Reading against Reform: The Bristol Library Society and the Intellectual Culture of Bristol's Elections in 1812



Smith JJ (2024) Reading against Reform: The Bristol Library Society and the Intellectual Culture of Bristol's Elections in 1812. Parliamentary History, 43 (1), pp. 112-128.

This article pioneers a new methodological approach to the study of electoral politics by combining an analysis of the politics of reading, library association and the reading habits of electors in an English urban constituency in the early 19th century. By integrating an examination of reading practices and intellectual context into our analysis of electoral contests, political history scholars can go further in their examination of the unreformed electoral system and attempt to gauge the motivations behind voting habits and partisan identification in this period. Using electoral voting data and the records of an urban subscription library, this article explores the interrelation between the Bristol Library Society and Bristol's electoral politics, as well as conducting an analysis of which books were being borrowed and read by electors in a politically tumultuous year. Although few in number compared with the total size of Bristol's electorate, Bristol Library members were among some of the most politically and culturally influential individuals in Bristol society and were active participants in electoral contests in the city, either as candidates, campaigners, civic officials or voters. An analysis of their voting habits reveals that the library's membership reflected the Tory political hegemony that became pronounced in the city's civic politics. Moreover, an analysis of their reading habits in 1812 reveals an interest in political texts that were conservative and anti-Gallic in tone, that were representative of the political climate in Bristol in 1812, and which contributed to the defeat of candidates for reform in its electoral contests.

anti-Jacobin; Bristol; civic politics; club; Edward Protheroe; extra-parliamentary party; libraries; reading; Samuel Romilly; voting

Parliamentary History: Volume 43, Issue 1

FundersArts and Humanities Research Council
Publication date28/02/2024
Publication date online28/02/2024
Date accepted by journal02/01/2024

People (1)


Mr Joshua Smith

Mr Joshua Smith

Tutor, History