‘…every wise man would wish to absent from, rather than pay for a feat to behold, a mixture of noise, nonsense, and confusion. Amidst this jargon of men and things, thus promiscuously huddled together, unless the spectator can abstract the good from the bad, and derive moral lessons from the whole, he attends them to little purpose; and sustains not only a loss of money, but a loss of time, which is equally precious.‘
— From London unmask’d: or the new town spy. By ‘the man in the moon’ (London, 1784)
I recently attended a conference at the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. The theme for the conference was ‘Jargon of Men and Things: Production and Consumption in the Long Eighteenth Century.’
The eighteenth century is my favourite century, and it was a pleasure to fully immerse myself in the century that I love to study…but it’s also quite daunting, as no matter how much you think you might know about the century, you realise how much more there is still to learn.
Every paper I listened to was brilliant, and my only regret was that there were parallel panels, meaning that I couldn’t attend each paper that I wanted to. The highlights of the papers I did listen to, however, were Marcello Cattaneo’s ‘Matthew Prior’s Montaigne’.
Another highlight of the day was William Tullett’s ‘Smelly Things: Producing, Containing and Consuming Perfume in Eighteenth-Century England’. The talk he gave traced the change in material culture from the pomander to the smelling bottle, and examined how this change represented a shift in the understanding of the body between the 1500s and the 1700s.
I myself gave a paper on the construction of the modern Robin Hood legend during the 1700s in a panel chaired by Dr. Christopher Tillmouth of Peterhouse College.
It was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had of my PhD so far, and of course the drinks reception and meal after the even was a highlight!