Welcome to the ‘Placing the Author’ blog, which we’re running alongside the conference to be held on 20 June 2015. We’re hoping that the blog will provide a more informal platform for discussion, and we’re very keen to welcome posts, comments and contributions from interested readers and academics, as well as conference delegates.
The ‘Placing the Author’ conference seeks to explore the surge of enthusiasm for visiting places associated with authors and their works which occurred over the course of the nineteenth century, alongside the related interest in the preservation and consecration of authors’ houses. In 1847 one of the world’s most famous sites of literary tourism, the birthplace of William Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; Charles Dickens was involved with the London Committee to purchase the property, a fact that indicates the importance the preservation of historical sites of literary interest had for nineteenth century authors. The first blue plaque was introduced in 1867 to mark the birthplace of Lord Byron, and by 1885 nineteenth-century authors were being added to Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. In 1890 Dove Cottage was opened to the public. That event was followed in 1893 by the official commemoration of Coleridge Cottage. The National Trust was founded by Canon Rawnsley in 1895 with the express purpose of preserving sites of cultural interest, including landscapes and buildings associated with authors; Rawnsley lived at Allan Bank, which had been Wordsworth’s home between 1811 and 1813, and the Trust was inspired in part by Rawnsley’s desire to protect the Lake District landscape. In the first decade or so of its existence, the National Trust purchased a number of literary houses, including Coleridge Cottage.
Papers at the conference will explore what literary tourists sought to experience, and the ways in which these experiences were communicated to a wider audience. But of course, our responses to these sites are still changing, and as well as the conference we wanted to find a way of exploring how and why we still respond to these sites, and to ask why they matter. The three of us (Claire Wood, Amber Pouliot and Joanna Taylor) decided early on in the planning process that we wanted to make the conference as inclusive as possible. For a conference that focuses so much on the importance of space, we wanted to make sure that it was held in a place that reflected our own longstanding interest in the homes of nineteenth-century authors. Yet, we also wanted to make sure that this space could accommodate both the scholarly visitor and the literary tourist. We’re very grateful to the team at the newly restored Elizabeth Gaskell’s House for allowing us to hold our event at this important nineteenth-century literary site. But places now are so much more than the physical spaces they occupy: they also have a digital presence, so that the sites of interest are found both in the real and the online worlds. This blog aims to provide a site on which we can develop and expand the types of conversations with which the conference is concerned.
We’d like to invite contributions from anyone interested in nineteenth-century literary tourism – whether you’re an academic interested in disseminating your work in a more informal way, or a literary tourist who would like to share your personal experiences. Through this blog, we want to expand our exploration of why literary tourism matters, and what it is about these sites that prompt such strong responses. If you’d like to contribute a blog post (of 5-900 words), send a photo over to our Postcard Project, or if you have another idea for how you’d like to get involved, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.