News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for December 2013

CfP: Periodisation: Pleasures and Pitfalls

Please see below for a new Call for Papers for a fascinating-sounding conference on literary periodisation, to be held at All Souls College, Oxford on the 3rd of June 2014.  Clare Bucknell, one of the organisers, writes:

“We want to start an academic conversation about the categories in which scholars, critics, institutions and anthologies subdivide literary history, and we intend to scrutinise the kinds of social or disciplinary bias that underlie the boundaries of literary-historical study.  We hope that the subject will be of great interest to Romantic scholars, as there are many provocative questions it might raise – for instance:

– when does ‘late eighteenth-century’ become ‘Romantic’?

– what does the institutional history of ‘the Romantic period’ say about the interests and biases of English as an academic discipline?

– are certain genres and forms conceived to be characteristic of ‘the Romantic period’? If so, why – and what does this tell us about the thinking behind periodisation?”

The full CfP is below; abstracts are due on February 1st.

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A one-day conference at All Souls College, Oxford, June 3rd 2014

Keynote Speaker: Professor James Simpson, Harvard

What do we mean by ‘medieval’?  When does ‘late eighteenth-century’ become ‘Romantic’?  What on earth is ‘Early Modern’?  How did these categories come about in the first place?  Papers are invited for a one-day conference on the advantages and problems of periodisation, which aims to interrogate the literary-historical categories that govern the way we organise, teach and think about literature.

We ask whether periodisation is a useful tool for segmenting the lengthy sweep of English literature into sensible sections for study, or whether it is a naïve, narrowly historicist critical approach that risks making unhelpful connections between radically different types of texts.  We question whether some types of periodisation are more useful than others (is ‘the Tudor Period’, for instance, a more fruitful designation than, say, ‘1100-1350’?); we ask if periodisation is prone to entrenching scholarly prejudice against certain forms of literature; and we address the fact that some periods (for example, mid-eighteenth-century literature, Caroline literature) are much less studied than others (Romantic, Elizabethan, Modernist), and seek to interrogate why this might be.  We are also interested in the role of the university in the debate over periodisation: why do certain institutions or critical schools organise literary history in different ways, and what do these differences say about the nature and progress of English as an intellectual discipline?

We invite 250-word abstracts for 20-minute papers on any aspect of periodisation.  Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

• period boundaries: should ‘boundary’ mean ‘division’ or ‘meeting point’?

• periods of literature which have suffered comparative critical neglect, and potential reasons for this neglect;

• the study of English Literature in universities and the validity of periodising approaches;

• the history of periodisation: what kinds of literary histories have critics and writers produced in the past, and how do they differ to the habits of periodisation now current?

• political and economic factors: do these provide imperatives for the shaping of the canon?

• are certain genres and forms conceived of as ‘characteristic’ of particular periods?  What does this say about the way in which periods are established?

• radical alternatives: if we choose not to organise literary history by ‘period’, what might we do instead?

Please send your abstracts to the conference convenors, Clare Bucknell and Mary Wellesley (  and by February 1st 2014.

Tis the Season for Subscribing

The new year approaches ever closer, and at the chime of midnight on New Year’s Eve, BARS subscriptions will fall due.  Please take a moment to read the note below from our treasurer and membership secretary, Jane Moore; for more details on becoming a BARS member or renewing an existing membership, please see the relevant page on the website.

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Dear BARS members

As the newly-appointed Membership Secretary and Treasurer of the Association, I’d like to introduce myself to you and to thank you for your continued co-operation and support as BARS members.

I’d also like to remind the membership that annual subs are due on January 1st and to ask that you check your standing orders are for the correct amount of either £25 (waged) or £10 (unwaged/postgraduate).  As many of you will be aware, the BARS Executive took the decision in 2012, after consultation with the membership, to make a modest increase in subscription fees to £25 (waged) and £10 (unwaged/postgraduate).  Our aim in the longer term is to increase BARS membership, both UK and overseas.  If you know anyone working in the field who isn’t currently a member, please do invite them to join the Association or email their contact details to me at  Herewith is the web link to the BARS ‘How to Join’ page:

With thanks and best wishes for the festive season

Jane Moore

Treasurer and Membership Secretary

Romantic Locations: Registration Now Open

Dove Cottage

The organisers of Romantic Locations, the 2014 BARS Early Career and Postgraduate Conference, are pleased to announce that registration is now open.  The form can be downloaded from the dedicated section of the BARS Website, which also includes information about travel and accommodation (including special offers).  While we can’t promise that the sky above Dove Cottage between March 19th and 21st will be quite as blue as it is in the image above, we can promise a rigorous and exciting academic programme and a convivial and friendly environment for socialising and sharing enthusiasms.

We’ve accepted thirty excellent proposals from postgraduate and early career scholars, who will give fifteen-minute papers on their current research on a wide range of interesting topics.  The conference will also feature plenary addresses from Professor Simon Bainbridge (Lancaster University) and Professor Nicola Watson (Open University), as well as a workshop on manuscripts with the Wordsworth Trust’s Curator, Jeff Cowton MBE.  The full programme will be published early in the new year. The organisers have taken trouble to make sure that the conference is as accessible as possible to those on all budgets.

Please take a look at the site, and do consider joining us at the Jerwood Centre in March.  If you have any questions, please contact the organisers (Kate Ingle (Lancaster), Matthew Sangster (British Library), Helen Stark (Newcastle) and Matthew Ward (St Andrews)) on

Five Questions: Hiatus

The Five Questions interviews have been on hiatus during December as I’ve been tied up with Romantic Locations (for more on which, see the post above) and as many of those I’ve approached have been buried under pre-Christmas marking.  However, the interviews will return in the new year – there are a number of exciting people lined up.

Thanks for reading this year, and hope to see you back here in 2014.

CfP – Emblems and Enigma: The Heraldic Imagination

Emblems and Enigma image

Professor Fiona Robertson and Dr Peter Lindfield are co-organising a symposium entitled Emblems and Enigma: The Heraldic Imagination; this event will take place at the Society of Antiquaries in London on Saturday 26th April 2014.  The full Call for Papers is both below and available on the conference site.  To further tempt Romanticists, Professor Robertson writes that, ‘There’ll be a special session on Walpole and Beckford, the poster image (above) is from Chatterton, I’ll be talking about Scott and 19th-c American literature, and we’d very much welcome proposals for papers on Romantic Period authors (De Quincey, Peacock, Scott, Radcliffe, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats) and on topics related to this authoritative but occluded set of signs in the culture of the Romantic Period.’  The deadline for abstracts is 10th January 2014.

Emblems and Enigma: The Heraldic Imagination

An Interdisciplinary Symposium at the Society of Antiquaries of London, Saturday 26th April 2014

‘Time has transfigured them into / Untruth’ (Philip Larkin)

In his 1844 short story ‘Earth’s Holocaust’, Nathaniel Hawthorne sees heraldic signs reaching ‘like lines of light’ into the past, but also as encrypted and obsolete. Proliferating and arcane, unique, ubiquitous, and inscrutable, the heraldic has been a major presence across the arts since medieval times; yet it remains, culturally and critically, enigmatic. The organisers of this interdisciplinary symposium, Professor Fiona Robertson (St Mary’s University College) and Dr Peter Lindfield (University of St Andrews) invite proposals for twenty-minute papers on any aspect of the employment and perception of the heraldic in literature, history, art, architecture, design, fashion, and contemporary and historical practice. The programme will include a keynote address by Professor Vaughan Hart (University of Bath); a special session on the heraldry of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill and William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey; and papers on eighteenth-century antiquaries’ exploration of the heraldic, and on heraldry in nineteenth-century British and American literature.

Topics may include, but are not restricted to:

– the languages and grammar of heraldry

– armoiries parlantes, allusions and puns

– imaginary and fantastical heraldry

– decoration and display

– blazonry and identity: nations, groups, individuals

– mock- and sham-heraldics; parody and subversion

– practices of memory and memorialisation

– history, development, and modern practice

– blazon and the body

– heraldic revivalism; medievalism; romance

– enigma, error, and absence: the bar sinister and the blank shield

– individual designers, writers, and collectors

– gendered identity

– hierarchies of signs

– international and interdisciplinary perspectives

Proposals of 200 words should be sent to by 10 January 2014.

Fiona Robertson and Peter Lindfield plan to edit a collection of essays arising from the symposium.

Five Questions: Sharon Ruston on Romantic Science

Sharon Ruston - Creating Romanticism

Professor Sharon Ruston has recently joined the University of Lancaster, having previously held appointments at the University of Salford, Keele University and the University of Wales, Bangor.  She has published widely on literature, science and medicine in the Romantic period, and, among many other activities, has served as academic co-ordinator for the LitSciMed doctoral training programme and co-edited (with David Higgins) a useful collection on Teaching Romanticism, which draws on the survey of Romantic-period teaching which she completed for BARS in 2006.  Her latest book, Creating Romanticism: Case Studies in the Literature, Science and Medicine of the 1790s, came out earlier this year; below, we discuss the process of writing this book and its relation to her current project: co-editing, with Professor Tim Fulford, The Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy and his Circle.

1) How did you come to decide that this was the next book you wanted to write?

After Shelley and Vitality (my first monograph that came from my PhD), I wanted to move outwards to think about Romanticism and Science as a whole.  I have been keeping little notes and ideas since my PhD and hoped that these would be the basis for my ‘big’ second book.  I guess that these things never quite go as planned.  The next book that I wrote was the Continuum guide to Romanticism, which encompassed the whole period – though I was able to do a chapter on science and medicine – and then after that there were edited collections of essays, Literature and Science and Teaching Romanticism.  In the back of my mind was always the idea of the big book and this is my attempt at it without having the twenty years to dedicate to it that I really would have wished for.

2) The four chapters of your book examine the relationship between the discourses we would now call science and literature through the lenses of four particular cases. What led you to choose this structure, and how did you select these particular examples?

The case studies approach was pragmatic foremost; it allowed me to look at four different authors/topics in a discrete manner but also to use these to build up a larger argument.  My ambitious ‘big book’ plans were reduced to thinking about instances at the beginnings of the Romantic period – mostly in the 1790s – when literature and science, or literature and medicine, came together in some fruitful and interesting way.  I argue that these moments are formative for the creation of what we now anachronistically call ‘Romanticism’.  The examples were chosen because these were the ones that fascinated me most and which seemed the most significant.

3) How has your work on Romantic science changed the ways that you present the period to undergraduates and postgraduates?

Many of my lectures and seminars are now inflected with ideas from Romantic-period science and medicine; for example, lectures on sensibility take into account the physical symptoms and medical discourse of this ‘disease’.  I have also taught a number of specialised modules that are led by my research, such as Monstrous Bodies, which examines Wordsworth’s labouring and mad bodies, Keats’s sensual bodies, Wollstonecraft’s idea of the female body, and others.

4) How did your work collecting and editing Humphry Davy’s letters influence the writing of Creating Romanticism (and visa versa)?

One of the four chapters of the book is on Davy and he really is important to the book in many ways.  He appears in other chapters too, as a friend of Godwin’s and Coleridge’s, for example, and I argue in the conclusion that if we are going to be using outdated terms such as ‘Romanticism’, they should be culturally-inclusive.  Davy is as much a Romantic as Wordsworth.  Working on the letters while writing this book helped me to get to grips with Davy’s polymorphic interests: his chemistry, his poetry, his politics, and his social network.  It made me realise just how central he was to Romantic-period culture and helped me to define just what it meant to be ‘Romantic’.

5) What are your future plans for the Davy edition?

We have an OUP contract for a four-volume print edition, which is to be submitted at the end of 2017.  After that date, unfortunately, the website on which you can read each new letter found and transcribed will disappear ( so I urge people to explore the letters before that happens!