Chris Haffenden

Researcher at Department of History of Science and Ideas

Visiting address:
Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3P

Postal address:
Box 629
751 26 UPPSALA

Short presentation

I specialize in the cultural and intellectual history of the nineteenth century, with research interests focused upon canonization, celebrity culture, and the making of cultural memory.

In Every Man His Own Monument (2018) I examined the emergence of self-monumentalizing to present a new argument about the interconnections of celebrity and posthumous fame in the Romantic period.

My new, RJ-financed project explores self-erasure and practices of motivated forgetting in nineteenth-century Britain.

Keywords: memory studies media history history of celebrity canonization and reception history political economy of renown

I have been working on my doctoral project at the department since 2012. My educational background is from the UK, where I was born and brought up (near Brighton). I studied my undergraduate degree in History and English Literature at the University of Sussex (B.A. 2003), while I completed my Master's degree in Political Thought and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge (M.Phil 2005).

Since moving to Sweden in 2005, I worked for a number of years as a teacher of History and English Literature for the IB Diploma programme at various international schools (in Helsingborg and Stockholm), before resuming my academic studies in Uppsala. I have since taught various undergraduate seminars and supervised essays relating to questions of canonicity and the “classic text” in intellectual history.

My research interests focus on nineteenth-century cultural and intellectual history, with particular emphasis on questions of canonization and the making of value. My work is interdisciplinary and intersects with a range of research fields, from Memory Studies and the History of Celebrity to Media History and Archival Studies. I am principally concerned with pursuing a material history of renown through the long nineteenth century; I explore the shifting configurations of material forms and cultural practices involved in producing claims to recognition in this period.

In my thesis, Every Man His Own Monument: Self-Monumentalizing in Romantic Britain (Uppsala, 2018), I examined the emergence of a distinctive new set of practices for making immortality in the early nineteenth century. Using sociological and materialist frameworks, I identified these practices as part of a novel self-made regime in which individuals rather than established authorities assumed responsibility for producing claims to lasting value. While offering new interpretations of well-known Romantic figures (the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the architect Sir John Soane, and the artist Benjamin Robert Haydon), my central argument challenged the tendency of previous research to examine either the present-centred renown of mass-media celebrity or the future-orientated prestige of the canon. Rather than celebrity and monument being antagonistically opposed, I showed them becoming closely entangled in this period through the legacy projects of self-made immortality. (If you are interested in reading more about this, my thesis is available via open access here.)

Since completing my thesis I have been working on a chapter that furthers these arguments, “’Immortality in this world’: Reconfiguring Celebrity and Monument in the Romantic Period,” which is due to be published in Celebrity Across The Channel, 1750–1850, ed. A. Pedron and C. Siviter (University of Delaware Press, 2020). I am also developing a new research project, provisionally entitled “’Eliminating all the traces’: Self-erasure and practices of forgetting in nineteenth-century Britain.” Here I aim to study the flipside of self-monumentalizing by exploring the efforts made by public figures to destroy those records of their lives they wished to conceal from future audiences. Focused on the burning of personal letters and diaries, I will highlight the role of acts of motivated forgetting in the wider memorial regime of this period. Looking at how past individuals worked to shape their future erasure, I seek historical perspective for our contemporary dilemmas of remembering and forgetting.

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Chris Haffenden