Jessica Richard (Associate Professor of English, Wake Forest) and I are currently working to envision, design, and launch a public digital humanities website, entitled The 18th-Century Common (www.18thcenturycommon.com). We have been inspired by the success of Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (Knopf, 2009), a 576-page trade book which was on the New York Times’ list of Top Ten Books of 2009, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books. The public embrace of Holmes’ text revealed to us the widespread interest in the intersections among science, literature, and the arts during the long-eighteenth century–topics that we had (perhaps incorrectly) assumed to be “esoteric” scholarly research interests.
The appeal of Holmes’ book is its interdisciplinary subject; that is, The Age of Wonder does not merely tell the life-stories of idiosyncratic scientists but uses those biographies as a way of telling the story of the interdisciplinary foundations of modern science: the musicians William and Caroline Herschel who mapped the stars and discovered Uranus, the poet-chemist Humphry Davy. Nonetheless, The Age of Wonder omits the more complex contexts that scholarly accounts offer of the inextricable relations between science and the arts in this foundational era. With The 18th-Century Common, we hope to offer readers a view of those contexts. Our series “The Age of Wonder: Science and the Arts in the Long 18th Century” will feature accessible versions of published scholarship on this subject, commentary on Holmes’ book, as well as links to related resources, texts, and images around the web for readers who want to explore further.
At THATCamp Jessica and I (along with Derek Ohanesian and Stephanie Libous, our undergraduate collaborators) will be excited to discuss additional ways in which to engage through our nascent website a public already enthusiastic about eighteenth-century studies. What types of forums might the public wish to explore through this site? How might we best envision the ways in which to make available scholarship for this broad readership? In what ways can we design the site to allow for the public to interact with academic and other communities? During the day-long seminar we hope to share with other THATCampers the current design and aims of the website while revising our vision of and approach to the project. We plan to launch The 18th-Century Common later this Spring.
Assistant Professor of English Union College Schenectady, New York