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Lecture : This ’Merikay War’

Join us for an informal lecture given by Dr Simon Rennie from the University of Exeter followed by Q&A.

This Merikay War: Lancastrian poetic commentary on the American Civil War during the Cotton Famine

When the American Civil War led to a Union blockade of all cotton being exported from the Confederate Southern states, the economic and social effects on the other side of the Atlantic were profound. 80% of the cotton imported into Lancashire came from these states and there was no immediate alternative. Millions of Lancastrians depended on cotton for their livelihood. Hundreds of mills closed and this led to mass unemployment and the mobilisation of a massive relief effort. Although fears of political destabilisation in the region were intense, there was very little violence, and much was made of the perceived stoicism of the workers of Manchester and Lancashire in the face of crippling economic deprivation, partly due to their support for the cause of anti-slavery. At the time Abraham Lincoln wrote, ‘I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working-men of Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis.’ However, this discourse of liberal unity and Transatlantic solidarity is complicated by poetic commentary uncovered by new research into the poetry of the Lancashire Cotton Famine. Hundreds of poems published in newspapers across the region between 1861 and 1865 comment on the effects of the Famine and some refer directly to the international causes of it. In standard English and Lancashire dialect, Lancastrians discuss the economic, political, and moral implications of an international event which had a particular effect at a regional level, and through poetry’s complex agencies of function and address, the breadth and depth of feeling towards the crisis is revealed in a new way. This paper presents a new perspective on a particular historical moment through poetry which has not been read or studied for 150 years.

Tickets £8 (£6 for students)

20th Sep 2017

6pm - 8pm


The interruptions of home life are never ending

Elizabeth Gaskell 1863