Tweets from beyond the grave bring Ben Jonson to life

05 Jul 2013 12:06:37.080

An epic journey undertaken on foot by the celebrated playwright Ben Jonson more than 400 years ago is being re-trod on social media by researchers from the Universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh.

The literary detectives are using Twitter, Facebook and a blog to recreate the adventure using extracts from a recently-discovered account of his journey. The influential poet and dramatist – a favourite of King James and friend to William Shakespeare – set out on his 71-day trek from London to Edinburgh in July 1618. 

Professor Julie Sanders of The University of Nottingham’s School of English is working with Professor James Loxley and Dr Anna Groundwater from The University of Edinburgh’s School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures to bring the account to life 21st century-style. They will link diary extracts to the places he visited and the people he encountered on the way and track his daily itinerary in real time, drawing from events in the account, which runs from 8 July to 5 October. 
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'Foot voyage'

The researchers will highlight some of the many places and historic sites mentioned along the 450-mile route – including inns that are still in business today and properties now looked after by English Heritage, Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland.

Ben Jonson wrote an account of his ‘foot voyage’ shortly after his return from Edinburgh in 1619. This work was subsequently destroyed in a fire before it could be circulated or printed, and the particulars of the expedition – his route, how long it took him, whom he met with along the way – was lost.

Chance discovery

In 2009, however, Professor James Loxley discovered a narrative of the voyage in the Aldersey collection of family papers in Chester, apparently penned by an anonymous travelling companion of Ben Jonson. The resulting research has uncovered a treasure trove of detail not only for students of Jonson but also for anyone with an interest in the cultural history of early Stuart Britain.

Professor Julie Sanders said: “Social media is the ideal platform from which this previously hidden gem of English literary history can be brought to life. Jonson's walk was in many respects all about engaging with multiple publics and we hope this Twitter event will bring both the project and Jonson himself new audiences. The walk was a form of social networking in its own time so what better way to attempt to reenact it in 2013?”

Professor James Loxley added: “Jonson’s long walk was a big public event – lots of people accompanied him for short spells along the way, and crowds turned out to greet him at the towns he visited. We’d be delighted if anyone wanted to join us for the virtual recreation – walking boots will not be necessary!”

To join the journey go to: 

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More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.

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Story credits

More information is available from Professor Julie Sanders, School of English, on +44 (0)115 846 7040 

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