Philanthropic Celebrity in the Age of Sensibility

book edited by Adrian Wesołowski

This volume, an original combination of biography, cultural history, and media studies, investigates the first moment in history when philanthropy was used as a self-standing claim to fame and philanthropists started being considered as a distinct breed of public figures.

Adrian Wesołowski, Philanthropic Celebrity in the Age of Sensibility. A Historical-Comparative Study of the British, French, and Polish Examples, c. 1770–1830, Routledge, 2023.

In its search for the cause of this development, it examines the way in which public images of early philanthropists in different parts of Europe were shaped in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The work draws on a comparison between British prison reformer John Howard, Alsatian pastor and humanitarian Jean-Frédéric Oberlin, and Stanisław Staszic, a key figure of Enlightenment politics in Congress Poland. Revealing parallel mechanisms at play in different national contexts, it argues that famous philanthropists ushered in a new genre of fame, ‘philanthropic celebrity’, that placed Enlightenment ideals about virtue within the framework of early celebrity culture.

The book is primarily aimed at advanced students and scholars of history, cultural studies, and social sciences, especially those interested in the concepts of fame and celebrity and in the origins of modern humanitarianism.

Adrian Wesołowski is a Research Fellow at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. He studies social and cultural history in modern and early modern Europe with particular focus on the history of philanthropy and the history of the public sphere.