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Fashioning Georgian Englishness: Race, National Identity, and Codes of Proper Behaviour

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FaGEng (Fashioning Georgian Englishness: Race, National Identity, and Codes of Proper Behaviour)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

The project Fashioning Georgian Englishness: Race, National Identity, and Codes of Proper Behaviour (FaGEng) examines the interconnectedness of nationality, race, and conduct within a colonial perspective. It argues that race played a vital but ambiguous role in the construction of the nascent English national identity in the Georgian era (1714–1830); however, since race was a fluid and heterogeneous concept, devoid of the biological foundation it went on to develop in the nineteenth century, the racial and/or national status of English subjects was constructed through a nexus of variables, including religion, language, legal status, property, and political rights, in addition to skin colour—and, as this project argues, especially through manners and conduct.

The study shows national character and race were mutually constitutive and performatively constructed within the Georgian English and colonial context, and that the liminal space of Britain’s Caribbean colonies played a crucial role in both destabilizing and enforcing increasingly racially authorised conceptualisations of Englishness. White English citizens were imagined to be ‘corrupted’ through colonial travel, and upon their return to the metropole their status as both English and white was questioned. Their foreign manners, speech habits, and especially their failures to engage in genteel polite sociability were considered to be an indication of their racial degeneration, and West Indianism carried an ambiguous racial taint in the Georgian English imagination. This shows that race was a fuzzy concept that was articulated through the vocabulary and practices of gentility, decency, refinement, and politeness. Articulations and practices of class- and gender-based ‘proper behaviour’ were thus used to create a naturalised English national character that had a racial foundation. The project also shows that whiteness was not in any way a stable characteristic an individual possessed, but that it could be lost—and possibly also regained.

As a whole, the research makes a substantial and original contribution to the study of English nationalism within a colonial context, and engages with interdisciplinary discussions, particularly those between cultural and intellectual historians, postcolonial researchers, and literary scholars. The project calls to question many previously held scholarly viewpoints and proposes new, highly fruitful openings to the historical study of nationalism and race. The questions and themes the research addresses also offer a highly fruitful point of comparison to recent processes of cultural interaction and exchange, and the structures of racism and nationalism in present-day Europe. The recent scholarly interest in the history of race and ethnicity, as well as the recent European developments caused by globalisation and immigration make the proposed project both highly relevant and timely.
The funding period has enabled the successful launch of the project, which has already yielded significant research results. In addition of having successfully gathered 90% of all her primary source material in various libraries and archives both in the UK and overseas, the PI has prepared a research article based on her findings, titled ‘Performativity Confounded’, to be submitted to a peer review in Critical Inquiry. She also has material for 2-3 additional articles, as well as a monograph, the manuscript of which is now well underway. As the publishing process in the field of history is relatively slow, and all these publications are singlehandedly researched and written, the full impact of the results of the project will manifest in publications in 2019-20.

To disseminate her findings before this, the PI has engaged in multiple other measures. She organised an extremely successful interdisciplinary symposium on the project topic at QMUL in May 2018, titled ‘Representations of “Europeanness” in the Long Eighteenth Century’ (https://18thcenturyeuropeanness.wordpress.com/) with presenters from the UK, USA, Germany, and Finland, as well as a world leading expert on 18th-century colonial history as the key note speaker - Professor Kathleen Wilson. In addition, she has given papers on the project both as an invited key note speaker and as a conference panel member in various seminars and conferences in both Europe and the USA.

The PI has also launched an interdisciplinary research network ‘Colonial Spaces, Colonial Power: European Empires in the Long Eighteenth Century’ (https://colonialspacesnetwork.wordpress.com/) which directly engages with the project’s topics. The network examines European colonialism and the creation of European empires in an intellectual and cultural sense from fresh perspectives, especially focusing on questions centred around Whiteness and power, and the way they manifest themselves and are constructed in colonial spaces. The network is advised by Kathleen Wilson and Margot Finn, both leading experts in the field, and its members are historians, literature scholars, gender and postcolonial scholars, historical geographers, and museum experts working on different aspects of European empires. The network hosts workshops in various countries – next events will take place in Edinburgh at the ISECS 2019 conference in July 2019; New York in January 2020; and Helsinki May 2020.

The PI has also engaged with the general public by organising a lecture concert in collaboration with the baroque music collective Rosinante (Espoo, Finland) in June 2017, which collaboration will continue in the form of a lecture concert tour in Southern Finland in June-August 2019. The Twitter account for the network has 850 regular followers, and in addition, she has been a guest blogger at the QMCECS, University of Helsinki, and Ave Virgo, Ave Vos collective. All of these research outcomes are in line with the planned deliverables outlined in the original research proposal.
It is evident that the project has managed to pick up themes that are academically and societally extremely topical at the moment. Recent political development both within and outside Europe clearly indicates that projects that question narrow definitions of nationality and race are crucial and much-needed. Academically, the hype surrounding the Colonial Spaces network indicates that there are several academics in different fields working to solve these issues, and research cooperation is extremely welcome. The fact that the PI has managed to engage leading scholars in the US and the UK in the network and thereby her project is an indication of her project’s progressing beyond the state of the art. This ambitiousness is reflected in the expected results due from the project before its termination in 2-3 years; the PI will aim to publish two more articles and submit her second monograph manuscript for publication with a leading academic publisher. In addition to this, the Colonial Spaces network will continue to actively organise workshops and also start its own peer-reviewed blog for its members to publish not only academic papers but also texts directed at the larger audience – all open access. The PI will also edit a theme issue for the network on a leading peer-reviewed journal on Whiteness and Europeanness in the Eighteenth-Century Colonial World.
John Raphael Smith, A Lady Holding a Mask (c. 1795)