Eighteenth-century Arts Education Research Network


Welcome to our website! The Royal Society of Edinburgh funded Eighteenth-Century Arts Education Research Network (EAERN) is a ground-breaking enterprise that brings together practitioners and scholars to investigate new approaches in using eighteenth-century arts education materials.

Over the next eighteen months, we will be holding several events that bring scholars and practitioners together who work with materials related to eighteenth-century arts education. We will be keeping this website updated with links to events, resources, audio, video and information from our network members.


Featured post

Portraits and family life: Nel Whiting

In this post, we hear from our guest blogger Nel Whiting, a PhD student at the University of Dundee. She spoken at the first EAERN colloquium on her fascinating work related to portraits and family life.

logga-png-swirl-upI recently had the great privilege to attend, and give a paper at, the colloquium organised by EAERN (the second such event I have attended). I don’t use that word, privilege, lightly and the ‘gosh-wow’ feeling was twofold: firstly, related to the opportunity to hear about others’ research (more of which later); secondly because the paper I gave was actually a little tangential to EAERN’s focus to investigate eighteenth-century arts education and the development of artisan institutions such as music conservatories, schools of art. I want to reflect a little on the value of the network for a PhD student like me but in order so to do I will first say a little about my research project.

I am using Scottish family group portraits from the period 1740–1790 to explore what they tell us about elite family life in Scotland. As a feminist historian, I am particularly interested in the gendered nature of family life and am considering what the portraits express about the nuptial union, childhood, motherhood and fatherhood. But I am also interested to find out if there was anything specifically Scottish about the tropes identified in the portraits; that is, was Scottish elite family life different in any way to that in England and elsewhere?

David Allan, Sir John Halkett of Pitfirrane, 4th Bart, Mary Hami
The Family Sir John Halkett of Pitfirrane (dated 1781) by David Allan, in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland

My primary sources are largely group portraits such as this beautiful picture of the family Sir John Halkett of Pitfirrane by David Allan (1744-1796). In the canon of art history such pictures might be seen by some as decidedly second rate. Considering as both aesthetic objects and in terms of their social content as I do, liberates them from discussions as to whether they are great art or not and allows them to be seen as part of a discursive network that produced and reproduced cultural ideas. Employing this dual lens the pictures can be seen to pulsate with contemporaneous concerns; it is as if the painter holds a mirror up to the sensibilities of the time and a magnifying glass to the minutiae of everyday life, creating a tableau of ever-evolving socio-cultural norms. It also enables the portraits to be viewed as part of material culture where concerns of patronage, production, presentation and display are central. I hope this will lead, in a small way, to a revaluation of often overlooked works as well as to a contribution to our understanding of the ways that gender and national identity were understood, performed and displayed in the period.

It can be seen from what I have said so far that my research focus does not cohere absolutely with EAERN’s first goal. Yet the portrait also highlights how singing, dancing, music making were an important part of family life, with such activities being depicted quite frequently in such pictures. So there is an overlap between my work and that of the network. And that is really the point I wish to make: it is easy, especially for PhD researchers, to become narrow in focus or tunnel visioned, concentrating only on their thesis project. Taking a deep breath, looking up, looking around and exploring your period or subject matter more widely can really enhance your knowledge, scope and research. A multi-disciplinary network such as EAERN (and another of its goals is to enable cross-disciplinary dialogue) really facilitates this, enabling those who join to learn of issues around their subject. So far, those who have attended EAERN events have looked at music folios and etiquette.

Twitter handle – @nel_whiting

‘Thus Education makes the Genius bright’: David McGuinness, dancing, music and EAERN

The following blog post is written by Dr David McGuinness, Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Glasgow and one of our core network members!

logga-png-swirl-upI came to 18th-century studies as a musician, mostly interested in how to perform the music of the period as effectively as possible. But once you start asking questions about this, the answers take you down lots of unexpected historical routes, and you end up asking not just about how the music was made, but about what it meant to the people who first planned and made it, and why they bothered to make music in the first place. The ‘how’ is only the beginning: the musician can also ask the actor’s cliché, ‘What’s my motivation here?’

I also became aware that I’d never been taught music using a Scottish textbook, which is strange given that Scotland was producing printed music educational resources from the 1660s onwards. We still tend to look elsewhere first for inspiration (a healthy instinct) but can neglect our own history, which might have unique and relevant things to contribute. The 18th century saw huge changes in Scottish society, which were reflected in musical practices: the church loosened its attitude towards music, Italian musicians were celebrated and welcomed, music publishing in Edinburgh took off with the growth of the middle classes, and there were new opportunities for professional musicians to earn a living, often by being innovative in their teaching.

The beginnings of Scottish country dancing

With Concerto Caledonia and the AHRC bass culture project I’ve been looking at the early development of what we now know as Scottish dance music, and we’ve been testing out our 18th-century dance band with a variety of audiences. A comparison of the two male dancers in the famous David Allan painting of a Highland Wedding shows the wealthier man displaying the results of his dance lessons quite precisely, while in the background the other’s execution of the same dance figure is more reckless.

David Allan, Highland Wedding (1780) National Galleries of Scotland

Similarly, earlier this year we played a couple of gigs within a few weeks where some of the music and dances were the same, but the way in which they were presented and danced were entirely different. Professional musicians in late 18th-century Edinburgh were employed to play for a variety of audiences, whether in the Theatre Royal band, the orchestra of the Edinburgh Musical Society, for a ball in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, or at local country dances.

Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 11 March 2017, Photo taken by Juliette Lichman
Òran Mór, Glasgow, 27 March 2017

Allan Ramsay

I’ve also been doing some preliminary work on the songs of Allan Ramsay, as part of preparation for the Edinburgh Allan Ramsay edition. In Ramsay’s collection The Tea-Table Miscellany the songs are all based on apparently well-known tunes, but how did people sing them, and where? They’re not in a stagey operatic style but they’re not folk songs either, and some of the early musical sources are very ornate, and require considerable vocal technique. The tea-table was generally a polite female environment (the men were in the coffee house or the tavern), so how much, if at all, were these songs about displaying the kind of technical accomplishment that young middle-class women were expected to develop a century later?

It’s impossible to understand this material in terms of a simple ‘elite vs. folk’ classification, and if there is some truth in Scotland’s class system being based on education rather than family history, then the role of music education could be a key ingredient in understanding more than just Ramsay’s songs.

Negotiating a balance between schooling and naturalism is a key theme in Ramsay’s 1720s pastoral ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd. Sir William Worthy is delighted to find out that the shepherd Patie has employed much of his spare time travelling to Edinburgh to obtain a wide range of books – this is a thinly-veiled advert for Ramsay’s own bookshop and library – but when Patie’s aristocratic origins are eventually revealed, the shepherd complains to his friend Roger about the more mannered education he will now have to undergo:

To Edinburgh straight to-morrow we advance,
To London neist, and afterwards to France,
Where I must stay some Years, and learn—to dance,
And twa three other Monky-tricks.—That done,
I come hame struting in my red-heel’d Shoon.

Still, Act 3 ends with Sir William’s (and perhaps Ramsay’s?) manifesto for 18th-century education, as an artful polishing of the rough human state.

Like the rough Diamond, as it leaves the Mine,
Only in little Breakings shew its Light,
Till artfu’ Polishing has made it shine :
Thus Education makes the Genius bright.




Programme for EAERN Colloquium 1 available

We are excited for the upcoming colloquium for the Eighteenth-century Arts Education Research Network and the programme is now available to view. Please click here to see what the day has to off.

The diverse programme will be highlighting some of the scholarly work being carried out on Eighteenth-century Arts Education across the UK. This is a closed event, but if you would live some more information or are keen to attend, please contact us at

Generous support!

This is a University of Glasgow based project and we have been generously supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Social Media

Please follow us on our Twitter: @EAERNing and join our Facebook Group:

On these sites, we hope to be able to create and continue discussions between our network members and the wider academic and arts practitioner community.

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