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
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
Tuesday 5:30pm - 7:00pmMeet the DirectorFuture Student Event Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences;Faculty of Arts;
Artistic Exchange between China and the West during the Late Qing Dynasty (1796-1911)Editors: Petra ten-Doesschate Chu and Jennifer MilamNews
The new website of the Faculty of Arts recently established Enlightenment Romanticism Contemporary Culture (ERCC) research unit has been launched.News
Henry Smeathman, the Flycatcher: Natural History, Slavery, and Empire in the late Eighteenth CenturyNews
Jennifer Milam has been successful in a Miegunyah application for Andrew O'Shaughnessy.News
Professor Deirdre Coleman to give plenary panel addressPLENARY ADDRESS
Professor Deirdre Coleman to give keynote lectureKEYNOTE LECTURE
Directors and Lead researchers
Professor Peter Otto
Executive Director, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Contemporary Culture Research Unit (ERCC); Professor of Literature, 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; Head of School of Historical and Philosophical Studies and Professor of American History, 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
Associate 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 and Theatre Studies, School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne
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; Deputy Director and Convenor of Asian Studies in 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 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."
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
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 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 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 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.