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SCEMS Workshop: Anxiety

Sheffield Centre for Early Modern Studies presents a workshop on Anxiety.

Keynote speakers: Professor Lynda Mugglestone, University of Oxford and Professor Jon Mee, University of Warwick

In 1755, Samuel Johnson devoted a considerable amount of space in the first edition of his Dictionary to the contemplation of anxiety. Drawing upon the authorship of Alexander Pope and John Dryden, Johnson described anxiety as the anticipation of a future event.

Anxiety is a state of mind and authorship that can be traced throughout the critical writings of literature, language and linguistics. While for Johnson himself in 1755, one can trace anxiety to ‘the contamination of the English language’ by its French neighbour, the francophobia exhibited in his Preface further anticipated the outbreak of the Seven Years War in the following year. Anxiety about forms of social change (imperialism, war, revolution and treason trials) can be registered either through literary and linguistic transformations, or else through a desire to retrench against impending changes, to preserve indigenous grammars, literary traditions and political constitution. In his study of anxiety in relation to Romantic imperialism, for example, Nigel Leask argues that whether authors of the Romantic period supported or decried imperialism is less pressing than exploring how they registered their anxiety. Such anxiety, Leask argues, ‘registered a sense of the internal dislocation of metropolitan culture . . .[and] could also lend support to its hegemonic programme.’This can ‘sometimes block or disable the positivities of power’ but is ‘just as often productive in furthering the imperial will.’The eighteenth century offers an important anchor for productive anxieties for researchers. From Enlightenment philosophy, to imperialism, invasion, nationhood, revolutions inAmerica and France, to the innovative new poetics of Wordsworth, the anxieties of the period offer a conceptual framework useful to researchers from across different time periods, disciplines, and theoretical positions.

Our workshop will involve two keynote talks to be given by distinguished eighteenth-century scholars Professors Lynda Mugglestone and Jon Mee. Further speakers from the School of English will include: Dr Jane Hodson, Dr Hamish Mathison, Dr Marcus Nevitt, Dr Ranjan Sen, and Dr Richard Steadman-Jones, and Dr Angela Wright.

For more information, please contact Dr Joe Bray, Dr Madeleine Callaghan, and Dr Angela Wright at: anxiety@sheffield.ac.uk.