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The John Rylands Research Institute

Networking John Ruskin: Victorian culture and social life in the John Ryland’s Library

Colin Trodd, Art History

Letter dated 14 April 1854, from the Ruskin Papers
Letter dated 14 April 1854, from the Ruskin Papers

Colin’s project is focused on the papers of John Ruskin, an emblematic public figure, best-known for his ceaseless attacks on the speculative excess of Victorian materialism and his vision of an alternative society associated with ‘free labour’ and craft culture.

The immediate aim of the project is to produce a detailed network analysis of the John Ryland’s Library’s Ruskin Papers. This is to be realised by identifying the multiple connections and relationships between the contents of this archive and other holdings including the Fairfax Murray Papers, The Spielmann Collection, as well as papers, letters and materials relating to Walter Crane, Charles Rowley, Frederic Shields and James Smetham, and archives in the Manchester Public Library and City Art Gallery. Beyond this, the larger aim is to prepare the ground for undertaking a systematic reading of national organisations and networks, based on notions of social and cultural activism, many of which set out to emulate or modify Ruskin’s vision of the relationship between culture, society and human enjoyment.

The focal point of the investigation will be the years between 1857, when Ruskin lectured in Manchester, and 1904, which marked the retrospective exhibition of Ruskin’s art held at Manchester City Art Gallery. This framework allows us to assess the rise, achievement and legacy of Ruskinian culture as a social force in Manchester.

By conducting a critical review of the Ruskin Papers, and by connecting these with other holdings, the project will spotlight the importance of the Ryland’s Library for examining the real (or imagined) social efficacy of art in nineteenth-century Britain, identify new areas of research, and illuminate an important area of urban cultural history.

This project is funded by a JRRI pilot grant and runs from July – August 2018.