Natures and Spaces of Enlightenment. David Nichol Smith Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Studies XVI.

13-15 December 2017
Griffith University and the University of Queensland

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Colonel Blair with his Family

Johan Zoffany, German, 1667-1769, Colonel Blair with his Family and an Indian Ayah, 1786, Oil on canvas. Photo: © Tate, London [2017]

A preoccupation with the idea and use of ‘nature’ was an important characteristic of the Enlightenment. Long considered a pivotal moment in the development of modernity, the Enlightenment is now also regarded as a turning point in the emergence of the Anthropocene, as new conceptions of the relationship between human society and the natural world influenced all manner of discourses and practices, from politics to aesthetics, theology to botany, gardening to pet-keeping, and industrial production to colonial governance. But the meanings and purposes of nature were heterogeneous, giving rise to a number of diverse Enlightenments. As an intellectual movement as well as a social process, which varied according to geographical region, the Enlightenment was experienced in different ways by different peoples in different places. Placing emphasis on feeling no less than reason, it also took different forms in different genres of art and writing. And this plurality multiplied as the reach of European empires grew and Enlightenment attitudes and activities migrated to new spaces, where they were transformed by local circumstances. Far from being a monolithic phenomenon, the Enlightenment comprised a cluster of interacting but opposing tendencies, from nationalism to globalism, secularism to revivalism, liberalism to conservatism, and libertine excess to moral reform.

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