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British Perspectives on 'Europe', 1789-1815

Britische Perspektiven auf ‚Europa‘, 1789-1815

Es steht außer Zweifel, dass im Kontext der revolutionären Ereignisse zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts Gesellschaften in ganz Europa grundlegende sozio-politische Transformationen durchliefen. Mit ihrem Ruf nach sozialer Reform, basierend auf einem neuen Ideal der Menschenrechte, drohten die amerikanischen und französischen Revolutionen, bestehende Regierungssysteme in ihren Grundfesten zu erschüttern oder gar zu zerstören. Diese Forderungen bedeuteten politische Umwälzungen, nicht nur für Frankreich, sondern auch für andere Teile ‚Europas‘ und darüber hinaus. 

In Großbritannien lösten die Ereignisse auf dem Kontinent eine Debatte zwischen Unterstützern und Gegnern der Französischen Revolution aus. Im Zuge der anfänglichen Begeisterung wurde die Revolution von ihren Befürwortern als möglicher Befreiungsschlag von der Unterdrückung durch Monarchie, Adel und institutionalisierte Religion gefeiert: Die Franzosen seien im Begriff zu vollenden, was man in Großbritannien in der Glorious Revolution von 1688/89 begonnen, jedoch im Anschluss nur in unzureichender Weise realisiert habe. Ihren Gegnern galt die Französische Revolution als Inbegriff von Gewaltherrschaft, Terror und Anarchie, insbesondere nach der Hinrichtung Ludwigs XVI. im Jahre 1793. Diese Ambivalenz, die Koalitionskriege, Napoleons Machtergreifung und die verheerenden internationalen Konflikte, welche die Jahre zwischen 1789 und 1815 prägten, wurden zum Thema unzähliger Pamphlete, politischer Aufsätze, Zeitschriftenpublikationen, literarischer Texte und zahlreicher Werke der bildenden Kunst. 

Dieses interdisziplinäre Symposium beleuchtet zeitgenössische Beiträge zu der Debatte über die Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft – nicht nur Großbritanniens, sondern auch Europas – aus geschichtswissenschaftlichen, politologischen, kunstgeschichtlichen sowie literatur- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Perspektiven. 


9:30-9:45 Welcome 

British Perspectives on the French Revolution…and Beyond

9:45-10:30 Pascal Fischer (Bamberg): Edmund Burke, Europe and the Brexit Debate

10:30-11:15 Bruno Grimm (Eichstätt): The French Revolution and its Aftermath in British Art and Caricatures


11:15-11:30 Coffee Break


Images of ‘the Continent’ in Romantic Art and Literature

11:30-12:15 Sebastian Mitchell (Birmingham): Henry Raeburn and the European Context of Edinburgh in the Romantic Age 

12:15-13:00 Angela H Wright (Sheffield): Heresy, Hubris, and Humanity: Representing Spain in the British Gothic Tradition, 1796-1820


13:00-14:15 Lunch Break (at the restaurant “Trompete”)


British-French Relations

14:15-15:00 Stefanie Fricke (Munich): Britain and Napoleon

15:00-15:45 Matthias Middell (Leipzig): The British-French Competition – Global Perspectives 


15:45-16:15 Coffee Break


Present & Past Perspectives on ‘Europe’

16:15-16:50 Marlene Herrschaft-Iden (Passau): Conceptions of Europe in British Parliamentary Discourse (1997-2010)

16:50-17:10 Julia Wiedemann (Eichstätt): William Wordsworth’s Romantic Answer to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Political Ambitions in „On the Convention of Cintra“ (1809) and Selected Poems

17:10 - 18:15 

Corinna Scherr (Eichstätt): ‘Revolutions are Sudden to the Unthinking Only’: S.T. Coleridge’s political commentaries on the state of the French Revolution, 1795-1798

Cyrielle Drexler & Zuzana Zechovska (Eichstätt): ‘Will Men Never be Wise?‘ Romantic Women Writers, Utopian Thought and the Idea of Women’s Rights

Madeleine Engelhard (Eichstätt): Oriental Counter-Worlds in Lord Byron’s ‘The Giaour’

18:15-18:30 Concluding Discussion


19:00 Conference Dinner (at the restaurant “Krone“)


ABSTRACTS (speakers in alphabetical order)

PASCAL FISCHER (Bamberg): Edmund Burke, Europe and the Brexit Debate

In the run-up to the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum in 2016, the eighteenth-century statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke was frequently cited as an authority to bolster the positions of the Leave as well as the Remain campaigns. In his blog Matter Of Facts, Mark Mills, for instance, claims Burke for Remain, because “Conservatism ought to abhor wrenching discontinuities like Brexit.“ While admitting that “Burke is a double-edged sword,” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the conservative Daily Telegraph, on the other hand, argues that Burke “should really be the pin-up philosopher of the Brexiteers.” 

In my paper I will first look at the different arguments advanced on both sides of the debate with respect to Burke’s attitude towards Britain’s role in Europe. That the implicit question “What would Burke do?” is raised by conservatives for self-assurance demonstrates that British conservatism is much more conscious of its philosophical “forefathers” than the German branch. In a second step, I will analyse Burke’s position on Europe as it emerges from his major political writings, among them Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796).  It will be shown that Burke particularly stressed the cultural bonds uniting the countries of Europe. For Burke, the similarity in customs, manners, and mores mandates solidarity among the European nations. David P. Fidler and Jennifer M. Welsh, leading scholars of Burke’s ideas on international relations, have thus argued that the European Union should be seen as “the modern-day expression of so much of what Burke found important about the commonwealth of Europe.” This account, however convincing, should be put into perspective.


STEFANIE FRICKE (Munich): Britain and Napoleon

“Time and time again, war with France brought Britons [...] into confrontation with an obviously hostile Other and encouraged them to define themselves collectively against it.” These long-standing enmities acquired a new focal point with the political rise and dazzling military successes of Napoleon Bonaparte. While some Britons showed grudging admiration – in 1800 Robert Southey called him “the greatest man that events have called into action since Alexander of Macedon” –, most portrayals oscillate between derision and demonization. Focusing on the major confrontations with Britain – the campaign in Egypt (1798/99), the invasion scares of 1801 and 1803-1805, the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the Peninsular War (1808-1814), and the Battle of Waterloo (1815) – this talk will analyse how Napoleon was perceived and constructed in propaganda and popular culture as well as in literature. Another focus will be on Napoleon’s function as a means to create national cohesion and identity, and on the role of national heroes like Nelson who emerged in the struggle against Napoleon.


BRUNO GRIMM (Eichstätt): The French Revolution and its Aftermath in British Art and Caricatures  

In Britain, the French Revolution met with both enthusiasm and scepticism. As part of the so-called Revolution controversy, Thomas Paine, for instance, published The Rights of Man (1791/92) in defence of the French Revolution. His pamphlet was a critical reply to Edmund Burke’s rather conservative Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). However, not only the rise of radical voices in British political discourse, but also the September Massacres and the execution of the French king fostered paranoia of possible turmoil in Britain – similar to what was going on in France. 

Besides political consequences, visual responses were produced against anti-monarchist sentiment: Caricatures by James Gillray, Richard Newton or George Cruikshank were published and distributed all over the country. They depicted, for instance, a ‘France’ calling itself free, but being hungry and desolate at the same time. The ‘Sans Culottes’, too, were ridiculed, and the French idea of liberty was contrasted with the beheaded victims of the guillotine. Later on, political paintings glorified the defeat of Napoleon, the battle of Waterloo was painted by William Turner and national heroes were depicted in St. Paul’s Cathedral. The paper gives exemplary insights into these visualisations from the French Revolution to the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte and the reception of these events in British politics.


MARLENE HERRSCHAFT-IDEN (Passau): Conceptions of Europe in British Parliamentary Discourse (1997-2010)

 How to deal with “Europe” has always been and still is one of the most controversial issues in British politics (Giddings 217). Especially the Conservative party’s discourse and positions merit attention in this context, since it was this same party who had, under Edward Heath, eventually taken the UK into the European Communities in 1973, and who had also campaigned hard in favour of remaining in the “Common Market” in the 1975 referendum called by the Labour prime minister at the time, Wilson. This “pro-Europe” position was not an unchallenged one internally, however, and when Tony Blair took office after a landslide victory in 1997, proclaiming leadership in Europe as one of his government’s goals, it was in contrast to an increasingly anti-European Conservative stance. 

While Blair’s rhetoric on Europe is well-researched, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as the biggest opposition parties at the time (and future government partners!) have been neglected so far. In this paper, I will therefore seek to close this research gap; proceeding from the hypothesis that the contextualisation and negotiation of the nature of the European Union is crucial to understand current political positions and policy goals, I will use political discourse analysis, a methodological approach introduced by Fairclough and Fairclough (2011), to uncover changing patterns and reveal self-images and images of Europe hidden in the language used by Conservative and Liberal MPs to debate European policy in the House of Commons, the time-honoured forum for political discourse in the United Kingdom.


MATTHIAS MIDDELL (Leipzig): The British-French Competition – Global Perspectives 

The time of the French revolution is at the heart of a longer lasting competition between England and France which had culminated already in the Seven Years War and did not end at Waterloo in 1815. The paper will address the different dimensions of that race between the two European powers across the globe and ask for consequences for global history narratives. What is particularly interesting here is the positioning of this global competition in the history of the “great divergence” (Pomeranz et al.) and of the emergence of the “global condition” (Bright/ Geyer) as the central caesura between an “archaic and modern globalization” (Baily) and how the contemporaries saw their period with regard to any breakthrough to globalized modernity.


SEBASTIAN MITCHELL (Birmingham): Henry Raeburn and the European context of Edinburgh in the Romantic Age

 Henry Raeburn has the reputation of being the leading Scottish portraitist of the early party of the nineteenth century. Raeburn was born in Stockbridge in 1756, then a small village to the north of Edinburgh. He spent almost his entire career in the city, where in addition to his portraiture, he was also responsible for construction of parts of the city's later New Town. Modern critics have been interested in the national characteristics of his painting. Duncan Macmillan, for example, has suggested Raeburn's portraiture in the presentation of the self can be fruitfully compared to the examination of selfhood in Thomas Reid's common-sense philosophy; and Macmillan thereby aligns Raeburn's depictions of the individual with a distinctive Scottish approach to analytical thought. Other critics, such as David Thomson, have suggested that an undue emphasis on Raeburn's Scottishness meant that he has been regarded as a parochial figure, rather than a major British artist of the Romantic era.

The purpose of this presentation is to examine Raeburn's art in a European, rather than either a British or Scottish context. Raeburn had a sojourn in Rome as a young man. His early paintings show the influence of Velasquez and his late ones that of Rembrandt. The paper will also consider Raeburn's role as the leading artist in Edinburgh - a city which often looked to continental Europe for its architectural and pictorial standards. The symmetrical buildings of the New Town were both classical and Italianate in style, with the frequent use of such features as Ionic pilasters, Doric pediments and architraves; and the most striking cityscapes of the period, by Alexander Nasmyth, are derivations of Canaletto's Venetian views.


JULIA WIEDEMANN (Eichstätt): William Wordsworth’s Romantic Answer to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Political Ambitions in „On the Convention of Cintra“ (1809) and Selected Poems

Deeply involved in the political changes that started with the French Revolution, William Wordsworth also dealt with the consequences of Napoleon Bonaparte’s attempt to unite Europe under his command. After Napoleon’s defeat in the Peninsular War, Wordsworth was especially concerned by the free retreat of French troops granted in the Convention of Sintra (1808). In his pamphlet “On the Convention of Cintra” (1809), he elaborately condemns this decision. At the same time, this essay as well as several poems written at that time adumbrate ideas on how Europe should be organised in the future. By invoking Romantic ideals and motifs, he creates a picture of Europe with independent, yet closely bound nations. 


ANGELA H WRIGHT (Sheffield): Heresy, Hubris and Humanity: Representing Spain in the British Gothic tradition, 1796-1820

The Gothic novel’s absorption and encoding of political upheaval during the Romantic period is well-known. For most commentators, the continuously negative representation of nuns, priests, monasteries and convents reflects upon an ideological anti-Catholicism that was consonant with revolutionary sentiment in France during the 1790s. Why does this persist, however, beyond the French Revolution, and how does this work in relation to the Gothic’s setting in other countries, such as Spain?   

The Inquisition was a permanent fixture, seemingly, of any Gothic work located in Spain, encoding as it did a particularly harsh form of Catholic tyranny that soothed the closer domestic political anxieties of the British Protestant readership. But it is all too convenient to imagine that the Spanish Inquisition casts its shadow over all examples of Gothic fiction set in Spain during the Romantic period. Even Lewis’s infamous The Monk of 1796 is judged too harshly under this lens, with the final scenes set in the Spanish Inquisition overshadowing the novel’s earlier moral messages. After The Monk, furthermore, one finds a gradual augmentation in the prominence of the location of Spain within the Gothic, and that it is used for a range of ethical and political purposes. As Spain came to articulate a much-admired spirit of independence in its resistance against Napoleon during the Peninsular War, so too did the Gothic come to codify a less feudal version of Spain that combined ancient tradition in a celebration of romance and chivalry and modernity in its encouragement of the nation’s modern martial valour. Through the examples of Gothic chapbooks and novels (some which are well-known, and others which remain unstudied), my talk will explore the way in which, just as relationships between Britain and Spain were transformed with the advent of the Peninsular War between 1808 and 1814, so too was the Gothic’s relationship to Spain. 


Student papers

CYRIELLE DREXLER & ZUZANA ZECHOVSKA (Eichstätt): “Will men never be wise?” – Romantic women writers, Utopian Thought and the Idea of Women’s Rights

The aim of this paper is to figure out how selected Romantic women writers from France and Britain reflected on the notion of female rights against the background of the French Revolution and its aftermath. Departing from Olympe de Gouges’ Déclaration des droits de la femme et citoyenne (1791), it will be shown how her ideas were also discussed in the British context. We will point out how some of de Gouges’ statements and (at that point perhaps utopian hopes for the future) were taken up by Mary Wollstonecraft in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and later on by Mary Robinson in her pamphlet Thoughts on the Condition of Women and on the Injustice of Mental Subordination (1799) in which the two women writers argued for women’s liberty, their right to education and political participation. 


MADELEINE ENGELHARD (Eichstätt): Oriental Counter-Spaces in Lord Byron’s “The Giaour”

Returning from the Grand Tour, Lord Byron put down his travel experience in his Oriental Tales. The first of these, The Giaour, which met with immense popularity upon its publication in 1813, tells the story of a love triangle set in Greece at the time of Turkish occupation. Through a complex construction of narrative perspectives and non-linearity, Lord Byron creates a depiction of Europe that draws heavily on personal experience but uses the setting also as a projection surface of contemporary fears and ideals: Greece functions as a paradisiac idyll, yet at the same time becomes the ground for threatening unbalance and a stage for the Byronic Hero, including typical elements of the Gothic and Romantic Orientalism, while the author also reflects on political and religious conventions of the time. More than just an exotic adventure tale, The Giaour is a vivid example of the perception of other European cultures through the eyes of the English Romantic poet.


CORINNA SCHERR (Eichstätt): “Revolutions are Sudden to the Unthinking Only”: S.T. Coleridge’s Political Commentaries on the French Revolution in the Bristol Lectures of 1795

This paper casts a glance at Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s early political thought, particularly the first of his Bristol Lectures, ‘A Moral and Political Lecture’. It will attempt to show the structural and rhetorical means Coleridge employs in this particular lecture in order to position himself alongside the revolutionaries of his time. Simultaneously, it will show the orator’s rhetorical strategies to deflect from himself any of the accusations of sedition or treason that fellow political lecturers often faced. The paper also sheds some light on his line of reasoning, when he employs the example of the French Revolution to a possible (and expected) British Revolution, defining the potential for improvement he sees in the ideals and measures of the failed French revolution for a more successful future British Revolution. 



Narmin Abilova, Cyrielle Drexler, Madeleine Engelhard, Carolin Giggenbach, Nelly Rahimy, Corinna Scherr, Zuzana Zechovska, Dr. Bea Klüsener