BSECS 53rd Annual Conference “Work and Play”

Work and Play

Date: 3rd Jan 2024 to 5th Jan 2024

Venue: St Hugh's College, Oxford

Programme: Download here

53rd Annual Conference British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Theme: Work and Play

Event dates: 3rd-5th January 2024

Location: St Hugh’s College, Oxford

Mentoring scheme application: [Blank] Application BSECS Conference Mentoring Scheme 2024

The annual in-person meeting of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies is Europe’s largest and most prestigious annual conference dealing with all aspects of the history, culture, and literature of the long eighteenth century. We invite proposals for papers and sessions dealing with any aspect of the long eighteenth century, not only in Britain, but also throughout Europe, North America, and the wider world. Proposals are invited for fully comprised panels of three papers, for roundtable sessions of up to five speakers, for individual papers of twenty minutes duration, and for ‘alternative format’ sessions of your devising. The submission portal for proposals will open 1st July 2023 and close 30th October 2023.

While proposals on all and any eighteenth-century topics are very welcome, this year our plenary speakers will be addressing the topic of ‘Work and Play’, and proposals are also invited which address any aspect of this theme. The eighteenth century is famously the starting point of the industrial revolution, which ushered in profound changes to the organisation of labour and transformed individuals’ personal relationship with work.

But while such changes were far-reaching, their impact also varied considerably depending on one’s location and occupation, with significant differences between the English experience and those of the wider world. For many, particularly in traditional and manual occupations, work remained the poorly paid drudgery it had always been. For millions, especially those enslaved in Europe’s plantation colonies, work was a prison without hope of escape. For others, however, the world of work offered increasing possibilities for fulfilment and enrichment.

Growing economies, labour-saving technologies, and diversifying societies created opportunities across agriculture, industry, and the professions and spawned new fields of enquiry in both the arts and sciences. Greater wealth meant more leisure time for many and broadened the numbers who could consume books, music, plays, and other traditionally elite forms of entertainment. These competed with more democratic recreations. Football matches, prize fights, bull-baitings, and any number of (often) alcohol-fuelled fairs and holidays attracted huge crowds despite the protestations of moralists and evangelicals. Children as well as adults took part, but increasingly childhood was a seen a special time reserved for (usually) wholesome and instructional play, and, in England at least, the end of the century saw the first attempts to legislate child labour. At every level, from the personal to transnational, the worlds of work and play were undergoing profound transformation in this period, and papers that address any aspect of this revolution are welcome.

Please note, proposals are subject to our terms and conditions:


Enquiries: Any enquiries regarding the academic programme of the conference that are not answered on our website should be addressed to Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland via the BSECS email address Bursaries: Application details for conference bursaries will be sent to all those who have had a paper accepted for the annual conference.