Friday, 4 April 2014
BIG NEWS - George Whitefield (1714-70) and Trans-Atlantic Protestantism project
I heard a few weeks back that The Leverhulme Trust, one of the main British academic funding bodies, are granting Aberystwyth University and myself a major research project grant of £115,500 over two years for my project on 'George Whitefield (1714-70) and Trans-Atlantic Protestantism'.
The project will enable me to employ a Research Assistant for the full two years, and together we will work on producing the first ever complete edition of George Whitefield's correspondence. Numbering perhaps as many as 2,500 individual items, spanning both sides of the Atlantic, Whitefield's correspondence contains letters with many of the main religious and other figures of his day. John Wesley, Howel Harris, the Countess of Huntingdon, the Moravian Nicholas von Zinzendorf and Jonathan Edwards, the members of the Tennent clan and James Davenport from America all figure prominently. But so too does Benjamin Franklin, and many other mid-eighteenth century political and religious leaders not immediately associated with the evangelical movement. In addition, one of the most striking features of the correspondence is the extent to which 'ordinary' voices may be heard within it; humble Methodist converts and lay preachers, women and native Americans all figure.
Some Whitefield letters appeared shortly after his death, in the edition of his works published by his Scottish friend and publisher, John Gillies in 1771. It is these letters that are most familiar to modern readers perhaps, due to the reissue of one volume of them in facsimilie by the Banner of Truth Trust in the late 1970s. However, many of these letters were anonymized and then heavily and silently edited by Gilles' with the result that Whitefield's voice has been severely distorted.
This project is therefore about recovering and retrieving the authentic Whitefield, an essential precursor to the offering of some fresh interpretations. The plan is for the letters to appear in both a digital and printed edition. The Whitefield at 300 conference in June this year will complement the project of course, and there will be a volume of essays from that in due course. The ultimate aim is to produce a new biography of Whitefield, reflecting the perspectives of the recovered letters - but that's someway in the future yet.
I'll keep posting updates about the project in the months to come.