Sharing Research: GPP Fellows Ann Little & David Hancock

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.

High-waisted dancing dress from 1809. Source: The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen edited by Penelope Hughes-Hallett.

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.

Enlightened Princesses: Exhibition & Symposium 2017

Image: Sir Godfrey Kneller, Queen Caroline of Ansbach, when Princess of Wales, 1716, oil on canvas, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Between 22 June and 12 November 2017, Historic Royal Palaces and the Yale Center for British Art will be hosting a new exhibition at Kensington Palace entitled ‘Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World’.

The exhibition was hosted at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, earlier this year and now the collection has travelled across the Atlantic to join us here in London.

Further information about the exhibition.

Accompanying the Enlightened Princesses exhibition will be an International Symposium 29 – 31 October 2017 at Hampton Court Palace, Kensignton Palace, and the Tower of London. Co-organized by Historic Royal Palaces, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London.

Call for papers

Caroline of Ansbach (1683–1737), Augusta of Saxe Gotha (1719–1772), and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818), three Protestant German princesses, became variously Princess of Wales, Queen Consort, and Princess Dowager of Great Britain. Recent research has explored how in fulfilling these roles they made major contributions to the arts; the development of new models of philanthropy and social welfare; the promotion and support of advances in science and medicine, as well as trade and industry; and the furthering of imperial ambition. While local contexts may have conditioned the forms such initiatives took, their objectives were rooted in a European tradition of elite female empowerment.

This symposium, Enlightened Princesses: Britain and Europe, 1700–1820, seeks to investigate the role played by royal women— electresses, princesses, queens consort, reigning queens, and empresses—in the shaping of court culture and politics in Europe of the long eighteenth century.

Papers that explore some of the following themes are invited:

  • Royal women as political agents
  • Royal women: networks and conversations
  • Royal women: education, charity, and health
  • Royal women as patrons of art and architecture
  • Royal women and science
  • Royal women: mercantile culture and the wider world
  • Royal women as political gardeners

The conference will take place 29–31 October 2017 at Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, and the Tower of London.

Please send proposals of 400 words maximum, for papers of 25 minutes, together with a short biography of 100 words maximum to samantha.howard@hrp.org.uk.

The submission deadline is 15 May 2017.

Further information about the International Symposium.

‘The Improvements of George Washington: Agriculture and Slavery in a Transatlantic Context’ A Lecture by Bruce Ragsdale

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 28th November 2016, Bruce Ragsdale, the 2016 Mount Vernon Ladies Association Fellow, delivered a paper entitled ‘The Improvements of George Washington: Agriculture and Slavery in a Transatlantic Context’. The lecture was hosted by the Georgian Papers Programme, the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, and the Centre for Enlightenment Studies at King’s.

In his paper, Bruce explored George Washington’s reorganisation of the farms at Mount Vernon. The aim was to implement what he called a “compleat course” of English husbandry. Relying on British agricultural treatises and hiring an English farm steward to advise him, Washington set his enslaved labourers to the enormous tasks of reorganizing fields and constructing farm buildings common to large British estates. Washington devised an innovative process for supervising and accounting for the weekly work of his enslaved labourers as they carried out his experiments in crop rotation and livestock management.

Over the next fourteen years, Washington was in regular correspondence with leading British agriculturalists who reinforced his determination to realise the goals of the New Husbandry. This lecture explored how Washington’s pursuit of British agricultural methods increased his dependence on slavery and later persuaded him to investigate alternative organisations of labour in the years leading up to his decision to manumit his slaves.

Over the course of the lecture and the questions that followed afterwards, Bruce teased out some intriguing parallels between George Washington and King George. The chair for the lecture, Abigail Woods, head of the history department at King’s, said it was:

“a fascinating talk, that appealed to a wide range of historians, as evidenced by the quantity and variety of questions it inspired. It revolved around the difficulties that George Washington faced when he tried to import and apply a distinctly English form of agricultural improvement to farms that were worked by a distinctly un-English form of slave labour. In looking at how Washington coped with these difficulties, Bruce shed fascinating new light on Washington’s obsession with English agricultural improvement, and how experience of its methods led him to change his attitude towards slave labour.”

I was particularly interested in the scathing criticism that Washington heaped on his overseers for their slovenly work on his farms. The lecture gave me the impression that Washington had a very fastidious character and it is always interesting as a historian to get those insights into the daily life of historical actors. I believe it creates a useful mental context for some of the big decisions that Washington made, especially as Commander-in-Chief. George III displayed a similar attention to detail, sometimes to the consternation of his subordinates and ministers. Another revelation for me was that many of the slaves at Mount Vernon were fed by fish rather than more customary diets of pork and corn.

Overall, Bruce’s lecture brought together scholars from a number of different disciplines and research interests from throughout King’s. I was grateful to both the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine as well as the Centre for Enlightenment Studies at King’s for their support and for bringing together an audience with a diverse range of interests. Everyone’s contributions enlivened the questions and informal conversation afterwards. The success of the lecture underlines the significance of academic networks to the Georgian Papers Programme.

Following the success of Bruce’s lecture, we are looking forward to Flora Fraser’s tenure as the 2017 Mount Vernon Ladies Association Georgian Papers Fellow. Flora is working on two upcoming projects (working titles): “In Search of Flora Macdonald (1722-1790): Her Life in Skye and the Western Isles and, as a Highland Emigrant, during the American Revolution” and “Lord Nelson of Burnham Thorpe, the Nile and Trafalgar: The Life on Land and at Sea of Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758-1805).”

For more information about Flora’s appointment, please go here.