Enlightenment Identities

While proposals for papers, panels, and roundtables on any theme relevant to the long eighteenth century will be welcome, we will particularly invite contributions that address the theme of ‘Enlightenment Identities’.

‘Identity’ is a timely theme which shows no sign of losing the attention of eighteenth-century scholars across the disciplines. Indeed, given the long-running debates about national and federal identities in Britain and Scotland, this theme is particularly relevant to a Congress held in Edinburgh—a proud national capital.

 Above all, the enquiries are open-ended. Identities can be individual or communal. They can be local, regional, colonial, national, federal, imperial, and/or global. Indeed, identities are characteristically complex. They are forged by factors ranging from the personal to wider political, military, religious, intellectual, techno-scientific, cultural, ethnic, social, sexual, economic, class/caste, geographical, and historical contexts.

Unsurprisingly, ‘identity’ was much disputed in the eighteenth century, with the concept of the enlightened individual. Moreover, these questions overlap with big definitional debates about the nature of Enlightenment. Was there ‘an Enlightenment project’, or many different national versions, or a radical Enlightenment—or none?

Given these interlocking complexities, the big theme of ‘Enlightenment Identities’ constitutes an alluring topic for an international gathering in the great Enlightenment city of Edinburgh, whose eighteenth-century denizens, like Adam Smith, were at once Scottish, British, and ‘citizens of the world’.

 

Complex Identities: A Case Study

didoDido Elizabeth Belle (1761–1804), shown here with her cousin Elizabeth Murray (1760–1825), was the daughter of an enslaved African woman called Maria Belle and the Scottish admiral Sir John Lindsay (1737–1788).

Born in the Caribbean, Dido was sent to London to live with her great-uncle, the celebrated Scottish lawyer William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705–1793).

Although Scottish, Mansfield’s greatest contribution was to English law, ruling in 1771 that slavery was not legal in England. The ruling set free around 10,000 enslaved people, most of African descent.

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