The Case of Duncan Campbell in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century England
Here’s to advertise a new article, just published on Studi Storici, investigating the future as an epistemological arena in a hitherto understudied work from the early eighteenth century, The Supernatural Philosopher. First printed for Edmund Curll in 1720 under an alternative title, then expanded in 1728, the text focuses on Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730), a deaf and mute soothsayer who was a popular attraction in London during the 1720s.
The proclaimed ability to see the future makes Campbell’s case a vantage point to observe the negotiation of credibility and credulity in the Age of Reason. This article thematizes the connection between Campbell’s preternatural faculties, his claimed Scottish and Sami origins, and the relationship established by The Supernatural Philosopher with a number of literary sources and with a female public.
Giulia Iannuzzi, Le seduzioni della superstizione. Il caso di Duncan Campbell in Inghilterra tra Sei e Settecento / The Seductions of Superstitions. The Case of Duncan Campbell in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century England, Studi storici, 3/2023, pp. 651-689, doi: 10.7375/108367; url: https://www.rivisteweb.it/doi/10.7375/108367.
Find the article on the journal website, or contact me for a copy for research purposes at giannuzzi <at> units.it
Find on this blog a post on this case study including digital visualisations: Giulia Iannuzzi, “Credulity, Curiosity, and Credibility,” in Geographies of Time, 05/10/2023, https://ian.hypotheses.org/2183.
Indovino in grado di prevedere il futuro, affetto da sordità e mutismo ma brillante ospite nei salotti mondani, venditore di talismani e medicine mi- racolose, Duncan Campbell (1680-1730 ca.) è stato un’attrazione popolare nella Londra del primo Settecento. Posta al centro di varie narrazioni, la sua figura ha assunto una particolare qualità letteraria. Questo saggio si propone di mostrare come la fama costruita su una proclamata «seconda vista» che lo metteva in grado di scorgere il futuro faccia del suo caso un ottimo osservatorio sulla negoziazione di ciò che, nell’età della Ragione, costituiva autorevolezza e credibilità, credulità e superstizione. Sullo sfondo di un uso del futuro come agone conoscitivo, il caso di Campbell esemplifica l’esistenza di rapporti di forza tra spazi centrali e periferici rispetto a potenze europee in espansione come quelle britannica e svedese. La tematizzazione di aspetti di genere, e l’indagine empirica del preternaturale connessa alle abilità eccezionali di Campbell e alla sua disabilità ne collocano il caso all’intersezione di una moltitudine di problemi epistemologici interessati, tra fine Sei e primo Settecento, da mutamenti profondi.
Fantastic archaeologies and disruptive imaginations
@ SFRA 2023: Disruptive Imaginations – Joint Annual Conference of SFRA and GfF – TU Dresden, Germany, August 15-19, 2023
This paper examines the ruin as a device of cognitive estrangement used in speculative fiction to thematise and problematise given conceptualisations of historical time and temporal linearity. Since the modern age, the ruin as a fragment of the past has engender new imaginary colonisations of a secularised future. Drawing on the hypothesis that the fantastic ruin and archaeological methods applied to past futures matured in the European imagination during the modern age, this research connects twentieth-century archaeological and clipeological science fiction to the long-standing history of the ruin within a fantastic imagination.
Materialising heliotropic conceptions of civilisation, especially since the 18th century the ruin has aroused the interest of writers, historians and painters in connection to notions such as those of development and decadence, modernity and crisis applied to human societies as well as to imaginary alien civilisations. The idea of a history magistra vitae and of a cyclical course of civilisations became premises for the application to the future of history as a method and for the aesthetic appreciation and poetics of ruin, discussed by Denis Diderot and Edmund Burke, and epitomised in the ruined Louvre painted by Hubert Robert and in Joseph Michael Gandy’s pictorial work portraying the Bank of England in ruins. The temporal estrangement of the ruin took on futuristic connotations inspiring some of the earliest speculations about the time to come. The contemplation of the remains of the past synecdochically fostered the idea of a future observer contemplating the ruins of the present in writers such as Thomas Lyttelton and Volney. Towards the end of the 18th and throughout the 19th century, the idea of radical changes foreseen in the future increasingly incorporated the possibility of disasters, catastrophes and extinctions (e.g., the Earth in ruin and the last men imagined by Bodin, Grainville, Shelley).
This paper outlines the connection between these precedents and twentieth-century pseudo-archaeology that hypothesised the existence of hyper-evolved terrestrial or alien civilisations located in a distant past.
@ Antiquity and the Shaping of the Future in the Age of Enlightenment. / L’Antiquité et la construction de l’avenir à l’âge des Lumières, ISECS 2023 congress, 3-7 July 2023, Rome
In 1780, a poetry collection printed in London claimed to contain the letter of an American traveller from the year 2199, who wrote from the ruins of St. Paul’s porch to a friend in Boston, metropolis of the Western Empire. Poems, By a Young Nobleman, of Distinguished Abilities, lately deceasedincluded poetic compositions about the once prosperous city of London. The ruins of an England whose greatness once illuminated Europe were observed from the west, where the sun of British power went to set.
The title page attributed authorship to a young man who had died at the time of publication. Thomas Lyttelton, libertine and politician, who has been later credited with authorship of the work, had in fact died at the age of only thirty-four in 1779, an untimely death lamented in the panegyric of the editor. This paper draws on the case study of Poems to highlight how, in the eighteenth century, the futuristic projection of a distant state of affairs derived from the present was informed by a look back to the past.
Poems exemplifies how American space and time provided a backdrop for revitalisations of translatio imperii topoi. Ancient history was exploited a reservoir of useful models to conceptualise and understand cultural diversity, to articulate an imperial discourse in its entanglements with ideas of monarchical power, colonial expansion, civilisation, and, not least, to anticipate what was yet to come.
After Zeppelin’s flight over Lake Constance in 1900 in a hydrogen-filled aluminium airship and the Wright brothers’ flight in 1903, investment in aircraft research and production by Western powers such as Germany and the United States increased dramatically. Air assaults such as those during the Italian invasion of Libya (1911-1912) and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) demonstrated a new role for air warfare, not only in intelligence gathering but also in combat, to attack and destroy buildings, artillery and ground troops.
In Europe, Russia and the United States, the potential military applications of the new flight technologies were one of the main attractions around which an ‘air-mindedness’, coagulated – that popular fascination with airships which gave rise to a series of clubs, societies, shows and competitions devoted to gliders and rockets.
Attacks from the sky were to be found in key works in the history of future wars such as Robur-le-Conquérant and Maître du Monde by Jules Verne (1886, 1904) and The War in the Air and The World Set Free by H. G. Wells (1908, 1914). Air-to-ground battles and airborne weaponry remained a constant feature of future war narratives throughout the 20th century.
The author who codified the idea of future warfare fought with balloons with perhaps the greatest vividness and inventiveness between the 19th and early 20th centuries was Albert Robida. A journalist and caricaturist as well as a novelist and illustrator, Robida imagined entire societies revolutionised by the use of electricity, human flight and other incredible inventions in telecommunications.
Illustrated novels such as La guerre au vingtième siècle (1887) and La guerre infernale (1908, with Pierre Giffard) drew inspiration from conflicts fought on the fringes of European space, such as the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), which reached the French media with documentation, including photographs, of the massacres. In the designer’s fictional imagination, the balloon remained, alongside gliders and aeroplanes, a central element in the creation of a futuristic sense of wonder. Thus, during the 1937-1938 world war imagined in La guerre infernale, the Channel was again crossed by French air armies, this time not to attack but to rescue London, threatened by a German offensive (see Figure below).
In the age of aeroplanes and spaceships, far from waning, the trope of the balloon has been re-functionalised and recurs in alternate history narratives. In the lively trend that since the 1980s has been known with labels such as steampunk or dieselpunk, alternate historical courses are imagined by changing known premises, starting from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century settings.
Writers and designers depict a retro-futuristic steam age in which, for example, the analogue computer was invented or in which aerostatic flight reached heights of sophistication unknown in history. Contemporary authors are explicitly inspired by predecessors such as Verne and Robida, taking pleasure in inventing futures that look back to the past.
The balloon is now central to a whole new strand of imagined wars and war technologies. The airship lifted by lighter-than-air gases has become the manifesto of a new aesthetic and synthesises the ambivalent relationship that neo-Victorian and neo-Edwardian fiction has with the course of events in the real world, a relationship of recreation and resistance, of fetishization of the past, questioning the idea of a progressive and teleological historical diachrony.
In literary and figurative invention we find vivid evidence of the consequences that armed confrontation, mass violence and the application of techno-science for the purpose of war have produced in the European mind in the late modern and contemporary eras.
The fact that an omnivorous Italian memorabilia collector like Diego de Henriquez planned to devote the final section of his War for Peace Museum to the anticipations of science fiction clearly testifies to his interest in the effects of war on all levels of society – including cultural and symbolic – as well as the pedagogical ambitions that increasingly characterised his projects in the 1940s and 1960s.
The anonymous novel The Reign of George VI had imagined, immediately after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, an alternative course of the Seven Years’ War, projecting a global conflict between Britain and France into the future. The pamphlet Anticipation (1778) employed a futuristic and exquisitely satirical mechanism to comment on the actuality of British parliamentary debates on the American War of Independence. Between the 1790s and 1805 literary and figurative works had interpreted French ambitions (and specular British fears) of an invasion of Britain, such as the etching La Thiloriere (1803), in which Jean Louis Argaud de Barges envisaged the transportation of Gallic armies across the Channel in huge balloons. Through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of Edgard Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Albert Robida and H. G. Wells, the aerostat recurred in futuristic wars, continuing to be part of the repertoire of a narrative genre that was being codified. In this guise it has survived into the 2000s, and proliferates in contemporary steampunk, where it becomes the epitome of the ambivalent relationship that neo-Victorian and neo-Edwardian science fiction entertain with history.
A. J. Echevarria II, Imagining Future War: The West’s Technological Revolution and Visions of Wars to Come, 1880-1914, Westport, CT-London, Praeger Security International, 2007, pp. 81-94.
Ariela Freedman, Zeppelin Fictions and the British Home Front, in: “Journal of Modern Literature”, No. 27, 3, 2004, pp. 47-62.
I. Csicsery-Ronay Jr, ‘Empire’, in The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by M. Bould, A. M. Butler, A. Roberts, and S. Vint, London and New York, Routledge, 2009, pp. 362-72.
J. Verne, Robur-le-Conquérant (1886), Paris, Hetzel, 1890; J. Verne, Maître du Monde, Paris, Hetzel, 1904.
H. G. Wells, The War in the Air: And Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While It Lasted, London, George Bell and Sons, 1908.
H. G. Wells, The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind, New York, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1914.
A. Robida, La guerre au vingtième siècle, Paris, Georges Decaux, 1887.
P. Giffard, La guerre infernale, illustrated by Albert Robida, Paris, Èdition Méricant, 1908.
G. Iannuzzi, The illustrator and the global wars to come. Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the long history of imagined warfare, in: “Cromohs” 22, 2019, pp. 95-136, doi: https://doi.org/10.13128/cromohs-11706.
R. A. Bowser and B. Croxall, ed., Steampunk, Science, and (Neo)Victorian Technologies, monographic issue of “Neo-Victorian Studies”, no. 3, 1, 2010.
Board game: Scythe: The Wind Gambit, designer Jamey Stegmaier, edition Stonemaier Games at al., 2017.
Video game: BioShock Infinite, director Ken Levine, production Irrational Games, 2013.
M. Perschon, Steam Wars, in: “Neo-Victorian Studies”, no. 3, 12010, pp. 127-66.
E. Guffey and K. C. Lemay, ‘Retrofuturism and Steampunk’, in The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, edited by R. Latham, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 434-48.
G. Iannuzzi, Il collezionista di guerre future. Un percorso nelle collezioni di Diego de Henriquez presso i Civici Musei di Trieste, “Qualestoria”, 1,2020 pp. 98-110.
This blog post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, Guerre del futuro: Anticipazioni e aerostati da battaglia, dall’invasione napoleonica della Gran Bretagna al conflitto mondiale del 1937, in Ragioni Comuni 2017-18, ed. Ilaria Micheli (Trieste: EUT, 2022), 127-142. ISBN: 9788855113076, eISNB: 9788855113083.
Imaginary wars, projected onto the future of Europe as ominous warnings and politicalarguments, were part of the emergence of a conception of historypliable by human action. This colonisation of the future within fictional narratives at the end of the eighteenth century already had some significant precedents. One such precedent, The Reign of George VI, was a curious novel – or rather a fictional treatise on the history of the future – published in London in 1763, which offered a fascinating proto-fantascientific remake of the Seven Years’ War. The anonymous author, dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Paris, imagined that the dispute between France and Britain might end very differently in the future, leading to British supremacy over all of continental Europe and global maritime trade. The pamphlet was written in the form of a historical reconstruction of events that took place in the twentieth century, testifying to a mixture of genres between typical modes of historical-political reflection and propaganda and an emerging narrative invention.Continue reading “Anticipations, celebrations, satires”
From Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain to the global conflict of the year 1937. A new future-wars series – 1 / 3
It is 1803, on the English coast in front of the Channel, crowds of people are beginning to gather. Looking up, someone points to the silhouette of a large flying object in the distance. New dark dots appear on the horizon as the first one approaches. With horror, the spectators gradually make out a gigantic balloon with a mushroom-like profile. In the huge gondola fixed under the balloon there are dozens, hundreds of men, even horses. The high-altitude wind stirs the French tricolour: Napoleon’s armies have come to invade England, carried by the largest balloons ever built by human hands.
We look away and find ourselves safe and sound at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where we are admiring an etching by Jean Louis Argaud de Barges (1768-1808),printed in the Prairial month of year XI of the French Republic (June 1803) (Figure above).
@ ISECS International Seminars for early career scholars / SOG18 War Times in the 18th century: Perceptions and Memories, September 25-30, 2022, Schloss Seggau/Leibnitz (Austria)
On 23 November 1778 an account of a heated parliamentary debate on recent developments in the American War of Independence was printed in London, discussing the turning point that had transformed the conflict between the colonies and the mother country into a Euro-Atlantic confrontation with the signing of the Franco-American treaties.
The pamphlet followed the editorial custom, common in the British capital notwithstanding the restrictions in place, of committing to paper the sessions of Parliament. This report, however, had one peculiarity: it reported a session that had yet to take place.