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In his famous dictionary, Samuel Johnson defined politics as ‘the science of government; the art or practice of administering publick affairs’. If politics was what statesmen did, how was extra-parliamentary campaigning conceptualised? That question becomes more acute with the increase in the volume, breadth and intensity of petitioning in the early nineteenth century. Tracking the changing uses of language over a fifty-year period, this paper shows that extra-parliamentary opinion, and eventually activity, gradually came to be termed political, but that usage fluctuated with the nature of the issues being contested. Public was the more important description, consistently and generally applied to campaigning in the early nineteenth century. This preference for characterising activity as public - emanating from public meetings and embodying public opinion - was a conscious choice by campaigners and commentators, shaped by the perceived disadvantages of a discourse of politics and the advantages offered by publicness.

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.