Radical Networks: Constructing mid-Nineteenth-Century Reform Communities
This panel explores the intense period of networking among radical reformers that began in the 1820s with British antislavery societies and ended in the 1850s with communitarian socialists in the United States and Europe. The resulting reform networks facilitated friendships and enabled the rapid exchange of information, while greatly increasing the amount of connectivity between reformers of all stripes. By utilizing newly created reform conduits, mid-nineteenth-century reformers actively learned from one another, revolutionized their strategies, and made the reforms of the era thoroughly transnational. These networks criss-crossed numerous movements and almost as many nations, ultimately laying the groundwork for later reformers to follow. The depth of connectivity between reformers and the sophistication of their networks offer a dramatically different picture of the mid-nineteenth-century--a period often depicted as insulated and parochial. This panel will illuminate how these networks were constructed, what these reformers learned from one another, and the impact the relationships and information had on their specific movements.
Ms. Bowman’s presentation will highlight the social networking and increased connectivity that birthday celebrations honoring the communitarian socialist Charles Fourier facilitated. Bowman argues that these annual events provide the aperture for viewing the precise moment when countless relationships between a diverse group of radical reformers were cemented, and that these celebrations were important in deepening the transnational reach of the communitarian socialists and their sympathizers. Ms. Langley-Rivers also explores communitarianism, focusing on the near constant interaction between three distinct communitarian experiments with fundamentally different ideological foundations within the United States. Langley-Rivers moves us away from the conception of mid-nineteenth-century communitarian experiments as isolated, demonstrating that these reformers communicated with one another, using their relationships to refine and reformulate their ideas. Dr. Janse takes a wider view, articulating how these social movements functioned, from the tools they used to communicate to the strategies they employed for implementing change. Using the Catholic Association of Ireland and the British and American Temperance and Antislavery Societies, Dr. Janse looks at the “birth of the modern mass pressure group,”demonstrating precisely how reform tactics were shared between mid-nineteenth-century reformers in Europe and the United States.
Each of these three papers explores the development of reform networks based on the exchange of information and best practices, while driving home the point that mid-nineteenth-century reform was much more dynamic and transnational than previously conceptualized. This panel illuminates the flurry of communication between reformers, repositioning the mid-nineteenth century as an era of contact and connectivity. By underscoring how these radical networks were created, we gain important insight into the larger transnational Victorian counterculture, and the legacy it left for Progressive Era reformers. While this panel will certainly appeal to specialists in nineteenth-century history, it will also captivate students of reform movements, social networks and transnational history.