CFP: “Romanticism & Evolution,” University of Western Ontario, 12-14 May, 2011

Conference website (which is beautiful):

The Romanticism Research Group at The University of Western Ontario invites paper and special session proposals for an international conference, “Romanticism & Evolution.” The meeting will convene at Windermere Manor next to Western’s main campus in London, Ontario, from 12 – 14 May 2011. To view the conference poster, please
click here

Keynote speakers will be:

  • Gillian Beer (Cambridge University)
  • Tilottama Rajan (University of Western Ontario)
  • Robert J. Richards (University of Chicago)


Though Romanticism is often imagined as the “age of revolution,” recent criticism has seen renewed interest in the general theme of “Romantic Evolution,” including the resurgence of such topics as organicism, vitalism, natural history, and natural philosophy. The objective of “Romanticism & Evolution” is to defamiliarize prevailing notions of evolution by tracing their origins to literary and scientific discourses of the transitional period 1775-1850, a time that witnessed the genesis of the modern idea of “literature” alongside the emergence of specialized disciplines, such as geology, biology, physiology, chemistry, psychology, and anthropology. Disenchanted with mechanistic science and Enlightenment rationalism, Romanticism also introduced a new organic image of the world, which displaced the older atomistic and static idea of nature with one that was dynamic and evolutionary. However, whether the organic mode of explanation replaced the mechanical philosophy as a radically incommensurable paradigm, or whether both coexisted in creative tension during and beyond the Romantic period, remains a matter for debate.
Revisiting important events and developments in the history of evolution prior to the publication of The Origin of Species, “Romanticism & Evolution” will focus critical attention on earlier, less recognized theories of change and transformation emerging in the cultural, literary, philosophical, and scientific debates of the Romantic period. Instead of searching through eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century science for “forerunners” to the Darwinian revolution, this conference aims to explore British and European Romanticism’s liminal position between the classical idea of an immutable “great chain of being” and the rise of modern discourses of historiography.

Suggested paper topics include (but are not limited to):

  • Collections, Museums, Gardens, Cabinets, and Natural History
  • Philosophies of Nature and Romantic Biology
  • Aesthetics and Poetics in light of Evolution
  • Literatures of Revolution, Evolution and Romantic Science
  • Romantic Ecology and Ecocriticism
  • The Pantheism Crisis, Naturphilosophie and the Romanticization of Spinoza
  • Colonialism, Imperialism, and Travel Narratives
  • Theories of the earth and the rise of the science of geology
  • Morality, Ethics, Affect, and the Scottish Enlightenment
  • Disaster, Catastrophe, and Natural Revolution
  • Romantic Vitalism, Organicism and Emergent Evolution
  • Theories of Preformationism, Epigenesis and Descent
  • Discourses of Sensibility, Excitability, Irritability
  • Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
  • Romantic Theologies, Creationism, and Intelligent Design
  • Genealogy, Archaeology, and Contemporary Theories of Change
  • Universal History, Cosmology, Natural Law, and Universal Peace
  • Germs, Disease, Illness, and Contagion
  • Theories of Race, Nationality, and Ethnicity
  • Romantic Animals, Mutation, and Monstrosity

Proposals for papers and sessions should be limited to 500 words. The deadline for the submission of abstracts for 20-minute presentations is 1 October 2010. Please include with your paper or session proposal, your name, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation. Abstracts should be e-mailed to

© 2009 The University Of Western Ontario — Department of English


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