Five Questions: Emily Stanback on The Wordsworth-Coleridge Circle and the Aesthetics of Disability

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Emily Stanback is Associate Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her principal research interests include British Romantic literature; disability studies; memorialisation; pedagogy; and the histories of science and medicine. Her first monograph, The Wordsworth-Coleridge Circle and the Aesthetics of Disability, which we discuss below, was published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2017 as one of the first titles in the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine series.

1) How did you first become interested in the intersection of disability studies and Romantic-period writing?

This answer will bring us back decades. At a young age, I found that poets—first Emily Dickinson, but soon many others—spoke to me in language and images and forms that resonated with my own experiences of disability. By centering the slant, a great deal of poetry from the past 250 years can be said to embody what, building on Tobin Siebers, I refer to in my book as disability aesthetics. And seeking disability led me as an undergraduate to Romanticism. Like the modern art Siebers discusses in Disability Aesthetics, Romantic-era poetry is made memorable, powerful, and beautiful by virtue of its non-normative forms (think poetic fragments, metrical irregularities, repetition, experimentation); by the ways that it slows down or speeds up experience, memory, and narration into what Disability Studies might call crip time; and by the kinds of embodied human experiences it centers—including illness and disability, yes, but also other experiences of non-normative embodiment including intoxication, trances, and that most irrational and inarticulable experience, the sublime. And then there are the Romantic-era characters in poetry and fiction who embody mental and physical disability—from Wordsworth’s Johnny Foy and Martha Ray to William Earle’s reimagined Three-Fingered Jack (based on Jack Mansong) to Mary Shelley’s Creature—and the authors whose disabled bodyminds shaped their texts in content and form—from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Dorothy Wordsworth to Lord Byron to John Keats to Mary Prince. My view, and I hope my book bears this out, is that Romantic aesthetics are disability aesthetics.

2) The book focuses on ‘aesthetically significant experiences enabled by non-normative states of body and mind, and also the aesthetic dimensions of non-normative bodies and minds, as considered from without.’  To what extent do these two different kinds of representations align in the writers you examine, and to what extent is there a contest regarding meanings between internally- and externally-focused figurations of non-normative bodies and minds?

I tend to think of it less as a contest between internally- and externally-focused figurations of non-normative bodies and minds, and more a contest between the wide and often contradictory range of approaches to disability that coexisted at the time. In 1800, some interpreted the forms of non-normative embodiment we would now call “disabilities” in a primarily religious framework, or according to other categories and concepts that had been predominant for some time. Others, possibly influenced by the rise of scientific medicine and solidifying norms of embodiment, held what closely resemble normative views—in the modern sense of the word. Yet others saw individual disabilities, or disability writ large, as social identities or even as cultural constructions, much as Disability Studies does today. It was also altogether possible for a Romantic-era author to view some disabilities neutrally, others as distinctly advantageous, and yet others as severe deficits or tragic misfortunes. We can identify similar conflicts and contradictions today, even sometimes within disability communities.

Of the authors I discuss in my book, and probably of all of the Romantic-era authors I regularly teach, I think Charles Lamb comes the closest to a comprehensive and self-aware approach to disability. As I describe in the final chapter of my book, disability was central to Lamb’s sense of self and his urban aesthetic. He claimed that he developed his characteristic humor in response to his stammer, and he built a life of mutual care with his sister, Mary, largely in response to the practical demands of her mental illness and periodic institutionalization—experiences he’d also had. Although he suffered, Lamb did not take his experiences of disability as tragedies, but rather came to understand them as inextricable from his identity. In an 1822 letter to Wordsworth, Lamb described how “Common natures do not suffice me.” He was, he wrote, “made up of queer points” and wanted “so many answering needles.” In his letters, poetry, and essays, Lamb explored several topics related to the cultural construction of disability—for example, physiognomy and the ways that we interpret non-normative bodyminds, the scientific classification of humans, the lived experience of stigma, and the performativity of disability. And through what I call Lamb’s “cripped metropolitan aesthetics,” his writing explicitly centered disabled people and embraced what he called “The deformities of London” itself. In his Elia essays, Lamb focused on figures like Samuel Horsey, the amputee beggar who appears on the cover to my book, who Lamb called a “grand fragment; as good as an Elgin marble.” Lamb’s comparison of Horsey to the Parthenon marbles suggest how Lamb’s cripped aesthetics are in fact characteristic of his era. Lamb just connected the dots between actual disability and disability aesthetics more explicitly than most did.

3) What would you identify as the most major shifts in cultural attitudes to disability during the period that the book covers?

I’ve already mentioned that I see the period as one of great openness and contestation, but it is also a singularly transformational moment in the history of medicine. This was the era during which you can trace the rise of normative scientific approaches to the human body, as well as the rise of professional scientific medicine. Eighteenth-century medicine had tended to figure “health” in relative and holistic ways, and there was not yet a general norm of health to which bodies were compared. I still think that there was an operative concept of disability in 1650 and 1750, but not in the modern sense of the word. During the Romantic era, however, the Enlightenment push to classify human bodies dovetailed with the regularization of diagnoses and medical practices, as well as the consolidation of increasingly universal standards of health. With the rise of the norm, you also began to see the emergence of “disability” in a much more recognizably modern form. So while many Romantic-era texts and strains of thought about non-normative bodyminds do not bear a close relationship to what we now think of as “disability,” I demonstrate in my book that many do.

If anything, the deeper I dug the more I was struck by the correspondences between 1800 and today. In Hygëia, for example, Thomas Beddoes includes an extended discussion of the social and emotional consequences of severe scars, despite their functional irrelevance—a passage that maps strikingly onto one from Susan Wendell’s Rejected Body (1996) in which she uses facial scarring as an example of “a disability constructed totally by stigma and cultural meanings.” And while authors of the Romantic era didn’t use the term “disability” in the way we do today, several explored or theorized concepts of disability as a social identity and aesthetic category in similar ways to contemporary disability theorists. In addition to Beddoes and Lamb, Wordsworth wrote powerfully of several dimensions of encountering disability; as an elocutionary scientist, John Thelwall critiqued normative views of his pupils; Coleridge narrated his ill bodymind in extraordinarily nuanced ways; and Tom Wedgwood developed a brilliant and influential metaphysical system around his embodied concepts, as a chronically ill person, of pleasure and pain. And to go beyond my book (although I had initially planned to write a coda along these lines), through the creation of her gigantic, “deformed,” yellow-tinted Creature, Mary Shelley may be said to have crafted one of the most compelling narratives of how disability is socially constructed in the modern world, as well as the profound consequences of such constructions for both individual and community.

4) What led you to focus your work principally on an extended Wordsworth-Coleridge circle (including John Thelwall, Thomas Beddoes, Humphry Davy, Tom Wedgwood and Charles Lamb)?  Are there particular authors from your secondary list (Robert Southey, Dorothy Wordsworth, Mary Lamb, Thomas Poole, William Godwin, Erasmus Darwin and Sara Coleridge) on whom you’d have liked to have spent more time, given the space and leisure (or who you’re planning to revisit in future work)?

I chose the Wordsworth-Coleridge circle primarily for methodological reasons. I knew that I wanted to examine disability across a range of literary genres, but also beyond literature and beyond aesthetics and metaphysics. To contextualize Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Lamb’s literary works, I also wanted to look to the scientific and medical discourses and texts that these authors often regarded their own work as directly addressing. This was, after all, an era before disciplines had solidified. Poetic and philosophical figures like Coleridge and Southey participated in medical experimentation at Beddoes’s Pneumatic Institution, and scientific figures like Humphry Davy wrote poetry. Moreover, Romantic-era medicine laid claim to authority over the human body, so it felt necessary to explore medical perspectives—what kinds of bodies physicians and anatomists pathologized at the time, and how they did so. I also wondered whether there were those working within medicine who resisted the rise of normative approaches to human embodiment. (There were.) I likewise wanted to look at a diversity of subject positions—how disabled authors depicted their own experiences of disability, as well as how disabled and nondisabled authors depicted others’ disabilities. Because I was trying to cover so much ground, I needed to find a way to make narrative sense of the project, and focusing on a single circle of collaborators and friends struck me as a logical way of doing so.

There was a somewhat unexpected—but from a Disability Studies standpoint, ethically important—side effect of looking at a single circle of authors. I began to discern how the conversations these particular authors had with one another, especially during the 1790s, contributed to the remarkable ways that they were able to conceive of disability. And through tracing intellectual exchange, I was led again and again to Tom Wedgwood, who I have come to regard as the heart of my book. Wedgwood’s friends, collaborators, and acquaintances uniformly described him as an absolutely critical intellectual influence, but because of his chronic illness he never published his metaphysical essays and died young. Subsequent generations of biographers and scholars thought that pity and personal regard had led people like Wordsworth, Coleridge, and William Godwin to exalt Wedgwood’s genius, but I had trouble buying into what increasingly felt like a stock ableist narrative. Alan Barnes and Gavin Budge had both called for a reassessment of Wedgwood’s thought and importance, and by working at the Wedgwood Archive I began to trace for myself what I agreed was Wedgwood’s crucial role in the development of Romantic-era thought. By attending to relationships, in other words, I was able to contribute to what I see as the important recuperation and restoration of Tom Wedgwood’s metaphysics—and with that, disability epistemology—to the center of the Wordsworth-Coleridge circle. Combine that with the thinking and writing of Coleridge and Lamb, both of whom explicitly considered themselves to be ill or disabled subjects, and it becomes clear just how central disability perspectives were to Romanticism.

As to those who didn’t make it into the book… I wish I’d been able to address Dorothy Wordsworth’s unpublished Rydal journals, but I only first read and began to transcribe them at the Wordsworth Trust as I was revising the book. The Rydal journals, I believe, embody disabled possibilities that for Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth remained somewhat aspirational. A bigger regret—because it’s an omission that can’t be chalked up to timing—is that I didn’t include Mary Lamb’s writing in the book. Truth be told, I think a whole book could be written on the Lambs and disability, and I hope in the future to look at the siblings’ collaborative work, both in its content and also in terms of the Lambs’ ethos of care and interdependence, which resonates strongly with contemporary Disability Studies.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I have several ongoing projects at the moment, some of which I began years ago and some of which are excitingly new. I’m currently revising an article on Romanticism’s disability poetics that may grow into a larger project, and I’m just now turning my attention back to what I call pathographical epitaphs (epitaphs that mention cause of death and/or medical care—a relatively common occurrence in the late 18th and early 19th centuries). I hope to also get back to revising an article on Dorothy Wordsworth’s late style before too long. Following my teaching, in recent years I’ve become increasingly interested in the ways that Romantic-era medicine similarly pathologized, classified, and exploited disabled and non-European people, and how the overlapping and often mutually constitutive discourses of disability and race shaped literature and culture of the era. I’m not sure where these interests will take me, but I hope to at some point write about Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince and William Earle’s Obi; or, the History of Three-Fingered Jack, and possibly other related texts. Along with some new collaborators, I’m working at the moment to relaunch The Gravestone Project, which I co-founded with Polly Atkin nearly a decade ago; as the anniversary of John Keats’s death approaches, I’m looking forward to the next chapter of the Keats Letters Project; and further in the future, I really hope to be able to return to Tom Wedgwood’s manuscripts as there’s so much more in them than I could cover in the book.

BARS Digital Events: ‘Digital Editions in Romantic Studies’ Recording Now Online

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The second session of our new Digital Events programme is now available to watch on YouTube!

Thank you to everyone who joined us over Zoom for this event.

Read more about the speakers here.

Professor Lynda Pratt, Dr. Sophie Coulombeau, Dr. Corrina Readioff, and Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull presented on the topic of ‘Digital Editions in Romantic Studies’. The event was chaired by BARS President, Professor Anthony Mandal.

Book your ticket for our next event, ‘Digital Teaching in Romantic Studies’, here.

BARS Digital Events: ‘Digital Teaching in Romantic Studies’

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The British Association for Romantic Studies is delighted to welcome you to the third session of our new Digital Events series: ‘Digital Teaching in Romantic Studies’. Please join us on Thursday 10 December at 5pm GMT on Zoom for a roundtable discussion between Dr Emma Butcher, Dr Daniel Cook, Dr Stephen Gregg, and Dr Joanna Taylor, chaired by Dr Matthew Sangster. During the session, our guests will discuss pedagogy and teaching styles for online learning, any challenges they’ve encountered with teaching online, innovative and effective online teaching methods, and much more. After this, the audience will be invited to take part in a moderated Q&A session. 

Book your ticket here!

Dr Emma Butcher is a Lecturer at Edge Hill University. She recently completed a Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Leicester, as well as previously holding teaching positions at the University of Lincoln and Manchester Metropolitan University. She was named a 2017 BBC New Generation Thinker. Her research focuses on children’s experiences of war in the long nineteenth century. Dr Butcher has been published in the Journal of Victorian Culture and Victorian Periodicals Review. Her first monograph, The Brontës and War, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2020. She is currently writing her second monograph, Children in the Age of Modern War, contracted to OUP Trade for publication in 2022.

Dr Daniel Cook is Reader in English and Associate Director of the Centre for Scottish Culture at the University of Dundee. His books include Walter Scott and Shorter Fiction (Edinburgh UP, 2021), Reading Swift’s Poetry (Cambridge UP, 2020), Thomas Chatterton and Neglected Genius, 1760-1830 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), The Afterlives of Eighteenth-Century Fiction (with Nicholas Seager; Cambridge UP, 2015), and Women’s Life Writing, 1700-1850: Gender, Genre and Authorship (with Amy Culley; Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). For Romantic Textualities he curates the Teaching Romanticism series online. 

Dr Stephen Gregg is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Bath Spa University. He specialises in eighteenth-century literature and digital humanities. His latest book, Old Books and Digital Publishing: Eighteenth Century Collections Online is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. He has recently taught courses on gender and the eighteenth-century novel, empire and identity in the eighteenth century, digital literary studies, and book history.

Dr Joanna Taylor is a Presidential Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Manchester. Her recent work explores the uses of digital technologies in humanities research, particularly at the intersection between literary geographies and environmental studies. She has published in Studies in Romanticism, the International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing and Nineteenth-Century Contexts and her book Deep Mapping the Literary Lake District, co-authored with Ian Gregory, will be published by Bucknell UP next year. 

See the recording of Session 1, ‘Romantic Studies in 2020’, here.

Archive Spotlight: Robert Southey at Keswick Museum

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A new post today for the ‘Archive Spotlight’ series. Many archives are of course closed in these strange and difficult times. We hope that this illustrated post will be one way of continuing to celebrate the archive – albeit remotely – in these circumstances, thereby reminding us of the treasures held in Romanticism collections. If you’d like to contribute future post, please get in touch.

The post below explores Keswick Museum’s unique collections by and connected to Robert Southey (1774-1843).

About the authors: Dr Charlotte May is a Cultural Engagement Fellow at the University of Nottingham, and Nicola Lawson is the Curator for the Museum’s extensive collections. 

View the other posts in the ‘Archive Spotlight’ series here.

Encountering Southey – Charlotte May

From February 2020 I have been working with Keswick Museum, Ian Packer and Lynda Pratt to deliver the AHRC-funded project ‘Robert Southey’s Keswick: Enhancing Understanding of the Literary Culture of the Northern Lake District’.  The project aims to effect a step-change in Keswick Museum’s presentation of the significance of Southey and his circle to a range of stakeholders by developing new educational, training and other resources.  It draws on The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, which is publishing for the first time all of Southey’s surviving correspondence, including hundreds of manuscript letters held by Keswick Museum.     

Working with archival materials is a privilege, and an experience that is truly unique. You learn about a person’s habits and behaviours, from their handwriting to their health. In Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, Oliver De Hamel writes about ‘the experience of encounter’ when one handles historic manuscripts. Indeed, I have certainly encountered Southey at Keswick Museum, and working with the collection there has been a true joy.

Robert Southey (1774-1843) was a prolific and controversial poet, biographer, historian, and essayist. He lived at Greta Hall, Keswick for forty years and during this time used his extensive correspondence to record changes in local, national and international life. About six hundred of Southey’s letters are in the Museum’s collections, along with manuscripts of major works such as Madoc, notebooks that reveal the reading and research that underpinned his writings, personal effects and portraits. The latter include one commissioned by Southey’s friend William Taylor of Norwich and painted by John Opie in 1806, that is currently the focal point of the Museum’s exhibition.

Robert Southey by John Opie, 1806

A second portrait shows Southey aged two.  In 1796 it was the prompt for verses in which Southey reflected on his younger self and on his decision to embark on a poetic career:  

‘And I was once like this! that glowing cheek
Was mine, those pleasure-sparkling eyes, that brow
Smooth as the level lake, when not a breeze
Dies o’er the sleeping surface!’

You can listen to the full poem here.

Miniature of Robert Southey, aged 2

To encounter Southey in Keswick is to take up an imaginative residence in Greta Hall, and to be among his extended family and his many friends and acquaintances. Indeed the Museum’s collections contain important evidence of Southey’s love for family and home, including the ‘Memoir of the Cats of Greta Hall’, written for Edith May Southey and later published in The Doctor. One of the most poignant items is the ‘Greek Grammar in Rhyme’ that Southey wrote for his son Herbert.  The death of the latter, aged nine, in April 1816 was a blow from which Southey and his wife Edith never fully recovered.  

Greek Grammar in Rhyme, written by Robert Southey for his son Herbert

After looking at this beautiful – and fragile – item, it was incredible to hear Herbert’s own voice in a letter he sent to a close family friend, Mary Barker.  The same letter contains a postscript by Herbert’s aunt Sara Coleridge and thus offers a reminder of the close familial, as well as professional, ties that connected and helped shape the lives and works of Southey and, indeed, other members of the ‘Lake School’.

Letter to Miss Barker from Herbert Southey, 3 November [1815]

The ‘Robert Southey’s Keswick’ project has contributed to the Museum’s new Southey exhibition and also produced a number of related outputs.  These include: training resources for the Museum’s guides and volunteers, a new guidebook on Robert Southey and Keswick, a learning box for schools, a walking tour, and online resources, including highlights from the Museum’s Southey collection that are not currently on display. By making this important collection better known and more accessible, the project also hopes to contribute to the Museum’s longer-term sustainability at a time when it, like other regional museums and archives, faces unprecedented challenges.

Our collections and their future – Nicola Lawson

Keswick Museum’s Southey collection is of huge historical value, and it is important that we care for it properly. The aim is that, as we are lucky enough to be able to see these objects 200 years after Southey lived, we preserve them so they last another 200 years and more.

This care involves two strands: preventative and remedial conservation. Preventative conservation is something we do every day at the Museum, and involves practices which slow down the deterioration of objects. For example, we make sure that paper objects, like Southey’s letters and notebooks, aren’t exposed to too much light. If you’ve ever had a picture facing a window, you know how quickly light can fade objects.

We also have to control the temperature and relative humidity of the spaces where the objects are stored and displayed. If the relative humidity in a room gets too high, there is moisture in the air and objects can become mouldy. If the relative humidity is too low, they can dry out and become brittle. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Other things we do to prevent damage and decay include regularly checking for pests, and preventing them as much as we can, and handling objects appropriately. This means always holding them by the base, and never by a handle, and usually wearing gloves. We wear gloves because hands naturally secrete oils which, over time, can be damaging to objects. Museum professionals used to wear cotton gloves, which are the type you’ll see most often on TV, but now we tend to use nitrile gloves. These give you a better grip on the object. For paper, we don’t wear gloves, as you can potentially do more damage by wearing them: if you can’t feel the paper properly, you might accidentally tear it. So we handle paper with clean, dry hands.

Keswick Museum curator Nicola Lawson with some of the Southey collection, including his death mask and his dress shoes.

Remedial conservation is different. This is restoring a historic object, and is only ever done by a qualified conservator. Currently, the ‘Greek Grammar in Rhyme’ booklet Southey wrote for Herbert has some pages which are coming loose from the binding. The Museum is trying to raise the money to have to have this restored by a conservator.

One of the ways the Museum is raising money is through its Adopt an Object scheme. Adopters can choose from a range of local objects to sponsor for a year, many of which are related to Southey and the Romantics. Adopt an Object packages are sold in the Museum shop, and orders can also be taken over the phone. All proceeds support the Museum mission to care for Keswick’s wonderful heritage. When you adopt an object you will receive a card featuring images of the Museum’s collections, a certificate featuring the name of the adopter and a picture of the chosen object, and a ticket to visit the Museum which is valid for 12 months.

The Romantic period objects up for adoption are:

  • John Opie’s portrait of Robert Southey – £150
  • Robert Southey’s notebook – £100
  • A lock of William Wordsworth’s hair – £40
  • Robert Southey’s death mask – £35
  • A poem to Robert Southey from his cats – £15

Keswick Museum is very proud to care for this large collection relating to Southey’s life and works, and to make it available for research in collaboration with the University of Nottingham.

To adopt an object and support the Museum to preserve its collections for future generations to enjoy, please visit our website, call Keswick Museum on 017687 73263, or visit the Museum at Station Street, Keswick.

If the Museum is closed due to a lockdown, please either order online, or call 017687 73263 and leave a message with your name, contact details, and request, and a member of staff will get back to you.

Romantic Circles Praxis Volume Announcement

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Romantic Circles is pleased to publish a new Praxis volume: The Sundry Faces of Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Jewish Literature, edited and introduced by Karen Weisman.

This volume brings together essays that highlight the breadth of nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish writers’ engagement with thematic and aesthetic preoccupations. Exploring aesthetic choices of Jewish writers whose political and cultural contexts put pressure on such choices, this collection features essays by Michael Scrivener, Heidi Kaufman, Sarah Gracombe, and Meri-Jane Rochelson.

You can find these new essays here.

Call for Papers – The Hazlitt Review 14 (2021)

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The Hazlitt Society is currently inviting contributions to the fourteenth issue (2021) of The Hazlitt Review.

Articles on any aspect of William Hazlitt’s work and life, or relating Hazlitt to wider Romantic themes and circles, are welcome. Submissions should be between 4000 and 9000 words in length, and follow MHRA style.

Please email submissions by 1 March 2021 to Philipp Hunnekuhl (, to whom you may also direct any queries.

The Hazlitt Society on Twitter: "Out now: The Hazlitt Review, vol. 12, ' Hazlitt and His Circle', with contributions from @DrFelicityJames, Michael  Steier, David Woodhouse, Mario Aquilina, and @saglia_dyg. For subscription  details, please

Funded Doctoral Award – Under the Volcano: Visitors to Vesuvius in the Romantic Era

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Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Oxford, in partnership with Dove Cottage, Grasmere.

Supervisory team: Professor Catriona Seth (Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford) and Jeff Cowton MBE (Dove Cottage)

Wordsworth famously wrote ‘On the Departure of Sir Walter Scott from Abbotsford, for Naples’. Like the author of Ivanhoe, French-language writers, among them Staël, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Bonstetten, Gautier… visited Naples and were inspired by the town and its surroundings. The environment drew them to evoke the sea and volcanic eruptions, to reflect on the inscription of history in the landscape, from Antiquity to contemporary upheavals. To many of them, setting foot on Neapolitan soil, things were both familiar and exotic. The port was a gateway to Africa, a hub for exchanges between North and South. The archaeological surveys in Pompeii and Herculaneum with the uncovering of frescoes and artefacts drew tourists back to their cultural heritage. The vedute painted by Volaire, John Warwick Smith and other (often less talented) painters graced many a wall throughout Northern Europe.

There is no study of Naples as viewed by late Enlightenment and Romantic French-language visitors. Noli’s 1928 Les romantiques français et l’Italie, Montègre’s massive 2011 La Rome des Français and the rich 2012 edited volume Dupaty et l’Italie des voyageurs sensibles (ed. Herman, Peeters and Pelckmans) give an indication of the importance of the French presence in Southern Italy, but also of the amount of work still to be done. There are considerable resources both in the form of ego-documents (travel notes, letters, memoirs etc.) and novels and poems. Many but by no means all have been published. Documents like letters held in Dove Cottage and the unpublished (and as yet never studied) visitors’ book kept between 1792 and 1804 by the ‘hermit’ who lived halfway up the slopes of Mount Vesuvius with its entries for hundreds of (famous and forgotten) visitors from throughout Europe offer considerable scope for research.

Under the supervision, in Oxford, of Professor Catriona Seth FBA, the student will transcribe and study these documents including the Album de l’hermite du Vésuve in order to gain invaluable elements for the thesis and to engage in a subsequent series of knowledge exchange events with Dove Cottage and the Maison de Chateaubriand, working with the curatorial and outreach teams.

There will be considerable scope for the student, who will have a good degree in French, possibly with another subject like Italian, English, Classics, History, Anthropology, Linguistics, Geography or History of Art, to shape the thesis subject according to their strengths and interests. Starting from the work on the Album, it might deal with depictions of the volcano in French and English texts of the period or look into French as a lingua franca for travellers in Italy at the time and at contemporary multilingualism. It could include prosopographical presentations of the visitors or reflect on the ‘Album’ format as a para-literary genre for instance.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Professor Catriona Seth with questions and for any guidance before submitting their application.

Applicants must following the guidance for those applying for studentship funding through the University of Oxford. Applications should be submitted for the DPhil in Medieval and Modern Languages by 8 January 2021.

Full details are available here.

BARS Digital Events – ‘Romantic Studies in 2020’ Recording Now Online

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The British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) is delighted to announce that the first session of our new Digital Events programme is now available as a recording on YouTube.

Thank you to everyone who joined us over Zoom for a roundtable discussion between Professor James Chandler, Professor Ian Duncan, Dr Katie Garner, Professor Essaka Joshua, and Professor Fiona Stafford on the topic of ‘Romantic Studies in 2020: Perspectives on the Field’, chaired by BARS Vice President Dr Gillian Dow. During this session, our guests presented perspectives on their current research and teaching before discussing the challenges faced by scholars and students of Romanticism in 2020, after which the audience were invited to take part in a moderated Q&A session.

Read more about the speakers here.

Find out about the next session on ‘Digital Editions in Romantic Studies’.  Please join us on 26 Nov at 5pm!

CALL FOR PAPERS: Special Issue “Romanticism and the Public Humanities”

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Editor: Dr. Elizabeth Effinger (University of New Brunswick)

This proposed special issue of Romantic Circles Pedagogy Commons will explore the relationship between Romanticism and the public humanities. The public humanities is an engaged scholarship that is meaningfully informed by the public, one that, as Julie Ellison and Timothy Eatman write, “contributes to the public good and yields artifacts of public and intellectual value” (“Scholarship in Public,” iv).

A core belief to this kind of pedagogy is that the public humanities works to imagine a more just future. How, as students and teachers of Romanticism, might our academic area help us dream together? What does a public humanities informed by Romantic thought look like? How does the public shape the research in our field? How have Romantic scholars turned their work to be public facing? What are the benefits and challenges in making our field and our classrooms more public facing? How can teaching Romanticism inspire community building and civic change? Can making Romanticism more public collude with the aspirations of the undercommons, the name that Fred Moten and Stefano Harney give to those scholars resisting and unworking the neoliberal and (neo)colonial university? These are some of the questions that papers in this collection might address.

The aim of this collection is to gather the stories of some of our field’s innovative scholar-teachers who are actively engaged in the praxis of the public humanities. Papers should be pedagogy-focused reflections on publicly engaged initiatives from a class that was recently taught (or will be taught). This might include coursework or projects that involve community engagement and learning outside the university (e.g., public lectures, op-eds, podcasts), that partner students with community members (e.g., non-profits, prison artivism), that develop engaged public programming or experiences (e.g., speaker series), or that establish supports for engaged scholarship (e.g., degree programs, funding opportunities, curriculum redesign).

Contributors from any stage of career are welcome, as are collaborations that feature the blended perspectives of faculty, students, community members and partners.

Articles should be between 5000-7000 words in length. Accepted finished essays will be due by August 2021. Potential Contributors should send proposals of 350 words and any questions to Dr. Elizabeth Effinger ( by January 15, 2021.

Five Questions: Katherine Bergren on The Global Wordsworth

Katherine Bergren is an Associate Professor of English at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where she teaches courses covering subjects including British Romanticism, postcolonial literature and the environmental humanities. Her research interests centre on the ways in which people around the world read and remake British poetry in their novels, essays, exams, imitations and parodies. Her first monograph, The Global Wordsworth: Romanticism Out of Place, which we discuss below, was published by Bucknell University Press in 2019.

1) How did you first become interested in Wordsworth’s global reach?

I was always interested in Wordsworth’s reception. I loved him when I first read him as an undergraduate, and my classmates hated him. Just that fact struck me. But when I was older, I remembered that I had had an earlier encounter with Wordsworth – when my cat had died in high school, my aunt had read aloud “I wandered lonely as a cloud” at our little cat funeral, and I remembered thinking, “this is an awful poem.” I didn’t know who Wordsworth was back then, and the memory only resurfaced in graduate school. So I had personal experience loving and hating Wordsworth and was generally interested in the extremities of those reactions.

In graduate school, I started noticing Wordsworth in places I didn’t expect – first in Lydia Maria Child’s anti-slavery writing, and I was confused to see her quoting Wordsworth with praise because I knew him to a pretty uncommitted abolitionist. Then I just kept collecting weird Wordsworth appearances. I was always playing with the tension between his strong association with a specific place at a specific time, his anti-cosmopolitanism, and his permeation into different contexts all around the world.

2) In your introduction, you ask ‘What can we see more clearly about Wordsworth’s poetry – and the Romanticism it has been taken to represent – when we return his poetry’s global travels to the picture?’  With the understanding that if this was straightforward, you wouldn’t have written a book to address the question, how might you sketch the main answers you identified?

For nearly thirty years, work in global Romanticism has been revealing just how deeply colonial practices and imperial ideologies permeated British Romantic literary culture. Every year at NASSR, Romanticism seemed to get more and more global. But the punchline was always “well, except for Wordsworth lol.” And since I had read The Excursion and The Guide to the Lakes, I knew that wasn’t quite right. The general distaste for Wordsworth’s later poetry (bad) and his later politics (reactionary) makes a lot of people reluctant to engage with the texts where he was actually reckoning with how the vast, global movement of goods and people and plants was affecting English workers and the English countryside. 

It took me a while to figure this out, but I treat his afterlives as a methodology. Like, instead of doing the historicist thing of reading Guide to the Lakes alongside Repton and Burke and all that British landscape picturesque stuff, what happens if we read it alongside Jamaica Kincaid’s gardening essays? What happens if we read The Excursion next to American abolitionist texts? How do these excellent readers of Wordsworth, speaking from radically different subject positions from my own, repurpose his poetry? What do they see that I don’t, and what can they help me to see?

3) How did you settle on your three principal case studies: Lydia Maria Child, J.M. Coetzee and Jamaica Kincaid?

For many years, I was just collecting data. So many people fed me examples – they probably don’t remember it, but I remember exactly who told me about Lucy, about Henry Ford, about Edwidge Danticat, about Toru Dutt, about J. M. Coetzee, about Barron Field.  

The three case studies emerged because of their complexity. I didn’t understand them at first. Child, Coetzee, and Kincaid knew Wordsworth well – they were reacting not just to Wordsworth the monolith but to specific aspects of his poetry. And as the book took shape, I liked that these three represented very different contexts in the long history of Wordsworth’s reception. 

I actually had to kick out a fourth case study called “The Wordsworth Family Business” about Jonathan Wordsworth and his two-part Prelude, and Richard Wordsworth and his Wordsworth conference, which really didn’t make sense as part of a book called “The Global Wordsworth.” It was more of a pet obsession. Cutting it helped me to sharpen my understanding of what the other three case studies were doing.

4) While your book focuses on Wordsworth, the success of your approach suggests there’s a lot of untapped potential in exploring the global reach of Romanticism.  Which other writers or aspects of the Romantic period do you think would benefit particularly from being reconsidered in a global context?

That’s a great question. Definitely. I think Burns and Scott make a lot of sense in this way (Ann Rigney has written about Scott, and Murray Pittock has edited a collection about Burns). Byron and Austen come to mind. I also think this work is already being done well – my book is in conversation with Nikki Hessell’s and Manu Chander’s. And I think Nikki’s work suggests how important it will be for scholars doing this work to do it in multi-lingual archives, and to develop the skills and collaborations necessary for working with such archives.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on an article about the racial politics of anonymous parodies in the nineteenth-century U.S, focused on parodies of Byron printed in newspapers. For a few years, I’ve also been digging in an archive of colonial matriculation exams, and I’m working on an article about their pedagogical presentation of Romantic poetry. Further afield, I’m also really interested in the canon of high school literature in the United States: its history, its shifting ideological commitments, and most of all, what teachers and students right now understand themselves to be learning from these texts.