Tobias Smollett at 300: the work of writing

deadline for submissions: 
December 1, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) at The Open University, UK, and History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) research collaboration based in the Department of English and Creative Writing at The Open University, UK, and the Institute of English Studies, Uni
contact email: 

Date of online conference: 13 – 14 May 2021 

Deadline for submissions: 1 December 2020

Tobias Smollett (1721–1771) probably wrote more words than any other writer in the eighteenth century. This has often been overlooked because the words were not always his own. Smollett laboured over vast works of compilation, including historical works, reviews, magazines, translations and compendiums. Even his novels – which sit a little awkwardly in the stories that have been told about the rise of the novel – embraced a similar practice. As a result, Smollett has never been quite able to achieve the reputation which he rightly deserves – that is, as one of the great literary figures of the mid-eighteenth century.

Next year will mark the three-hundredth anniversary of Smollett’s birth and this provides the excuse to ask some questions about his ‘work of writing’. This is the kind of work that might stand as an image of the Enlightenment; it is also a labour that, as Smollett predicted, exhausted him and contributed to his death. We will want to ask how Smollett understood the task that he set himself. Is it right to speak of him as a historian or translator or critic or poet or novelist or hack? How can we understand the kind of creativity Smollett shows in his work? What might this tell us about the work of writing in the eighteenth century – or how might it change our understanding of the Enlightenment itself?

This online conference invites papers on Tobias Smollett and/or the ‘work of writing’ in the eighteenth century. Whilst we are looking to re-evaluate Smollett’s work on the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth, we also welcome papers on related figures or practices that help to contextualise and understand it. Some topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Historical writing
  • Hack work
  • Reviewing and periodical writing
  • Translating
  • Writing in instalments 
  • Editing and abridging
  • Compilation
  • Mediation and remediation
  • Medical writing
  • Scottish writing 
  • Creative and critical writing
  • Smollett’s work today

Please send your abstract (up to 250 words) together with a brief biography (up to 100 words) and contact details to the conference organiser by 1 December 2020.

The conference will be hosted by the Institute for English Studies, online via Zoom, in two sessions on 13 and 14 May 2021. The sessions will be arranged to accommodate speakers from different time zones. Papers should be around 20 minutes in length and allow an additional ten minutes for questions and discussion. It is hoped to have a conference programme finalised in January 2021.  For details, see the conference website.

The conference is supported by the History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) research collaboration based in the Department of English and Creative Writing at The Open University, UK, and the Institute of English Studies, University of London.

Conference organiser

Dr. Richard J. Jones, Lecturer in English Literature at The Open University, UK

richard.jones@open.ac.uk