Adam Ferguson on the Perils of Popular Factions and Demagogues in a Roman Mirror

Max Skjönsberg (St Andrews University)

Friday, 2 November 2018, 4 – 5.30 pm

Venue: Room 2.36, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School, Teviot Place

For the Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) and many of his time, the history of the Roman Republic furnished the best case study for discussions of internal threats to a mixed system of government. These included factionalism, popular discontent, and the rise of demagogues seeking to concentrate power in their own hands. Ferguson has often been interpreted as a “Machiavellian” who celebrated the legacy of Rome and in particular the value of civic discord. By contrast, this paper argues that he is better understood as a disciple of Montesquieu, who viewed Rome as an anachronistic and dangerous ideal in the eighteenth century, the era of the civilized and commercial monarchy. The greatest fear of Ferguson was military despotism, which was the likely outcome of democratic chaos produced by the leveling instincts of the “common” people and demagogues prepared to harness their discontent. In such a scenario, a legitimate order in a mixed government would be turned into a faction putting the constitutional balance at risk, undermining intermediate powers, and ending liberty for all.

Max Skjönsbergis an Associate Lecturer in Intellectual History post-1700 at St Andrews and the 2018 David Hume Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), Edinburgh. He has published articles in the Historical Journal, Modern Intellectual History and the Journal of British Studies.


A History of the ‘Anecdote’ and Hume’s Circle in Bristol, 1734

Tomáš Kunca (Charles University, Prague)

Friday, 5 October 2018, 4.00 – 5. 30 pm

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), Hope Park Square (map)

This paper will present new evidence on Hume´s time in Bristol in 1734 and draw some conclusions allowing a modified interpretation of this period in Hume´s life. In the beginning of the paper, Hume´s plan for Bristol from his ‘Letter to a Physician’ (March/April 1734) is going to be briefly discussed. His period in Bristol is presented in a more or less constant form over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, and I shall discuss particular versions in their broader contexts. The principal members of Hume´s circle in Bristol appear to have been his master (Michael Miller ?), and particularly  his friend, Mr. John Peach, a merchant (linen draper) of Bristol, possibly a friend of Dr Thomas Sheridan, a literary instructor of young Hannah More, and a patron of John Cleland. Newly discovered facts about the life both of Michael Miller and John Peach offer an opportunity to present a fuller picture of Hume´s mission to Bristol including some important biographical information.

Tomáš Kunca is a Senior Lecturer in British philosophy of the 17th and 18th centuries at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague. His research and teaching interests include Hume, Mandeville, the history of the Scottish Enlightenment, and the transatlantic slave trade. Since defending his doctoral thesis on Hume´s experimental approach to philosophical anthropology in 2013, he has organized international conferences in Prague (2015, 2016). He is also the organizer of an international conference in June 2019 on Slavery, Religion, and Enlightenment. He has worked in particular on the biography of David Hume, especially the period around his “disease of the learned”  from 1729 – 1734, and his short period in Bristol in 1734. He is preparing several publications on Hume´s biography circa 1729 – 1734.

This event is organised jointly with the Intellectual History Research Group in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology.

The Labor of the Mind. Intellect and Gender in Enlightenment Cultures

A. J. LaVopa (North Carolina State University)

Monday, 21 May 2018, 2 – 3.30 pm

School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Old Medical School, Teviot Place, William Robertson Wing, rm. 2.36

Prof. LaVopa will give a presentation on his most recent book, The Labor of the Mind. Intellect and Gender in Enlightenment Cultures (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), and lead a discussion of chapter 6 (“The Labors of David Hume”).

The book is available online through the Edinburgh University Library website.

Please send an email to before 6 pm on Friday, 18 May, if you would like to attend.

Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars: 2018 Programme

All seminars will be held at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), University of Edinburgh, from 4:30–6pm.

Wednesday 24 January
Rosanne Waine, University of Southampton: ‘Refashioning patriotic display for an independent interior: the entrepreneurship of British calico printers within the republican marketplace of America’

Wednesday 7 February
Elise A. Mitchell, New York University: ‘Enduring morbidity: the histories of ill enslaved women in Dr. Alexander Johnston’s archive, 1765–1776’

Alastair Learmont, University of Edinburgh: ‘Health, wealth and prestige in late eighteenth-century Jamaica’

Wednesday 21 February

Eva Lippold, University of Loughborough: ‘Sneaking into Seraglio: Crossing gender boundaries in Inchbald’s The Mogul Tale and Crawley’s A Day in Turkey’

Alexandra Anderson, University of Leeds: ‘The promotion of feminine ideals in eighteenth-century historical accounts’

Wednesday 7 March

Thomas Whitfield, Newcastle University: ‘“To live free from impost”: Jack “the Blaster,” Marsden Grotto, and the creation of a rent-free home in later eighteenth-century north-east England’

Alley Jordan, University of Edinburgh: ‘“Beautiful shells from the shore”: Thomas Jefferson’s sacred grotto of 1771’

Wednesday 21 March

Sarah Burdett, University of York: ‘“Decoyed by the artifice of a villain”: Irish politics in Matthew West’s Pizarro (1800)’

Sarah Hendriks, University of Edinburgh: ‘“Fair to behold”: A history of concert halls in eighteenth-century Dublin’

Wednesday 4 April
Kerstin Pahl, Humboldt University Berlin and King’s College London: ‘Crossing over: the transboundary aesthetics of Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of Michael Alphonsus Shen Fuzong (The Chinese Convert, 1687)’

Georgia Vullinghs, University of Edinburgh: ‘Loyal exchange: material and visual culture of Jacobite exile c.1716’

For more information please see our website:

Thomas Innes: Scotland’s Premier Enlightenment Historian?


Kelsey Jackson Williams (University of Stirling)

Room 2.36, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School, Teviot Place

The historical writings of the Scottish Enlightenment, defined by the works of canonical figures such as Robertson and Hume, are familiar to many, but the name of Thomas Innes is rather less likely to meet with instant recognition. This paper introduces Innes and his work and argues for the importance of an early but all too often neglected moment of Enlightenment historical writing in Scotland at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Kelsey Jackson Williams is a lecturer in early modern literature at the University of Stirling and studies the intellectual, literary, and material cultures of early modern northern Europe, particularly Scotland. At the moment he is writing a book on the forgotten role of antiquarianism in the Scottish Early Enlightenment. His monograph – The Antiquary: John Aubrey’s Historical Scholarship – was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

Professor Smith’s Interests


Jacob Sider Jost (Dickinson College)

Friday, 16 March, 4 – 5.30 pm


Adam Smith famously lays “interest” at the foundation of his two major published works: the “interest” that even the most selfish man takes in the fortune of others in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and the “interest” that impels the butcher, brewer, and baker to vend their wares in the Wealth of Nations. Less commented on is the importance of interest to Smith’s aesthetics in “Of the Imitative Arts” and the Lectures on Belles-Lettres and the role of interest, understood as a relationship of patronage or obligation and visible in his surviving correspondence, in the conduct of Smith’s career as a professor and tutor. Following Smith’s own philological prescriptions in his review of Johnson’s Dictionary, this paper proposes an anatomy of Smithian interests and suggests that they share important common features.

Jacob Sider Jost is Assistant Professor at Dickinson College. His research and teaching interests include the long eighteenth century, Shakespeare, Austen, and Hume. His first book, Prose Immortality, 1711-1819, was published by Virginia University Press in 2015, and he has work published in RES, Modern Philology, ELH, SEL, Modern Intellectual History, and elsewhere. He is currently writing a book about interest.

The Optics of Optimism: Justifying Evil after Bayle

Mara van der Lugt (University of St Andrews)

Friday, 6 April, 4 – 5.30 pm

Room 2.36, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School, Teviot Place

Pierre Bayle’s discussion of the problem of evil in his Dictionnaire Historique et Critique of 1696 triggered a wide variety of responses in the early eighteenth century. Among its many perceived threats was the question of Bayle’s philosophical pessimism: his confident assertion that the evils of life outweigh the goods, and that this was true in terms of both moral and physical evils.

This paper will discuss the continuation of this debate in authors such as Leibniz and King, who were united in their effort to turn the scales against Baylean pessimism and prove that the goods of life outweigh life’s evils. This effort led them into a tortured discussion of the most uncomfortable parts of any theodicy and the deepest domains of human suffering, culminating in the question whether it could be true for any person created by a good God that it would be better never to have been.

Mara van der Lugt is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of St Andrews, pursuing a three-year project on pessimism and the problem of evil in the early Enlightenment. Following the completion of her doctorate (DPhil) in History at the University of Oxford in 2014, on the seventeenth-century French philosopher Pierre Bayle, she held a two-year fellowship at the Lichtenberg Kolleg – Institute of Advanced Studies in Göttingen (Germany). Before this, she completed a Master in Philosophy and a Research Master in Early Modern Intellectual History at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2010, focussing especially on questions of interpretation and dissimulation in early modern philosophers such as John Toland. Her book Bayle, Jurieu, and the Dictionnaire Historique et Critique was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

The Enlightenment and the Orthodox World

Monday, 6 November, 6.30 pm

Playfair Library Hall, Old College

Paschalis Kitromilides is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Athens and Director of the Centre for Asia Minor Studies. He has held visiting appointments at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, at Harvard University, and at other universities in Europe and America. His book Enlightenment and Revolution. The Making of Modern Greece was published by Harvard University Press in 2013. His lecture will address the concept of an ‘Orthodox Enlightenment’ contributing to the European intellectual experience in the eighteenth century, with reference to prominent intellectual leaders from the Orthodox cultural traditions of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

There will be a reception in the Playfair Library Hall immediately after the lecture.

This event is supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation and is jointly sponsored by the Scottish Hellenic Society and the Classics Subject Area in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh.

Hume Conference

Organiser: Felix Waldmann, Christ’s College, Cambridge

Thursday 22 June, 1.45 pm – 5.50 pm

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, 2 Hope Park Square, Edinburgh

Provisional schedule:

1.45 pm           Opening Remarks

Session 1         Chair: Nicholas Phillipson (Edinburgh)

2.00 pm           Thomas Ahnert (Edinburgh): ‘Hume and the Moderate Presbyterians’

2.35 pm           James Harris (St Andrews): ‘Hume and John Wilkes’

3.10 pm           Discussion

3.40 pm           Tea Break

Session 2         Chair: Catherine Jones (Aberdeen)

4.10 pm           Robin Mills (UCL): ‘Hume, Beattie, Forbes’

4.45 pm           Felix Waldmann (Cambridge): ‘Hume and the Seymour Conway family’

5.20 pm           Discussion

5.50 pm           Reception

‘Consciousness’ and ‘Public’: Two Case Studies of Text- and Data-Mining Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) 

Mikko Tolonen (University of Helsinki)

Friday 12 May 2017, 4.30 – 6.00 pm

Room 2.36, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School, Teviot Place

This paper shows how the uses of the term ‘consciousness’ developed throughout eighteenth-century Britain from its Lockean premises towards a broader polysemy. It will then turn to map different uses of the term ‘public’ with an aim to show how the late eighteenth century is a distinctive period in a Habermasian sense, compared to earlier times with respect to pamphleteering in particular. The motivation for the paper is thus to give two different examples to demonstrate that analyses of clusters of different words and how they change over time can have a significant impact on eighteenth-century intellectual history. This paper is based on multidisciplinary work carried out by COMHIS Collective research group at the University of Helsinki.

Mikko Tolonen is an intellectual historian. His main research interest is in the Scottish Enlightenment. His monograph, Mandeville and Hume. Anatomists of Civil Society was published in 2013 by the Voltaire Foundation in Oxford.