Bill Mann

  • PhD candidate



After 40 years in a pedagogical wilderness 'teaching' a variety of Histories, playing the role of examiner for the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority), chairing the Scottish branch of the Historical Association, and generally having to deal with a mass of interdisciplinary courses as a part-time tutor and lecturer with the Open University, I have emerged into the twilight zone of the life cycle to engage in research, an opportunity hitherto denied by circumstances, and at Glasgow University, where as an undergraduate I had completed degrees in History and Music in the 1960s.

Research title

Arrival of Italian opera in London early 18C

Research summary

Research title

Et in Arcadia Ergastus - Italian Opera and its Enemies (London, 1705-11).



Between 1705 and 1711 a new genre entered the London stage - Italianate opera, that is, an all-sung drama, at first translated from Italian to English, and then bit by bit sung in the original Italian. These tentative experiments in sung drama can be seen as paving the way to Italian opera seria which took off with the arrival of Handel and his opera Rinaldo (1711). This innovation marked a distinct challenge to home-grown semi-opera which consisted of a spoken play with occasional song or musical interlude with the purpose of enhancing  romance, conjuring up magic, creating comedy, or arousing terror.

Thesis Summary and Challenge:

This is a study in the origins of Italian opera in London, a forensic scrutiny of the sources, without which, any accurate study of the past is futile. This became necessary ever since the distinguished Handel scholar Winton Dean announced:

‘The tangled story of the introduction of Italian opera has attracted many authors and baffled many readers, but still awaits definitive treatment.’   (Handel’s Operas 1704-1726, Dean and Knapp, Oxford 1987, p.140)

The tangled story remains 'tangled' since, presumably, the topic is not interesting enough for most scholars to pursue in any degree of detail. Recently Milhous and Hume have investigated the period more thoroughly than anyone else. They admit that the puzzles, contradictions, and misunderstandings, are still some way from being solved. This is explained by the partiality of contemporary sources, each with its own ideological axe to grind, and also by the nature of the topic, occupying a no-man's land, somewhere between drama and music. Issues that fall between disciplines tend to receive meagre treatment. Studies involved here are multiple - party political rivalries, the War of the Spanish Succession, religion, demography, social aspiration, economic wellbeing - basically a shift cultural values. 

Thesis Significance:

Without experiments in the production of Italian opera (1705-11), Handel's stay in London might have been severely curtailed. Without the resources of an orchestra and singers skilled in Italian music, it is unlikely that Rinaldo could have been performed. All-sung Italian opera would easily have been stifled by opposition from semi-opera, primarily spoken with additional song. Handel had made his name in Italy and would have had little difficulty in finding employment elsewhere in Europe. With Handel came the shift from Italian opera to English oratorio in the 1740s. The most famous oratorio is Messiah,identified as the most frequently performed event in the repertoire. No Handel - no Messiah.


2016: The 17th Biennial International Baroque Conference, University of Canterbury; paper - 'Et in arcadia Ergastus - Pastoral to Politics: pre-Handel operatic experiments, London, 1705-1711'. [15 July]

2016: GU Classics Dept: paper - 'The Ancients versus the Moderns' - the story of how the pastoral from Theocritus, Ovid, Virgil, became a political football in early 18th century London, undermining early attempts at Italian opera'. [23 May]

2015: GU Gilchrist PG 'Highlighting Research' Conference; paper 'What is History? - Which History?' (26 June)

2015: Historical Perspectives, St Andrews University; paper 'Misuse of History - Which History? (3-4 June)

2014: The 16th Biennial International Baroque Conference, Salzburg Mozarteum; paper 'The Ergasto Puzzle'.

2014: 'Georgian Glasgow', Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery.

2013: Herrenhäuser Symposium, 'The Power of Musick', London, German Historical Institute.

2013: The 29th Annual Conference, 'Music in 18C Britian', London Foundling Museum.

2013: 'The Cullen Project', Edinburgh, Royal College of Physicians.

2012: The 15th Biennial International Baroque Conference, Southampton University.

2012: 'Healing and Curing', GU, Senate Room paper 'Surviving Love and Disease, William Buchan   Domestic Medicine (1769) - How Enlightened?'

2012: Jonathan Franzen and 'Contemporary Realisms', GU, Sir Alwyn Williams Building.

2012: MeLa, European Museums in a Age of Migration, GU Sir Charles Wilson Building.

2012: 'The Politics of Practice', Goldsmiths UL; paper 'Culture Wars, London 1705-11' (theatre revolution and rivalries, Drury Lane and the newly build Haymarket Theatre).

2012: 'Body and Mind' Conference, Insights from Neuroscience, Bute Hall GU.

2012: Historical Perspectives Annual Conference (Wolfson Building) - paper - 'Parallel Wars: 1690-1714' (the effect of continental wars on the establishment of Italian opera and culture in London).

2011: 'Changing the World' GU, Senate Room; paper 'Foreign Invaders 1689-1714' (cultural influences from abroad with focus on migration and the attractions of London).

2011: ICHKM, Keyboard Conference, St Cecilia's Hall, Edinburgh,

2011: BNUK Conference, National Library and University, Edinburgh.


Pre-PG studies at GU, an abundance of conferences on Historical Subjects, e.g. Weimar Republic (Glasgow, Strathclyde University/Goethe Institute), 'Metahistory is Bunk' (Arthur Marwick, OU, Milton Keynes); etc.



1972-2004: History teaching from ancient civilisations to the present.

1995-2005: SQA examiner in Higher History

1971-2011: Part-time lecturer with the Open University in multi-disciplinary topics in the Humanities; courses - A100/01/02/03, A202/04/07, A214/241, but mainly the 18C Enlightenment with its national and regional varieties, using a multitude of varied texts and authors: 

Literature: Pope, Fielding, Johnson, Boswell, Wordsworth, Byron (and a range of 18C poetry), Voltaire, Lessing, Goethe, Laclos, Diderot, D'Alembert, D'Holbach, the Encyclopédie, Stendhal, etc..

History: Gibbon (Decline and Fall), Frederick the Great (writings), Catherine the Great (documents), Owen and New Lanark (NVoS), Napoleon (for and against; politics and visual representation), Revolutions (Industrial, Agricultural, French), Palmer-Godechot.

Art History: Hogarth, Robert Adam, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Blake, Kent, Capability Brown, Palladian architecture, Gilpin/Price and the Lake District, Chardin, Boucher, Ingres, David, Delacroix, Constable, Turner, Sir John Soane, Brighton Pavilion, etc..

Philosophy: Hume, Kant, Rousseau, de Sade.

Economics: Adam Smith, Physiocrats, mercantilism,

Music: Mozart operas, Haydn Creation, Beethoven symphonies, Schubert Lieder, etc.

Science and Exploration: Humphry Davy, James Lind (scurvy), Jane Marcet (home experiments), Comte de Buffon v. Linnaeus, Mungo Park, Captain Cook,

Additional information


  1. President of the West of Scotland Branch of the Historical Association (1998-2009)
  2. SQA examiner in Higher History  (1995-2005)
  3. Organist at St Peters Partick (1967- 1979)
  4. Piano Club convenor  (1998-2009) (member 1995-)
  5. Nomads (debating) Club (2008-)
  6. Member of the Merchants House (2015-)