PrefacePréface[Record]

  • Alison Conway and
  • Mary Helen McMurran

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  • Alison Conway
    Department of English and Writing Studies, Arts and Humanities, Western University / Université Western

  • Mary Helen McMurran
    Department of English and Writing Studies, Arts and Humanities, Western University / Université Western

  • Translator / Traducteur
    Christine Roulston

For much of the last century, the Enlightenment signified the project of modernity. Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s attack on instrumental reason and the concealed myth of foundations in Dialectic of Enlightenment cast suspicion on that project, a critique reinforced by postmodern and postcolonial theorists. All along, however, scholars continued to defend the Enlightenment project as the auspicious origin of modern liberalism. Gertrude Himmelfarb’s TheRoads to Modernity (2004) and Tzvetan Todorov’s In Defence of Enlightenment (2009) are only the most recent studies to assert the significance of reason, autonomy, and progress. Thus, the Enlightenment’s legacy is a contradictory one: it is decried as false universalism while credited with handing down the principles of tolerance and human rights without which the ideal of inclusive civil society, among its other ideals, could not proceed as a global project. In recent years, scholars of the eighteenth century have responded to this critical stand off by drawing attention to its reductive tendencies. Identifying lesser-known figures and marginalized constituencies as agents of the Enlightenment and accounting for the ways class, gender, the nation, imperialism, race, and technology engaged and transformed the cultures of eighteenth-century thought, new research has shifted the debate while broadening the Enlightenment canon. The thirty-ninth annual meeting of the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, “Enlightenment Constellations,” was organized around this more pixilated image of an inclusive and multiform shift in ideas and practices across the eighteenth century. Scholars from Canada, Europe, and the United States presented papers ranging across disciplines and nations in their exploration of what “Enlightenment” meant for eighteenth-century writers, philosophers, and artists, and what it means for scholars in the field today. The Enlightenment that emerged from the conference appears not so much as representative of the beginnings of modernity, but as an exchange of ideas looking backward and forward in its unsettled relations with human and other natures. Scholars presented papers on race, class, sexuality, gender, labor and indigeneity, Enlightenment conceptions of space and the vitality of matter. New perspectives on writing practices drew our attention to coterie writing as integral to the meaning of Enlightenment authorship, and book history was foregrounded in papers on eighteenth-century media networks. Another central Enlightenment topos, secularism, was complicated by papers on the persistence of religious thought in the long eighteenth century—for instance, the contributions of Catholic writers to Enlightenment discourse. Nancy Ruttenburg’s plenary address examined early American thinking about liberty of conscience, reminding us that the work of Enlightenment was undertaken by writers beyond the borders of western Europe. In a similar vein, “three kingdoms” historiography displaced England in its study of Irish and Scottish contributions to an emergent Britishness. Cosmopolitanism and aesthetics took on new valences in re-readings of these philosophical legacies. The papers collected here touch on each of the different strands that the conference as a whole wove together. Jenny McKenney’s essay, “‘That ‘Bossy Shield’: Money, Sex, Sentiment and the Thimble,” studies the rich material history and the imaginative representations of the lowly thimble. “In the Groves of the Academy: The Aikin Family, Sociability, and the Liberal Dissenting Academy,” by Kathryn Ready, traces the mutual imbrication of provincial and metropolitan, “sociable” and revolutionary, strands of Dissenting discourse in efforts to advance the principle of “free inquiry.” Scottish sociability serves as the starting point for Pam Perkins’ discussion of Edinburgh’s literary scene and its emergent professionalism in “‘A Constellation of Scottish Genius’: Networks of Exchange in Late 18th- and early 19th-Century Edinburgh.” In “Absences et présences de l’art du voyage dans la France du XVIIIe siècle,” Gabor Gelléri restores to view previously neglected materials in …

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Appendices