The Nineteenth-Century Research Group

Promoting an interdisciplinary approach to the nineteenth century at the University of Lincoln

Author: lgill (page 1 of 2)

December 7th 2022, Hybrid Seminar: Book Launch, Owen Clayton, ‘Roving Bill Aspinwall’

Poster for book launch featuring the front cover of 'Roving Bill Aspinwall'

In December, we celebrated the publication of Roving Bill Aspinwall: Dispatches from a Hobo in Post-Civil War America, edited by Dr Owen Clayton (University of Lincoln).

Dr. Owen Clayton is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Lincoln. His first monograph, Literature and Photography in Transition, 1850-1915, came out with Palgrave MacMillan in 2015. He is working on his second monograph, entitled Vagabonds, Tramps, and Hobos: the Literature and Culture of American Transiency. He is the editor of Representing Homelessness, published as part of the Proceedings of the British Academy series (Oxford University Press, 2021).

William ‘Roving Bill’ Aspinwall was all of these things and yet no lone descriptor does him justice. Born one of 23 siblings, married 5 times, wounded fighting for the Union in one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War, kicked out of numerous jobs and soldiers’ homes for drunkenness, and having spent decades wandering as a penniless vagabond, Bill also kept up a 24-year correspondence with John James McCook, Professor of Modern Languages at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. In so doing Bill provided the earliest and best account of life on the road by an American hobo. Written between 1893 and 1917, Roving Bill Aspinwall: Dispatches from a Hobo in Post-Civil War America tells Bill’s story entirely in his own words. Describing experiences on the road, the people he meets, his dalliances with women and his memories of the Civil War, the letters are a rich and unique correspondence. Having been physically and mentally scarred at the 1843 Battle of Champion Hill, Bill details his lifelong battle with booze. He also gives first-hand accounts of men thrown out of work during the economic Panic of 1893, of wandering around the country as an itinerant umbrella-mender, of working in factories, farms and even a circus, as well as his visit to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1903. Bill’s words are the real voice of a nineteenth-century hobo.

Roving Bill Aspinwall is available to purchase here at Better World Books and at other retailers.


Online Seminar Weds 23rd Nov: Dr Anna Jamieson (Birkbeck), ‘Practical Hints: The Art of the Asylum Visitor Book in the early nineteenth-century’

Dr Anna Jamieson (Birkbeck) joined us in November to discuss ‘Practical Hints: The Art of the Asylum Visitor Book in the early nineteenth-century’

Abstract: By the early decades of the nineteenth century, asylums and hospitals had become mainstays of England’s philanthropic tourist circuit. Providing visitors with the opportunity to interact with human suffering, they were uniquely placed to encourage and facilitate the display of humanity and refinement deemed socially appropriate during this period. At the end of the asylum tour, many visitors had the opportunity to publicly record their responses in a communal visitor book – where they would write their name, place of residence, and typically a few lines discussing what they had seen. Characterising the asylum visitor book as a material site where themes of philanthropy and performance meet, this paper explores the issues at stake in the act of committing one’s thoughts to paper within this space. On the one hand, it argues that this ritual enabled the performance of one’s philanthropy, demonstrating the tourist’s fluency in topics surrounding the smooth running of the institution. On the other, I argue that writing in the asylum visitor book allowed a reflective moment of emotional recovery – an ameliorating endpoint to the psychological strain of a visit to the asylum itself.

BioAnna Jamieson is an interdisciplinary art historian specialising in visual and material cultures of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Anna is currently working on a book exploring asylum tourism between 1770-1845. Her research interests include: women and patient agency; illness, fashion and consumerism; dark tourism and enfreakment; material culture and the history of emotions.

Online Seminar Weds 19th Oct: Matthew Bayly, ‘Biteing Another Pauper With Whom She Slept’

A drawing of Lincoln asylum

You are warmly invited to join us for the first online meeting of 2022-23 of the Nineteenth Century Research Group at the University of Lincoln.
Matthew Bayly will be presenting on ‘Biteing Another Pauper With Whom She Slept: Lunatics, Idiots and Imbeciles under the New Poor Law, c.1836-1852’

Abstract: The first half of the nineteenth century saw important legislative developments regarding the treatment of mental illness and cognitive disability, as well as the provision of welfare within England and Wales. In regard to the former, the period saw the growth of the asylum as the officially sanctioned response to lunacy. In regard to the latter, the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act issued in the era of the New Poor Law where relief was ostensibly to be delivered within a workhouse. That the Poor Law was crucial for the support of the mentally ill and cognitively disabled has been well noted; thus, such cohorts sat at the interface between these legislative changes. What this meant in practice for the experiences of those deemed lunatics, idiots and imbeciles in the early decades of the New Poor Law will be the focus of this paper. Analysis will focus on two Poor Law Unions in Lincolnshire and try to discern life cycles of support for mentally ill and cognitively disabled paupers, focussing on the loci of care of the parish, the asylum and the workhouse.

Bio: Matthew Bayly is a PhD student at Nottingham Trent University with a submitted thesis titled ‘The Human Ecology of Need and Relief on the Lincoln Heath, c.1790-1850.’ His research interests include the history of welfare; the history of mental illness; local history and public engagement with a specific focus on Lincolnshire. Currently, he is a Senior English for Academic Purposes Tutor in the International College at the University of Lincoln.

This event is open to all and will take place on MS Teams. Register via Eventbrite here, or email Laura Gill ( for a direct link to the meeting. The Teams meeting room will open at 4pm and the talk will begin at 4.15pm.

The next event in this series will be on Wednesday 23rd November (4–5.30pm), when Anna Jamieson (History of Art, Birkbeck) will be joining us to speak about ‘Practical Hints: The Art of the Asylum Visitor Book in the early nineteenth-century’. Further details will follow soon.

Upcoming Events: PGR Panel (16th May) and Research Seminar with Dr Claire O’Callaghan (18th May)

The Nineteenth Century Research Group is hosting two events across the week starting 16th May (one in-person, one online).

On Monday 16th May 4-6pm we will have our first in-person research event in two years!
Join us for an interdisciplinary panel session with postgraduate researchers from across the College of Arts working on the nineteenth century. Alyson Cunningham will be presenting on coaching in nineteenth-century British literature, Conor Broughton will be presenting on Italian opera and ‘national indifference’ and Phillipa McDonnell will be presenting on nineteenth-century paint.

Please join us in MB3203. All are welcome!

On Wednesday 18th May, via MS Teams, we have a research seminar co-organised with the 21st Century Research Group, to mark the end of the teaching year.

Dr Claire O’Callaghan (Loughborough) will be giving a talk on ‘The Afterlives of Wuthering Heights and the Legacy of Wide Sargasso Sea; Or, Reading Race, Identity and Violence in Caryl Philip’s The Lost Child and Michael Stewart’s Ill Will.’ Dr O’Callaghan’s research interests lie in Victorian and neo-Victorian studies, with a focus on the politics of gender, sexuality and identity. She is an expert on the lives and works of the Brontës and the writing of the contemporary novelist, Sarah Waters.

The paper will begin at 4.30pm, but the Teams room will open at 4.15pm. The paper will be recorded, but the Q&A session will not.

Again, all are welcome: please email Laura Gill ( for a link to join the meeting, and do get in touch if you have any queries.

Prof. Jason Hall (Exeter), ‘Stephen’s Telescopic Imagination’ (23rd March 2022)

You are warmly invited to attend the next event in the University of Lincoln Nineteenth Century Research Seminar Series on Wednesday 23rd March. Prof. Jason Hall (Exeter) will be presenting on ‘Stephen’s Telescopic Imagination: Empiricism and Imagination in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man‘.

The event will begin at 4.30pm, but the Teams room will open at 4.15pm. The talk will be followed by a Q&A (the talk will be recorded but the Q&A will not).

Register at Eventbrite via this page to access the meeting link. Please email Laura Gill if you have any issues registering or accessing the meeting link.

Paper Abstract

How does Stephen Dedalus process his place in the scheme of things, and what happens as he matures? The answer is, in part, found in the early pages of the novel, where the young artist-in-the-making conceives of his geo-cosmological orientation in relation to a popular nineteenth-century exercise.

Speaker Bio

Jason Hall is Professor of Modern Literature and Culture at the University of Exeter. His books include Seamus Heaney’s Rhythmic Contract (2009), Meter Matters (2011), Decadent Poetics (2013) and Nineteenth-Century Verse and Technology (2017). His present research explores astronomy in Victorian and Modernist fiction and culture.

Please do join us, and email the organisers if you wish to be added to the C19th Research Group mailing list to hear about future events.

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