DEADLINE: February 28, 2014

To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth in London of the reformer and polymath John Thelwall (1764-1832), we invite papers and panel proposals on any aspect of his diverse career, or on the medical, literary, or political life of London in his time. We are particularly interested in generating further scholarly attention to the ways in which medical science informed and was informed by literary and political culture, a nexus to which Thelwall greatly contributed. An outspoken advocate of democratic reform and prolific poet, novelist, dramatist, journalist, and elocutionist, Thelwall was also an amateur natural philosopher who, a generation before John Keats, attended medical lectures and operations at the London hospitals, developed close ties with leading surgeons and anatomists, and presented controversial papers on vitality and consciousness.

The conference will take place July 25-27, 2014, at the University of Notre Dame’s London Centre, centrally located on Trafalgar Square, and will feature a lively program of papers, lectures, excursions, and festivities, culminating in a 250th birthday banquet. The conference will also celebrate the formation of the John Thelwall Society and the acquisition by the University of Notre Dame of eight letters from Thelwall to fellow reformer Thomas Hardy, long thought missing.

Contributions are welcome from all disciplines and need not focus expressly on Thelwall. Topics might include (but are not limited to):

  • London culture, from the theatres to the debating societies to the taverns
  • Radicalism and/or Westminster politics
  • Medical culture, including the medico-political circles of Guy’s and St. Thomas’s hospitals, and the Royal Humane Society
  • Debates over quackery, the health of the poor, the politics of scientific “performance,” and the dissection of criminal corpses
  • Theories of life; the “vitality debates” of the 1790s and 1810s; emergent sciences of the mind and brain
  • Thelwall’s early London connections and activities (in the law, theatre, debating, journalism, medicine, poetry, politics)
  • Thelwall’s life and career in London (including his political activism, imprisonment and treason trial, literature, journalism, elocutionary theory and practice)

Keynote speakers will include Sharon Ruston (Professor of English, Lancaster University), Penelope J. Corfield (Emeritus Professor of History, Royal Holloway, University of London), and Sir Geoffrey Bindman, QC (Founder and Senior Consultant, Bindmans LLP; Visiting Professor of Law, University College London and London South Bank University).

Other conference highlights will include:

  • A visit to the Old Operating Theatre at Guy’s Hospital, with reception
  • A visit to the site of Thelwall’s elocutionary Institute in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, now the home of Garden Court Chambers, a legal firm specializing in social justice and human rights – and the site proposed by the John Thelwall Society for an English Heritage “Blue Plaque” in Thelwall’s honour
  • An excursion in the footsteps of Thelwall’s Peripatetic, led by Judith Thompson (Professor of English, Dalhousie University, Canada) and featuring readings at key sites

Please submit titles and abstracts of 250-300 words to by February 28, 2014.

Questions may be directed to the organizers, Gordon Bottomley (Lancaster University) and Yasmin Solomonescu (University of Notre Dame) at

The conference is made possible through the generosity of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, Henkels Lecture Series; Nanovic Institute for European Studies; Department of English; John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values; and History and Philosophy of Science Graduate Program; as well as bursary contributions from the University of Northern Colorado College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the British Association for Romantic Studies, and the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism.

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