At the end of March, on the ominous day of Brexit, researchers from North America and Europe gathered at London’s Institute of Historical Research for the ECR conference on the History of Celebrity with Prof Antoine Lilti (EHESS) as the keynote speaker. Revolutionary Researchers had already held a reading group on Lilti’s work Figures publiques, l’invention de la célébrité, and so it was an excellent chance to build on this and hear contributions from across the globe. In the first panel, ‘Thinking Celebrity in the Eighteenth Century’, Ariane Fichtl examined how Revolutionaries modelled themselves on antique ‘celebrity’ figures, whilst Gabriel Wick gave a fascinating analysis of celebrity through place and space, studying the Duc de Chartres at the Palais Royal and at Monceau, and the role of public celebrations in early celebrity culture. Blake Smith then spoke on Anquetil Duperron, the ‘celebrity scholar’, investigating the networks which sustain celebrity status and this can be preserved or lost. The second panel, ‘Celebrity Bodies’, started with Chris Haffenden’s paper on Jeremy Bentham, subtly analysing how contemporaries portrayed Bentham as a celebrity and how the philosopher participated in the preservation and regulation of his own image. Jessica Hamel-Akré continued the focus on Britain with the celebrity case of Ann Moore, the Fasting Woman of Tutbury. Hamel-Akré looked at the local level of celebrity and how new medical analyses, primarily by men, surveyed and controlled these medical celebrities. Meagan Mason also used the lens of medicine, especially the new pseudo-sciences of phrenology and physiognomy which allowed the public to “know” celebrity musicians. Prof Antoine Lilti then gave a lecture on his seminal work on celebrity, distinguishing between the notions of glory, reputation and celebrity, the latter being the uncontrolled spread of image beyond reputation, which has lead to his critique of the Habermasian public sphere. For Litli, this public sphere is not critical, but rather fascinated by gossip and public and private lives. Prof Colin Jones extended Lilti’s analysis of Habermas: the latter maintained that a collective conscious was central to the public sphere but Lilti’s research shows the public sphere to be based on human subjectivity, and he praised Lilti for using a historical anachronism as a historical tool. Dr Emrys Jones then shared his response to Litlti, especially from a British perspective, exploring the link between celebrity and intimacy, and touching upon ‘unwilling celebrities’. The final panel was then dedicated to the post Revolutionary period: Lewis Hughes’s paper looked at Victorian celebrity interviews held in the domestic sphere and their emphasis on ‘normality’ and daily routine; Holly Grout explained Mistinguett’s attempt to separate her public and private personas in her memoirs, reflecting and refracting elements of the celebrity self. Following this literary vein, Thibaut Casagrande took the genre ‘le roman d’actrice’ as a tool to correct the image of celebrities.
The translation of Lilti’s Figures publiques. L’Invention de la Célébrité appears later this year: http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1509508732.html