BARS Blog

BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

BARS 2019: Factually a Fantastic Conference!

Today on the Blog is a post from Colette Davies (University of Nottingham). She reports from the International BARS conference that took place in July 2019. This is the first of a series of reports from the conference. You can also see pictures from the event if you search #BARS2019 on Twitter. 

Please forgive the cheesy title. The 16th International British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) conference, themed ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’ (now you can see my title’s inspiration!), has just been hosted by the University of Nottingham’s School of English. Spanning a period of four days, Nottingham welcomed over 200 delegates from all around the world to this conference. Numerous parallel panels, exemplary plenaries, ECR and PGR workshops, excursions, conference banquets, wine receptions, wonderful catering, and frequent tea and coffee breaks meant that these four days sped by.

Despite time flying, the planning and organisation of this conference has been years in the planning. Bids for hosting the 2019 conference were placed just after the 2015 BARS conference at Cardiff University. As a current PhD student at the University of Nottingham, I joined the planning team over a year ago and, as Twitter reminded me today, I set up the Twitter account 365 days ago. Thankfully, the hard work by a team of more than ten people over the past four years most certainly paid off.

On the first day (and the hottest day of the year so far), delegates were welcomed by the organisers, Professor Lynda Pratt and Professor Máire Ní Fhlathúin. The conference was then officially opened by Professor Jeremy Gregory, Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nottingham. Professor Laura Mandell, of Texas A&M University, gave the first plenary in which she focussed on ‘Re-inventing Gender: the Feminist Controversy in England, 1788-1810’. Her plenary discussed the data project she is currently working on, in which writing styles are annotated and grouped to indicate difference of styles that surpass the M/F binary. Lunch followed, during which there was a highly informative PGR and ECR workshop on ‘Heritage Careers’ given by Dr. Gillian Dow and Dr. Anna Mercer. The afternoon was a succession of three parallel panels; over 60 individuals presented on the first day! The evening began with the Welcome Reception and Book Prize followed by an informal dinner.

BARS Book Prize announced by Dr. Jane Moore

Friday quickly flew by with four parallel panels along with two plenaries, a BBQ for dinner and a PGR and ECR wine reception. Professor Diego Saglia gave the second plenary of the conference, in which he focussed on Byron’s links to and life in Ravenna in a lecture entitled, ‘Byron’s Words and Things: Bodies, Bullets and a Box’. His presentation included some of the items relating to Byron which were collected by the Countess Teresa Gamba – one of them being flakes of Byron’s skin! The third plenary was delivered by Professor Jane Stabler. Also focussing on Byron, Jane Stabler discussed the anecdotal evidence and annotations on Byron’s text. Friday closed with a vibrant PGR and ECR wine reception at the Orchards Hotel, allowing PGR and ECR students to meet and mingle.

The Conference Banquet

Saturday was Excursion Day! In the morning, delegates attended one parallel panel before enjoying the plenary on ‘Peterloo: The English Uprising’ by Dr. Robert Poole. This was also the public Byron lecture, hosted annually by the School of English. Poole showed the audience images and text from the new graphic novel he has collaboratively worked on and which tells the story of Peterloo through using cartoons, as well as evidence and quotations from letters and records of Peterloo in its narrative. Specifically, Poole concentrated on the representation of women in archival documents and contemporary caricatures of Peterloo and used them to illuminate the role women played in this uprising. On Saturday afternoon, delegates could choose one of three excursions: trips were planned to Newstead Abbey, Wollaton Hall and Park, and the Lakeside Arts Museum which currently houses the conference’s exhibition on Romantic Facts and Fantasies. The Conference Banquet on Saturday evening was enjoyed by all who attended. We were treated to performances of Peterloo songs, collated and introduced by Dr. Alison Morgan of Warwick University and performed by folk trio, the Thrup’nny Bits.

Performance by the Thrup’nny Bits

The last day, Sunday, had the final parallel panels and a second ECR and PGR workshop, this time focussing on publishing. Delivered by Professor Ian Haywood and Dr Richard Gaunt, they tackled some of the facts and fantasies of publishing monographs and articles and REF. Professor Sharon Ruston gave the final plenary on Sunday afternoon; her talk on Humphry Davy’s notebooks demonstrated how he discussed both poetry and science, using concepts of Romanticism to define scientific practices and work. The conference closed with the new incoming President of BARS, Anthony Mandal, praising the conference organising team and all those who gave papers, asked questions, and attended panels and workshops. Colette Davies and Amanda Blake Davis then introduced the BARS ECR and PGR conference, to be held in June 2020 at Keats House, before Dr Andrew McInnes advertised and outlined the 2021 BARS/NASSR joint conference, which will be hosted at Edge Hill University. Hands sore from many rounds of applause, delegates bade farewell to Nottingham. Many headed home, but many were also heading for the International Conference of Romanticism (ICR) in Manchester or the Frances Burney conference, both of which took place the week after BARS.

Conferences require a lot of energy, both from delegates and organisers. Yet, they enable people to share their research with each other, forge connections with scholars working in similar areas and, most importantly, allow individuals to develop their research and practice. I am always nervous before presenting a conference paper but the discussions afterwards are so rewarding. I have never been to a conference yet where I haven’t come away with new texts to include in my research or a new approach to a work or an author. BARS 2019 didn’t disappoint. Established and new scholars alike are keen to talk to each other and it was wonderful to mix with scholars at different stages of their careers. It was really rewarding to be part of the organising team for this conference. Thank you to everyone who came and thanked us for our work towards.

The next BARS conference will be the BARS PG/ECR Conference in 2020. The conference will be held at Keats House, Hampstead, from 12th-13th June. Further details and CfP to follow – for now, save the date!

Colette Davies, University of Nottingham

14 August 2019