Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars 2020

All seminars will be held at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), University of Edinburgh, Hope Park Square, EH8 9NW, from 4:30–6pm.

Wednesday 22 January

Georgia Vullinghs (Edinburgh): ‘“Oh had I been a more useful sex!” Jacobite women and acts of loyalty’

Alastair Noble (Edinburgh): ‘“A fair and just light”: the understanding and use of history in the post-Culloden Highlands’


Wednesday 5 February

Eileen Zhao (Edinburgh): ‘Sick Body, selfhood and the temporal experience in Dream of the Red Chamber’

Joyce Dixon (Edinburgh): ‘Azure Blue, Verdigris Green, Sulphur Yellow: The mineralogical origins of Patrick Syme Wener’s Nomenclature of Colours (1814)’


Wednesday 19 February

Anna Myers (Edinburgh): ‘“Hung up for monuments”: the material legacy of Shakespeare’s Richard III

Robert Stearn (Birkbeck): ‘Patterns of skill: narrative and material forms of practical knowledge in early eighteenth-century adventure fiction’


Wednesday 4 March

Alley Jordan (Edinburgh): ‘A temple to the muses: reimagining antiquity during the grand tour in Kenneth Mackenzie’s classical apartments, 1771’

Rory Lamb (Edinburgh): ‘“A most handsome method of introducing me”: James Playfair and Scottish architectural patronage in eighteenth-century London’


The following seminars have been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. The organisers intend to reschedule these for a later date. Please check the ECENS and ECRS websites for updates.

Wednesday 18 March

Alastair Learmont (Edinburgh): ‘The West Indian Interest at the time of Abolition (1783–1803):  The significance of William and James Chisholme’

Regis Coursin (Montreal): ‘Against Despotism: approaching the republican Atlantic, c.1769–1791’


Wednesday 1 April

Zachary Seals and Sergio Melgar (Edinburgh): ‘Natural theology in Scotland: the place of Scottish common-sense realism in reformed theology’

Kristine Palmieri (Chicago): ‘Polaris in Ursa Minor? Friedrich August Wolf, the Halle Seminar, and the history of philology’

The Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars are convened by Alley M Jordan, Clare Loughlin, and Anna Myers. For further information please go to the ECRS website.

Interpreting Hume through the Pyrrhonian and Academic Sceptical Traditions

A lecture in celebration of Peter Fosl’s newly published book with Edinburgh University Press, “Hume’s Scepticism: Pyrrhonian and Academic”

Thursday, 28 November 2019, 6.00 – 7.30 pm

Venue: Adam Lecture Theatre, Old College

Register for this event here.

A Thanksgiving Reading
While David Hume’s early readers received his work as that of a sceptical atheist and nihilist, twentieth-century scholars discerned instead in his texts various forms of epistemological, metaphysical, and doxastic realism. More recently, tentative and qualified readings of Hume as a sceptic have re-emerged. None, however, have argued for a scepticism as thoroughgoing and as radical as what Peter S. Fosl articulates in his newly released book, Hume’s Scepticism: Pyrrhonian and Academic (Edinburgh University Press). Fosl makes his case by first situating Hume’s thought historically in the sceptical traditions, ancient and modern, and then by going on to interpret the logical and conceptual apparatus of Hume’s work comprehensively.

Peter S. Fosl is Professor of Philosophy at Transylvania University. He is co-author of The Philosopher’s Toolkit, third edition (Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming), The Ethics Toolkit (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007) and The Critical Thinking Toolkit (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). He is co-editor of Commonplace Commitments: Thinking through the Legacy of Joseph P. Fell (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), Classic Readings in Philosophy(Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), British Philosophers, 1800-2000 (Gale Research, 2002) and British Philosophers, 1500-1799 (Gale Research, 2002). He is editor of The Big Lebowski and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). Fosl received a David Hume Fellowship award from IASH, 2013-14, where the work on Hume’s Scepticism began.

This event is organised by the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH).

Remapping Reason: how students used maps as learning tools during the Scottish Enlightenment

Thursday, 24 October 2019, 5.15pm

Venue: G.01, 50 George Square

Matthew Eddy holds Durham’s chair in the History and Philosophy of Science, and has written on a wide range of topics in the history of chemistry, environment, visual culture, book history, and intellectual history. This paper is based on research for a forthcoming monograph, Rewriting Reason: The Art and Science of Student Notebooks during the Scottish Enlightenment, which will be published by University of Chicago Press.

This seminar is organised by the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology Research Group.

Orientalism in the Scottish Enlightenment

C. B. Bow (Yonsei University)

Friday, 22 February 2019, 4.00 – 5. 30 pm

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

This paper examines Dugald Stewart’s unpublished ‘Conjectures concerning the Origin of the Sanscrit’ in the contexts of his educational doctrine. Established historiographical portraits of Orientalism as a vehicle for imperial expansion, naturalism, and Romantic imaginative literature do not account for the ways in which it affected Scottish Enlightenment epistemology at the end of the ‘First’ British Empire. An identifiable system of moral education developed from Stewart’s ambition to combat a formidable counter-Enlightenment movement as the professor of pneumatics and moral philosophy at Edinburgh University between 1785 and 1810. In doing so, Stewart reformed the Scottish philosophical tradition of teaching metaphysics as moral philosophy. This paper shows that Stewart applied his educational doctrine to different branches of Orientalism after retiring from teaching as a way to sustain the Scottish Enlightenment science of mind in a globalising British world.

C. B. Bow is Assistant Professor of Global Intellectual History at Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea). Dr Bow is the editor of the volume Common Sense in the Scottish Enlightenment (2018), and his research has appeared in Historical Research; History; Modern Intellectual History; Scottish Historical Review; History of European Ideas; Intellectual History Review; Journal of Scottish Philosophy; and Eighteenth-Century Scotland. He is currently at work on the first modern intellectual biography of Dugald Stewart.

Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars 2019

Wednesday 13 March, 4.30 – 6.00 pm

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), University of Edinburgh (map)

Jacopo Veneziani, Université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne
‘Identity, Visibility and Games of Attention in Eighteenth-Century Views of Paris: Historical, Sociological and Methodological Questions’

For the full 2019 programme, please click here.

The Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars are convened by Alley M Jordan, Clare Loughlin, and Anna Myers.

Sociability and the Science of Man in the Scottish Enlightenment: themes from the work of Nicholas Phillipson (1937-2018)

Playfair Library and Raeburn Room, Old College, University of Edinburgh, 1 – 2 March 2019


Friday, 1 March (Playfair Library, Old College)

10.30 – 11.00 am: Tea and Coffee

11.00 – 11.15 am: Introduction

11.15 am – 12.15 pm: Silvia Sebastiani (EHESS, Paris), ‘Lord Monboddo’s “Ugly Tail”: Orangutans in Enlightenment Sciences of Man’

The erudite James Burnet, Lord Monboddo, member of the Select Society and judge of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, wrote many pages about humans equipped with tails and orangutans as human beings. For this reason he has been labelled as “credulous”, “bizarre” and “eccentric” both by his contemporaries and by modern scholars. In this paper, I’ll try to take his argument seriously and to show that all along his work Monboddo searched for evidence. If his belief in mermaids, giants, blemmyes, daemons and oracles is far from reflecting the general attitude of the age of Enlightenment and empiricism, Monboddo deeply contributed to place the ‘science of man’ at the centre of the map of knowledge, where Nicholas Phillipson had also located it. He did this by emphasizing the variety and historicity of humankind and stressing how the mind and body changed over time and space. This paper is also an attempt to connect Monboddo’s erudite production with his position as a lawyer and a judge.

12.15 – 1.30 pm: Lunch

1.30 – 2.30 pm: Ryan Hanley (Harvard University and Marquette University), ‘The Human Good and the Science of Man’

David Hume and Adam Smith are often regarded as the leading articulators of the eighteenth-century Scottish ‘science of man’. For our understanding of Hume’s and Smith’s contributions to this project, scholars today are especially indebted to Nicholas Phillipson, who demonstrated how their science of man sought to account for social progress as the result of the human ‘love of improvement’ in the face of conditions of indigence and want. Yet there is also another side to the science of man. Smith (perhaps more than Hume) sought to account for the mechanisms of individual human development as well as the mechanisms of political, social and economic development. This contribution aims to extend Phillipson’s insights into the methodology of the Scottish science of man to show how Smith conceived of the ‘love of improvement’ not only as the engine driving society towards civilization and opulence, but also the engine driving the ethical development of the individual.

2.30 – 3.30 pm Sylvana Tomaselli (St. John’s College, Cambridge), ‘Reflections on the Art of Being in the Eighteenth Century’

Inspired by Nick Phillipson’s own art of being, this paper considers what we might take to have been seen as an enviable personality in the circles the figures Nick studied inhabited. This will inevitably take us from the Scotland of David Hume and Adam Smith to the Paris of Diderot as well as Rousseau. It will discuss what were valued character traits and manners on both sides of the Channel, and while it will endeavour to be as light in tone as possible, it will seek to be so for good reasons.

3.30 – 4 pm: Tea and Coffee

4 – 5 pm: Robert Anderson (University of Edinburgh), ‘Nicholas Phillipson and University History’

Nicholas Phillipson’s direct writing on university history dates mainly from the 1980s, but can be traced back to his fellowship at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton in 1970-1, and beyond that to his early Cambridge training in intellectual history, which continued to influence his interpretative framework. He traced the evolution in Scotland of a distinctive and internationally influential university model. It was shaped first by the relations between urban elites, mainly in Edinburgh in the decades following the union of 1707, and later as the universities became both an institutional base for leading thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, and a channel for transmitting ideas of citizenship and polite learning to the educated classes. The paper looks at two important enterprises which he organized – the conference on Universities, Society and the Future held in 1983, and the Illustrated History of Edinburgh University published in 2003. Finally, it is suggested that Phillipson’s career itself illustrates a phase of British university history now receding into the past.


Saturday, 2 March (Raeburn Room, Old College)

10.45 – 11.15 am: Tea and Coffee

11.15 am – 12.15 pm: Nicholas Phillipson as a teacher

12.15 – 1.15 pm: Lunch

1.15 – 2.15 pm: Nicholas Phillipson’s research: scholarship and sociability

2.15 – 2.30 pm: Concluding Remarks

This event is supported by the Scottish Philosophical Association, the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Eighteenth-Century and Enlightenment Studies Network (ECENS), and the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History.

Thomas Innes: Scotland’s Premier Enlightenment Historian?

Kelsey Jackson Williams (University of Stirling)

30 November 2018, 4 – 5.30 pm


Venue: Room G.11, 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.

This event is organised jointly with the Intellectual History Research Group.

Thomas Hobbes and the Early Modern ‘Ordinary Language’ of Free Will  

Giovanni Gellera (University of Lausanne)

9 November 2018, 4 – 5.30 pm

Venue: Room G.11, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School, Teviot Place

In the debate ‘On Liberty and Necessity’ with Bishop Bramhall, Thomas Hobbes writes that he “desire[s]the reader to take notice that the common people, on whose arbitration depends the signification of words in common use, among the Latins and the Greeks, did call all actions and motions whereof they did perceive no cause, spontaneous.” (Questions, paragraph 8). Hobbes implied that his own understanding of ‘will as the last appetite’ and of ‘voluntary as spontaneous’ was closer to the “usage of common people” than Bramhall’s libertarian views. Was Hobbes right?

In this paper I investigate one type of source that Hobbes might have referred to: the English-Latin and Latin-English dictionaries published in England between circa 1550 and circa 1700. By ‘ordinary language’ I mean a language which is philosophically informed but which is not used by professional philosophers. By ‘free will’ I mean the general problem of free causation in anthropology and moral philosophy.

In the dictionaries there is evidence that Hobbes was ‘fundamentally right’ to invoke ordinary language against Bramhall — save some specific philosophical questions on which the dictionaries are silent. I will conclude by discussing some related questions on the interplay of academic and “lay” philosophy, of technical and ‘ordinary’ language, and on the influence of scholasticism (and of its abandonment) on the differences between liberum arbitrium and free will.

Giovanni Gellera is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Lausanne. He received his PhD from the University of Glasgow in 2012. He has published widely on the history of early modern philosophy and is co-editing (with Professor Alexander Broadie) a manuscript treatise by James Dundas, the Idea Philosophiae Moralis from 1679.

This event is organised jointly with the Intellectual History Research Group.

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.

This event is organised jointly with the Intellectual History Research Group.

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.