Founded in 1897, the Saturday Club of Kingston is now an informal, interdisciplinary group keen to hear new scholarly work presented in an accessible manner to a non-expert audience.
At its founding, membership was limited to a small group of secretly elected (male) professors –deemed “distinguished” by their peers. Usually they were department heads or deans, from sciences, professions and the humanities. Meetings took place every other Saturday night in the members’ private homes; spouses were welcome only for preparing and serving the tea and cakes following (strictly teetotal). The paper usually occupied thirty to forty minutes and an equivalent time was devoted to questions. A secretary took minutes, which would be read at the following meeting as a permanent record and to allow those who’d missed the previous talk to catch up. Each member was expected to host or speak on alternate years. Every spring a modest “banquet” featured a member as an after-dinner speaker, and spouses were included.
The secretaries were often literary scholars from the English department. Their minutes could be tiny prose masterpieces, although former speakers often marvelled at how their words and ideas had been received and distorted. One secretary delivered all his minutes in verse.
the one hundredth anniverary was
In the late 1980s, the Club was aware of its aging male demographic. It actively sought women and younger members, although many declined to join suspecting chauvinism, elitism, or both. Also women and young people were less willing to be away from their families on Saturday nights. Gradually “membership” was opened, spouses and friends were welcomed, elections were abolished, meetings moved to Mondays, evenings changed to late afternoons, and the private homes gave way to academic rooms. At the same time, the “scribe job” was shared among the group, until eventually it too was replaced by an abstract provided by the speaker.
For the 120th anniversary in 2017-18, the Saturday Club decided to announce the meetings more publicly and to build a website, declaring there and in social media what had been happening already for years.
Two things remain:
1. titles of the talks are deliberately and provocatively cryptic although clues as to subject matter can be intimated from the speaker’s identity; and
2. talks must be accessible to non-experts while devoted research that (preferably) has not yet been published.
Meetings of Winter 2018