Contemporary notions of critique, creativity, Literature, Nature, citizenship, human rights, democracy, scientific enquiry, and even the Human were forged by Enlightenment and Romantic thought. Yet this inheritance now seems threatened, paradoxically, by developments that it has helped engineer and with which it is still entwined: the digital revolution, globalisation, transnationalism, the environment crisis, and the emergence of artificial intelligence and autonomous technologies. Through innovative research, conferences, and public lectures, this research unit aims to re-envision the transition from Enlightenment to Romanticism and its legacies in the present. We believe it is important to ask, without nostalgia, what can we make of 'Enlightenment - Romanticism' now?
Banner image: Joseph Mallord William Turner. Waves Breaking against the Wind (detail) c.1840 Turner Collection, © Tate Photo © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)
The contrast between Enlightenment and Romanticism is commonly used to define the beginning and end, respectively, of the cultural shift that takes us from traditional to modern cultural forms. Our themes flag the complexity of this shift; the ways in which it was influenced, adopted, or challenged by non-European cultures; and its legacies in the present, including in Australia, which has been described variously as an Enlightenment and a Romantic project. Perhaps the most unexpected of these legacies is Climate Change (the Anthropocene), which is an outcome of cultural, technological, and imperial transformations that begin in the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. As this suggests, our themes are designed to sketch the chief contours of the field within which we are working - but they are also a manifesto, intended to flag the multi-faceted social and cultural environment from which the modern world has emerged.
The images lead to a summary of the relevant theme (alongside a list of related projects). Because our themes describe the field within which we are working, individual projects are likely to be listed against more than one theme. An alphabetical list of projects can be found under Projects.
Here you will find a list of research projects associated with the themes of the Enlightenment Romanticism Contemporary Culture research unit.
Architectures of Imagination: Bodies, Buildings, Fictions, and Worlds
British Romanticism and colonial modernity in India, 1780-1840
Climate Science Denialism and its populist Analogs
Critique, Creativity, Innovation
Gothic Fictions: Emotion, Contagion, and the Transformation of Experience in Modernity
Human Kind: transforming identity in Australian and British portraits 1700-1900
Kenzaburo Ōe and William Blake: Modernity, Romanticism, Japan
Literary Romanticism and the Media of Romantic Love
Observation and Analogy in Enlightenment and Romantic Natural History
Planters, Plantations and the State in the British Caribbean, 1713-1834
Reconstructing museum specimen data through the pathways of global commerce
Regency Flash: Britain, Ireland and Australia, 1788-1848
Slave Narratives in British and French America, 1740-1840
Slavery, Empire, and the Great Divergence (1690-1756)
Slavery in British Guiana in the Age of Revolution, 1804-1834
The Butterfly Men of Kuranda: natural history dealers in the 'deep north'
The Imperial History of the American Revolution
The Past and Present of Sugar
The Pasts and Futures of Virtual Reality
Theorising the online anti-public sphere
Transatlantic Gardens and Enlightenment Ideas in American Art
William Blake and the History of Imagination: Poetry, Prophecy, and Secularization
World Literatures, Theatres and Cultures research network
Translating European Culture to Colonial Melbourne: James Goold and his LegaciesConference Theology;collecting;Colonial;History;Art History;Architecture;
A new book by ERCC Co-Director and Lead Researcher Trevor Burnard is being published by Routledge this December.News
Awarded by the International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJF), the fellowship program at Monticello promotes research of Thomas Jefferson's life and times.News
The ERCC is thrilled to announce that Peter Otto has been awarded the prestigious title of Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor.News
The Creativity and Wellbeing Research Initiative (CAWRI) has announced its second tranche of seed funding.News
Congratulations to Dr Miranda Stanyon for being awarded a prestigious DECRA for her project on “War-Widow, Mother, Slave, Refugee: Andromache in Romantic Europe”News
The ERCC is delighted to be one of the sponsors of the 2019 ASCP Conference, which is set to be held at The University of Melbourne from 4-6 December 2019.News
Presented by the ERCC, this half-day graduate and early career researcher symposium will be held on Tuesday 19 November at the University of Melbourne. Registrations now closed.SYMPOSIUM
Directors and Lead researchers
Professor Peter Otto
Executive Director, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Contemporary Culture Research Unit (ERCC); Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor, English and Theatre Studies, The University of Melbourne
Peter Otto has published widely on William Blake, Gothic Fictions, dark Romanticism, popular entertainments, the prehistory of virtual reality, and Romanticism and contemporary culture. Recent publications include Multiplying Worlds: Romanticism, Modernity, and the Emergence of Virtual Reality (OUP 2011); 'Innovations in Encompassing Large Scenes', an online exhibition housed in the Romantic Circles Gallery of Visual Culture (2013); and William Blake: Selected Works in the 21st Century Oxford Authors Series (2018). He is consultant editor of The Victorian Popular Culture Portal: Spiritualism, Sensation, and Magic. His current research interests include the history of imagination and of imagination-machines; the pasts and futures of virtual reality; the post-secular; and the exchanges between architecture, fiction, imagination, and experience.
Phone: +61 3 8344 5482
Professor Trevor Burnard
Co-Director and Lead Researcher, ERCC; Professor of American History, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, the University of Melbourne
Trevor Burnard is a scholar of early American, imperial, world and Atlantic history, with a special interest in plantation societies in the New World and their connections to eighteenth-century modernity. Particular interests include slavery, social history and demography, imperialism, economic and business history, and gender. His work over the last decade has been especially concerned with identity in the New World in the eighteenth century and with how settler societies have been formed, or have failed to form in plantation societies in the Caribbean and the Chesapeake.
Phone: +61 3 8344 6886
Professor Deirdre Coleman
Co-Director and Lead Researcher, ERCC; Robert Wallace Chair of English, English and Theatre Studies, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Deirdre Coleman has published widely on the intersection of British Romantic literature with antislavery, natural history and colonialism. More recently she has been researching museum archives in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland for an ARC-funded Linkage project with the Australian Museum on the economics of the 19th-century natural history trade. She is also exploring the social history of collecting in Australia, looking in particular at the diverse community which produced knowledge about the natural world from earliest settlement onwards. Starting with the correspondence networks and journal publications of members of the Victorian Field Naturalists Club (established in the early 1880s), she examines the motives and interests of bushmen, commercial specimen dealers, amateur collectors and (from 1900 onwards) an increasing number of salaried museum professionals. Cross-cultural exchange between indigenous people and fieldwork collectors on the colonial frontier, especially in far north Queensland and the Northern Territory, forms another part of this project, the aim of which is to achieve a wider understanding of Australia's natural heritage and environmental history.
Phone: +61 3 8344 5496
Professor Jennifer Milam
Co-Director and Lead Researcher, ERCC; Head of School of Culture and Communication and Professor of Art History, the University of Melbourne
Jennifer Milam's research interests focus on understanding how the visual arts during the eighteenth century expressed philosophical ideas that rivalled the exposition of Enlightenment concepts in texts. Arguably what changed from the mid-eighteenth century onwards was broader exposure to 'big ideas' in visual form. Enlightenment ideas enjoyed wider circulation and cultural uptake through public exhibitions of art works that engaged audiences in interpretive response to aspects of the Enlightenment project. Milam will use her expertise in exactly this area to provide input into the research program of the ERCC by keeping this aspect of the Enlightenment in focus and elaborating upon its legacy in the contemporary culture sector.
Phone: +61 3 8344 8639
Professor Clara Tuite
Co-Director and Lead Researcher, ERCC; English and Theatre Studies, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Clara Tuite works in the literary and cultural history of Romanticism, with a particular interest in the work of Jane Austen and Lord Byron. Her research engages eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Romantic literature and culture from the perspectives of the history of the literary institution, sociability, fashion, history of emotions and sexuality studies, as well as the endurance of literary and popular Romanticisms in the contemporary moment.
Phone: +61 3 8344 4216
Associate Professor Mark Davis
Lead Researcher, ERCC; Publishing and Communications, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Mark Davis' current research focuses on online 'anti-publics' and extreme online discourse, Australian digital literary cultures and taste making, changing media ecologies and the cultural politics of gatekeeping and disintermediation, Australian public culture, and media representations of young people. The first of my two current research projects focuses on post-digital literary cultures and the destabilisation of the literary-print cultural field by digital media. My second project focuses on online anti-publics, such as the alt-right, neo-reactionary (NRx) groups, anti-vaccination groups, anti-climate-science groups, and white nationalist groups, who use digital media to create communities that position themselves against basic democratic, scientific, and enlightenment principles.
Phone: +61 3 8344 3349
Dr Thomas H. Ford
Lead Researcher, ERCC; Lecturer in English, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University
Thomas Ford's work focuses on poems and other texts from Romanticism and the long eighteenth century. He reads this archive in the historicist traditions of philological materialism, and in light of the transdisciplinary imperatives of the environmental humanities. Ford calls this approach 'ecophilology' (a discipline that explores the role of textual environments in various settings, in all kinds of media, from the ancient cave drawings and graffiti to the contemporary electronic media). You can read about it in his new book, Wordsworth and the Poetics of Air (Cambridge University Press, April 2018).
Professor Vedi Hadiz
Lead Researcher, ERCC; Director and Professor of Asian Studies at the Asia Institute, the University of Melbourne
Vedi Hadiz's research interests revolve around political sociology and political economy issues, especially those related to the contradictions of development in Indonesia and Southeast Asia more broadly, and more recently, in the Middle East. Professor Hadiz's latest book is entitled Islamic Populism in Indonesia and the Middle East (Cambridge University Press 2016). His other books include Localising Power in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia: A Southeast Asia Perspective (Stanford University Press 2010) as well as the co-edited Between Dissent and Power: The Transformation of Islamic Politics in the Middle East and Asia (Palgrave Macmillan 2014).
Dr Anita Archer
Research Coordinator, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Contemporary Culture Research Unit, Faculty of Arts, the University of Melbourne
Anita Archer is an art historian whose research focus is contemporary art markets, with interest in the changing dynamics of primary and secondary markets, the evolving domination of multinational auction houses and the networked activities of art world intermediaries in the translocation of art globally. Anita's PhD thesis examined the emerging market for Chinese Contemporary Art in the West and her recent focus is the role of Singapore as an art market hub for Southeast Asia. Anita's research interest stems from her extensive work experience in the global art field as an international auctioneer and independent art consultant specialising in Asian contemporary art.
Associate Professor Justin Clemens
Academic, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Justin Clemen's work focuses primarily on the relationships between poetry, psychology and philosophy in Romantic and post-Romantic writing. He has written extensively on figures such as Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Alain Badiou, as well as on themes of slavery and technology. His recent books include What is Education? (Edinburgh UP 2017), edited with A.J. Bartlett and The Afterlives of Georges Perec (Edinburgh UP 2017), edited with Rowan Wilken.
Photo credit: Nicholas Walton-Healey
Dr Sean Gaston
Visiting Scholar, Wolfson College Oxford (2017-2018), Emeritus Reader in English, Brunel University, London, and Honorary Research Fellow, the University of Melbourne
I am exploring 'the eighteenth century origins of modernity'. I have focused on concepts of disinterest, sympathy and pity, as well as fictions of imprudence and the invention of the literary character. I am now working on concepts of world in British Romanticism, Revolutionary America and the 'Atlantic World'.
Dr Steven Hampton
Sessional Lecturer in English and Theatre Studies, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Steven Hampton's research centres on the multilingual and transnational nature of cultural and literary production during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in particular the interrelations between literatures in English, French and German. His current focus is the national epic as it was reconstructed, rediscovered or invented during the Age of Revolutions in Europe.
Dr Alexandra Hankinson
Research Assistant, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Contemporary Culture Research Unit, Faculty of Arts, the University of Melbourne
Alexandra Hankinson’s research focuses on the literary and cultural history of biological thought and phenomena from the Enlightenment to the present. Her doctoral thesis explored the cross-section between figurative and scientific thought in the botany and zoology of the long eighteenth century, with emphasis given to the way in which observation and analogy came together in this period to uncover and explain the affinities of living objects. She has published on the poetic and scientific history of insect pollination in Romanticism (2019) and is currently working on an online exhibition for the Romantic Circles Gallery of Visual Culture on hybrid and interspecific relationships. Her present research interests include the co-functioning of art and science in the discovery and description of camouflage and mimicry; histories of biodiversity and ecology in Australia; field notes; imaginative and scientific responses to avian migration; and seasonality and harvest in Romantic art and literature.
Dr James Jiang
School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
James Jiang's research traces the residues of Romantic thought in modern and contemporary British and American writing. His recent articles on William James and Marianne Moore draw out the implications for literary modernism and philosophical pragmatism of concepts such as style and character - concepts which assume their modern shape in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. James is currently at work on a project entitled Sage Modernism that explores the intersection between pragmatist poetics and therapeutic culture.
Dr Claire Knowles
Senior Lecturer in English Literature, La Trobe University, Melbourne
Claire Knowles has published numerous articles on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women writers. Her book, Sensibility and Female Poetic Tradition, 1780-1860: The Legacy of Charlotte Smith, was published by Ashgate in 2009 and she also recently edited, with Ingrid Horrocks, Charlotte Smith: Major Poetic Works (Broadview, 2017.) She is currently working on a project on newspaper poetry and popular literary culture in the Romantic period titled, "Romanticism, Newspapers, and the Democratization of Poetry, 1785-1810."
Dr Marc Mierowsky
McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Marc Mierowsky's research ranges broadly across period and genre, but is unified by the drive to investigate questions of collective identity and uncover the cultural dimensions of citizenship. He is one of the editors of Daniel Defoe's Correspondence (along with Nicholas Seager and Andreas Mueller) forthcoming with Cambridge University Press, and editor (along with Nicholas Seager) of Defoe's Roxana, forthcoming with Oxford World's Classics. His interest in Enlightenment thought and literature coheres around questions of sovereignty, naturalisation and constitutionality, the emergence of common-sense philosophy and theories of intersubjectivity. He is currently working on two discrete but overlapping projects: a narrative history of the group of spies whose work helped bring Scotland into an incorporated Union with England in 1707 and a cultural history of naturalisation in Britain and the Australian colonies. In recent work he has focused on the enlightenments of Eastern Europe, with particular emphasis on the Haskalah (or Jewish Enlightenment) and its influence on contemporary literature, ethics and stand-up comedy.
Associate Professor John Rundell
Principal Fellow, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne and Adjunct Professor in Philosophy, La Trobe University, Melbourne
John Rundell's research focuses on the problems of the imagination, creativity and modernity. As ERCC Research Fellow he is especially interested in the themes of 'Critique, Creativity, Comparison' and 'Worldiness, Cosmopolitanism, Globalisation'. His publications include Origins of Modernity; Imaginaries of Modernity; Aesthetics and Modernity Essays by Agnes Heller; Rethinking Imagination (with Gillian Robinson); Blurred Boundaries (with Rainer Bauboeck), and ‘Creating Social Theory: Enlightenment, Romanticism, Revolution’ in The Handbook for Social Theory edited by George Ritzer and Barry Smart. He is currently completing a book on the work of Immanuel Kant entitled Kant and Critical Theories before turning to another entitled The Creative Imagination: From Kant to Castoriadis and Beyond.
Dr Miranda Stanyon
Lecturer in Comparative Literature, King's College London
Miranda Stanyon's research focuses on enlightenment and Romantic era literature in Britain and Germany and takes a comparative approach to aesthetics, as a key field in constructing the post-enlightenment human subject and configuring its relationships with nature. She has published on the sublime, music and sound, emotions history, and visual culture.
Dr Phil Habil Jennifer Wawrzinek
English Institute, University of Potsdam
Jennifer Wawrzinek’s research focuses on the intersections between the political and the ethical in literature and culture of the Romantic and post-Romantic eras. She recently completed a monograph entitled Beyond Identity: Romanticism and Decreation, which investigates modes of decreation in British Romanticism as a response to the political and ethical crises of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Jennifer is currently editing, together with Lisa O’Connell (UQ), a special issue of the journal Postcolonial Studies which will investigate the ways in which global movements and colonial contact in the long eighteenth century can be seen to have transformed or reinvented European literature and culture of the period. She is currently developing a new research project which aims to investigate Romantic models of relationality in which (human) being is conceived as embedded within a world that is not only biological, but techno-ecological as well. This project is particularly interested in the human-animal-machine formations of William Blake.
Early career researchers
Dr Jodie Heap
Associate of the School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Jodie’s research focuses on Western philosophical conceptions of the imagination and the imaginary from Aristotle to Castoriadis. Her PhD thesis, titled The Imagination. The Seed of Indeterminacy in the Writings of Kant, Fichte and Castoriadis, offered a scholarly elucidation of the notion of the imagination and the imaginary as well as provided a new way of thinking about the imagination as an embodied power of formation and of creation fundamental to both the ontology of being and of ways of being. Her area of research also explores the role of the imagination and the imaginary in relation to the concepts of creation and creativity, and in relation to creative forms of thinking and of practice, both at the level of the individual and society. Jodie has a particular interest in the ERCC project ‘Creativity, Critique, Innovation’ and has contributed to the ERCC seminar series in her seminar titled, Unleashing the Creative Imagination in the Domains of the Humanities, Science and Art.
Dr Callum Reid
Associate of the School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne
Callum Reid is an art historian whose research fields include museology, printmaking, early modern art and decorative arts, with a particular focus on the formation of collections and their reception. Callum is further interested in the history and provenance of objects, having also spent several years working in the art market and collecting institutions. Adapted from his PhD, his upcoming monograph Collecting and display in the Uffizi Gallery: Art in the age of the grand dukes (Routledge, 2021) is a museological study into Florence's state gallery, and its early incarnations under the control of Medici and Lorraine grand duchies (1580-1859). Callum's research into 18th and 19th century museums aligns with the ERCC theme of Critique, Creativity, Comparison, as collectors and administrators toyed between the new trend of didactic arrangements and the self-representation of aesthetic displays.
PhD candidate in Screen and Cultural Studies, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Corey Cribb specialises in film theory and the continental philosophy of film. Focusing on the film-philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Jean-Luc Nancy, his research considers the potential of modern cinema to perpetuate the non-mediated transformation of the world and occasion the ontological renewal of thought, bodies and ways of being-in-the-world. In part, this involves a consideration of the palpable influence of Maurice Blanchot’s literary ontology upon these thinkers, and the subsequent question of why Deleuze and Nancy maintain that the marked passivity (or worklessness) of modern cinema harbours unprecedented potential for ontological change and the restoration of belief in a world from which we are said to be absent. Beyond the notion of worklessness as "the most essential - the most romantic and the most modern - gesture in romanticism" (Watt, 2017, pp. 18), Corey's research connects with the concerns of the ERCC by seeking to show how some of the most ground breaking developments in film theory today bear the influence of debates which can be traced back to German Idealism.
PhD candidate in English Literature, Flinders University, Adelaide
Todd Dearing’s work focuses on Romantic ideas of the human and conceptions of imagination, creativity, and genius. He explores how these ideas impact upon contemporary literary criticism and contemporary ideas of the human. He is currently completing his doctorate thesis on the trope of the daimon in William Blake's magnum opus, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, read as an allegory for literary practice. His broader research interests include English and German Romantic literature, art, and philosophy, (post)humanism, contemporary literary criticism, poetry, mythopoeia, and the links between psychology and literature.Todd is interested in the ERCC themes 'Creativity, Critique, Comparison' and 'Actual, Mixed, and Virtual Realities', and the ERCC research projects 'Critique, Creativity, Innovation', 'William Blake and the History of Imagination', and 'Gothic Fictions'.
PhD candidate in English and Theatre Studies, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Francesca Kavanagh specialises in eighteenth and nineteenth-century women’s reading and writing practices with a focus on material culture. She is also interested in the gothic and cultures of celebrity and fandom from Romanticism to the present. Her current project examines practices of letter-writing, annotation, and commonplacing from a range of women writers throughout the long eighteenth century and pairs this archival material with fictional accounts of these practices by Samuel Richardson and Jane Austen to elucidate the ways in which women in the long eighteenth-century used these textual practices in the production of textual and virtual spaces of intimacy. She currently has a journal article forthcoming in The Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies entitled "'Marianne Knight | Godmersham Park': Inscription as Community Interface in the Books of Jane Austen's Niece". She is interested in a number of the ERCC's current themes, including Actual Mixed and Virtual Realities and Worldliness, Cosmopolitanism, Globalisation, as well as opportunities for future collaborations.
PhD candidate in Arabic, Asia Institute, the University of Melbourne
Tarek researches the content and context of traditions of philology with a particular emphasis on the Arabic tradition. Philology here is used in the traditional sense of studying texts and thus encompasses a broad array of activities including grammar, codicology, hermeneutics (in its broad meaning), literary criticism, and history. Tarek reads these philological works embedded in their socio-intellectual context, often revealing counter-intuitive results. His current project investigates the flow of Arabic philological learning from Islamic Spain to Egypt and the Levant in the 13th and 14th centuries. While maintaining his interest in the breadth of the ERCC’s themes and activities, Tarek is focused on two themes: 'Non-European Enlightenments and Romanticisms' and 'Worldliness, Cosmopolitanism, Globalisation'. He is also currently working with ERCC researchers to put together a seminar series on Islamic Enlightenments.
PhD Candidate in Art History, School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne
Belinda Scerri's research explores French Rococo interior ornament, patronage and the ascendancy of ornémaniste artists in early eighteenth-century Paris. Her broader research interests include: the South Sea Bubble, Système Law and economic collapse of 1720 through an art historical lens; early modern collecting and commissioning cultures; mercantilism and the establishment of Royal manufactories; exoticism and cosmopolitanism in French Régence art and architecture. She is a founding member of the Centre of Visual Art (CoVA) doctoral academy and a 2019/2020 research fellow at the UCLA Center for Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Studies. She is currently writing a book chapter entitled '"Instructing herself by fad or fancy": Depictions and Fictions of Female Connoisseurs in Eighteenth-century Paris' which will appear in Portraits & Poses: Representations of Female Intellectual Authority, Agency and Authorship in Early Modern and Enlightenment Europe (Leuven and Cornell UP, 2020).
PhD candidate and Teaching Associate, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, the University of Melbourne
Samuel Watts researches and writes about the experiences of African Americans in the Deep South during Reconstruction. His focus is on how formerly enslaved people interpreted ideas of freedom and citizenship in violently contested urban spaces, while working to construct and maintain lasting communities and networks. Additionally, Samuel is broadly interested in the historical legacies of racial discourse in the US, Australia and beyond. He currently has a book chapter in peer-review, entitled: “Reconstruction Justice: African American Police Officers in Charleston and New Orleans,” in Freedom’s Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World, eds. Simon Lewis and Adam Domby (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019 - forthcoming). He is interested in a number of ERCC projects, most notably those focused on slavery, and has an ongoing interest in the legacies of Enlightenment thought in debates about race, citizenship and revolution.
Modell Romantik Research Training Group, Friedrich-Schiller University Jena