RSAA 2011: Romanticism and the Tyrannies of Distance (Inaugural Meeting, University of Sydney, 2011)

Romantic Conversations (RSAA Postgraduate Symposium, University of Melbourne, 2012)

Romantic China (University of Sydney, 2013)

RSAA 2013: Global Romanticism (Biennial Meeting, University of Sydney, 2013)

Romantic Connections (NASSR Supernumerary Meeting supported by RSAA, University of Tokyo, 2014)

RSAA 2015: Re-Reading Romanticism (Biennial Meeting, University of Melbourne, 2015)

1816-2016, ‘The Year Without a Summer’ (Victoria University of Wellington, 2016)

RSAA 2017: 'Transporting Romanticism' (Biennial Meeting, Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington, 2017)



RSAA 2011: Romanticism and the Tyrannies of Distance
Inaugural Meeting, University of Sydney
THE EAST COAST of New Holland was discovered and mapped by Captain James Cook, its flora and fauna recorded and categorised by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, in the autumn of 1770, the same year that saw the births on the other side of the world of Wordsworth and Beethoven, making the origin and establishment of the modern Australian nation coincident with the origin and establishment of what we conventionally, if controversially, refer to as the Romantic period. This coincidence, though only one of a number of reasons for forming a confederation of Australasian Romanticists, is nonetheless a compelling one, and we invite scholars of the period from all over the world, as well as from Australia and New Zealand, to join us in marking and celebrating the foundation of the RSAA with a major scholarly event.

The theme of the conference is named after the Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey’s now classic account of the way the geographical remoteness of Australia has shaped its history and identity. From here, it is but a small step to seeing the way in which all kinds of distance – and the will to overcome distance – conditioned and challenged the writers and thinkers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Indeed, in the spirit of new beginnings, scholars are encouraged to use the historical distance of the early twenty first century and the geographical and cultural distance of the Great South Land to reconceptualise the geographical and cultural field of Romantic studies.

Keynotes: Nicholas Roe (St. Andrews), James Chandler (Chicago)

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Romantic Conversations: The Human, the Inhuman, the non-Human
RSAA Postgraduate Symposium, University of Melbourne, 2012
One of the characteristic features of British Romanticism is a pervasive belief in the transformative power of Nature. For the Wordsworth of The Prelude, this entailed a tempering of his youthful energies and animalistic passions so as to become a wiser, more mature man and poet. But many of Wordsworth’s precursors and contemporaries were concerned with more literal transformations. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Lord Monboddo pointed to uncanny similarities between humans and great apes and wondered about one transforming into the other. Ethicists began to question whether animals might possess rights to match those conferred on men and women by Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. Social philosophers began to unpick the Enlightenment conception of the ‘state of nature’, while new ideas advanced by their counterparts in political economy (Malthus and Ricardo most prominently) were denounced as inhuman responses to social problems. Meanwhile, a number of dramatic scientific advances raised disturbing questions about humanity’s future; for Mary Shelley, amongst others, it became possible to imagine manufacturing humans (but would they be human?).
In this postgraduate symposium, we aim to explore the – at times – uncertain borders between humans and non-humans in Romantic literature and culture and, in particular, the occasions for conversations between the two. Key questions include: what does it mean to be human? What are our rights and responsibilities towards non-human animals? Is it possible to lose our humanity and transform into animals, or even monsters? And what roles, more broadly, did nature, reason, the imagination, and science play in this period’s conceptualisation of humanity?
Keynotes: R.S. White (University of Western Australia), Peter Otto (Melbourne), John Rundell (Melbourne)

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Romantic China
A Colloquium, University of Sydney, 2013

This colloquium is concerned with cultural relations between China and the West in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - a period which witnessed, along with the violence, some of the first steps in the long and difficult (and ongoing) process of mutual adjustment by two powerful but very different civilisations. This was the first in what we hope will become a series events and conversations taking place in universities throughout the Asian and Australasian regions. It is our intention to establish a research network of scholars from both Western universities and the universities of China and other Eastern nations with the broad aim of mapping and interpreting events and cultural interactions during the gradual opening up of China to an enterprising and expansive West during the Qing dynasty, as respective Chinese emperors developed different policies of accommodation and exclusion in reaction to different and accumulating pressures from Western commerce and religion. Our focus will be on the way different events, as well as the different ideas and beliefs and cultural practices of the Chinese and Western nations, were understood and evaluated - and misunderstood and misevaluated - by each other. Art, architecture, literature, music, science, politics, gender and family relationships, cooking, dress - how did they (literally) see each other, and how did they interpret what they saw? What artistic and cultural influences resulted from contact and trade, with what long-term benefits or legacies? What passed for knowledge in China and the West, and how were these different knowledges and knowledge economies modified by their contact?

The aim is to bring into play different national and disciplinary perspectives to achieve a more thorough and cross-culturally nuanced understanding of the political, economic, and cultural background to current negotiations and realignments taking place between different nations in the East and the West.

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RSAA 2013: Global Romanticism
Biennial Meeting, University of Sydney
MUCH of the recent scholarly activity in the area of Romantic studies has concentrated on ‘the four nations’: England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The second biennial conference of the antipodean Romantic Studies Association of Australasia would like to turn that on its head and to ask, again, about British Romanticism’s engagement with the rest of the world, and about the rest of the world’s engagement with British Romanticism. In the past twenty years, scholars like those who have agreed to share their thoughts and findings in keynote lectures at this conference have established the fact that Romanticism and the Romantic period need to be understood in global terms. Far from being a merely national or even European phenomenon, Romanticism – or the cluster of ideas and cultural forms and the structures of feeling associated with Romanticism – is shot through with the experience and imagination of the Americas, including the recently United States with whom Britain was briefly at war; of Africa, north, south, and central; of Russia and the Ottoman empire; of Persia, India, China and the far east; of the penal colony of New South Wales and beyond that the Pacific and its islands. Again, as with our first biennial conference on Romanticism and the Tyranny of Distance, we are inviting scholars from all over the globe to use the historical distance of the twenty first century and the geographical and cultural distance of the Great South Land to reconceptualise and remap the geographical and cultural field of Romantic studies.
Keynotes: Alan Bewell (Toronto), Paul Giles (Sydney), Peter Kitson (Dundee), Liam McIlvanney (Otago)
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Romantic Connections
NASSR Supernumerary Meeting supported by RSAA, University of Tokyo, 2014
Over the last two decades, there has been sustained scholarly interest in the connections between European Romanticism and the peoples, and literatures of the rest of the world. In addition to discussing representations of the “East” by Romantic authors, there has been a growing trend towards viewing Romanticism itself in a global context, as a movement shaped by wider eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century forces of trade, migration, material circulation, intellectual exchange, slavery, and colonialism.

While our approach will be informed by the legacy of Saidian “Orientalism,” we are particularly interested in models of intercultural connection which refine or challenge totalizing models of domination and subordination. We welcome papers that shed light upon the question of Romantic “connection” from the broadest range of perspectives: imaginative, linguistic, material, social, sexual, scientific, economic, and political.

Keynotes: Christoph Bode (LMU Munich), James Chandler (Chicago), Angela Esterhammer (Toronto), Peter Kitson (University of East Anglia), Jonathan Lamb (Vanderbilt University), Kiyoshi Nishiyama (Waseda University)

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RSAA 2015: Re-Reading Romanticism - Imagination, Emotion, Nature and Things
Biennial Meeting, University of Melbourne
Re-reading is a key practice for the humanities: it is one of the most important ways in which, on the one hand, the past is made available to the present and, on the other hand, ‘new’ sign systems are forged. More broadly, re-reading (understood as the bivalent process sketched above) is a powerful mode of Romantic creativity and, in this guise, one of the chief ways in which modernity discovers and realizes ‘various possibilities of order on the basis of an increasing freedom and a growing distance vis-à-vis an established reality’ (Luhmann, Art as a Social System). William Blake’s re-reading of Swedenborgian and Moravian discourses, for example, produces a sign-system (a poetic/analytic discourse) that to a surprising degree draws apart from its sources, while remaining independent of conventional semiotic repertoires existing at the time. Although the sources are different, much the same might be said of Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Smith, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Robinson, William Wordsworth, and outside Britain, Olympe de Gouges, Germaine de Staël, Novalis, and many others. Romanticism itself has been the site of numerous re-readings, in which the same bivalent process can be observed; and Romanticism in its various guises continues to be re-read by important strands of contemporary culture. Most prominently, Romantic re-readings of earlier notions of imagination, passion, perception, nature, and things, exert a profound influence on, even as they are being re-read by, contemporary thought. Equally powerful forms of re-reading occur when European Romanticism crosses cultures and is read in China, India, Japan, and so on, and this is evident in the work of Rabindranath Tagore and Kenzaburo Oe, amongst many others. Seen in this light, re-reading converges with contemporary discourses of imagination, innovation, and creativity, whether deployed for politically conservative or progressive ends. Given its importance, it is surprising that so little attention is given to re-reading (as distinct from, say, intertextuality or the study of influence) and that so few accounts of re-reading engage with the bivalent process sketched above. It is our hope that ‘Re-reading Romanticism’ will begin to redress this balance, by providing an opportunity to explore this topic and its significance for the Humanities today. The work of Marilyn Butler will be one of the foci of our discussions. Butler’s strong re-reading of Romanticism has shaped the field we inhabit today, and this conference is intended to honor her memory.
Keynotes: Peter Otto (Melbourne),  Mary Jacobus (Cambridge/Cornell), Jon Mee (York), Tilottama Rajan (University of Western Ontario)
1816-2016, ‘The Year Without a Summer’
A Bicentenary Symposium, Victoria University of Wellington, 2016 
The catastrophic 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia triggered a global disaster. Blasting the top off the mountain, the eruption killed thousands and propelled masses of dust into the stratosphere where it circulated in a veil around the earth for years. One of the results was the ‘year without a summer’, with snowfalls and frosts in the summer months of 1816. The relentless bad weather inspired artists and poets, with William Turner recording the strangely spectacular sunsets in his paintings, Mary Shelley creating her apocalyptic novel Frankenstein, and Lord Byron composing ‘Darkness’:
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air; (1-5)
This free, one-day symposium will provide a platform for discussion about various expressions of art, literature, science, and thought during the ‘year without a summer’. There will also an opportunity to see some of the 1816 treasures from the Alexander Turnbull Library Rare Book Collection. 
Keynotes: Clara Tuite (Melbourne)
RSAA 2017: Transporting Romanticism
Biennial Meeting, Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington
In the last decades of Humanities scholarship, mobility and mediation have become increasingly central, as scholars emphasise boundary-crossing rather than differentiation, movement rather than stasis, and such ideas as the porosity of individuals and communities, and a world connected in unforeseen and complex ways by the circulation of global traffic. Movements of people, objects, information, genres, and feelings, both within intimate spaces and over vast distances, have come to seem increasingly important, becoming central to work of scholars such as Celeste Langan, Alan Bewell, Mary Favret, Adela Pinch, Miranda Burgess and many others. The Romantic era provides a particularly apt site for these critical discussions because it marks the period in which a shift occurred toward thinking in terms of mobility that would become associated with modernity. Mediation contributes to the idea of mobility by suggesting liminal states, border-crossings, and negotiations, but has also been used in the work of Kevis Goodman and others to suggest the way in which Romantic literature is shaped both by the medium in which it is consumed, and by the tangential texts, disciplines, and discourses which it rubs up against. This conference aims to move between mediation and mobility, to suggest the ways in which “transport” might be understood as a range of places, motions, emotions, experiences, and reconfigurations.
Conference organisers: Nikki Hessell ( and Ingrid Horrocks (
Keynotes: Gillian Russell (Melbourne) and Celest Langan (Berkeley)

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