Bits and Pieces

It’s been another very busy period of research since my last general update. I’m pleased to say that, following intensive work in the spring, chapter three of the project monograph is now in draft. This chapter tackles the evolution of periodical print culture in southwest Scotland in the period of 1770-1830, moving across both newspapers and magazines. The archives (primarily those of the Ewart Library in Dumfries) happily I think supported my initial sense that there was an untold story here.

Dumfriesshire and Galloway was among regional publishing centres in this period that were not merely satellites for London and Edinburgh but which were also engaged in ground-breaking print ventures. Furthermore, such provincial settings, where a local readership remained unusually important, nicely reframe the relationship between writing and place – causing the ‘local’ itself to take on a different inflection. One part of this research, which explores the development of the Dumfries and Galloway Courier in the 1820s, will be featured in a forthcoming book on the decade edited by Jon Mee and Matthew Sangster. The Courier had been founded in 1809 by Rev. Henry Duncan as, in part, an offshoot of his liberal activism, before being taken on by John McDiarmid. Throughout its early years but especially into the 1820s, the newspaper developed an idiosyncratic and ambitiously literary voice that makes it an interesting bellwether for the evolution of periodical journalism.

The first ‘Regional Romanticism’ article is in press with Philological Quarterly for the Winter 2020 issue. That piece develops work on the maritime figure John Paul Jones, a Galloway mariner who became a Commodore in the Revolutionary US navy and mounted a series of raids around the British coastline in 1778-9. He gained a complex reputation as, variously: a hero, freedom fighter, outlaw and pirate. Most importantly from my point of view, Jones became the subject of a whole series of nineteenth-century novels in which he signals a complicated sense of place in the transatlantic world, specifically the threatened category of ‘home’. It was a pleasure to present on this research at the most recent North American Society for the Study of Romanticism conference in Chicago in August, as part of a packed summer of conferencing. I am hoping to return to Chicago in the near future to spend more time in the archives of the Newberry Library.

On the subject of John Paul Jones, I have recently secured some additional pots of funding to support one of the project’s key public-facing activities. I will write more about this in due course but, in brief, I am working in collaboration with the Dumfries-based artist Hugh Bryden on a comic book about the life and reputation of Jones aimed at children in the upper years of primary school (ages 7-11), to be distributed for free to schools and libraries in southwest Scotland. Bryden has an award-winning imprint (Roncadora Press) that has been described by novelist Ali Smith as ‘gloriously inventive’ and it is a pleasure to be shifting gears into this kind of collaboration.

One last thing: my first monograph, Dialectics of Improvement: Scottish Romanticism, 1786-1831, has now been proofed and indexed and is in press for March 2020 in Ian Duncan and Penny Fielding’s ‘Edinburgh Critical Studies in Romanticism’ series with Edinburgh University Press. That book has been a long time in the gestation and it is great to have it finished. It takes a new look at Scottish Romanticism through the lens of the keyword ‘improvement’, the complexity and internal contradictions of which I try to capture.

More soon …

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