busy few days

Friday and Saturday were awesome research days at the British Library. I found some really juicy stuff that’s going to be very useful. I was there yesterday from 9:30 until closing at 5:00 yesterday, and I was so excited by what I was finding that I didn’t want to leave.

My time has not been filled only with work, however. Friday night I saw a very good production of Henry IV Part 1 with Laurie and her friend Jessica at the National Theatre. Tuesday night we’ll catch the second part. Jessica totally kicks ass for landing tickets to supposedly sold-out shows.

Last night my friend Nancy and I headed out to the hip joint of the moment, which goes by the name of the Boogaloo. It’s supposed to be the place to see and be seen, but it seemed just like any other pub I’ve been to in London. Well, there was one difference: the beer was about twice as expensive. Still, it was fun to hang out there, and the way the juke box works is pretty cool. The rumor is that Coldplay went there once to take in (or contribute to) the vibe and got angry when no one recognized them.

Today was an eighteenth-century geek’s idea of paradise. Nancy and I shared a delicious lunch at a Thai restaurant, then visited Dennis Severs’ House (see photo below), which is one part living history site and two parts happening.

Subsequently, we walked up City Road to John Wesley’s chapel, built in the 1760s, and to Bunhill Fields, the Nonconformists’ cemetery right across the street.

The Museum of London was our next stop, and coincidentally enough, there is a sculpture next to the entrance that marks the site of John Wesley’s conversion experience; Wesley described feeling a “strange warming of the heart” while walking along Aldersgate Street. Not exactly the most dramatic of descriptions given that some of Wesley’s evangelical peers were passing out and speaking in tongues.

The Museum of London is a well-done presentation of the history of the city, with artifacts from the last several hundred years. We each bought a reproduction of a 1745 London map, and then headed straight for the Restoration and eighteenth-century sections, which has an exhibit on the Great Fire of 1666, and then several other exhibits organized thematically around themes like “printing” or “prison.” Perhaps I’m making it sound too dry, but it really is well done. I especially like this “sermon glass”.

Next on the agenda: more walking! We ended up at a pub for a couple of pints of John Courage (produced by a brewery founded in 1787), and capped off the day with dinner at an Indian restaurant of my favorite kind.

Now I’m going to bed…

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research update

Just a quick note here, dear reader, as I’m grabbing some free WiFi in a dining hall with an etiquette notice forbidding the use of laptops. My flight over was fine, and I managed to put in a brief appearance yesterday at the British Library, even though my lack of sleep made me feel like a real zombie, not just the Internet kind. As fate would have it, I encountered a former student who is now finishing up his PhD in English. I last saw him when he was a freshman in one of my sections of intro to British literature at the University of Maryland. Time flies!

I’m looking at British evangelical periodicals at the BL, and I may have more to say about the fruits of my research in the coming days. Or I may keep it to myself until print publication. What’s interesting is that I’m seeing the same names involved in these publishing ventures crop up again and again.

There’s also a thread I want to follow involving the controversy surrounding the claim of a publisher that a certain set of printed sermons represent the authentic words of a particular preacher who, conveniently enough for the publisher, happened to be dead at the time of publication. The sermons were purportedly taken down in shorthand by an audience member, then transcribed, then printed. This is one of those threads you don’t expect to find, but that you are obliged to follow once you do. You know me: I’m a sucker for the whole “speech-script-print” thing

Oh, and I bought a surprisingly affordable CD-ROM of “the worldís earliest complete survival of a dated printed book.”

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hempton on methodism

Historian David Hempton‘s well researched and lucidly written Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (I’m two chapters in, but already completely sold) is a much needed addition to the scholarship on this influential religious movement:

The problem before us, therefore, is the disarmingly simple one of accounting for the rise of Methodism from its unpromising origins among the flotsam and jetsam of religious societies and quirky personalities in England in the 1730s to a major international religious movement some hundred and fifty years later. During that period Methodism refashioned the old denominational order in the British Isles, became the largest Protestant denomination in the United States on the eve of the Civil War, and gave rise to the most dynamic world missionary movement of the nineteenth century. For all these reasons, there are grounds for stating that the rise of Methodism was the most important Protestant religious development since the Reformation, yet it remains remarkably under-researched. (2)

Hempton has a way of contrasting historical data in striking ways, such as the fact that by the end of the nineteenth century there were more African-American Methodists in the United States than there were Methodists in all of Europe. Clearly by this point the U.S. had become the “power-house of world Methodism” (4).

As for me, I’m interested in the earliest decades of development in Britain (and specifically with the ways that communication practices and technologies were important to early Methodism), but this work certainly provides me with a valuable perspective and a longer historical view. I can only hope to produce a book so well written and persuasively argued.

Geez, I sound like such a fanboy.

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MUNDUS database of missionary collections in the uk


The Mundus Gateway is a web-based guide to more than four hundred collections of overseas missionary materials held in the United Kingdom. These materials, comprising the archives of British missionary societies, collections of personal papers, printed matter, photographs, other visual materials and artefacts, are held in a large number of libraries, record offices and other institutions in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Mundus Gateway makes it easier for researchers to locate these collections and obtain sufficient information about their contents to enable effective planning of research visits.

Of particular interest to my research: (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society

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eighteenth-century letter days

I have been searching my notes in vain for reference to a practice I remember reading about.

I can remember learning that in the eighteenth century Anglo-American world, members of a religious community would gather to listen to letters from abroad (concerning spiritual matters) being read out loud.

Am I imagining this, or is this a well-known practice that somehow slipped below the radar of my note-taking habits?

Cross posted at C18-L

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