Institutions of Literature, 1700-1900

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Critical Studies

Abstract

The Institutions of Literature network will consider the hitherto neglected roles played by institutions in the development of literary culture during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One of the most significant factors that marks this period as a crucial phase in the evolution of modern societal practices and ideologies is the progressive transfer of authority and fealties previously invested in individuals to organised societies and state bureaucracies. The profound impact of these developments on many different aspects of literature has not yet been granted due attention. Our network will address this lack.

In most common conceptions of the ways that literature functions, the author and the reader are dominant: one seen as the originator of the literary work, the other as its auditor and arbiter. However, individuals are not the only stakeholders in the creation and reception of texts. Since the early eighteenth century, institutions have played integral roles in literary culture: teaching people how to value writing; providing sites for discussion and networks for circulation; serving as archival repositories; raising and disbursing money; distributing laurels and condemnations; and authoring works and conducting readings. In addition to this immense - yet largely uncharted - historical significance, one of the most compelling motives for studying these institutions is their continuing relevance to modern society. The practices of the schools, universities, libraries, museums and organisations which mediate literature today were developed within the institutional cultures which coalesced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By studying the emergence of these practices, we can better understand our modern situations, appreciate the complexity of the lives of our ancestors and divine better courses for effectively employing institutional settings in the future.

The network will focus on three major functions of institutions which had far-reaching consequences for literary production: their roles as networks, as curators and as active agents. In three two-day workshops held in York, Birmingham and London, as well as in a series of online discussions, the network will explore the histories of individual institutions and develop a framework for thinking about the sets of social and cultural conventions through which the roles of literary institutions have become defined.

As well as inviting international and interdisciplinary scholars whose existing interests will feed productively into the workshops, we will begin the project with a widely-disseminated open call for participants in order to give all those interested in the work we propose to do the chance to join us. Recognising the ongoing implications of the historical practices we plan to examine, we will actively solicit the participation of institutions' current curators, administrators and librarians in all our discussions, seeking to draw on their experience of operating practices and configuring histories.

Each of the workshops will feature a combination of panels of academic papers, roundtables and discussion sessions. The latter will allow our participants the opportunity to explore the larger issues surrounding institutional influence collaboratively. After each workshop, we will publish reports of our discussions and will continue them via email and via a project website on which blog posts, recordings and position papers will be published openly for consideration and comment. At the conclusion of the project, we will put together a collaboratively-edited collection drawing together the work presented and ideas developed through the network. This collection will provide an enduring record for academic and institutional communities, serving as a jumping-off point for further scholarship from our participants and those inspired by their ideas and as a point of pragmatic reference for stakeholders in modern institutions.

Planned Impact

One of the Institutions of Literature network's primary goals is to identify broad principles that will help to guide both students of institutional history and those currently working in institutions. This breadth of vision will be one of the network's most significant attributes, allowing us to bring together people whose work often focuses on specific moments in particular histories in order to consider larger patterns and formulations, both intellectual and practical.

Literature and culture are increasingly fostered in and mediated by institutions, which award prizes, set curricula, determine funding conditions, employ people and provide and require services. Studying the processes by which this situation came to be is of wider social interest for all those working in modern institutional environments. In looking at the ways that institutions came to be organised, we will draw out the implications for contemporary public and institutional policies and for locating creativity within our society. Understanding institutional histories can reveal the foundations and original purposes of the practices which have come to comprise considerable parts of everyday working life. The network will critically examine the development of processes like minute-taking, meeting, reporting, electing officers and negotiating within committees. Considering the histories of these practices will allow us to assess whether certain practices have evolved for contingent or outdated reasons and whether they might fruitfully be reconsidered in the light of social changes and new technologies.

The Institutions of Literature network will reach out beyond the academy through the direct participation of curators and stakeholders working at modern literary institutions, including libraries, learned societies and museums (details of participants who have already agreed to be involved are given in the Case for Support and the Pathways to Impact statement) By bringing acedemics and institutional stakeholders together, the network will ensure that the resulting scholarship is informed by the needs of both: academically rigorous, but engaged with the practical experience of institutional work and transmitted in manners that are open both in terms of minimising barriers to entry and avoiding unnecessarily specialised language.

The previous paragraph draws a distinction for the purposes of explaining the network's ambitions, but this distinction is in many ways an unhelpful one. Academics are, after all, institutional professionals, with modern universities being institutions of literature the practices of which are fundamentally grounded in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century foundations. Conversely, many curators and institutional stakeholders have wide-ranging and impressive backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences. We intend to investigate whether the commonly perceived differences between scholars and other cultural practitioners are products of the very processes of professionalisation and institutionalisation that the network will examine. Considerations of the benefits and limitations of such specialisation will comprise a major aspect of our discussions and will provide our participants and those our work reaches through the means discussed in the Pathways to Impact statement with new and informed ways of reflecting on our present modes of operation.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project ran three workshops in 2017 that brought together academics studying eighteenth- and nineteenth-century institutions with institutional officers and curators to explore collaboratively the ways in which literary institutions arose and operated. The network also considered the ongoing consequences of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century practices and interventions for twenty-first-century institutions.
The first workshop, 'Institutions as Curators', was held at the Hunterian Museum's new premises at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow on the 31st of March and the 1st of April 2017 and explored the changing manners in which institutions have conceived of and organised both disciplinary knowledge and physical collections. The second, 'Institutions as Networks', was held at the Society of Antiquaries in London on the 13th and 14th of July 2017 and examined how institutions have served to connect and organise groups of people and things, considering the hierarchies that inhere in such arrangements and the points of connection between different clusters and ideals. The final workshop, 'Institutions as Actors', was held at the Medical Society and King's Manor in York on the 1st and 2nd of December 2017. This event examined institutional identities, looking at how ideas and practices embed themselves and considering the points at which institutions themselves - as opposed to their officers and stakeholders - became perceived as being capable of performing actions.
In addition to the investigators, sixty-three people presented research papers or participated in roundtables across the three workshops. Over 100 people in total took part in our discussions. The project is documented extensively on the web (at http://www.institutionsofliterature.net).
The main outputs of the network are as follows:
• The discussions themselves, which allowed participants to make considerable advances in our collective understanding by allowing comparisons across different institutions, time periods and approaches.
• The project website, which includes details of the events and reflections from many of our participants.
• An edited collection of research arising from the network, currently in preparation, with a publication date in 2021 or 2022. The collection is under contract with Cambridge University Press; draft chapters are due shortly at time of writing.
• A follow-on project, 'The Media Revolution of the 1820s', funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (March 2018-March 2020). This project was sparked by the network's discussions regarding the hitherto-underexamined wave of institutional development and proliferation that occurred during this decade and will seek to place these developments in their wider contexts. The project conference will be held on April 11th and 12th 2019; more information can be found here: https://1820s.net.
• A follow-on project, 'Enlightenment Readers in the Scottish Universities', funded by the Carnegie Trust (April 2018-July 2019 (extended from April 2019)). This project builds on the data-driven approaches discussed at network workshops in seeking to derive quantitative and qualitative accounts of reading from unexplored institutional records.
• Elements of the network also feed into two large-scale AHRC projects funded in 2020: Libraries, Reading Communities and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic (PI: Mark Towsey) and Books and Borrowing 1750-1830: An Analysis of Scottish Borrowers' Registers (PI: Katie Halsey). Towsey and Halsey were both network members, and the network's PI, Matthew Sangster, is Co-I on both projects.
Exploitation Route We hope that our workshops have helped to develop a far richer account of the development of literary institutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The immediate impacts (four funded follow-on projects and the publications completed and proposed) are discussed above, but we hope that the relationships and connections that the network has fostered will allow for a legacy of direct and indirect impacts on the research of a large number of people who participated. The close involvement of institutional stakeholders across the network's activities means that its research has already had significant audiences in the cultural sector; we plan to develop these connections further in future work.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://institutionsofliterature.net/
 
Description While the network was running, its activities were widely discussed on social media and within the institutions whose stakeholders played roles. The award has created a series of relationships between university academics and institutional stakeholders that will foster greater awareness and new collaborations. The most direct example thus far is our new project exploring the media developments of the 1820s, funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh from March 2018 to March 2020. The bid was written in collaboration with the National Library of Scotland, which holds a large number of archives relevant to this period. Representatives from the NLS sit on the steering group and will attend all the events. There will be public events at the NLS in 2019 and 2020 exploring both the new project and the research conducted as part of the 'Institutions of Literature' network. In 2020, the network fed into two large-scale projects funded by the AHRC: Libraries, Reading Communities and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic (PI: Mark Towsey) and Books and Borrowing 1750-1830: An Analysis of Scottish Borrowers' Registers (PI: Katie Halsey). Both of these projects are surveying, transcribing, digitising and interpreting historic library data in conversation with a total of around twenty partner organisations. The network's discussions of institutionality and the connections that it fostered were both instrumental in the successful planning of these new projects.
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Carnegie Research Incentive Grant
Amount £9,966 (GBP)
Funding ID RIG007479 
Organisation Carnegie Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 04/2019
 
Description Libraries, Reading Communities and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic
Amount £842,708 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S007083/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 09/2022
 
Description Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Networks Programme
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 58536 
Organisation Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2020
 
Description 'Institutions as Curators' workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The network's first workshop, 'Institutions as Curators', took place at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, on the 31st of March and the 1st of April 2017. The workshop explored the changing manners in which institutions have conceived of and organised both disciplinary knowledge and physical collections. Full details of the participants can be seen on the website; discussions continued online through a series of blog posts (http://institutionsofliterature.net/category/institutions-as-curators/).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://institutionsofliterature.net/curators/
 
Description 'Institutions as Actors' workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The network's final workshop, 'Institutions as Actors', took place at York Medical Society and King's Manor in York on Friday December 1st and Saturday December 2nd 2017. This workshop examined institutional identities, looking at how ideas and practices embed themselves and considering the points at which institutions themselves - as opposed to their officers and stakeholders - become perceived to be capable of performing actions. Full details of the participants can be seen on the website; discussions continued online through a series of blog posts (http://institutionsofliterature.net/category/institutions-as-actors/).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://institutionsofliterature.net/actors/
 
Description 'Institutions as Networks' workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The network's second workshop, 'Institutions as Networks', took place in the Society of Antiquaries' apartments at Burlington House in London on the 13th and 14th of July 2017. This workshop examined how institutions have served to connect and organise groups of people and things, considering the hierarchies that inhere in such arrangements and the points of connection between different clusters and ideals. Full details of the participants can be seen on the website; discussions continued online through a series of blog posts (http://institutionsofliterature.net/category/institutions-as-networks/).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://institutionsofliterature.net/networks/