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This paper draws on thousands of familiar letters written between c1680-1820, by men and women from a broadly defined middling sort, a range of religious communities and different locations across Britain. Exchanged between family and friends, these letters contain a wealth of regular and detailed information about bodily experiences, all created and exchanged within a context of dynamic social relations. The paper introduces preliminary findings from an ongoing Leverhulme project that examines what these letters tell us about experiences of the body and their epistolary and social context. The project combines a range of historical and literary methods with those from digital humanities, and the paper will discuss some of the findings – and challenges – generated by these, including the issues raised by the often intimate nature of the sources on our historical practice. The paper suggests new ways of understanding the experiences of eighteenth-century bodies, their role in making personal, corporate and religious identities, and the reasons why people talked about their bodies – young and old – quite so often and in such rich detail.


NB This paper will be held in conjunction with the Queen Mary Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies.


All welcome. This event is free to attend, but advance registration is required.


This will be a ‘hybrid’ seminar with a limited number of places available in person and a larger number of bookings for online attendance via Zoom. Those attending in person are asked to bring a Wi-Fi enabled laptop, tablet or phone.


The session will start at the slightly later time of 17:30.