Posts Tagged ‘eighteenth century’

British History in the Long 18th Century
7 November 2012
Kate Retford (Birkbeck, University of London)
What’s in a Name?: The ‘Conversation’ Piece in Eighteenth-Century Britain


A Conversation piece (wikipedia)

A Conversation piece (wikipedia)

For the uninitiated (that would include me, I’m afraid!) ‘conversation’ pieces is a term used to describe an informal array of portraits, mainly from Britain, and popular in the eighteenth century.  As a group they tend to be small in size and portray some activity either indoors or outdoors relating to ordinary life.  As Kate Retford explains they were generally more focused on the details of the setting rather than the people themselves.

In this paper Kate Retford focuses on two inter-related questions.  First, the difficult question of establishing exactly what was meant and is now meant as ‘conversation’ pieces.  Were they one and the same or has the category evolved over time (especially in the historiography).  The second question is more general.  What is the meaning and significance of the term ‘conversation’ within the confines of this category of art work?  Neither question has straight forward answers.

The standard checklist for ‘conversation’ pieces is that they are to be set on a small-scale canvas, are to be intimate and informal portraits, and will focus on the setting and context more than the people themselves.  However, Retford’s investigations show that many genre pictures were also called ‘conversation’ pieces and that the hard and fast rules don’t always apply.  In many cases the ‘conversation’ piece was described as an examination of behaviour, tastes and possessions accurate to a given time and place.  This was, indeed, one of their uses – the ability to capture a moment in time.  But it is nonetheless far from a simple picture.


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Metropolitan History
The prevention of crime in late eighteenth-century Bristol: policing, the public, and the city
Matthew Neale (IHR)
29 February 2012


This is a guest post by James Wilkinson, one of IHR Digital’s summer interns from the University of Leicester.

The focus of this talk by Mathew Neale is on the prevention of crime, and policing in the late eighteenth century city, using Bristol as an example case study.

He begins by addressing the semantic issues of using such a broad term as policing, when there was no unified, government supported force in this time period. There was at the time a more broad range of officers and lawmen which had varying roles and areas of operation, some example being the night-watchmen, private watchmen and the Major’s marshal.

Neale explains that of these, possibly the most important prevention force was the night watch in Bristol. There scale of operation covered the whole city in different zones of operation, and focussed on the prevention of unlawful activity in the night, when it was most common. There was a varying distribution of watchmen across the city with greater concentrations in the centre of the city as opposed to the outskirts.

Neale points to the significance of the night watch by displaying how the behaviour of thieves changed when they were around. For example thieves were concealing items that were stolen overnight because they saw the night watch as a significant threat and one that should be avoided.

Neale also explains the techniques of law enforcement when attempting to find criminals or prevent crime. He asserts that appearance and timing could be the sole reason for arrest.

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British History in the Long 18th Century
30 March 2011
Sarah Lloyd (Hertfordshire)
Ephemeral Lives: On writing a ticket-centred history of 18th-century Britain

Tickets: lottery tickets, theatre tickets, turnpike tickets, admission tickets and so forth.  In the eighteenth century tickets were common if not everywhere.  So what might a history of the ticket tell us about print and culture?  What was their function?  What was their meaning?  How were they circulated?  What contractual obligations did they imply?   In this paper Sarah Lloyd discusses a variety of ticket types and the purposes given to those tickets she also presents one particular example: London charity tickets.  These give us an idea about charity activities and methods of advertisement and control.  Distinction between a ticket and an invitation is not clear and there is much difficulty in being able to identify which is which (if indeed in some circumstances there was a difference).  Tickets were also commercial ephemera which didn’t belong to any particular class or group.  They helped to regulate activities and promote products.  Finally tickets were souvenirs and collectors’ items which help to explain why some tickets survive better than others.     

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