Avenues of Influence: Discourse Networks in Britain during the Age of Revolution

AHA Session 20
Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Kansas City Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
James J. Sack, University of Illinois at Chicago
Robert Ingram, Ohio University

Session Abstract

Our panel explores how patterns of influence and personal contacts shaped various aspects of public discourse in Great Britain from the 1790s through the early 19th century.  Each paper takes the experience of key figures and their connections with intellectual and political cultures to draw out connections that had a major impact.  Two papers discuss Continental European influences refracted through English travelers abroad, while the third explores how a particular Irish set of debates affected British politics through the medium of print culture.  The first paper traces how a family tradition of Anglican High Churchmanship and roots in the Tory gentry of Oxfordshire joined with time spent among the elite of the French ancien regime set Lord Liverpool apart from the other political heirs of William Pitt the Younger who formed the second tory party.   Liverpool’s perspective bridged the gap between Britain’s old regime and the liberal toryism of the post-Waterloo era when he served as prime minister.  The second papers considers the role Samuel Taylor Coleridge played translating British and Continental views of Enlightenment and the difficulty of placing his outlook into standard ideological categories.  Deeply influenced by idealist strains of European thought, Coleridge engaged those ideas from a standpoint defined by Scottish Enlightenment principles of an organic natural law and then applied them to British debates in the age of reform.  Our third paper discusses a group of Irish writers and publicists led during the 1810s and 20s by John Wilson Croker, a political official and press manager for Lord Liverpool’s government, whose commitment to reforms in Ireland provided an alternative approach to the abstract theorizing critics associated with political economy.  The Croker circle not only had great success with British publications during the 1820s, they also influenced the development of “conservatism” under Sir Robert Peel.  These papers connect 18th century developments through the Enlightenment and French Revolution with later trends into the early 19th century and show how trends in Europe and Ireland affected Britain through the medium of intellectual networks.    

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