European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

The History Play and the British Enlightenment, 1750-1815

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - HISTPLAY (The History Play and the British Enlightenment, 1750-1815)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2019-08-31

The aim of this Fellowship is for the researcher, Dr David O’Shaughnessy, to develop the professional prowess, advanced training, high-impact dissemination, and practical experience commensurate with a leading independent researcher in the EU. The researcher will be based for 15 months at the Huntington Library, California (HL) supervised by Professor Kevin Gilmartin and for 12 months at the School of English, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) supervised by Dr Aileen Douglas. Research training will be implemented through an interdisciplinary project investigating the importance of the history play to the discussion and dissemination of Enlightenment ideas in the two main London theatres of the eighteenth century, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, 1750-1815. The key output will be the first monograph to be written on the eighteenth-century history play but the project will also communicate knowledge to a public audience through appropriate activities. On the outgoing phase of the Fellowship, the researcher will access expertise, advanced training, mentoring as well as having access to the Larpent Collection of theatre manuscripts at the HL, the most important archive in the world for the study of eighteenth-century theatre. Due to its unique archive holdings, the HL is the only institution in the world that can host this project; it also has collaborative relationships with Caltech and the University of Southern California (USC) which will benefit the research in significant ways. In TCD, the researcher will be given the opportunity to embed his new knowledge through undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, conferences and a symposium, and continued research. The resources of the host institutions will facilitate development of an interdisciplinary and international academic network as well as career-mentoring.

The project's importance to society can be demonstrated in a number of its objectives. Firstly, the project will produce the first full-length study of the history play in the eighteenth century. Secondly, it will consider the relationship of the theatre and the dissemination of Enlightenment ideas and culture. Thirdly, it was build new and strengthen existing relationships between US and European institutions. Finally, it will provide the PI with international mobility.
This project involved a period of 15 months at the Huntington Library, California and 12 months at Trinity College Dublin. The PI carried out a number of activities identified in the proposal and also other activities not identified in the proposal but germane to the project's ambitions. Major activities included:

- review of work carried out with the Larpent collection of theatre manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries held at the Huntington Library.
- engagement with literature of the Enlightenment which will allow me to frame the monograph in terms relevant to current debates about the scope, coherence and success of that intellectual movement
- Completed work on a volume of essays 'Ireland, Enlightenment and the English Stage, 1740-1820' which was published by Cambridge UP in 2019. I wrote 'Staging an Irish Enlightenment' , pp. 1-27, sketching out a new understanding of the theatrical Irish Enlightenment and contributed a chapter (9000 words) on the Irish history play ('Civility, patriotism and performance: Cato and the Irish history play', pp. 167-188).
- I successfully applied for a travel grant to the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University.
- I completed work on a chapter on William Godwin and the history play (7,000 words) for a collection to be published by Palgrave in 2020/21.

- I gave a number of talks in Britain and the US on the project (as detailed in the two periodic reports).
- I have secured publishing contracts: 'The Censorship of Eighteenth-Century Theatre: Playhouses and Prohibition, 1737-1843', ed. O'Shaughnessy (Cambridge UP, forthcoming 2020) and 'Charles Macklin and the Practice of Enlightenment', ed. Newman and O'Shaughnessy (Liverpool UP, forthcoming 2020)
- I published a book chapter 'National Identity and Satire' in 'The Oxford Handbook of Eighteenth-Century Satire', ed. Paddy Bullard (Oxford University Press, 2019)
- I appeared on 'Talking History', a national radio programme to talk about Oliver Goldsmith and his historiographical writings
'Ireland, Enlightenment and the English Stage, 1740-1820', ed O'Shaughnessy (Cambridge UP, 2019) illuminates theatre as a crucial forum for the representation of Irish civility and culture for the eighteenth-century English audience. Irish actors and playwrights, operating both as individuals and within networks, were remarkably popular and potent during this period, especially in London. As ideas of Enlightenment percolated throughout Britain and Ireland, Irish theatrical practitioners - actors, managers, playwrights, critics and journalists - exploited a growing receptivity to Irish civility, and advanced a patriot agenda of political and economic autonomy. Mobility, toleration and the capacity to negotiate multiple allegiances are marked features of this Irish theatrical Enlightenment, whose ambitious participants saw little conflict between their twin loyalties to the Crown and to Ireland. This collection of essays responds to recent work in the areas of eighteenth-century theatre studies, Irish studies and Enlightenment studies. The volume's discussions of genre, colonialism, gender, race, music, slavery, and dress open up new avenues of scholarship and research across disciplines.

David Francis Taylor, University of Oxford, offers this endorsement on the Cambridge UP website: '‘Ireland, Enlightenment and the English Stage, 1740–1820 makes a bold and necessary intervention in the field. Its essays shed important new light on the dynamic contribution to English theatrical culture made by a multitude of Irish practitioners and also productively challenge the foundations of what we take ‘the Enlightenment' to be in relation to ideas of nation, cosmopolitanism, and cultural production.'

My work on this volume was focused on Charles Macklin, an eighteenth-century actor and playwright who wrote an important history play. I co-organised the first symposium on Macklin with a colleague at Notre Dame and it took place in London, June 2018. We are editing a collection of essays 'Charles Macklin and the Practice of Enlightenment' to be published my Liverpool University Press in 2020.'

I also became one of the two general editors of a major 8 volume edition of Goldsmith's work (Cambridge UP), a significant achievement beyond the state of the art. This will be the first edition since the 1960s and will take into account of over a half century of scholarship as well as expanding Goldsmith's oeuvre. The new edition will include a volume of his work as a historian and seek to put it into the context of the historiographical disputes of the mid 18th century, as well as ongoing Enlightenment debates about the responsibilities of a historian.