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Solitude and its impact on our mental and physical health is a major area of concern. How to be alone and what constitutes ‘acceptable’ and 'unacceptable’ states of aloneness, remains a topic of debate and discussion in politics, the media and wider popular culture. This has been no more pronounced than during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has radically transformed our understanding of physical and emotional solitude.

The research project  

Led by University of Warwick's Dr Naomi Pullin (Department of History), this project addresses the social history of solitude and loneliness in the 17th and 18th centuries.

It explores how time spent alone (and in company) was understood, described, and experienced by early modern men and women living in Britain in their everyday lives. Using diaries, letters, journals and printed texts, the project asks what solitude can tell us about how society and culture were organised in the past. Central to this, is how the gender of the writer shaped their perceptions of solitude and the world around them.

"What has struck me is the limited ways in which we can access a visual history of solitude as an emotional state in the era before romanticism. This was the moment when the individual and emotions became central to artistic and literary outputs. Before this, very few artists would have conceived of solitude as an embodied emotional state worthy of depiction.

I had the idea to work with a local artist to visually capture and reflect the experiences of solitude as articulated by some of my pre-modern subjects. I hope that this image (or images) will be able to complement the wider work being done to raise awareness about both the rewards and challenges of solitariness.”

Dr Naomi Pullin

The artist

Dr Naomi Pullin will work with local photographer and filmmaker Paul Daly, who uses analogue formats in his projects.

He explains: "My inspiration comes in the social documentary work of Shirley Baker, Tish Murtha and Chris Killip alongside the experimental and surreal expressions of Andrei Tarkovsky, Reynold Reynolds and Duane Michals. The Solitude project explores the benefits and struggles that many men and women encountered during moments of voluntary and involuntary solitude at different moments in their lives."