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Dr Williams’ Centre for Dissenting Studies – Events

April 5, 2011

Wednesday 6 April 2011 5.15 to 6.45 pm

Seminar in Dissenting Studies, the Lecture Hall, Dr Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AR. All are welcome. Those with an interest in Dr Williams’s Library and its collections and in the history of Protestant dissent are especially invited to attend.

Dr Kyle B. Roberts (Queen Mary, University of London)
‘Student Reading in Nineteenth-Century Dissenting Academy Libraries’

Kyle B. Roberts is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Dr Williams’s Centre for the project ‘Dissenting Academy Libraries and their Readers, 1720-1860’, funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, and will take up a post in the fall as an Assistant Professor of Public History and New Media at Loyola University, Chicago. Co-creator of the Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System, which will be launched on 11 June, he is also the author of several articles on the history of the book, urban religion, and religious history and is finishing the manuscript for his first book, Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860. He is a founder and convenor of the London Digital Humanities Group, sponsored by Queen Mary, University of London.

Reconstruction of the holding and borrowing records of leading English dissenting academies in an innovative virtual library system offers an unprecedented opportunity to explore student reading in the first half of the nineteenth century. From modest beginnings in the wake of the Act of Uniformity (1662), the aim of dissenting academies was to provide students dissenting from the Church of England with a higher education similar to that offered by Oxford and Cambridge. By the early nineteenth century they grew into robust institutions, employing multiple tutors, occupying imposing collegiate structures, and attracting students and financial support from around the country. At the heart of the dissenting academy was its library. A number of library catalogues, loan registers, and original books from the Manchester, Homerton, and Bristol Baptist academies have survived. When reconstructed on a digital platform, these materials reveal that nineteenth-century students found in academy libraries holdings that numbered in the thousands of volumes. By focusing on the thousands of loans of library books to students in two decades, the 1830s and 1850s, this paper offers the first in-depth exploration of student reading. It will focus on the frequency of their borrowing, the titles they most actively checked out, and variations in use and interest over time and space. Many of the titles students read were for the curriculum, but evidence suggests that library collections offered a source of personal enjoyment as well. Over the years of their academy education, many students found themselves confirmed in the spiritual and vocational callings that had initially led them to seek an academy education, while others found their experience within these academies and their libraries opened up new avenues.


Saturday 11th June

Launch of the Dissenting Academies Databases


Please also note that the following book was launched last week (an essential read for those of us with an interest in C18 music): Isabel Rivers and David L. Wykes (eds), Dissenting Praise: Religious Dissent and the Hymn in England and Wales (OUP, 2011). It is now available in all good bookshops. Alternatively, you can find out about it here:
and here:

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