Centre for Regional Literature and Culture

The Byron Study Centre - About Us

Byron's Legacy - Working in the Spirit of Byron

            So we, boys, we
            Will die fighting, or live free,
            And down with all kings but King Ludd!

                        – Byron, "Song for the Luddites", 1816

The Centre for Byron Studies was created with the intention that it would provide a forum for research on Byron and Romanticism for academic researchers, postgraduate students and visiting speakers. The Centre was also founded out of a profound sense of not only the literary, but also the political and intellectual legacy left by Byron, whom William Hazlitt described in his The Spirit of the Age as a 'martyr in his zeal in the cause of freedom'. Byron himself was involved in the Italian independence movement before journeying to Greece where he famously died while training Greek troops to fight for the liberation of Greece. Prior to his participation in these movements, Byron's maiden speech in the House of Lords was delivered in February of 1812, in defense of the Luddites, Nottinghamshire weavers whose livelihoods were threatened by the industrialisation of the textile trade.

The importance of Byron's political legacy has been reflected throughout a number of Byron Foundation Lectures, including the two 1969 lectures, Philip Collin's Thomas Cooper, The Chartist: Byron and the 'Poets of the Poor' and Raymond Williams' Byron and English Liberty, as well as Vivian de Sola Pinto's 1944 lecture, Byron and Liberty. An acute awareness of the intersection between literature and society has been evident from the Centre's inception. It is present in the dedication of Jerome McGann's Foundation Lecture (published in 1999), which reads: 'This essay is for one who illumines our tempestuous day: Michael Foot'. Similarly, not only did freedom provided the theme of the Annual International Byron Conference, hosted by the Centre, in 2000, but an interest in the intersection of liberty and justice with literature and criticism continues to inform the research and activities undertaken by the Centre. This includes not only a sense of Byron's own comments on, and involvement in the politics of his day, but also a re-assessment of his relationship with writers (many of them women) overlooked by previous generations of scholars and new considerations of the ways in which his works informed and continue to inform cultural representations of the interaction between 'East' and 'West'.


The Byron Foundation Lectures

On 29th November 1910 a public meeting chaired by the Duke of Portland and addressed by the Amrican Ambassador, Whitelaw Reid, was set up with a view to establishing a Byron Chair of English Literature at the University College Nottingham, which would later become the University of Nottingham. However, due to opposition over Byron's controversial reputation and works, this plan was unable to proceed and the moneys raised were invested into the endowment of an annual lecture. 

As a result, the Byron Foundation lecture series was founded in 1912 by public subscription. In accordance with the terms of the Foundation, the subject of the lecture need not be confined to Byron, but must be on some aspect of English Literature. In most instances the Foundation Lecture is an annual event, but in some years two lectures were delivered, whilst there remain several years for which no lecture is recorded. In recent years, the lecture has focused on Byron and his contemporaries.

A full list of the Foundation Lectures can be found on the Resources page.


History of the Centre

The University of Nottingham established the Centre for Byron Studies within the School of English Studies in 1999 to coincide with the establishment of the Prew-Smith Byron Lectureship. The Prew-Smith Byron Lectureship was funded for the first three years by the generous donation of Mrs Joyce Prew-Smith as a mark of pride in her native city and in memory of her late husband, Harry Prew-Smith. The Centre and the lectureship were the initiative of Geoffrey Bond, heritage lawyer and Byronist, and proceeded with the support of then Head of School, Thorlac Turville-Petre.

The inaugural lecture for the Centre, titled 'Byron and Mary Shelley and Frankenstein', was delivered in March 2000 by Professor Charles Robinson, Executive Director of the Byron Society of America. During 2000, the Centre also assumed responsibility for organising the annual Byron Foundation Lecture, which was delivered by the poet Tom Paulin in May.

That summer, the Centre also hosted the 26th Annual Byron Conference, organised by the International Byron Society. The theme of the conference was based around the theme of freedom. In autumn 2000, the University of Nottingham hosted a BBC Radio 3 Concert Series, 'Byron, Liszt & the Early Romantics', as well as an accompanying lecture series exploring the significance of Byron, and more generally Romanticism, in different arts.

Between 2001 and 2005 the Centre continued to enhance the teaching of Byron and Romanticism at the University and organise the Byron Foundation Lectures. During this time, the Centre published Byron and Women Novelists, by Professor Caroline Franklin, and Joanna Baillie, Byron and Satanic Drama, by Professor Isobel Armstrong, both of which were delivered as Foundation Lectures. In addition to these publications, researchers in the Centre produced a range of articles and monographs on Byron, women writers who influenced Byron and vice versa, as well as on other Romantic writers such as William Blake and aspects of Romanticism more generally.

In Autumn of 2005, Dr. Matt Green was appointed as the Centre's Director. Shortly thereafter, the Centre began an extensive programme of digital publishing, with the intension of providing a range of online resources for the benefit of students, teachers, researchers and the general public. The first phase of this project was completed throughout 2005-2006 with the publication of five introductory essays, authored by Dr. Silvia Bordoni, on Byron, women writers and European Romanticism. These essays, which can be found in the Resources section of our website were accompanied by a select bibliography, a chronology of Byron's life and a set of web links.

2006 saw the commencement of the second phase of online publication when the Centre, in collaboration with Newstead Abbey, was awarded funding from the English Subject to digitize and publish letters and manuscripts written by Byron during his residence at Burgage Manor in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. In addition to this project, the Centre has also begun a programme of republishing previous Byron Foundation Lectures online.Further information about both of these projects can be found in the Research section of the website.

In September 2010 the Centre became the Byron Study Centre and was incorporated under the auspices of the Centre for Regional Literature and Culture.


Organising Principles

Since the establishment of the Byron Foundation Lecture in 1912, two main impulses have been associated with Byron's name at the University: the examination of Byron's literary work in its social context and the investigation of the relationship between literature and social change. Accordingly, many previous lectures have discussed Byron's own interests in liberty and social justice as well as a more general interest in the intersection of literature and society. Titles such as Shakespeare in War and PeaceByron and the "Poets of the Poor"The Problem of War PoetryByron and the Empire in the East demonstrate the longevity and interconnections between both of these drives. 

In line with such historical precedents, the Centre's activities and research are structured by two organising principles:

  1. the investigation of Byron and his social context (including the literary movements and genres with which he is associated, as well as the work of his contemporaries)
  2. the interrogation and propagation of ideas about justice and freedom in literary and non-literary contexts, both locally and internationally

These principles are interwoven and are undertaken not only within the auspices of Byron's social/political legacy (that is, in the spirit of his life and works), but also with a view to reassessing the position of his works, and those of his contemporaries, within larger cultural and historical contexts.

The Byron Centre for the Study of Literature and Social Change, therefore, looks at literature both as a point of intersection for various social forces and itself as a vector for enacting or calling for social change. The publications of researchers in the Centre reflect this approach, as do its current online publications (including essays looking at Byron, Women Writers and European Romanticism). The significance of Nottinghamshire to Byron's cultural context, meanwhile, is currently being explored in the Teaching Byron in Context project. Not only will this project enhance scholarly understanding of Byron's life and works during his residence at Burgage Manor, but it will also make a selection of invaluable archival materials available to students, teachers and the general public.


The Prew-Smith Byron Lectureship

The establishment of the Prew-Smith Byron Lectureship represented the realisation of a desire amongst members of both the local and international community stretching back to 29th November 1910, when a public meeting chaired by the Duke of Portland and addressed by the American Ambassador, Whitelaw Reid, was set up with a view to establishing a Byron Chair of English Literature. In the face of opposition to Byron's 'immoral' example, however, the plan was shelved and it was not until 27th May, 1998, that a permanent post was announced by Mr. Geoffrey Bond in his vote of thanks at Jerome McGann's Foundation Lecture. 

In the preface to the published version of McGann's lecture, Byron and Wordsworth, then Head of School, Professor Thorlac Turville-Petre, describes the lecture thus:

The creation of a Lectureship in Byron Studies in the Department of English Studies at the University of Nottingham has been made possible by a generous donation by Mrs Joyce Prew-Smith. Nottingham-born Mrs Prew-Smith will support the new post as a mark of pride in her native city and in memory of her late husband, Harry Prew-Smith, who was a well-known Nottingham-based textile manufacturer, with factories throughout the East Midlands.

The University of Nottingham issued an official press release on 2nd July, 1998 announcing the lectureship and noting its social and political significance. This release quotes Mr. Bond's explanation of the motivations behind the post:

The poet Byron died for freedom in Western Greece in 1824. Joyce Prew-Smith remembers many of her generation who died for freedom in the Second World War. Mrs Prew-Smith served at that time in the Army Territorial Service, first at a searchlight unit then with a transport unit at Donington Hall, Castle Donington, where she drove heavy army vehicles

Joyce hopes the Byron Lectureship will also develop freedom studies and that in some way through international co-operation and the emergence of an International Byron Centre, young people in particular can be taught the value of the free society in which they live.


Future Directions

 But there are wanderers o'er eternity
  Whose bark drives on and on, and anchored ne'er shall be.

  – Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III, stanza 70

It is anticipated that future research in the Centre will continue to undertake the investigation of literary works produced by Byron and other writers from his period in a spirit of scholarly rigour combined with political awareness. In addition to Byron, research will be directed toward the works of William Blake (who regarded Byron as a fellow poet-prophet, even as he addressed Byron in a spirit of friendly enmity)

More generally, attention will also be directed toward the study of the Gothic, which has been an important topic in research and teaching undertaken by staff in the Centre. Not only was the Gothic genre significant for Byron and Blake, but it also has continued relevance for understanding the politics and aesthetics of terror in the opening decades of the twenty-first-century.

Through its contributions to teaching and research within the University, and in collaboration with local societies and organisations, as well as with national and international networks, the Centre aims to continue to enhance an understanding of Byron's work, context and legacy, both within academia and in the wider community.



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