Every Man His Own Monument: Self-Monumentalizing in Romantic Britain
- Location: Auditorium minus, Gustavianum, Uppsala universitetsmuseum, Akademigatan 3, Uppsala
- Doctoral student: Haffenden, Chris
- About the dissertation
- Organiser: Institutionen för idé- och lärdomshistoria
- Contact person: Haffenden, Chris
From framing private homes as museums, to sitting for life masks and appointing biographers, new forms of self-monumentalizing emerged in the early nineteenth century. In this study I investigate the emergence and configuration of such practices in Romantic Britain.
Positioning these practices at the intersection of emergent national pantheons, a modern conception of history, and a newly-formed celebrity culture, I argue that this period witnessed the birth of distinctively modern ways for the individual to make immortality. Faced with a visceral fear of being forgotten, public figures began borrowing from celebrity culture to make their own monuments.
Concentrated upon early nineteenth-century London, I characterize these practices as attempts at self-made immortality. I do so by analyzing the legacy projects of three well-known but seldom connected individuals: the Auto-Icon by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), the Soane Museum by the architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837), and the life-writing efforts of the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786–1846). Employing both sociological and materialist frameworks to analyze the making of immortality, I contend that these projects were characteristic of a novel regime for the production of lasting renown. Whereas earlier scholarship on Romantic recognition has tended to focus either on mass-media celebrity or the longer history of canon-formation, I highlight the interactions of celebrity and monument embodied in entrepreneurial efforts to secure future recognition.
In Every Man His Own Monument, I demonstrate how a constellation of media forms and recording practices we now take for granted—the statuary figure, the house museum, and the published Life—assumed a central place within a new memorial regime. Bringing the historical roots of self-monumentalizing individuals to light, this study contributes to discussions both within the History of Celebrity and Cultural Memory Studies, and to broader debates regarding our Instagram-saturated present.