A role for the literary society: a mediated conversation with the Thomas Hardy Society

Andrew HewittMCRn

This session explores the potential of the literary society – traditionally, a non-professional group dedicated to enjoyment of a favourite writer – to support students and teachers of English by mobilising networks and sharing resources. One of the largest literary societies in the world, the Thomas Hardy Society is a community of general readers and enthusiasts as well as students and academics. It also maintains strong links to educational institutions, heritage organisations, local and national interest groups, and other literary societies. In recent years, recognising the need of teachers for classroom resources and creative support – and keen, as always, to bring Hardy to new audiences – the Society has revitalised its programme of communication and educational outreach to provide a range of resources to schools.

This session will engage four members of the Society and a mediator in conversation on the role of the literary society in sustaining and enriching English as a subject at school and as an ongoing interest for many people. Panellists will draw on their experience of recent Society initiatives including:

  • Resources. The Society works with academics from several UK universities to promote, and develop, research-based resources that support the teaching of nineteenth-century literature to GCSE and A-level students. For example, a recent collaboration between the Society and the ‘Diseases of Modern Life’ (DoML) project at Oxford used workshops for teachers and students to raise the profile of the DoML’s ‘classroom-ready’ medical/scientific texts, designed to help
    prepare students for tasks such as the unseen non-fiction prose component of the GCSE English Language exam.
  • Online hub. The Society’s website and extensive social media presence serve as a ‘first point of contact’ for anyone interested in developing their knowledge and appreciation of Hardy. It’s vital for forging and maintaining links with a world-wide community of readers, students, and teachers.
  • Creativity. The Hardy Society’s programme of poetry and writing workshops has visited schools in the Midlands, Dorset, and Cornwall, and engaged over 100 students in an outpouring of poetry that in 2019 resulted in a new anthology. Many schools sign up for a return visit and the Society is creating resources to support other practitioners in running similar workshops to reach even more students. As another stimulus for engaging with literature, the Society also runs an annual Study Day and essay writing contests for students at secondary, sixth-form, and university level.
  • Engagement. By June 2020 the Society will be ready to report back on the findings of a smallscale research project exploring the use of poetry to engage reluctant students in reading and writing.

Rather than making formal presentations, the panellists will engage in conversation with the mediator, each other, and attendees, and share examples of free resources curated or promoted by the Society to support teachers and students. The Society aims to be an active partner in the education of the next generation of readers and thinkers and in the preservation of English as a vital and valuable aspect of British education. The session will encourage discussion of how the modern literary society in general, whether focused on specific authors or more broadly-oriented, might embrace this role and participate in the future of English Studies.


Sat 2:15 pm - 3:30 pm