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Bringing 18th century literature to a modern audience

In partnership with the Laurence Sterne Trust, researchers from the English Department at Northumbria University are introducing new audiences to the writings of the eighteenth-century novelist Laurence Sterne. People across the North East and Yorkshire now have opportunity to explore aspects of Sterne’s work through educational workshops and comedy nights.

Case2Northumbria University is a leading centre for research into eighteenth-century literature and culture, with a particular expertise on the experimental novelist Laurence Sterne, the author of Tristram Shandy. Helen Williams, an English lecturer, has worked closely with the Laurence Sterne Trust based at Shandy Hall, North Yorkshire. Drawing on her own research and the wider expertise at Northumbria, Williams helped to design a schools outreach programme that complemented the exhibition Eliza Draper: An Absent Presence, which she also helped to curate.

Tadcaster Children WorkingDeveloped with teachers, the outreach programme focused on the letter writing aspect of the exhibition. Children from three schools in the North East and Yorkshire were invited to Shandy Hall and took part in letter writing workshops. They learned about Sterne’s distinctive writing style and the conventions that structure writing and had the opportunity to produce their own eighteenth-century letters, digitized on the Dear Sterne blog. Following the success of these workshops, the Laurence Sterne Trust offers a wider range of workshops for schools and has extended its geographic reach to primary schools outside of Students From Northumbria University Listening To The Audio PlayNorth Yorkshire.

Williams’s expertise has also help the Trust to secure a Heritage Lottery grant to produce The Good Humour Club, an ambitious year-long project offering a series of comedy nights, an exhibition, a period drama podcast and educational workshops to a broad public audience. The idea is based upon a book recently identified in the Shandy Hall collection about an eighteenth-century gentleman’s club set up to promote laughter and comedy as a means of living a long and healthy life.

01 Bringing 18Th Century Literature To A Modern Audience Helen Williams Northumbria University Newcastle

Images (top to bottom)

Image 1: Case curated by Helen Williams, from the exhibition Eliza Draper: An Absent Presence

Image 2: Children from Tadcaster Primary School working with the Laurence Sterne Trust and Northumbria University

Image 3: Staff and PhD students from Northumbria at the Good Humour Club exhibition

Image 4: Northumbria staff and students listening to the Good Humour Club comedy play, available here


The below video shows how Northumbria recently introduced its 18-century research to the public as part of the national Being Human festival.

18th Century Legacies: The Past in our Present. from Northumbria University on Vimeo.

Case studies

The Good Humour Club Site

The Good Humour Club

This project, celebrating the tercentenary of Laurence Sterne’s birth, began with the discovery of a manuscript minute book in the collection at Shandy Hall. The leather-bound volume, stamped ‘GOOD HUMOUR’ on the front cover, recorded the workings of a gentleman’s club that met in 18th-century York. Several of its members were closely associated with Sterne and the ideal of ‘Good Humour’ chimes strongly with his central concept of Shandeism.

Humanities Research

Department of Humanities Research

Research in Humanities is divided across two distinct areas: English (Literature, Language and Linguistics and Creative Writing) and History. Alongside these research areas we also have our American Studies research grouping, which draws on researchers from both English Literature and History.

Lst Shandy Hall

Laurence Sterne Trust

The Laurence Sterne Trust is a charity promoting the writings of Laurence Sterne, the 18th-century novelist and vicar of Coxwold. Shandy Hall is where he lived and wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. The Trust promotes Sterne's work and international reputation through exhibitions, events and public access to the property and its collection.

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