Aberystwyth historian to publish letters of 18th evangelist George Whitefield

George Whitefield circa 1750s. Attributed to Joseph Badger Harvard.

George Whitefield circa 1750s. Attributed to Joseph Badger Harvard.

08 February 2016

Aberystwyth University historian Dr David Ceri Jones has signed a major contract to publish the correspondence of the eighteenth-century trans-Atlantic evangelical revivalist George Whitefield (1714-70).

The contract, signed with leading academic publisher Oxford University Press, will see the Whitefield letters published in full for the first time, and in seven volumes.

The first volume, which will be jointly-edited by Dr Jones and Dr Geordan Hammond, is scheduled for publication in 2018, with subsequent volumes scheduled to appear at eighteenth month intervals subsequently.

In 2014 Dr Jones, Reader in Welsh and Atlantic History at the Department of History and Welsh History at Aberystwyth University, was awarded £115,527 by the Leverhulme Trust to study the early evangelical movement through a reassessment of Whitfield’s life, context and legacy.

Working with research assistant Dr Geordan Hammond, Dr Jones has spent the past year locating, collecting and transcribing the 3000 letters written by Whitefield between 1735 and his death in 1770.

Located in almost 60 repositories in Britain, North America and Germany getting our hands on all of the letters has been a major logistical task.

Dr Jones said: “Oxford University Press’ commitment to the publication of the Whitefield correspondence over the next decade is a major and exciting undertaking.

“The appearance of the letters in print for the first time has the potential not only to revolutionise understandings of Whitefield and the eighteenth-century evangelical and Methodist movements, but also the internal dynamics of the Atlantic World, and relations between Britain and America on the cusp of the Revolution.”

Largely forgotten outside religious circles today, George Whitefield was one of the mid-eighteenth-century’s best-known public figures, and certainly its most famous and widely travelled evangelical revivalist.

An Anglican clergyman, Whitefield inspired a Protestant renewal movement as a result of his charismatic preaching – often to large open-air crowds throughout Britain, and in nearly every town along the eastern seaboard of the American colonies.

The Calvinistic Methodist movement he founded in partnership with the Welsh Methodists brought the Welsh into the eighteenth-century Atlantic World.

A bridge between the Old World and the New, at times Whitefield appeared to live up to his moniker: ‘the apostle of the English Empire’; yet he could also be seen as one of the inspirers of the American Revolution, bringing the thirteen American colonies together for the first time under the umbrella of the ‘Great Awakening’. Contentious during his lifetime, Whitefield has continued to polarise opinion.