On hearing of Anne’s recent book 'Wilberforce: Family and Friends', Andrew Perrin of WEA London took the opportunity to have a chat with her about her work.
Anne has taught at the WEA, the Open University and Birkbeck, University of London, as well as various other adult education institutions for more than 35 years. She has published extensively on women and Evangelicalism, and her book, Hannah More: The First Victorian (Oxford University Press, 2003) won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 2004. Anne is a participant in the Dissenting Academies Project run by the Dr Williams Centre and the administrator of the Long Eighteenth-Century Seminar, University of London.
Anne began teaching classes for the WEA some years ago, as she describes; ‘out of a love for adult education’. ‘Teaching adults is different from teaching younger people, as adults are more able to relate information to their own life experiences in a way that younger learners can’t, this makes the WEA classes that much more interesting for me as a tutor.’
Anne’s most recent work, a biography entitled: Wilberforce: Family and Friends about William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833) the politician, philanthropist, campaigner and leader in the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, was inspired by her extensive PhD research on his friend, the evangelical philanthropist, Hannah More.
‘Because of my experience in adult education, I wanted to re-present the academic information I had discovered during my research and make it as accessible as possible and to appeal to a wider audience than the academic text would allow.
One of the most significant sources I used was the collection of Wilberforce family papers, letters and diaries in the Bodleian library at Oxford University. There was a similarly rich collection of the family papers of his friend Henry Thornton in Cambridge University Library.
The papers took great deal of work to decipher and put in to context for use in the book. Although it took a lot of hard work it was also exhilarating.
Technology has greatly improved academic research and can be empowering, as much research material has now been digitised and made available electronically. At the same time one shouldn’t rely solely on an electronic approach, as there will inevitably be something that hasn’t been seen for a long time and there is no substitute for the feeling that I experienced of untying the ribbon on a dusty box to discover invaluable papers that hadn’t been seen for years!
For anyone considering writing a book I would offer the following advice:
• Choose the topic carefully and investigate what material is available on the subject (for the historian, the National Archives website is indispensible) and be prepared to travel. I made two trips to Los Angeles and many trips to Oxford and Cambridge libraries while doing the research for my own book.
• Read out loud, if a sentence is hard to say it will be equally hard to read.
• Balance longer and shorter sentences and choose the simplest words, i.e. ‘begin’ instead of ‘commence’.
• Don’t rush! The Biography took me nine years to write and was a mixture of pleasure and pain.'
Anne regularly contributes to blogs (web logs) to provide information about her books as well as offering additional resources relating to her courses for learners.
Wilberforce: Resources for Anne’s book
Updates & additional resources
A blog for WEA students at Bromley, Petts Wood and Orpington
Wilberforce: Family and Friends was recently reviewed by the Independent and can be viewed online here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/biography-wilberforce-family-and-friends-by-anne-stott-7528121.html
You can also follow Anne on Twitter @annemstott