The Correspondence of Daniel Defoe

Lead Research Organisation: Keele University
Department Name: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences


Though best remembered as a pioneering novelist, Defoe transformed political journalism in Great Britain, introducing new forms of topical publication, contributing to virtually every important issue of his day, and working closely with or against the major political figures of the period. His letters are a crucial historical and biographical source that shed light on the rise of party politics, the formation of Great Britain in 1707, anxieties about state security amidst a Jacobite threat, and the development of the press as a force to shape public opinion. However, the only edition of Defoe's letters (1955) is now out of date: it is incomplete due to new discoveries, extremely limited in its scholarly apparatus, and prone to error; moreover, scholarship on Defoe and on British history has been transformed beyond recognition in the intervening sixty years. The edition, under contract to CUP, will be informed by the most up-to-date standards of critical and textual editing, and will engage with ongoing historiographical and literary debates. It will become the standard reading and research edition for scholars and general readers, making a vital contribution to public awareness of Britain's cultural and political heritage. In addition, the edition will make a crucial intervention in textual scholarship in eighteenth-century studies. It will augment our understanding of epistolary exchange, religious history, the book trade, and politics at a turbulent and foundational moment, amounting to transformational research in literary and historical studies.

The editorial project builds on the work and support of eminent scholars in Defoe studies, eighteenth-century politics and literature, and textual scholarship. The co-editors are the Fellow and Andreas Mueller (Worcester), both of whom have edited Defoe and published widely on him as a political writer and agent. Three advisory editors bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the project. J.A. Downie (Goldsmiths) is an expert in Defoe, Swift, and political history and theory, as well as a Defoe editor. W.R. Owens (Bedford) has published numerous books on Defoe, bibliography, and politics, reconstituting the Defoe canon, and was co-general editor of the 44-volume Works of Defoe (2000-2008). James McLaverty (Keele) is a leading eighteenth-century scholar and textual editor able to advise on editorial principles. An RA will work on the project for 12 months, helping with transcriptions, checking originals, and researching the letters' contexts. The Fellow's proposed mentor, David Amigoni, is an experienced literary scholar, textual editor, and research manager, who will provide advice to the Fellow.

The first 12 months are devoted to the transcription, editing, research, and annotating of the scholarly edition, which will be submitted to CUP on 31 January 2018. In the final six months, February-August 2018, the Fellow will bring to fruition three integrated activities designed to draw on the research in order to engage with new and wide audiences and to build research capacity in eighteenth-century studies. First, there will be a series of five freely available documentary podcasts aimed at a general audience, tracing in ten-minute instalments Defoe's career, the social and political developments of his age, and their relevance in the twenty-first century. Second, the Fellow will meet a pressing need in the field by coordinating and leading workshops for early career scholars in textual studies and book history with expert academic input. Finally, the Fellow will lead public talks and workshops for the general public, engaging users with eighteenth-century print and manuscript cultures, the book trade, and developments in reading and public engagement. The academic and public workshops are collaborations with the SJBM in Lichfield, a project partner, and will serve to raise the profile of its under-used collections among academics and in its public-facing work.

Planned Impact

The project has excellent potential to benefit groups beyond academia, most particularly the general public, those in education, and the project partner, the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.

1. The scholarly edition will make Defoe's life and work more accessible to the general public, enhancing understanding of Britain's cultural, literary, and political heritage. The Defoe letters are scattered over multiple archives, and the extant edition is outdated, incomplete, and out-of-print. Moreover, ongoing political debates in the twenty-first century over politics and the press, Britain's place in Europe, and Scottish independence make the edition extremely timely. Through print publication, the edition may enable better-informed policy debates about press freedom, information management, and referenda on Britain/Europe by providing a fuller, accurate understanding of matters such as how and why politicians started using the media and how the 1707 British Union came about.

2. The documentary podcasts will target a wider, more general audience, distilling the major points of significance of Defoe's letters. They will feature North American, German, and British contributors and be published online, freely available, so have the potential of an international impact, which the Fellow will seek to maximise. The podcasts will explicitly connect topics from Defoe's letters to modern concerns, addressing political satire, two-party politics, the Anglo-Scottish Union, and the relationships of politicians to the press. The format (five ten-minute broadcasts) is designed to maximise the appeal. Listeners, who will include educational users and the interested public, will benefit from being informed and entertained about Defoe's life and times, a period that is not well covered in broadcast media or pre-university education, and enabled to see the relevance of the past to the present.

3. Public engagement opportunities will be realised through work with the project partner, the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum (SJBM) in Lichfield. The SJBM has been chosen because it is an important eighteenth-century literary attraction, with a rich but underused archive of manuscript and print materials, which has a track record of public events (special exhibitions, educational work). Free talks and workshops for members of the public will utilise the museum's library in order to instruct and inform the public on book production, the book trade, eighteenth-century manuscript practices, and developments in the history of reading. The Fellow will collaborate with the Museum and Heritage Officer to deliver these sessions. They will benefit the public by informing and entertaining them as part of their visit to the museum, perhaps giving them opportunities to handle rare books and manuscripts, which is a transformative experience, and to ask questions.

4. Both the public activities and the scholarly workshops are opportunities to raise the profile of the SJBM. Amongst academics, the project will raise the SJBM's scholarly profile: its valuable but underused archive will supply materials for the academic sessions. The Museum's library is occasionally consulted by scholars, but this is an opportunity to bring it to wider academic attention and cement its academic links with Keele and other universities. The public event meanwhile will enhance the experiences of visitors to the museum, diversifying its programme of activities, increasing its footfall and revenue (entry is free but donations and shop sales will go up), and utilising more fully the academic expertise of the Museum and Heritage Officer.

The dissemination of the edition and podcasts will be measured through copies sold and hits and downloads, respectively. Impact for the public events will be evaluated through questionnaires for participants.


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Description The research has discovered new biographical facts about Defoe and the political situation of early 18th century Britain, including in religion, the book trade, and economics. The achievement so far is the completion of the edition, which is forthcoming.
Exploitation Route The research will be published and others will be able to consult the work.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

Description Public talk at Erasmus Darwin House 
Organisation Darwin College
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI gave a public lecture to c. 70 people at Erasmus Darwin House in Lichfield
Collaborator Contribution Hosting
Impact None
Start Year 2018