowns of the time. Europeans and colonial North Americans were accustomed to seeing women’s breasts depicted in the print culture of the eighteenth century (and presumably in person in North America), but those women were overwhelmingly Native American, African, or enslaved African-Americans, not free, white women. Ann is asking: why did the Empire waist appear when it appeared, and why did it disappear, and what does this say about the aftermath of the age of revolution and the possibility for women’s citizenship?
By the time that we met for the coffee morning, Ann had only been in the archives for a week. However, during that time, she had been working through the papers associated with George III’s daughters. Unfortunately, the six young women hardly commented at all about the dramatic shift in women’s fashion from triangular stays to the Empire waistline. Therefore, after Ann’s presentation we had an interesting discussion about where to find additional sources about this striking change in the shape of women’s torso. One suggestion was to use the portraiture of the Royal Collections, most of which has detailed provenance records, so Ann would be able to trace the development over time. Ann also looked at material in the Royal Library for prints and drawings of new dresses. Ann’s presentation prompted a fascinating discussion of how to overcome a perennial problem in research when historical correspondents are not forthcoming in the way that a researcher expected.
David Hancock presented next. Like Ann, David had not yet had the opportunity to explore the archives, and in fact, the coffee morning was the first day that David had been in Windsor. David’s project is a biography of the Earl of Shelburne, and so he gave us an overview of Shelburne’s life by talking us through various collections in Bowood House and the British Library. As in the June coffee morning, it was great to hear about how the Windsor material fitted into the broader environment of historical documents. Shelburne had a storied career. He served as aide-de-camp to George III before becoming an MP and rising to Prime Minister, overseeing the initial stages of the peace talks to end the American War for Independence. It was particularly interesting to hear about Shelburne’s intellectual and social coteries. Shelburne had a huge library of books and often allowed leading intellectuals of the day to use his collections. He also kept up correspondence with members of the Scottish Enlightenment such as David Hume, Adam Smith, and Dugald Stewart. David’s work in the Royal Archives was only in the preliminary stages, but David was confident that because the Windsor material had been less inaccessible before GPP, then his time as a fellow would allow him to explore relatively novel documentary sources, potentially providing new insights into the life of Shelburne.
After David, we heard from Rachel Krier who presented a fascinating history of the Windsor collections themselves. She discussed the role of the former Royal Librarian and Archivist John Fortescue. Between 1927 and 1928, Fortescue published six volumes of the correspondence of King George III covering the period 1760 to 1783. Rachel has been cataloguing the King’s correspondence for GPP, and in her assessment, Fortescue has been treated harshly by posterity. Critics often blamed Fortescue for the poor quality of his edited collection. In part, the academic Lewis Namier helped form the negative perception of Fortescue by publishing Additions and Corrections to Sir John Fortescue’s Edition of the Correspondence of King George the Third, a rather dyspeptic book of errata that identified many of the mistakes in Fortescue’s work. Rachel is still working through the collection, but suggests that people should be kinder to the efforts of Fortescue.
After Rachel, we heard from Roberta Giubilini. Roberta, who is currently cataloguing the papers of William IV, told us about the king’s steward James William Daniel. She argued Daniel’s papers should be included in William’s collection because they reveal William’s keen interest in agriculture and new technologies. Daniel’s collection would expand our understanding of William beyond his role in the navy to encompass new passions. Roberta is currently working on a longer piece describing Daniel’s papers and setting out her argument in more detail, but it was great to see more cataloguing work.
In the main, we heard from works-in-progress during the session. One of the best advantages of discussing a work at an early stage is that you can see the more experimental elements at work, which in turn can help with gaining a clearer insight into the design of a project.