The 18th-Century Common offers a public space for sharing the research of scholars who study eighteenth-century cultures with nonacademic readers. In Features we present short digests of our research reframed for a public audience in accessible, nonspecialized language. In the Gazette, we contextualize pieces touching upon the eighteenth century in the popular press within scholarly conversations or summarize recent works of scholarship that touch upon contemporary conversations.

“The common” refers to common land: privately owned spaces traditionally subject to free and public use. In the early modern period, public use meant grazing animals, planting crops, fishing, or cutting timber. English commons were gradually “enclosed” — fenced off, walled off, or hedged off — by private landowners looking to raise the value (and the rents) of their land.  The United Kingdom’s “patchwork quilt” of fields is the result of enclosure, a controversial process that was frequently accompanied by riots. During the eighteenth century, remaining commons were enclosed by acts of Parliament; village greens are among the last vestiges of common land. The common thus occupies an important place in the historical imagination as a symbol of open access for shared benefit.

The potential for public interest in our work is demonstrated by the success of popular books such as Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder (Knopf), named one of the top 10 books of 2009 by The New York Times, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books (indeed, it was so popular that it was on sale at Costco for $11).  The 18th-Century Common began with responses by both scholars and students to Holmes’ work, presenting material that enriches and contextualizes his account.  Our project then broadened to provide a medium for eighteenth-century scholars to communicate with an eager public non-academic readership.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this Web resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Jessica Richard, Associate Professor of English, Wake Forest University

Andrew Burkett, Professor of English, Union College

Webmaster & Designer

Kelsey Urgo, Digital Scholarship at ZSR Library, Wake Forest University

Internal Advisory Group

Margaret Ewalt, Associate Professor of Spanish, Wake Forest University

Grant McAllister, Associate Professor of German and Chair of German and Russian, Wake Forest University

Morna O’Neill, Assistant Professor of Art History, Wake Forest University

John Ruddiman, Assistant Professor of History, Wake Forest University

Past Collaborators

Damian Blankenship, Wake Forest University, Information Systems

Chelcie Rowell, Boston College Libraries

Past Members of Internal Advisory Group

Byron Wells, Professor of French and Chair of Romance Languages, Wake Forest University

Heather Welland, Assistant Professor of History, Binghamton University

External Advisory Board

Devoney Looser, Professor of English, Arizona State University

Jack Lynch, Professor of English, Rutgers University-Newark

Laura Mandell, Professor of English and Director, Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture, Texas A&M University

Benjamin Pauley, Associate Professor of English and Editor, Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker, Eastern Connecticut State University

Linda Troost, Professor and Chair of English, Editor Eighteenth-Century Women Annual Journal, Washington & Jefferson College