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The Edwardian Sense

csThe Edwardian Sense was a three-year project run by Michael Hatt and Morna O’Neill (Wake Forest University) at the Yale Center for British Art, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The project addressed both the Edwardians’ own sense of their Edwardianism and contemporary conceptions of Edwardian, the familiar myths of the golden summer and the throwing off of the Victorian era, as well as more sophisticated accounts, such as Deborah Cherry and Jane Beckett’s pioneering 1987 exhibition, The Edwardian Era. We also addressed ‘Edwardian’ as an art historical term, aiming to think more critically about periodization and its historiography, particularly in relation to the much-used and little-theorized idea of ‘modernity’.

The volume, The Edwardian Sense: Art, Design and Performance in Britain, 1901-1910, was published by Yale University Press in 2010. The contributors were: Tom Gunning, Bronwen Edwards, Angus Trumble, Deborah Sugg Ryan, David Gilbert, Lynn Nead, Imogen Hart, Barbara Penner and Charles Rice, Michael Hatt, Christopher Breward, Christopher Reed, Anne Helmreich, Gillian Beer, Martina Droth, Tim Barringer, Andrew Stephenson, and Morna O’Neill,

The volume includes a series of essays addressing major conceptual concerns such as cosmopolitanism or suburban modernity, as well as three groups of short essays by scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds focussed on particular objects.

The project was also designed to address the process of collaborative research. It began as conversation between research and curatorial departments at the YCBA, not only about the historical moment, but also the relationship between exhibitions and publications and their distinctive modes of argument. We then pursued these discussions with our collaborators, ensuring that the book would be a coherent volume shaped by the scholarly team, rather than a collection of essays pieced together by the editors.

A series of workshops held at Yale and and the Victoria and Albert Museum formed the basis of the project. Our discussions also involved the viewing of some pertinent objects, such as silk paintings by Charles Conder and William Nicholson’s The Conder Room. These workshops established the shape of the project, the individual contributions and their relationship to each other, and also involved group discussion of essay drafts. A final workshop was held after the publication of the volume. This allowed the contributors to reflect on the finished project, and to consider its strengths and weaknesses. This final meeting also involved the team curating the major exhibition Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century Opulence.

Hatt and O’Neill spoke about the project and its outcomes at the symposium ‘The End of an Era? New Perspectives on Edwardian Art‘ held at Yale in May 2013. Here we were in dialogue with the Edwardian Opulence exhibition and its curators, Angus Trumble and Andrea Wolk Rager, continuing our understanding of collaborative research as a process, rather than just a product. The position paper given e at the symposium can be found here.