The study of the ‘long eighteenth century’ — usually understood to span the years 1688–1832 — has for some twenty years been shifting its focus and reassessing its touchstones. The change in orientation is perhaps most noticeable for historians of culture. Scholars working in this field have challenged previous tendencies to study literature or art as autonomous disciplines with their own internal laws of development, in a more or less inert relationship to a historical ‘background’ — the latter taken to represent a foreclosed body of historical ‘events’, be they political, social or religious. Furthermore, where, say fifty years ago, historians and scholars interested in the long eighteenth century kept pretty much within their disciplinary formation — art history, literature (or even more narrowly, drama, poetry or the novel) — more recently the terrain of culture has been understood in its widest sense. And this sense of culture in an expanded field requires an approach that not only works from within a particular discipline, or across adjoining disciplines, but also brings forward an array of techniques, interests, knowledges and training from the assembly of different disciplines. It requires a multidisciplinary approach.
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