Current research in the Georgian papers: a symposium to take stock, Windsor, 4 September 2017

By Arthur Burns, Academic Director of the Georgian Papers Programme, King’s College London


Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

As we launch the second tranche of digitized documents for the Georgian Papers project, this is a good moment to reflect on the progress of academic research related to the project. On 4 September 2017 the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle hosted a one-day symposium for the Georgian Papers Programme, organised by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. It provided an opportunity for those associated with the programme — whether as members of the core project team at King’s, the Royal Archives and the Omohundro, representatives of participating institutions such as the Library at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Library of Congress, or as fellows of the project — to hear extended reports from a significant proportion of the now more than thirty scholars whose research into the Georgian papers has been supported by fellowships from the Omohundro, King’s, Mount Vernon and the Sons of the American Revolution.

To all of those present it felt as if a significant and exciting milestone had been reached. The event not only demonstrated the extent and the range of the research already undertaken, but also made clear that this research has indeed begun to realize the Programme’s ambition of unlocking the potential of this unique archive to support new interpretations of important themes in eighteenth-century history across the globe. It also embodied a further ambition: to forge a community of scholars meeting on the common ground of a single archive to discuss the intersections and insights of their research in ways that highlight aspects of their projects which might not otherwise appear significant.

An attentive audience at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017, including on the front row from l. to r. Andrew O’Shaughnessy, Bruce Ragsdale, Anya Zilberstein, Arthur Burns and Karin Wulf. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

There is not enough space here to describe each of the papers presented in what was a very successful symposium. However, we anticipate that many of the fellows will soon themselves discuss their findings either in their own blogs here or in other venues. But this is a good opportunity to reflect on what the symposium reveals about the research taking place in association with the project, and to note some emerging themes.

 

 

Daniel Reed speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

The symposium made apparent what those already familiar with the archives suspected, but which, in the absence of full indexes and catalogues (which the project will produce), has hitherto been hidden from those who have not physically visited the Round Tower: the sheer range of research projects for which the archives contain significant materials. We explored the full chronological scope of the archive collection, which is still in the public mind largely associated with George III. Daniel Reed‘s (Oxford Brookes University) presentation of his research into royal chaplains concentrated on the period between 1714 and 1760, whereas Jane Levi‘s (King’s College London) discussion of the provisioning of royal banquets focused on the coronation festivities of George IV.

Jim Ambuske at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

As these two examples also suggest, the range of themes discussed was also exceptionally wide. Those parts of the archive which have previously been published focus in particular on the political and military history traceable in royal correspondence, or the life of the court and the royal family. These topics were duly represented in the presentations with Rachel Banke‘s (University of Notre Dame) reconsideration of Lord Bute and George III’s respective contributions to imperial reform in the 1760s, Jim Ambuske‘s (University of Virginia) reflections on George’s reaction to the loss of America, and Andrew O’Shaughnessy‘s (Monticello and University of Virginia) discussion of the evidence the archive provides on the conduct of the war in America. These presentations demonstrated that — even on subjects of long-standing academic interest where we might think we know the sources — revisiting the archive can still bring fresh insights, not least as our sense of what might be ‘relevant’ material expands, and the selective nature of earlier editions becomes more apparent.

Anya Zilberstein speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

It was striking, nevertheless, how many presentations used the archive to illuminate quite different topics and approaches to history: thus as well as food history, we heard from Bruce Ragsdale (Mount Vernon GPP fellow) on estate management as evidenced in George III’s agricultural activities, Felicity Myrone (British Library) on George as collector of topographical prints and drawings, Miranda Reading (King’s College London) on a key early nineteenth-century pressure group, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Cynthia Kierner (George Mason University) on disaster relief in Georgian England, Flora Fraser (Mount Vernon GPP fellow) on the lives of Flora MacDonald and Horatio Nelson, and Anya Zilberstein (Concordia University) on animals in the Royal Archives.

Suzanne Schwarz speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

The range was equally impressive in geographical terms, underlining that the Georgian Papers are not just an archive for British and North American history, but for all regions touched by the global Georgian: thus Suzanne Schwarz (University of Worcester) took us to Sierra Leone for reflections on the African Institution and its royal patrons and Vincent Carretta (University of Maryland) explored his search for evidence of Africans present in Britain in the eighteenth century. It was also striking how many of the papers adopted at least a transatlantic and, in several cases, a more far-reaching geographical frame, even when their focus was firmly on Britain. This reminded all present that we can no longer think of Britain in isolation during this period, and indicates that the nature of the Georgian royal archives, reflecting the global responsibilities and interests of the monarchs, of itself enforces a recognition of this.

Felicity Myrone speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017.Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

The colloquium also prompted some general reflections. First, several papers made clear how important an understanding of the nature of the archive — of its origins, arrangement (and re-arrangement), selective publication and weeding — will be in allowing new insights into key issues (a theme explored further in Karin Wulf’s blog being published alongside this one). Thus it was clear from Felicity Myrone’s work just how significant decisions about arrangement and cataloguing of archives in the nineteenth century may have been in cementing views about the significance of George III as an eighteenth-century collector which may now need to be revised. This underlines the importance of the approach to the digitization and interpretation of the archival papers that this Programme has adopted, in which archivists, conservationists and academics work alongside each other rather than in sequence, sharing insights the significance of which only becomes fully apparent when discussed with those with a quite different expertise.

Secondly, it was clear that in exploiting the archives as evidence of the development of approaches to kingship and policy-making they are best understood when read alongside other key royal collections of books, art and material culture, with the interconnections offering the possibility of unlocking key questions of chronology and causation.

Flora Fraser speaking at the GPP Fellows Symposium at Windsor, 4 Sept 2017. Photo: © Castulo Hernandez Robles

Thirdly, it became apparent that silences in the archive are often of equal significance as direct evidence. Over the course of the day there was at least as much interesting discussion of what researchers had not found as of what they had discovered. Several papers highlighted the absence — at least in those parts of the archive where we might most readily anticipate encountering it — of evidence relating to activities which from other sources we know were of significance to the royal family, one notable case being philanthropy. How should we explain this? Is it that these things were in fact less significant than we have hitherto believed? Is it that the evidence was disposed of by others who regarded it as too sensitive, personal or insignificant to merit or allow preservation? If so what does that say about our own understanding of these themes?  Or is it that the evidence indeed survives, but in a different and unexpected part of the archive, to emerge as the cataloguing and digitization process continues? If the last, this may have important implications for our understanding of how contemporaries understood these themes themselves.

Two final reflections: the first regards the importance of serendipity in the archive. All archival scholars experience this, of course, but the fact that the Georgian papers still await definitive cataloguing and have been exploited for only a limited range of projects in the past increases its significance for researchers. Several of the papers reflected serendipitous discoveries and the resultant change of direction and approach to a theme prompted by encounters with unexpected documents in the archive. It will be part of the challenge of the digitization project to preserve this opportunity for chance encounters for remote users.

Rachel Banke and Andrew Morse at the GPP Fellows Symposium, Windsor , 4 Sept 2017. Photo © Castulo Hernandez Robles

Finally, I want to return to the importance of building a research community around the papers, one united not by a shared approach or a geographical proximity, but by having worked in a particular archive. The symposium demonstrated the opportunities this presents for interdisciplinary exchange, revelations of significance not apparent from a focused project perspective and for fresh inspiration to pursue new insights that such a community affords. We hope to perpetuate that opportunity as our community of fellows grows, but will also seek to expand the community around the project over the next few months in a new initiative – The King’s Friends – which we are launching alongside the second release of papers. In the meantime, it remains only to thank Karin Wulf and her team at the Omohundro for organizing such a rewarding event.

Arthur Burns

All photographs from the symposium are © Castulo Hernandez Robles,  photographer

Mapping the Georgian world: Panel Discussion, 9 Oct

The Georgian Papers Programme is pleased to invite you to:

Mapping the Georgian world: global power & maps in the reign of George III
Monday 9th October at 6:30-8:00pm
Edmund J Safra Lecture Theatre, Strand Campus, King’s College London

Free admission to all, but registration required via Eventbrite 

The Hanoverian British monarchy presided over a vast array of dominions spread across the globe, each presenting its own challenges to those who needed either to understand or to govern and exploit the different regions. Maps came to play a crucial role in confronting those challenges, transferring knowledge and opportunities across considerable distances, not least to those who never traversed them themselves. One such person was King George III – a monarch who, though in many respects defined in his reign by his relations with both North America and Europe, was unusual amongst his contemporary rulers in never leaving his own kingdom (and even England) at any point in his reign. Yet George had a keen interest in his dominions, and this found expression not least in his interest in maps, of which he became an avid collector and a patron to mapmakers.

This panel brings together Peter Barber, the leading authority on George III’s map collection and former head of the Map Collection at the British Library, and Dr Max Edelson, a leading authority on the mapping of colonial America and a pioneer of its digital interpretation, to discuss the place of maps in the exercise of rule and authority in the eighteenth century.

These richly illustrated talks will provide a fascinating opportunity to reflect on the significance of these often beautiful and intricate objects in shrinking distance and creating understanding in the age of Enlightenment.

The session will be chaired Professor Arthur Burns, Academic Director of the Georgian Papers Programme at King’s, with Max Edling as commentator.

Please register at: https://mappingtheworld.eventbrite.co.uk

Download the poster and flyer.

Speakers:

Peter Barber: After studying at Sussex University and the London School of Economics in 1975 Peter Barber became a curator in the Department of Manuscripts at the British Library where, between 2001 and 2015, he was Head of Map Collections. He has written extensively on a wide range of aspects of the history of pre- modern maps, particularly on medieval mappae mundi, the map collections of the British Library, English maps in the sixteenth century, and maps at European courts between 1500 and 1800, especially at the courts of King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and King George III. He has curated or acted as consultant to numerous exhibitions both in the UK and abroad and has acted as consultant to and appeared in several radio and television documentaries. Since 2015 he has been a visiting professor in the Department of History, King’s College London, and is a member of the academic steering committee of the Georgian Papers Programme. In 2012 he was appointed an OBE for services to cartography and topography.

Max Edelson is Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia, where he teaches the history of cartography, early America, and the Atlantic world. His prize-winning first book, Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina (Harvard University Press, 2006), examined the relationship between planters and environment in the Carolina Lowcountry as the key to understanding this repressive, prosperous society and its distinctive economic culture. His new book, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence (Harvard University Press, 2017), describes how Great Britain attempted to take command of North America and the West Indies in the generation before the American Revolution. He is co-director of the UVA-ICJS Early American Seminar at Monticello and creator of MapScholar, a digital visualization platform purpose-built for map history research and display

Commentator: Max Edling. A native of Sweden, he did his undergraduate studies at Lund University before taking an MPhil at the University of Dublin, and PhDs in history and political science from Cambridge and Stockholm Universities. He was awarded the Docent degree by Uppsala University in 2012 before joining King’s College London in 2012. His research focuses on the American founding and the creation of the American state. His most recent project was an investigation of the fiscal system and public finances in the United States from the American Revolution to the aftermath of the Civil War, with a focus on the funding of war and territorial expansion. Dr Edling is currently working both on the origins of the US Constitution and the composite or imperial structure of the early American polity.

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.