Magnus Qvistgaard (European University Institute) ‘The Dissemination of Henrik Ibsen’s Dramas 1850-1900: Agents, Markets and Reception’

During the last decades of the nineteenth century, the plays of the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen were staged with tremendous success across the western world. Yet, although the success of his plays was noteworthy in itself, what makes it truly remarkable is the fact that it was initiated from Norway, a country that at the time seemed located at the very edge of European cultural space. In my talk, I explore how Ibsen’s pan-European success was possible. Utilising the perspective of ‘transfer history’, I focus on the middlemen involved in the transferral of the dramas; the cultural markets through which they were disseminated; and the way in which they were integrated into local cultural fields. As a movement from the European cultural periphery towards its various centres the history of Ibsen’s success may be used as a prism for the investigation of cultural circulation, hegemonic structures and agency. Furthermore, the transnational perspective on Ibsen’s success offers a chance to challenge the national categories which often dominate the study of literature.

Magnus Ibsen Freie Bühne

Monday 11th May 1pm-2.30pm

Henley Business School, G03

All welcome!

Professor Carolyn Steedman (Warwick ) ‘Text or Archive? The Diaries (1800-1815) of Joseph Woolley, Framework Knitter’

The diaries of Joseph Woolley (c.1769-1850), Nottinghamshire stockingmaker, are the basis of An Everyday Life of the English Working Class  (Steedman, CUP 2014). The book would not exist without them. Now, all done and dusted, they raise important questions about how a historian should read texts from the past. Are the diaries a text, to be read and analysed as literature; or an archival document? Or both? How should historians use literary and narrative theory in their reading of ocuments? Should they read in this way, in the first place?

Monday 27th April 

5.15-6.30pm, Special Collections, Museum of English Rural Life (MERL)


Dr Matthew Philpotts (German Studies, University of Manchester) ‘How Long is a Literary Journal? On Fractal Dimension and Periodical Texture’

My contention in this paper is that the distinctive form of the periodical challenges us to look outside the conventional paradigms of literary and cultural studies to develop new conceptual and analytical frameworks for this unique medium. More specifically, I argue that there exists a compelling and theoretically productive parallel between the complex and heterogeneous form of the periodical and the characteristic features of the mathematical sets defined by Benoit Mandelbrot as fractals. Infinitely complex in their fine structure, self-similar at multiple scales, and derived from simple recursive equations, fractal functions have been used to map the irregular forms that proliferate in nature, but these same properties also resonate strikingly with those of the periodical in its multiple and varying patterns of elements. Indeed, just as rock formations, clouds, and coastlines defy traditional Euclidean geometry, so periodicals defy traditional poetics. And just as fractal geometry provides tools to tame these complex and irregular forms, so it can furnish us with new approaches to describe and conceptualise the ‘texture’ of the periodical, understood as the complex and irregular patternings of its textual, visual, and material elements.

Drawing on a pilot, British Academy funded project to develop a periodical mapping application (P-MApp), this paper will explore the conceptual and analytical potential of the periodical as a fractal form. In particular, I shall demonstrate that fractional (or fractal) dimension can serve as a highly effective measure of periodical complexity, opening up the possibility of systematic comparative and typological analysis of periodical form.

Matthew Philpotts

Senior Lecturer in German Studies, University of Manchester


Monday 20th April, 1-2.30pm, Henley Business School, G03

All welcome!

Dr Martha Fleming (Programme Director, Centre for Collections Based Research, University of Reading) ‘The Emergence of Disciplines in the Creation of Catalogues and their Re-workings: Sir Hans Sloane’

Hans Sloane (1660-1753) kept a rolling catalogue of his collections over the 70 years of his practice as a collector.  Since that time, the British Museum that he instated through his will has continued to catalogue and recatalogue these materials — for a further 300 years, even as the collections were distributed across the Natural History Museum (1888) and the new British Library (1996).  How can we use these multiple iterations and variants in object descriptions and categorisations of materials to understand not only the history of these collections, but also the knowledge and practice contexts in which they have been used — and indeed the actors who have created them?  It is possible to use catalogues as a tool in epistemologising post-Enlightenment disciplines and creating a structured interdisciplinary context in which to discuss the very notion of disciplines itself.

Monday 23rd February, 5-6.30pm, Museum of English Rural Life

Fleming Sloane

British Museum, manuscript catalogue of miscellanies created by Sir Hans Sloane and his amanuensi, circa 1680-1753. 329 folios, bound: Department of Africa, Oceania & the Americas. Am,CUPBD2/SH.4

Dr Lisa Stead (English & Film, Exeter) ‘Vivien Leigh as Creative Labourer: Archives, Gender and Visibility’

Vivien Leigh has primarily been read as a British star actress – known for her glamour, her renowned beauty and her iconic performances in films like Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. Yet the variety of roles she adopted across her career suggests that a different history is yet to be written of her transatlantic creative labour in exchanges across Europe and Hollywood, obscured through an emphasis on her star persona alone. Leigh’s career demonstrates the mobility of women’s creative work across multiple spheres – in Leigh’s case, in theatre, film, fashion, modelling and photography, as war time labourer, celebrity, public figure and financer for stage productions – that cannot be unpacked through a singular disciplinary framework, nor a limiting focus on the female star body.

Focusing on Leigh as a case study, this paper will discuss the ways in which we might better understand histories of women’s creative labour in and around the 20th century film industry through archival research and collaboration, reflecting on the how scattered traces of her labour have been collated and collected within international, national and local museums and archives, in personal collections and online. It will consider how collaborations and interactions with a variety of non-academic partners need to be forged to fully explore the alternative histories of a star figure, making visible the invisible and side-lined acts of labour and concepts of identity forged through different forms of work. At the same time, it will foreground the tensions that exist in the ways in which such labours are valued –by the film industry, by Leigh herself, by archives and museums that hold Leigh materials, and by public audiences in their continuing interest in and consumption of her star image.

Monday 9th February, 1-2.30pm, Henley Business School, G03Vivien_Leigh_still

Dr Daniel Starza Smith (Oxford) ‘The Curious History of the Conway papers’

The Conway Papers were amassed between 1550 and 1700 by a family of statesman, soldiers, authors and collectors, including two secretaries of state – but when the family line expired, the archive was lost to history, apparently destined to suffer the vagaries of damage and dissolution. Thankfully they were rescued from obscurity by Horace Walpole, before passing through the hands of a great many people who weren’t quite sure what they were, or what to do with them. Only in the last twenty years have we been able to examine them and understand them properly. What do the Conway Papers contain? How can we piece them back together? And what research questions still lie among them?

Monday 26th January (week 3), 1.10-2.30pm, Henley Business School, G03

A joint seminar with the Early Modern Research Centre


Dr David Sutton (University of Reading) ‘Diasporic Literary Archives’

Dr Sutton will present an overview and progress report on the Leverhulme Trust International Network ‘Diasporic Literary Archives’


Questions of Location, Ownership and Interpretation

Authors’ papers offer unique insights into the creative process and as such are hugely valuable to the scholarly community, as well as an often treasured archive of national culture. In recent years the destination of individual collections has become a contested topic of international interest. Given that authors migrate, and papers become dispersed among collectors, families, publishing businesses, and in locations in different countries, the diasporic character of literary archives demands serious attention.

Monday 24th November (wk 9) 5-6pm, to be held at the Museum of English Rural Life (with a pop-up exhibition of archive materials)