Seminars

  • Founded
    1962
  • Seminar Number
    417

This interdisciplinary seminar hosts speakers ranging from established scholars to early-career researchers who present works-in-progress that explore and redefine eighteenth-century European culture. Our interests range from material culture to textual history, national traditions to colonial formations, historicist practice to theoretical investigation, and we therefore seek to query, expand, and innovate eighteenth-century studies. Like our guest speakers, our membership is drawn from a wide variety of institutions and disciplines: history, literature, philosophy, political science, music, history of science, and art, as well as national traditions. The Seminar’s offerings are varied in scope, and occasionally our Seminar hosts special events, such as a symposium on the intellectual origins of freedom of speech (2007, 2008) and a 50th anniversary retrospective of the Seminar (2014).  Recently our Seminar has hosted, in addition to full-length talks, roundtables on science studies (2011), comparative orientalisms (2011), the quantitative eighteenth century (2016), rediscovering race (2017), and human rights (2019).

Past Meetings


Chair
Professor Stephanie Insley Hershinow
stephanie.insley@gmail.com

Rapporteur
Lilith Todd
ldt2120@columbia.edu

Meeting Schedule

09/30/2021 Online Meeting
12:00 PM
Becoming I: Criminal Interrogations and the Self: 1750-1830
Elwin Hofman, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium)
Abstract

Abstract

In this talk, I investigate a remarkable shift in the practice of criminal justice. Up to at least 1810, clerks in the Southern Netherlands, France and Germany wrote down witness statements, interrogations and confessions in an impersonal style, in the third person. “Has she killed her infant?” “She confesses to have killed it, out of shame.” Gradually, however, interrogation transcripts started to switch to the first person, becoming much more personal and intimate. There were no laws to mandate this change. Why, then, did this shift occur all over continental Europe? And what does it mean for the history of the self? I argue that the coming of the first person relates to a growing importance of a unique and stable self with interior feelings and motivations in criminal court. I show that this shift had a profound impact: together with other changing interrogation techniques, it had as a result that suspects of all social statuses were confronted with changing expectations around selfhood and inner depth. In the criminal courts, interiority became an affair which not just the middle class, but everyone had to relate to.





10/21/2021 Online Meeting
12:00 PM
Abolitionist Conversations: Sociability and Music-Making in the British Home, ca. 1800
Julia Hamilton, Columbia University
Abstract

Abstract

In the decades following the establishment of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave trade in 1787, Britain’s extensive involvement in human trafficking became a popular subject for debate among the British public. Debates took place formally, in Parliament, as well as informally, at tea-tables in homes across the country. Especially at the start of the organized antislavery movement, simply talking about the enslavement of Africans was believed to be an effective, if small, political action that contributed to the goal of abolishing the slave trade.


Literary scholars, historians, and art historians have long investigated the variety of cultural goods that were used to inspire such conversations in the period, including poems, prints, and plays. Musical scores have received little attention in such studies. This presentation explores the role that glees and domestic songs set for two to four voices played in provoking abolitionist conversations. I contend that scores had the potential to not only inspire discussion of the slave trade on a literal level, with two or more friends talking about the political issues raised in the song’s lyrics and musical content. In addition to this, scores could create a sociable, abolitionist conversation at a musical level. To make this argument, I draw on recent music-theoretical scholarship by Nicholas Cook and Edward Klorman that positions the musical score as a “script” for social interaction. I use the score-as-script framework to show how the scores of antislavery glees by John Danby and Joseph Mazzinghi “scripted” friendly, if sometimes uncomfortable, conversations among small groups of singers. Though these conversations were musical and pre-planned by the composer, they nevertheless amounted to a real-time exchange of abolitionist ideas among the performers.





12/09/2021 Online Meeting
12:30 PM
Policing Male Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century Paris
Jeffrey Merrick, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Speaker Link
Jennifer Golightly, Colorado College
Speaker Link
Tip Ragan, Colorado College
Speaker Link
Remodal Abstract

Abstract

The police of Paris arrested thousands of men they generally called sodomites before and pederasts after 1750. Over the course of the eighteenth century different types of personnel produced different types of documents that provide different types of evidence about the subculture. More often than not the extant sources include first and last names (and sometimes nicknames), age, place of birth, occupation, and address, as well as details about sexual associates and activities and sometimes comments about identity and community.

Merrick, Golightly, and Ragan are part of a group of scholars who are creating an interactive qualitative database that will allow academics and the general public alike to learn about this sodomitical subculture. By inputting information on more than one hundred factors, it will be possible to explore, describe, and visualize this subculture not only on its own terms but also to connect it with the larger society. The presentation of this ongoing work to the Columbia Seminar will provide an overview of the project, highlighting the possibilities afforded by DLA to social and cultural history, providing examples of some of the missteps made along the way, demonstrating where things stand now, and setting out next steps.


02/17/2022 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
A Literary Approach to Infrastructure
David Alff, SUNY Buffalo
Abstract

Abstract

In recent years, humanists have exposed public utilities as an interpretable scene of culture and site of conflict. My talk models a literary approach to infrastructure studies by investigating waymaking, the use of language to dedicate strips of land to the traffic of animals, goods, waste, and people. Where ethnographic fieldwork has located infrastructure in the engineered landscapes of today, I trace the conceptual origins of public works to legal writings that generated traversable space in 17th- and 18th-century Britain. I show specifically how the construction of mine railways in England’s Tyneside region spurred the reimagination of easement agreements as scripts for industrial life. Reading theses scripts today demonstrates how criticism can supplement social-scientific methods by uncovering the feats of rhetorical invention and poetic imagination that authorize freight.





03/24/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
White Hands/Black Pots: Wedgwood, Abolition, and Gender
Patricia A. Matthew, Montclair State University




04/21/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Akan Worldviews and the Matter of Abolition in Quobna Ottobah Cugoano’s 'Thoughts and Sentiments of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species' (1787)
Rebekah Mitsein, Boston College
Abstract

Abstract

Given Africa’s exclusion from Western narratives of Enlightenment and modernity, is there a place for African thought in the study of eighteenth-century European culture? This paper makes the case that there is, offering as a test case the way that West African ideas about the relationship between power and matter shape Quobna Ottobah Cugoano’s philosophical and political rhetoric in his Thoughts and Sentiments. Born a Fanti on the Gold Coast, Cugoano converted to Christianity and was given a Western education. However, he continued to embrace his Fanti identity, putting his African name rather than his baptismal name on the cover of his book on the grounds that “Christianity does not require that we should be deprived of our own personal name, or the name of our ancestors.” I argue that the worldview underpinning his abolitionist argument is similarly entwined as he takes what was useful and good from the conceptual schemas in which he was raised and marries it with Christian doctrine. Akan ideas about the animating forces of life and the material world underpin his explanation of why the creation and the everyday maintenance of slavery is a form of idol worship as he figures apologists as conjurers who have dishonored God by building a powerful and destructive fetish out of the slave trade—an institution that must be understood as a maleficent crafted object before it can be destroyed.





05/12/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
12:00 PM
Comparing the Irish plantations of Jamaica, Réunion and Saint Domingue (Haiti) - defining the European colonial space?
Finola O'Kane Crimmins, University College Dublin
Abstract

Abstract

The traditional opposition between French and British designed landscapes- one the product of absolute monarchy and represented by Versailles, the other where the ideals of a free parliament led to the landscape garden - is familiar and well-worn. But how did the polarisation of two national landscape 'types' percolate down to their colonial possessions and did the transfer make the national characterisation more intense or less? Was this cycle of competitive differentiation, in which the English and French gardens are traditionally engaged, rendered more or less acute in colonial environments? Did such oppositions, incorporating style and politics, liberty, freedom and other lofty sentiments, not mask the similarity of what was really going on in their respective wider empires?

Irish tropical plantations, caught between conflicting nation states and their warring conceptions of landscape theory, demonstrated no great loyalty to any of them. This ambivalence to either the French or British narratives of landscape history may in some instances reveal an acutely paradigmatic interpretation of colonial space. Relatively free of imperial chauvinism (although not always), they may express some essentially 'European' concept of colonial space- an economically-driven spatial preoccupation with axis, order, hierarchy and control, muddied by its later picturesque dissimulation in polite propaganda. This lecture will re-create the spatial paradigms of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Réunion and Jamaica by exploring the Irish-owned plantations of those who, in Kit Candlin’s words, “did not fit (or would not fit) into any one empire”?[i] It will explore how landscape design is affected when the markers of national identity are in flux. By interrogating the uses and misuses of the colonial picturesque it will also recreate some of Europe's most calculated, damning and lost environments.