English 521: Description

This course will consider Romantic literature in the context of travel, exploration and science between the years 1768, the year Captain James Cook embarked on the most important scientific journey of the 18th century, and 1833, the year slavery was banned in the colonies. We will investigate how discourses that have come to be called Romantic arose when and how they did partly in response to scientific manipulations of explorers’ encounters with foreign places and peoples. We will discuss how, in this era, old scientific disciplines, such as astronomy and botany, were transformed, and how new ones, like craniology and comparative anatomy, were brought into being. Scientific disciplines and explorer's accounts pushed literature of the period toward new subjects, forms, and styles. Works as diverse and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Wordsworth’s Excursion, Coleridge’s “Christabel” and Keats’s sonnets, responded to explorers’ and scientists’ latest discoveries. But as much as this was an era of appropriation, it was also, as Richard Holmes and Nigel Leask argue, an age of curiosity and wonder. In examining the role of exploration and its role in science and literature, we will read a range of sources, from post-colonial critics, to philosophers, feminist theorists, historians of science, ethnographers, popular writers, and literary scholars. The course will be structured to create an environment in which all are encouraged to go beyond the limitations of their previous work.


  • Romanticism, ed. Duncan Wu
  • 18th- and 19th-century primary science/exploration texts (in pdf format on the schedule)
  • Handouts of secondary sources (in pdf format on the schedule)
  • Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (pick up a copy on abebooks or at a used bookstore)
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (pick up a copy on abebooks or at a used bookstore)



  • I have made Julia Kristeva's reading for next week (9/16) optional so that we have time to follow up on our discussion of the sublime from this week (9/9).

  • The link to the handout--"Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful. Read excerpts from handout."--directed you to a piece by William Gilpin. I've fixed the link to direct you to excerpts from Burke's Sublime. Don't despair, however, if you also read Gilpin. We will discuss his work later this semester.

  • Remember to meet in MASC on Thursday, September 9, at 2:50.

  • Be prepared to write for 10-minutes at the end of next class period about what aspects of Romanticism, Science, and Travel you're personally interested in, as well as specific texts you may want to focus on.

  • Those of you who were waitlisted: Sarah White (in the English office) should be adding you to the class. If you are not registered by the end of the day on Friday, August 27, please email or visit her first thing Monday morning, August 30.

  • The North American Society for the Study of Romanticism was held in Vancouver, B.C. from August 18-23, 2010. There were numerous panels on Romanticism and Science: See the conference program HERE.





  • Did you know?

    Random foliage

    Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term "scientist" in 1833, at a meeting of the British Association of Science held in Cambridge? Coleridge said, “Science being necessarily performed with the passion of Hope, it is Poetical.”