BSECS 54th Annual Conference “Bodies and Embodiment”

Bodies and Embodiment

Date: 8th Jan 2025 to 10th Jan 2025

Venue: Pembroke College, Oxford

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 2024 and close 30th October 2024.

While proposals on all and any eighteenth-century topics are very welcome, this year our plenary speakers will be addressing the topic of ‘Bodies and Embodiment’, and proposals are also invited which address any aspect of this theme.

Scholars of the body have often identified the eighteenth century as a key period of change. The scientific revolution ushered in new ways of thinking about human anatomy and bodily health, and these connected to wider debates within the Enlightenment about the relative statuses of different sexes, races and social classes. Medical and scientific theories of the body were therefore not politically neutral, but related to questions of power and exclusion. Of course, the body itself had long been a metaphor for the state or the social order, and these political ideas developed in new ways over the course of the century.

As well as ideas and metaphors of the body, the eighteenth century contained real people with real bodies. These bodies walked, danced, slept, fought, worked and played, among countless other everyday functions: the question of how scholars today should study quotidian corporeal activities in the past in a vexed one, given that they were rarely written down. Eighteenth-century bodies were adorned with clothes, wigs, hats, shoes and other material articles: fashions often changed rapidly, and were an important part of the new consumer culture. This could result in a refined body, but bodies also did unrefined things such as farting, sweating and vomiting: bodily functions were frequently the focus of humour and satire. Many bodies were disabled or endured illness and injury: the century thought about such bodies in distinctive ways, and people in this period had particular medical and material strategies for living with disability.

The question of bodies and embodiment therefore adds to our understanding of the century in myriad ways. And given that the eighteenth century was foundational to the modern world in so many respects, it also sheds light on current attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Papers, panels and alternative sessions that address any of these aspects are welcome.

This year we are piloting online access to the conference, and we are unable to accommodate wide-scale hybrid panel presentations. However, if the only way you can present is online, please indicate so in the proposal in the ‘Other Information’ box.

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.

***Our confirmation emails following the submission of a proposal tend to either fall into spam or be filtered out by institutional email systems. If you do not receive a confirmation email, please check your spam in the first instance. If there is no confirmation, we will be able to check if we have received your proposal.***