Peterloo at 200: Histories, Narratives, Representations
The Peterloo Massacre has been dubbed “the bloodiest political event of the nineteenth century on English soil” (Poole 2007, 111). Its psychological, sociocultural and political reverberations reach far and wide. The approaching bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre calls for reappraisal and questioning through the (sometimes) distorting, yet revealing lens of narrative – that is, through the numerous ways in which Peterloo has been represented and retold in literature, art, on stage and on film. Writing about popular protest in 1819, John Gardner states that “Events are usually ephemeral and those present are often unclear about what actually happened. What does remain is the dominant representation of the event, the story that is put before the public and believed” (2011, 3). However, hegemonic representations tend to engender competing, counter-representations. These co-existing, parallel narratives are the focus of the “Peterloo at 200” Conference as they point to the way in which texts (literary and otherwise) interact with events, participate in their representation, and interrogate the “uncertain” facts determining their shape and significance. In this regard, these texts at once deconstruct and reconstruct the historical event, either by questioning established or hegemonic narrations, or by producing a version of the facts in and of itself, whose truthfulness might be as debatable. From this perspective, Peterloo may arguably be viewed not only as an event, but as “an effect,” to quote Slavoj Zizek, “that seems to exceed its causes” (2014, 15).
In search of complexity and counter-perspectives, the organizers of “Peterloo at 200” welcome research that interrogates unconventional Peterloo-related texts (literary, non-literary, dramatic, visual) and the resonance that Peterloo had outside English borders. We especially welcome proposals that highlight Peterloo as a cause in and of itself, and the texts it spawned as the effects that “exceed” it – texts which started from it but are irreducible to it, remediations (Bolter and Grusin 2000) of a brutal historical fact that recast it as real and imaginary, factual and fictional at once. Papers may focus on one or more of the following:
- Romantic poetry and drama
- Romantic and Victorian periodical essays
- Less canonical Victorian novels (such as Hale White’s 1887 Revolution on Tanner’s Lane)
- Court transcripts (e.g. the Samuel Bamford trial)
- Visual culture and satire (e.g. George Cruikshank)
- Philosophical writings (e.g. Jeremy Bentham)
- The European reception of Peterloo (the press, letters, essays, poems)
- Contemporary narratives (e.g. Mike Leigh’s Peterloo,2018)
By investigating different textual typologies and narrative modes, we hope to recast Peterloo as a polysemic, meaning-making site of textual exploration.
Abstracts of 250 words should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 March 2019. Emails confirming acceptance will be sent out by 15 April 2019.
Registration fee 60€.
Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. 2000. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.
Gardner, John. 2011. Poetry and Popular Protest: Peterloo, Cato Street, and the Queen Caroline Controversy. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Poole, Robert. 2007. “Reinterpreting Peterloo”. Teaching History 129: pp. 20-21.
Slavoj Zizek. 2014. Event. London: Melville House Pubblications.