Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, AD 1803

Dorothy Wordsworth, 1803, edited by Carol Kyros Walker, Yale University Press, 1997

Recommended by Zara Castagna

Recollections is the account of a six week long tour of Scotland that Dorothy Wordsworth undertook with her brother William and with Samuel Taylor Coleridge in August and September 1803. Filled with entertaining reports of the 663-mile journey, hand-drawn maps of lakes and rivers, and occasional poems by William, the travelogue paints a detailed picture of the Scottish landscape and its people. Dorothy’s characteristically vivid landscape descriptions combine romantic and picturesque aesthetics. She allows the reader almost to step into the Scottish Highlands themselves and see what she saw. Apart from the changing Scottish landscape Dorothy repeatedly notes how the ’employments of the people are so immediately connected with the places where you find them’, thus encouraging the reader to think about the distinct connection between people and place that shapes their manners and customs.

Welcome Drinks and Research Exchange

Monday 3 October 2022, 5pm, UoB Arts Building 224

A chance to get together as the academic year begins.

Whether you’re a regular Arts of Place contributor or new to Birmingham and interested in finding out more, please do come along for this special in-person version of our ‘Monday Conversation’ series. Lucy Shaw (History of Art) and Jon Stevens (English) will be among those giving brief talks about their current work. No booking required: just drop in between 5 and 6 to share your place-related interests, meet other researchers, and enjoy a drink. 

Trees of History

Tuesday 5th July 5.45pm – 7.30pm, Barber Institute of Fine Arts. The £3 ticket includes a drink. BOOK HERE

An evening of readings and discussion in the Barber Gallery, inspired by the exhibition Taking Root.

With Flora Kay, Gillian Wright, Tom Kaye, Alexandra Harris and Jessica Fay

In response to the arboreal work of artists from Gaspard Dughet to JMW Turner, this event will consider some of the writers who shaped ideas about trees in seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain. Their powerful imaginative responses illuminate the past and give us new perspectives on the present. After a welcoming drink and tour of the prints on display, we’ll consider the work of tree-thinkers including John Evelyn, who advocated tree planting in the 1660s, and William Cowper, who thought a single oak tree was fit subject for poetic biography.

All levels and abilities are welcome. This talk, is open to anyone 18+ and will be held at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Limited spaces, so booking is essential.

Speakers: Flora Kay is Learning and Engagement Manager at the Barber Institute Gillian Wright is the author, most recently, of The Restoration Transposed: Poetry, Place and History, 1660-1700. Jessica Fay is a scholar of Romanticism and currently writing about relations between poetry and Dutch painting. Tom Kaye is writing a doctoral thesis on forestry in American literature. Alexandra Harris is the author of Weatherland, Time and Place, and is finishing a book on rural history and local feeling.

“Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap…”

The Place of the Churchyard

Monday Conversation, 30 May 2022, 5-6pm, online. Please register here for the zoom link.

The meanings and resonances of churchyards are multiple and deep. They are a sanctuary of peace at the centre of the community; a focus for local history; a place for prayer, mourning and memorialization. In the eighteenth century they inspired a group of poets looking for new ways to connect with the land and with the past.

Join us for a discussion of exciting new research on churchyards, history and poetry. Ruth Abbott (Cambridge) will take us beyond and behind Thomas Gray’s Elegy, introducing the poet’s unpublished Commonplace-Book notes on historical graveyards, tombs, and sepulchres. James Metcalf (King’s) will offer a new reading of Robert Blair’s The Grave as a piece of land work.  

Daisy Hay: Stories of Romantic Birmingham

Joseph Priestley, Joseph Johnson, Ruins and Riots

Arts of Place and Oxford Centre for Life-Writing Annual Lecture

Tuesday 3 May, 5.30pm GMT
University of Birmingham, Arts Building Lecture Room 3 (R16 on this campus map). Lecture followed by drinks reception.

Please register here.

We are delighted that Daisy Hay (University of Exeter) will give the second OCLW and Arts of Place Annual Lecture. Daisy’s new book, Dinner with Joseph Johnson, is an extraordinary account of writing, publishing, and friendship in a revolutionary age — and Birmingham is central to the story. 

If you’re new to Birmingham, or haven’t visited the campus before, you’ll find there’s lots to explore so you might want to make an afternoon of it. Trains from New Street stop at ‘University’ station, bringing you right to the gate (walk straight in past the Paolozzi sculpture). Stroll through the park-like ‘Green Heart’ and explore the collections at the Barber Art Gallery (open until 5 on Tuesdays). In the Arts Building, you’ll find Peter Lanyon’s fine mural from 1963 – and signs to the lecture room.

Songs of Spring

Monday Conversation 25 April 2022, 5-6pm online.

With Bethan Roberts and Francesca MacKenney

Bethan Roberts is the author of Charlotte Smith and the Sonnet (Liverpool University Press, 2019) and her new book Nightingale has recently been published in Reaktion’s ‘animal’ series.

Bethan’s talk is called ‘Sweet harbinger(s) of spring’: Placing the cuckoo and nightingale in poetry‘, and it will consider the traditional poetic rivals the nightingale and cuckoo. Bethan will think about the significance of place and its different meanings in poems on these spring migrants, from matters of habitat and distribution to poetic feeling and beloved ‘pleasant places’.

Francesca MacKenney is the author of Birdsong, Speech, and Poetry: The Art of Composition in the Long Nineteenth Century (forthcoming in 2022 with Cambridge University Press). The book explores what poetry can do and say in comparison with birdsong and music.

Francesca’s talk will explore ‘Birdsong in the Poetry of John Clare‘.

Watch a recording of Francesca’s and Bethan’s talks here: Songs of Spring

The Natural History of Oxfordshire

Robert Plot, 1677

Recommended by Martin Stott

Robert Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire examines and describes the flora, fauna, palaeontology, geology, and landscape of the county; it includes a large map, which Plot claims is more comprehensive than those of ’Saxton, Speed &c’, as well as describing unusual features of the area. Controversy about the origin of fossils was growing at the time, and Plot engages with the subject in some detail. He believed that experimentation was essential in understanding the natural world and gives a rational, evidence-based description of the objects and phenomena he comes across, including the first known picture of a dinosaur bone, Plate VIII, which he incorrectly concludes to be the bone of a giant. The impact of the book was immediate and far reaching, and he was elected to the Royal Society on the basis of its publication. It may also have confirmed Elias Ashmole in his belief that Oxford was the appropriate place for his collection. He persuaded the University authorities both to accept the collection and provide a fine building in which to house it. Plot went on to become the first Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in 1683.

The Making of the English Landscape

W.G. Hoskins, 1955.

Recommended by Martin Stott

I discovered this book as a teenager while studying for A levels in geography and geology. It opened my eyes to the landscape of my childhood, the north Oxfordshire Cotswolds, and gave me the tools to explore what became with its publication a new discipline: landscape history.  Through it, over a distance of a few miles, it was possible to chart centuries of England’s history by close observation of the landscape. Hoskins’ attention to the significance of ancient hedgerows, water meadows, green lanes, copses, and deserted medieval villages challenged the received wisdom that contemporary landscapes had  been shaped largely by the great eighteenth-century landowners and their technologies. The Making of the English Landscape is not so much about the geography, local history, or landscape archaeology of a particular place, but rather the intellectual underpinning of a way of seeing, interpreting, and integrating the interaction between human activity – sometimes over millennia – and the landscape of every place.  Its publication almost 70 years ago was revolutionary, and its impact on our understanding of the English landscape remains profound.

Hannah Christopher

Hannah Christopher

BA English Literature, University of Birmingham

HFC009@student.bham.ac.uk

I am interested in the ways in which personal experiences in local places are microcosms of universal human experience. The early nineteenth-century writer Thomas Noble touches on this in the preface to his 1808 poem Blackheath, anticipating that readers will think his subject ‘entirely local’ and therefore not of interest to ‘the public in general’. Yet, he writes, ‘my subject is not local; it is as pervasive as Nature’. Less than three miles away from where Noble found his muse in the environs of Blackheath is an unnamed scrap of common ground which has always been known to me as The Place. The term ‘place’ will conjure up different environments in every mind, but in suburban London, my brother and I ascribed the term to this open wild field, unique in its position overlooking the city. It sits above the snaking maze of textured concrete, painted walls and brown brick. It satisfied my sense of what Constance Padwick, editor of the diaries of Victorian painter and missionary Lilias Trotter, describes as ‘space hunger’; a yearning and dreaming for the skyline beyond the ‘man-stifled town’. Landscapes have the power to fill us with an almost physical sense of awe, something well established in research about Wordsworth and his contemporaries, but which seems equally important in the recent boom in nature writing in the twenty-first century, amid an urban and digital environment.

I am also interested in how place informs literary creation, and how literary creation then informs place again. This year I planned a poetry guided walk around Winterbourne Gardens and was involved in the curation and running of the Canal and River Trust’s first floating exhibition entitled Journeys. The exhibition reframed the industrial story of the Birmingham canals, uncovering personal, hidden histories of canals as places of art, recreation, community and wellbeing. I am interested in finding new ways of accessing place through literary and visual arts and am keen to explore this after I graduate in 2023.

I am currently working on a group of poems provisionally titled Reflections of Glory engaging with local place as a source of parable which points the created to the creator.

Zara Castagna


Zara Castagna

PhD student in English Literature


zxc816@student.bham.ac.uk

My research focuses on Dorothy Wordsworth and her circle, approximately from 1787 to 1830. I have wider interests in Romantic period writing and initially encountered Dorothy’s work through her particular way of describing landscapes and her use of the picturesque. Being also interested in life-writing, I now focus Dorothy’s letters, specifically on the way she uses the letter to draw people from different places together and maintain friendships across large distances. I want to explore how these primarily epistolary relationships influenced and shaped Dorothy’s perception of place and that, in turn, her other writings.