War, Revolution and the Romantic Era in South West England

A conference jointly organised by the Regional History Centre; M Shed; and the Bristol Festival of Ideas was held on 28 February 2015 at M Shed in Bristol.


In 2015, the Bristol Festival of Ideas will launch a year-long celebration of the city’s historic association with British Romanticism, c. 1780-1820. Bristol was home to the young Robert Lovell, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey; Coleridge and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads was first published there by Joseph Cottle in 1798 and the city provided a lively platform not only for literary experimentation but for a new, idealistic and youthful democratic politics. Coleridge delivered a series of radical public lectures at Bristol in 1795 and launched an opposition newspaper, The Watchman in 1796. Meanwhile, he and Southey were both mixing in rational scientific and literary circles with Thomas Beddoes, Tom Wedgwood and Humphrey Davy where the experimental Pneumatic Institute in Hotwells brought medicine, science and Romanticism together in a new and creative confluence.

The French Revolution and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars that followed in its wake (1789-1815) sharply divided British public opinion and provoked a war of ideas that produced new readings of citizenship, nationalism, patriotism, civil rights, property, history, philosophy and nature itself. Hannah More’s Sunday School initiatives in the region grew indirectly from these developments and Mary Shelley’s brief South Western residence was formative on the production of Frankenstein. Coleridge relocated to Nether Stowey and the Wordsworths to Alfoxden where the Somerset landscape helped further to define and inspire the Romantic movement.

This conference locates Romanticism and the environment that produced it within a broad regional framework and explores in greater detail the association between Romantic culture and the impact of world war and revolution in the South West during the 1790s. It compliments both the Festival of Ideas programme and the accompanying M Shed exhibition, Moved by Conflict, which explores related regional themes for the later world war of 1914-18.

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