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18th-century conference comes to St. John's

By Janet Harron | Oct. 6, 2010

Charting the 18th Century: Encircling Land and Sea, the 36th annual conference of the Canadian Society for 18th-Century Studies, will be held Oct. 14-16 at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John's.

This is the second time the conference has been hosted by Memorial University.

“A week before CSEC ’92 we had the worst windstorm in a century which uprooted trees, scattered siding and toppled chimneys,” said conference chair Dr. Don Nichol. “Now, in the wake of Igor, I’m beginning to think someone up there is trying to tell us something about hosting 18th-century conferences. Some residual resentment about the spread of deism and atheism, I expect.”

Windstorms and hurricanes notwithstanding, the upcoming conference will host upwards of 150 delegates who will attend 12 sessions over three days. Topics to be presented will run the gamut from cartography to the history of medicine.

Dr. John Baird of the University of Toronto will be offering three lunchtime readings to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the publication of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Laurence Sterne was one of the first novelists to inject  stream of consciousness into a narrative.

“It’s a bit unusual to schedule a reading of a fictional work during an academic conference but we want the unusual – we’re in St. John’s, after all,” said Dr. Nichol.

These 20-minute readings, open to the public, will take place in Salon B at the Sheraton, starting at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 14, 1:40 p.m. on Friday and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

In conjunction with the conference, the QE II Library will be hosting a special exhibit of John Clinch’s copy of Edward Jenner’s 1798 pioneer study of inoculation on Friday, Oct. 15, at 4:30 p.m. in the Centre for Newfoundland Studies.

John Clinch is credited as being the first man in North America to practise vaccination. Dr. Jim Connor, the John Clinch Professor of Medical Humanities at Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine, organized the loan from Harvard University’s Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Several members of the Memorial University faculty will present during the conference (a full list can be found at and Dr. Nichol points out that Dr. John Scott, Philosophy, Dr. Ron Rompkey, English, and Drs. Don and Jim MacLean of the French and Spanish department have been instrumental in helping to organize the conference.

The closing night banquet will be bookended by Dr. Sonja Boon, who will be performing several 18th-century flute solos, and by actor, director and writer Mary Walsh, whose roasting of 18th-century scholars will complete the evening.

Plenary speakers include Dr. Isobel Grundy, the world’s leading authority on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who first popularized the practice of inoculation in the early 18th century; Jean François Palomino, the chief cartographer at the Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec; and Dr. Pat Rogers, a corresponding fellow of the British Society and a Member of the Society of Antiquaries.

“Pat and Isobel were plenary speakers here 18 years ago; they were stars then and they’re even starrier now,” said Dr. Nichol.

Graduate students will also play a major part in the conference with a graduate student roundtable scheduled for the evening of Friday, Oct. 15. English MA student Meaghan Malone will present her first conference paper A Courtship of Glances: Looking at Men in Austen’s Persuasion.

“The prospect of presenting alongside such distinguished academics is incredibly daunting, to say the least, but extremely exciting as well," said Ms. Malone. "It’s thrilling to be able to expand my audience beyond Memorial’s English department. My panel alone includes presenters from the University of Ottawa and Columbia University, so a conference such as this truly gives Memorials’ graduate students a national, and even international venue in which they can present their research.

"This conference will not only allow me to hear first-hand the research that’s being conducted in my own area of study, but will also offer me the unique chance to actually contribute to these discussions."

In addition to presenting academic papers, delegates will attend a reception on Oct. 14 at Government House hosted by the lieutenant-governor.