Online Conference: The Experience of Loneliness in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 29–30 June 2021 (deadline 1 April 2021)

University of Birmingham, UK, 29–30 June 2021 (deadline 1 April 2021)
Keynote Speakers:
 Professor Helen Wilcox (Bangor University), Dr Jenni Hyde (Lancaster University) 

John Worthington, Church of England clergyman and close associate of the Cambridge Platonists, complained of isolation from fellow scholars in his rectory at the small village of Ingoldsby, Lincolnshire, in the 1660s. Similarly, the poet Anne Ley, having escaped the 1636 plague to live in a ‘solitarie place’ in Northchurch, Hertfordshire, desperately missed her original home in ‘smokie London’, comparing herself to the exiled Ulysses in a letter to her father. Paradoxically, isolation and solitude could be viewed in a positive light in this era. In ‘Prison-Meditations’, the incarcerated John Bunyan wrote, ‘I am (indeed) in Prison (now) / in Body, but my Mind / free to study Christ, and how / unto me is kind’. Strength and fortitude could also grow from loneliness; Daniel Price holds up the biblical paragon Jonathan as ‘lonely’, yet ‘swift as an Eagle, strong as a Lyon’ in a sermon preached upon the death of Henry, Prince of Wales. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts worldwide have been concerned about a loneliness epidemic. This has wider ramifications within the academy too. How might we better support unaffiliated scholars who may feel that they are writing in isolation without the support of a community of colleagues? How might one feel ‘lonely’ even within an institution? And how could our understanding of ‘loneliness’ in early modern prose and poetry deepen our perception of social isolation for scholars and writers today? Building upon important work on the spatial, material and religious dimensions of solitude in late medieval and early modern Europe (Enekel and Göttler, eds, Solitudo (Brill, 2018)) and ongoing research at Queen Mary, University of London (‘Pathologies of Solitude, 18th–21st Century’), this two-day symposium aims to explore the notion of loneliness and isolation in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writings. We invite papers on topics including, but not limited to, the following:     

Devotional poetry and prose      
Epistolary culture       
Loneliness within academia       
Mental health
Travel writing 

Contributions from independent scholars and ‘precarious’ ECRs, in addition to papers which touch upon personal experiences of loneliness in modern academic life, are especially welcomed. 

Papers must be delivered in English, not exceeding 20 minutes in length. Accommodations will be made for contributors delivering their papers from outside the UK. Please send abstracts (max. 300 words) and a short biography (max. 100 words) to Hannah Yip and Thomas Clifton ( by 1 April 2021.  NB. This conference will be held online via Zoom. Please get in touch if you need any particular arrangements to be made, or support provided, if you are interested in attending.

Twitter: @EMLoneliness


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