Thomas Gray Among the Disciplines: A Workshop

30th July 2021

Schedule for the Day

Throughout the 250 years that have passed since Thomas Gray’s death on 30th July 1771, he has primarily been celebrated as a poet. This makes sense because, although he wrote and published relatively little verse, he published less – indeed, precisely nothing! – of his research in other fields. So his place within the history of scholarship, the history of science, and even the history of literature has been obscured, with the majority of his scholarly work remaining unedited, unpublished, and seldom discussed even today. Through friendships and coterie networks, however, he had a disproportionate influence upon intellectual as well as literary life in the mid eighteenth century. His research traversed British, European, and global fields of knowledge, ancient and modern, including literature, history, geography, philosophy, law, religion, politics, music, visual art, natural history, and architecture. His highly productive but highly private career therefore provides a fascinating case study for investigating the shifting organisation of the disciplines in this period.

This workshop will explore Gray’s scholarship from predisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and interdisciplinary perspectives to illuminate the ways in which he moved across and contributed to eighteenth-century models of specialisation, paying particular attention to the global and multilingual aspects of his work. Fifteen scholars from across the humanities will appraise Gray’s historical, classical, oriental, geographic, philosophical, medieval, Celtic, architectural, antiquarian, and scientific research, and offer the first analyses of his methods in cataloguing art, collecting music, manuscript transcription, and meteorology. Many of their sources have never been discussed before, including newly uncovered manuscript material containing a previously unknown twelve-line Latin poem. The workshop aims to contribute to the history of scholarship and the history of the disciplines as well as the literary history of the mid eighteenth century by developing fresh understanding of these broader fields through focused investigation of Gray’s remarkable but often-unremarked writing life.

The chief aim of the workshop is to develop work in progress on a book to which the speakers are all contributing chapters. We also warmly welcome the attendance of other interested scholars. Each speaker will introduce the themes of their chapter and lead a discussion of the questions that it raises. The workshop will conclude with a recital of music drawn from the collection that Gray assembled on his Grand Tour, a collections roundtable focused on Cambridge holdings, and the online publication of Gray’s Commonplace Book in the Cambridge Digital Library. It will take place on Zoom with registration available through Eventbrite, below. Abstracts and a Zoom invite will be circulated in advance to registered participants.

Ruth Abbott (
Ephraim Levinson (