All Together Now: Reflections on the ECSSS and BARS/NASSR conferences

Liverpool: Town plan. 1725 J. Chadwick (1860 lithograph of original). Accessed via GenMaps (

It’s conference season in the academic world, and the ‘Books and Borrowing’ team were delighted to attend two conferences back to back! Despite train and bus strikes, we made it to Liverpool to attend the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society (ECSSS) conference on the theme of ‘Scots Abroad’ at the University of Liverpool. We then moved en bloc to the ‘New Romanticisms’ conference, organised jointly by the British and North American Associations for Romantic Studies (BARS/NASSR), at Edge Hill University, from 2 to 5 August.

It was wonderful to be back together for these in-person events, after so long without seeing friends and colleagues in the flesh. We also very much enjoyed being in the beautiful Georgian city of Liverpool, replete with all its Beatles memorabilia!

Liverpool Lyceum, a subscription library and newsroom designed by Thomas Harrison and completed in 1802. The Lyceum provided new premises for the Liverpool Library, founded in 1758 as one of the first formal subscription libraries in England. Reproduced from the ECSSS conference programme, by kind permission of the organisers.

We rented a large house not far from the University and had some convivial team evenings, as well as enjoying the company of friends and colleagues at the two conferences.

At ECSSS, we presented a panel entitled ‘Early Research Findings’, on which I introduced the project, Kit discussed five of the borrowers in our database, giving a demonstration of the ways in which we can find out more about the borrowers across our different sets of library records, and arguing persuasively for the value of doing so. Matt talked about student reading habits in eighteenth-century Glasgow, Alex focussed on the transformation of Westerkirk from a miners’ library to a subscription library from 1791 to 1830, and Gerry led us towards a federal view of Scottish borrowings. Project PhD students Josh and Cleo spoke about reading, politics and networks in the 1810s, and reading for improvement in Elizabeth Hamilton’s Memoirs of Modern Philosophers respectively, on a separate panel. It was great to hear all of these excellent papers, as well as contributions from friends, colleagues and other dix-huitiémistes, in particular from fellow members of Stirling’s Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, on topics as diverse as churchmanship and loyalty in Scotland, the Scottish Privy Council papers, and warfare and British imperial attitudes in the late eighteenth century. And along with all the other conference delegates, we very much appreciated the wine reception at the Liverpool Athenaeum, with its fascinating and historic library.

Blue Plaque outside the Liverpool Athenaeum

At the BARS/NASSR conference, Josh, Cleo and Maxine formed one panel, while Gerry, Matt and myself formed another. In the first, Josh discussed the relationships between reading, reviews and Romanticism in the early nineteenth-century subscription library, Maxine talked about children’s book borrowing at the Royal High School of Edinburgh and their subsequent reading lives, and Cleo turned to Susan Ferrier’s ideas of Scottish female education. On the second panel, Gerry and I presented linked papers on the theme of reading and book circulation in libraries on the geographical margins of Scotland, while Matt explored the sustained presence of particular works of eighteenth-century fiction in our libraries during the Romantic period. Questions afterwards were lively and engaged, and we very much enjoyed ourselves! Gerry also participated in a BARS salon on ‘Romanticism on the Coast’, and Matt in a panel on ‘Romanticism and Metal Studies’. Particular highlights of this conference for me were the conference dinner, held at the Maritime Museum on the Liverpool docks, the excellent and thought-provoking Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture, delivered by Books and Borrowing Advisory Board member Jennie Batchelor, Kirsteen McCue’s beautiful singing of Burns’s lyrics in her own keynote, and the many other brilliant papers I heard which made me think productively and differently about Romanticism. Attending this conference also reminded me of a debt of gratitude that I owe to BARS and NASSR. Ten years ago, in August of 2012, the BARS/NASSR conference was held in Neuchatel, Switzerland, on the theme of ‘Romantic Prospects’. It was there that I first met Matt Sangster, and the friendship that would one day give rise to the ‘Books and Borrowing’ project began over a bottle of Swiss wine. Once again, at BARS/NASSR at Edge Hill, I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends, and making new ones.

The Merseyside Maritime Museum

Conferences take a huge amount of organisation, dedication and sheer hard work, and we’d like to record here our thanks to Mark Towsey, lead organiser of the ECSSS conference, and Andrew McInnes, lead organiser of the BARS conference, and their respective committees, for all their work in putting the conferences together.