The Beauty of Letters text, type and communication in the eighteenth century

Arts Building, University of Birmingham
Arts and Law, Lectures Talks and Workshops, Research, Students, Teaching
Saturday 14th (09:00) - Sunday 15th March 2015 (17:15)
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A joint annual conference of the Centre for West Midlands History and the Baskerville Society

In his preface to Paradise Lost ( 1758 ), John Baskerville described himself as ‘an admirer of the beauty of letters’. This conference takes his phrase as a starting point to explore texts during the long eighteenth century and will consider how writing, printing, performance and portrayal contributed to the creation of cultural identity and taste, assisted the spread of knowledge and contributed to political, economic, social and cultural change in Britain and the wider world.


Keynote speakers

Lynda Mugglestone
Professor of the History of English, Times Lecturer, CUF Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow at Pembroke College Oxford. She is currently writing a book on Samuel Johnson and eighteenth-century English, while other recent work has focussed on eighteenth-century lexicography, and on problematic aspects of representation in the Oxford English Dictionary–most recently in relation to the suffragettes and early suffragette history.

Jenny Uglow
Author, critic, historian, and editor. Her books include Elizabeth Gaskell: a habit of stories; Hogarth: a life and a world; The Lunar Men: the friends who made the future; Nature’s engraver: a life of Thomas Bewick; A gambling man: Charles II and the Restoration and The pinecone. Her latest book, In these times, is a study of life in Britain through the Napoleonic wars, 1793-1815. Jenny also reviews for press and radio and has been an historical consultant on bbc classic serials.

Susan Whyman
A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She is the author of The pen and the people: English letter writers, which won the Modern Language Association prize in 2010; Sociability and power: the cultural worlds of the Verneys. Susan is co-editor of Walking the streets of eighteenth-century London, lectures widely in the us and the uk and is working on a book about the life, times, and networks of William Hutton of Birmingham (1723-1815)


  • Peter Allen, Publishing calamities of Samuel Galton Junior.
  • Francesco Ascoli, How calligraphy influenced 18c handwriting.
  • Nicolas Barker, Joseph Champion and the Universal Penman.
  • Natalia Belyakova, The Grand Tour in family correspondence.
  • Giles Bergel, Writing-master and engraver: troubled collaboration.
  • Pierre Delsaert, Revival of knowledge: Leuven University Press.
  • Jenni Dixon, The printed world of James Bisset.
  • Gabor Gelleri, The materiality of 18c travel writing.
  • Leonnie Hannan, Women, letter-writing and the life of the mind.
  • Joanna Jarvis, Power of the press: 18c actresses and image control.
  • Ruth Larsen, An archaeology of the letters of elite women.
  • Persida Lazarevic, Cyrillic letters: Orfelin’s calligraphy books.
  • Jennie McDonald, The comical hotch-potch.
  • Annie Mattsson, Writing in an 18c police chamber.
  • Jon Melton, Man of letters: Soane’s typographic vocabulary.
  • Elaine Mitchell, Plants, print and progress in the 18c.
  • Lynda Mugglestone, John Baskerville’s Pocket Dictionary.
  • Diana Patterson, George Bickham’s American writing masters.
  • Peter Pellizzari, Life of Publius: biography of the Federalist.
  • David Roberts, Tonson’s Congreve Folio.
  • Tony Seaton, Printing and the mind of women in Birmingham.
  • Katrin Seyler, Writing between workshop bench and tavern table.
  • Chiara Sironi, The formation of taste through fictional epistles.
  • Leonard Smith, Representations of the madhouse in England.
  • Timothy Underhill, John Byrom: aesthetics of 18c shorthand.
  • Jenny Uglow, Thomas Bewick: book design, engraving, printers.
  • Susan Whyman, William Hutton as an author.
  • Helen Williams, Tristram Shandy and the beauty of Caslon.
  • Kevin Wisniewski, Compositors of types in 18c America.
  • Alex Wright, Baskerville, rabies and Joseph Dalby
  • Giacomo Zanibelli, Royal publishing in ancient Italian states

 Conference programme


Conference fees:

  • £85.00 for two days
  • (includes all lectures, refreshments, lunches, Jenny Uglow lecture, and Saturday evening buffet)
  • £55.00 Saturday only
  • (includes all lectures, refreshments and lunch on Saturday only, Jenny Uglow lecture, and Saturday evening buffet)
  • £40.00 Sunday only
    (includes all lectures, refreshments and lunch on Sunday only)

All delegates must register and pay in advance of the conference.

Details on how to register on our secure online shop will be published shortly.

Further information

For further information, please contact the conference organisers:

  • Professor Caroline Archer +44 (0)121 5871
  • Dr Malcolm Dick +44 (0)121 415 8253