Conference Report by Alice Rhodes, University of York.
On Sunday 28th June 2020 members of European Romanticisms in Association came together for the third meeting of the AHRC-funded Dreaming Romantic Europe network, led by PI Professor Nicola J Watson (Open University) and Co-I Professor Catriona Seth (University of Oxford). While the workshop was due to have been hosted by Jeff Cowton at Dove Cottage in Grasmere in honour of the 250th anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth, the Covid-19 pandemic meant that some changes had to be made to this original plan. Not to be deterred however, the organising committee reimagined the workshop as a digital conference, which was held over Zoom, hosted by Cowton and Wordsworth Grasmere.
While the workshop may not have taken the form originally envisaged, the virtual format was a resounding success. In addition to allowing us to open up registration to auditors from across the world who may not otherwise have been able to attend, the digital nature of the meeting spoke well to the workshop theme of “Romantic Media” and, in keeping with RÊVE, the virtual exhibition at the centre of the project, provided an exciting glimpse into the potential which digital projects hold for connecting scholars of Romanticism working in universities and heritage organisations around the globe.
Although we couldn’t physically be at Dove Cottage, the Wordsworths’ home came to us as we kicked off the first day of the workshop with a video tour of the house and garden, so expertly delivered by Jeff Cowton, that we felt we might have actually been there. This was followed by a warm welcome from Watson and Seth who introduced the project, RÊVE, and the central question of the workshop: “Which media served to materialise and/or transmit Romantic ideas and sentiments across Europe?” Next up our panels got underway with the first of three sessions composed of ten minute talks on a single object, suitable to be exhibited in the virtual exhibition. Session one, chaired by Professor Barbara Schaff, addressed the theme of “Paper,” with speakers considering how objects such as letters and manuscripts transmitted Romanticism not only through their content but through the materiality of their form. After a short break, and a chance for our speakers to respond to the wealth of questions and join in with the lively conversations taking place in Zoom’s chat pane, we returned for the second part of the afternoon. Session two, chaired by Professor Nicola Watson, looked at Romantic “Views,” from mountains and buildings, to scenes glimpsed in mirrors and captured on wallpaper. Sunday concluded with virtual cocktails, accompanied by a viewing of three artworks: Louise Ann Wilson’s “Dorothy’s Room”, Ellen Harvey’s “The Disappointed Tourist”, and Edward Wates’s calligraphy of Wordsworth’s ‘The world is too much with us’ with a reading from Jeff Cowton.
The workshop resumed on Monday with our third panel, which was chaired by Professor Caroline Bertonèche. Speakers in Session three turned to Romantic science with papers on the topic of “Stars, stones and other bodies,” which explored bodies celestial and anatomical, animate and inanimate. Our penultimate session consisted of a roundtable, led by Dr Sally Blackburn-Daniels with Jeff Cowton (Wordsworth Grasmere) and Dr Anna Mercer (Keats House) on RÊVE in the museum. Cowton and Mercer reflected on the impact which the project has had on their curatorial and outreach practice and how the RÊVE might offer new ways of thinking about the museums in the future. To bring the day to a close, Catriona Seth led the final discussion of the workshop, opening the floor to invite speakers and auditors to reflect on the workshop, RÊVE, and Romantic Media, old and new.
Overall, the workshop stood as testament to the potential of media, material and immaterial, physical and virtual, to transmit ideas both in the Romantic era and now, and to offer a suggestion as to how Romanticists across the continent and further afield can still gather, engage, and collaborate in the age of Covid-19 and climate emergency. Last but not least, we’d like offer our thanks to Jeff Cowton and Wordsworth Grasmere for a warm virtual welcome, to everyone who worked so hard put the conference together and to move it online, and to all our speakers and attendees from around world who braved technology and time differences to contribute such fascinating, rich, and productive papers, questions, and discussion.
You can find details of the full programme here and you can revisit some of the workshop’s highlights on Twitter under the hashtag #RomanticMedia.