Johns, Alessa

Research Project
British-German Cultural Transfer 1750-1837:
Pathways of Reform During the Personal Union

Britain and Hanover shared a sovereign from 1714 to 1837. While scholars have generally focused on the political and diplomatic implications of the Personal Union, I am interested in tracing socio-cultural repercussions. In particular I explore how, in the period of the American and French Revolutions, Britain and Germany generated distinct discourses of individual and socio-cultural liberty even though they were non-revolutionary countries.
British and German reformists used the period’s expanded pathways of cultural transfer to generate new discourses, to articulate new views of what personal freedom, national character, and international interaction might be. I trace four pivotal moments of cultural exchange: 1) the expansion of the book trade, 2) the rage for translation, 3) the effect of revolution on intra-European travel and travel writing, and 4) the impact of trans-Atlantic journeys on visions of reform.
My project thus delineates the effects of transnationalism in processes of cultural transformation. While the French Revolution loomed large, it did not fully determine the content of the “alternative enlightenments” within and beyond the geography of the Personal Union. Such links had their own history and were carried on by hitherto understudied German and English actors, especially women. Indeed the central significance of gender and sexual politics to my study is reinforced by the end of the Personal Union in 1837: Salic Law prevented a woman, Victoria, from reigning over Hanover. Cultural ties that had proved fruitful for reformists were not curtailed but nonetheless felt the effects of political dissolution.

Selected Publications

Johns, A. 2003. Women’s Utopias of the Eighteenth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Johns, A. (ed. and Introduction) 1999. Dreadful Visitations: Confronting Natural Catastrophe in the Age of Enlightenment. New York / London: Routledge.

Johns, A. 2007. «The Book as Cosmopolitan Object: Women’s Publishing, Collecting, and Anglo-German Exchange» in J. Batchelor & C. Kaplan (eds.): Women and Material Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Johns, A. 2008. «Gender, Disaster, and the Grand Tour: Visits to Vesuvius, 1770-1825» in G. Lauer & T. Unger (eds.): Das Erdbeben von Lissabon und der Katastrophendiskurs im 18. Jahrhundert. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag.

Johns, A. 2010. «Feminism and Utopianism» in G. Claeys (ed.): Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge: University Press.