British Images

News and Events in British Studies

Keep up to date with news, upcoming events, ongoing seminars and series, and recent faculty publications.

Upcoming Events

British History University Seminar

The British History Seminar brings together faculty and graduate students with an interest in British history at Columbia and other institutions in the greater New York area. The seminar meets monthly to discuss work in progress by a member of the group, a paper by a visiting speaker, or a recent book of interest to the group as a whole. In 2015-6, the seminar is chaired by Christopher Brown and Carl Wennerlind.

If you would like to receive announcements of forthcoming meetings, please contact the seminar's rapporteur, Alma Igra at

All events take place in Fayerweather 411, Columbia University at 5:30 pm unless noted otherwise.

Fall 2015 Seminar Schedule:

Tuesday, September 29 - Catherine Hall (Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History, University College, London) "Making race: the work of slave-owners."

Thursday, October 15 - Asheesh Siddique (Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University, Department of History) "Mobilizing the Archives of State and Empire in an Age of Imperial War: John Bruce and the Use of Paperwork during the Long 1790s."

Thursday, November 5 - Richard Drayton (Rhodes Professor of Imperial History, Kings College, London) "The British Empire and the Pan-European History of Imperialism."

Thursday, December 3 - Bonnie Anderson (Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York) "Ernestine Rose and the English Freethought Community, 1869-82."

Recent Faculty Publications

At The Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence in England and Ireland

Sarah Cole

Oxford University Press, 2012
Literature has long sought to make sense of the destruction and aggression wrought by human civilization. Yet no single literary movement was more powerfully shaped by violence than modernism. As Sarah Cole shows, modernism emerged as an imaginative response to the devastating events that defined the period, including the chaos of anarchist bombings, World War I, the Irish uprising, and the Spanish Civil War. Combining historical detail with resourceful readings of fiction, poetry, journalism, photographs, and other cultural materials, At the Violet Hour explores the strange intimacy between modernist aesthetics and violence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The First World War and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land demonstrate the new theoretical paradigm that Cole deploys throughout her study, what she calls "enchanted" and "disenchanted" violence-the polarizing perceptions of violent death as either the fuel for regeneration or the emblem of grotesque loss. These concepts thread through the literary-historical moments that form the core of her study, beginning with anarchism and the advent of dynamite violence in late Victorian England. As evinced in novels by Joseph Conrad, Henry James, and others, anarchism fostered a vibrant, modern consciousness of violence entrenched in sensationalism and melodrama. A subsequent chapter offers four interpretive categories-keening, generative violence, reprisal, and allegory-for reading violence in works by W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, Sean O'Casey, and others around the time of Ireland's Easter Rising. The book concludes with a discussion of Virginia Woolf's oeuvre, placing the author in two primary relations to the encroaching culture of violence: deeply exploring and formalizing its registers; and veering away from her peers to construct an original set of patterns to accommodate its visceral ubiquity in the years leading up to the Second World War.
A rich interdisciplinary study that incorporates perspectives from history, anthropology, the visual arts, and literature, At the Violet Hour provides a resonant framework for refiguring the relationship between aesthetics and violence that will extend far beyond the period traditionally associated with literary modernism.



Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620-1720

Carl Winnerlind

Harvard University Press, 2011

Modern credit, developed during the financial revolution of 1620A1720, laid the foundation for England's political, military, and economic dominance in the eighteenth century. Possessed of a generally circulating credit currency, a modern national debt, and sophisticated financial markets, England developed a fiscal-military state that instilled fear in its foes and facilitated the first industrial revolution. Yet a number of casualties followed in the wake of this new system of credit. Not only was it precarious and prone to accidents, but it depended on trust, public opinion, and ultimately violence.
Carl Wennerlind reconstructs the intellectual context within which the financial revolution was conceived. He traces how the discourse on credit evolved and responded to the Glorious Revolution, the Scientific Revolution, the founding of the Bank of England, the Great Recoinage, armed conflicts with Louis XIV, the Whig-Tory party wars, the formation of the public sphere, and England's expanded role in the slave trade. Debates about credit engaged some of London's most prominent turn-of-the-century intellectuals, including Daniel Defoe, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift and Christopher Wren. Wennerlind guides us through these conversations, toward an understanding of how contemporaries viewed the precariousness of credit and the role of violenceAwar, enslavement, and executions in the safeguarding of trust.



The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History

Samuel Moyn

Harvard University Press, 2010

Human rights offer a vision of international justice that todayAs idealistic millions hold dear. Yet the very concept on which the movement is based became familiar only a few decades ago when it profoundly reshaped our hopes for an improved humanity. In this pioneering book, Samuel Moyn elevates that extraordinary transformation to center stage and asks what it reveals about the idealAs troubled present and uncertain future. For some, human rights stretch back to the dawn of Western civilization, the age of the American and French Revolutions, or the postAWorld War II moment when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was framed. Revisiting these episodes in a dramatic tour of humanityAs moral history, The Last Utopia shows that it was in the decade after 1968 that human rights began to make sense to broad communities of people as the proper cause of justice. Across eastern and western Europe, as well as throughout the United States and Latin America, human rights crystallized in a few short years as social activism and political rhetoric moved it from the hallways of the United Nations to the global forefront. It was on the ruins of earlier political utopias, Moyn argues, that human rights achieved contemporary prominence. The morality of individual rights substituted for the soiled political dreams of revolutionary communism and nationalism as international law became an alternative to popular struggle and bloody violence. But as the ideal of human rights enters into rival political agendas, it requires more vigilance and scrutiny than when it became the watchword of our hopes.



Nations of Nothing But Poetry: Modernism, Transnationalism, and Synthetic Vernacular Writing

Matthew Hart

Oxford University Press, 2010

Modernism is typically associated with novelty and urbanity. So what happens when poets identify small communities and local languages with the spirit of transnational modernity? Are vernacular poetries inherently provincial or implicitly xenophobic? How did modernist poets use vernacular language to re-imagine the relations between people, their languages, and the communities in which they live? Nations of Nothing But Poetry answers these questions through case studies of British, Caribbean, and American poetries from the 1920s through the 1990s. With a combination of fresh insights and attentive close readings, Matthew Hart presents a new theory of a "synthetic vernacular"-writing that explores the aesthetic and ideological tensions within modernism's dual commitments to the local and the global. The result is an invigorating contribution to the field of transnational modernist studies. Chapters focus on a mixture of canonical and non-canonical writers, combining new literary histories--such as the story of how Melvin B. Tolson, while a resident of Oklahoma, was appointed Poet Laureate of Liberia--with analyses of poems by Gertrude Stein, W. H. Auden, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot.



A History of Victorian Literature

James Eli Adams

Wiley-Blackwell, 2009

A History of Victorian Literature offers a wide-ranging narrative overview of literature in Great Britain between 1830 and 1900 exploring the extraordinarily varied literary production and reception of the Victorian age, with fresh considerations of major figures and new attention to neglected and less familiar careers. Drawing on a broad range of contemporary scholarship, this book analyzes the development of literary forms-the novel, poetry, drama, autobiography and critical prose-in conjunction with major developments in social and intellectual history.



Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism

Christopher Brown

University of North Carolina Press, 2006

Revisiting the origins of the British antislavery movement of the late eighteenth century, Christopher Leslie Brown challenges prevailing scholarly arguments that locate the roots of abolitionism in economic determinism or bourgeois humanitarianism. Brown instead connects the shift from sentiment to action to changing views of empire and nation in Britain at the time, particularly the anxieties and dislocations spurred by the American Revolution.



The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction

Nicholas Dames

Oxford University Press, 2007

How did the Victorians read novels? Nicholas Dames answers that deceptively simple question by revealing a now-forgotten range of nineteenth-century theories of the novel, a range based in a study of human physiology during the act of reading, He demonstrates the ways in which the Victorians thought they read, and uncovers surprising responses to the question of what might have transpired in the minds and bodies of readers of Victorian fiction. His detailed studies of novel critics who were also interested in neurological science, combined with readings of novels by Thackeray, Eliot, Meredith, and Gissing, propose a vision of the Victorian novel-reader as far from the quietly immersed being we now imagine.




Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century

Jenny Davidson

Columbia University Press, 2008

The Enlightenment commitment to reason naturally gave rise to a belief in the perfectibility of man. Influenced by John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, many eighteenth-century writers argued that the proper education and upbringing—breeding—could make any man a member of the cultural elite. Yet even in this egalitarian environment, the concept of breeding remained tied to theories of blood lineage, caste distinction, and biological difference. Turning to the works of Locke, Rousseau, Swift, Defoe, and other giants of the British Enlightenment, Jenny Davidson revives the debates that raged over the husbandry of human nature and highlights their critical impact on the development of eugenics, the emergence of fears about biological determinism, and the history of the language itself.




Milton and the Victorians

Erik Gray

Cornell University Press, 2009

The Victorian period was a golden age for the study of Milton. Yet the influence of Milton on poetry, and on literature more generally, during the period is often obscure. Victorian writers rarely display the overt, self-conscious engagement with Milton that typified so much Romantic writing earlier in the nineteenth century. In Milton and the Victorians Erik Gray argues that this shift represents not a breach but an expansion: if Milton's influence seems less remarkable than before, it is due not to his absence but to his pervasiveness. Through detailed consideration of works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson, and George Eliot, Gray shows how Victorian writers tended to draw upon the less sublime, more understated elements of Milton's writings.




Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England

Sharon Marcus

Princeton University Press, 2007

Women in Victorian England wore jewelry made from each other's hair and wrote poems celebrating decades of friendship. They pored over magazines that described the dangerous pleasures of corporal punishment. A few had sexual relationships with each other, exchanged rings and vows, willed each other property, and lived together in long-term partnerships described as marriages....Their friendships helped realize the ideal of companionate love between men and women celebrated by novels, and their unions influenced politicians and social thinkers to reform marriage law. Through a close examination of literature, memoirs, letters, domestic magazines, and political debates, Marcus reveals how relationships between women were a crucial component of femininity....Between Women overturns everything we thought we knew about Victorian women and the history of marriage and family life.




The Social Life of Money in the English Past

Deborah Valenze

Cambridge University Press, 2006

In an age when authoritative definitions of currency were in flux and small change was scarce, money enjoyed a rich and complex social life. Deborah Valenze shows how money became involved in relations between people in ways that moved beyond what we understand as its purely economic functions. This highly original investigation covers the formative period of commercial and financial development in England between 1630 and 1800. In a series of interwoven essays, Valenze examines religious prohibitions related to avarice, early theories of political economy and exchange practices of the Atlantic economy. Lucid and highly readable, the book revises the way we see the advance of commercial society at the threshold of modern capitalism.