Core Program, 2008–09

The British Atlantic in an Age of Revolution and Reaction:
From Boston to Peterloo and Tea Party to Massacre

—organized by Center/Clark Professors Saree Makdisi, University of California, Los Angeles, and Michael Meranze, University of California, Los Angeles

From Boston to Peterloo proposes a renewed examination of the British Atlantic in the great age of revolutionary upheaval and counter-revolutionary resurgence that spanned the decades between the American Revolution and the triumph of British imperial reaction at the end of the Napoleonic period. It is our contention that the upsurge of utopian thinking and practice at the end of the eighteenth century cannot be considered simply against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Instead, it must be seen to have emerged in the aftermath of the first great crisis of the British Empire and to have confronted a political terrain dominated by the power of an immensely creative, but retrenching, British elite. In the interplay between the ideals of radical America and radical London, on the one hand, and the powers of authority, on the other, the great efforts of a new utopian literary and political imagination—Romanticism, Paineite radicalism, feminism, and early socialism—took shape.

Conference 1: The American Crisis
October 24–25, 2008

The American Crisis focuses less on the American War itself than on its consequences in the 1780s and after. The loss of the American colonies led to a searching reconsideration of imperial governance that led not only to new interventions in India but to a rise in anti-slavery organization and a renewed challenge to the power of slaveholders in the British Caribbean. In the United States, of course, what has long been known as the “critical period” included plebeian upheaval, intense political and economic debate, and the initial stirrings of efforts to create a national literary culture. Concluding with the ratification of the Federal Constitution of 1787–1788 and the first news of the spread of revolutionary ideals in France, the decade marks the earliest effort to grapple with the new world of modern revolutions.

Session 1: War, Violence, and Independence

Sarah Crabtree, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“The Church Militant: The Quakers Go to War”

Eliga H. Gould, University of New Hampshire
“The Making of American Independence”

Christian Thorne, Williams College
“Virginia Will Burn: Goths, Romans, and Imperial Crisis in the Atlantic”

Session 2: American Crisis, Cultural Crisis

Harriet Guest, University of York
“The Death of James Cook and the American Crisis”

Sarah Knott, Indiana University
“Sensibility and the ‘Critical Period’”

Session 3: The Ancien Régime in the Revolutionary Age

Catherine Molineux, Vanderbilt University
“Race, Slavery, and the American Revolution in Britain, 1780–1807”

Steven M. Tobias, Mellon Fellow, UCLA
“Feeling Nationally, Trading Globally: Barbary, Race, and the Culture of Atlantic Sentimentality”

Michael Meranze, UCLA
Closing Remarks

Conference 2: London
February 20–21, 2009

London takes its lead from the eponymous plate from William Blake’s “Song of Experience.” Its focus turns on the great contrasts of late eighteenth-century London. From the “mind-forg’d manacles” of customary obedience, poverty, and cultural as well as political indoctrination, to the new imaginations of the rights of man, and the deeper currents of romantic rebellion and feminist critique, the conference wants to create a space to discuss the great debates that took place within London and the ways that London figured as a symbol of modernity and oppression (or oppression within modernity) on both sides of the Atlantic. London as a site provided the material infrastructure for the radical imagination of the 1790s—from Blake’s prophecies to the underground networks of the London Corresponding Society. Yet it was also within London that the gathering force of reaction, most famously in Burke, found articulation. London as the center of a global empire allowed for the concentration of imperial thought and counter-imperial activism simultaneously, sometimes in unexpected places. Burke, for example, was a passionate defender of the old regime, yet also an unflinching critic of rapacious empire-building. Of particular interest here is the role of London as a specifically transatlantic site: home to a burgeoning black community, including many ex-slaves, but also the feared (and desired) rival of the emerging power across the Atlantic.

Session 1: Talking about Revolution
Anne Mellor, University of California, Los Angeles

Luke Gibbons, University of Notre Dame
“Reflections on the Slave Trade: James Barry’s Commerce, or, the Triumph of the Thames

Gregory Claeys, Royal Holloway, University of London
“Godwinism and Utopia”

Jenna M. Gibbs, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“’By birth a Briton, my heart clings to America’: Susanna Rowson’s Antislavery in Transatlantic Perspective”

Session 2: Openings
Kristie McClure, University of California, Los Angeles

Sandra Macpherson, Ohio State University
“Emancipation (Sex) Acts”

Aris Sarafianos, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Spectacles of Dissection: William Hunter, Jan van Rymsdyk, and the Politics of Anatomical Hyper-Naturalism”

Session 3: The Battle Joined
Perry Anderson, University of California, Los Angeles

Jon Mee, University of Warwick
“Conversation, Candor, and Dissent: Godwin, Hays, Wollstonecraft”

John Bugg, Fordham University
“Secrets, ca. 1795”

David Bromwich, Yale University
“Burke against the People, 1794–1797”

Saree Makdisi, University of California, Los Angeles
Closing Remarks

Conference 3: America
April 24–25, 2009

America again invokes Blake, this time as the author of America: A Prophecy. In this case the point of departure will be Blake’s use of America as an object of the imagination and his anticipation of both the conceptual and political limits of the American Revolution and the British radical movement that it inspired. America was, after all, seen on both sides of the British Atlantic as the imaginative space that stood in opposition to British society. The conference wants to examine what “America” meant to British radicals (e.g., Coleridge and Southey’s project of Pantisocracy or Joseph Priestley’s escape) and conservatives (Cobbett’s disdain). But it also wants to look at American efforts to join the radical upsurge of the Atlantic world in its literary and political dimensions as witnessed in the careers of, say, Joel Barlow or Philip Freneau, or the challenges Susanna Rowson faced as she traversed the British Atlantic. Of course, this trans-Atlantic radicalism confronted not only the resurgent power of the British monarchy but also the Federalist Administration of George Washington. As a result, the conference also emphasizes the complex world that the radical imagination was forced to confront.

Session 1: America Opening

Edward Gray, Florida State University
“The Year of Rupture: Paine and Burke in 1790”

Vivasvan Soni, Northwestern University
“America and the Fate of the Utopian Imaginary in the Age of Revolution”

Fredrika J. Teute, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
“’Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’: Love and Abandon in the 1790s”

Session 2: Worlds Turned Upside Down

Anthony Galluzzo, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Re-membering Revolution: Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry, Part II, and the Ambiguous Afterlife of 1790s Transatlantic Radicalism in Early National America”

Bryan Waterman, New York University
“’Without Destroying Friendship’: Elizabeth Whitman, Joel Barlow, and the Circulation of Poetry in a Revolutionary-Era Connecticut Correspondence”

Session 3: The Common Wind

Andrew Cayton, Miami University
“Love in the Time of Revolution: The ‘Sublime Tranquility’ of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft”

Catherine O’Donnell Kaplan, Arizona State University
“Catholicism and its Discontents: Transatlantic Radicalism in the Late Eighteenth-Century Church”

Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Northeastern University
“Caribbean Revolution and Creole Radicalism”

Michael Meranze, University of California, Los Angeles
Closing Remarks

Conference 4: “That things depart which never may return”
May 15–16, 2009

Finally, “That things depart which never may return,” begins with Shelley’s plaintive remembrance of the radical Wordsworth. But the conference does so to explore the possibility that Shelley’s singular complaint had more general significance. The early nineteenth century witnessed not simply the transformation of the French Revolution into the Napoleonic Empire (soon to be defeated by its European and British rivals). It also saw the consolidation of an aggressive and expansionist slave country in the United States; the turning back of the feminist efforts of the 1790s; and ultimately the triumph of anti-Jacobinism—explicitly in Britain, implicitly in the Jeffersonian acquiescence to the normality of inequality in America. But it was in this period that the Romantic imagination achieved its greatest fame and range. Whether mourning the revolution in Saint Domingue or recognizing the muck of the England of 1802 or 1819, the Romantics recognized that the greatest burden of “Albion’s Fatal Tree” lay on the soldier and worker of the Napoleonic period. That both workers and soldiers faced each other across the spaces at Peterloo forced the utopian imagination into long-term retreat. Nevertheless as that imagination was channeled into art it generated some of the period’s most powerful literary endeavors.

Session 1: Empire

Alan Taylor, University of California, Davis
“Reaction on the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution”

James Epstein, Vanderbilt University
“The Colonial Eye and Spirit of Despotism on the Island of Trinidad”

Anna Clark, University of Minnesota
“The Secret Diaries of Richard Johnson and the Imperial Self”

Session 2: Contradictions

Ruth Bloch, University of California, Los Angeles
“Wives as Witnesses: Women’s Rights, Revolutionary Ideology, and the Transformation of Coverture in England and America, 1600–1850”

Randall McGowen, University of Oregon
“The Paradox of Criminal Law Reform in the Age of Revolution”

Session 3: Imaginings and Rememberings

Juan Luís Sánchez, University of California, Berkeley
“Latin America and the British Romantic Imagination: Reconciling Empire and the Modern Liberal State”

Iain McCalman, University of Sydney
“Prophecy, Mesmerism and Counter-Revolution: P. J. de Loutherbourg’s Romantic Turn”

Kevin Gilmartin, California Institute of Technology
“Hazlitt’s Radical Memory”

Saree Makdisi, University of California, Los Angeles
Closing Remarks