Program Highlights

Program Dates

June 15 – July 27, 2024

Faculty Director

Professor Joe Fletcher, Department of English and Comparative Literature

This will be Professor Fletcher’s second time running the London & Oxford program. He last ran the program in summer 2022. Joseph Fletcher’s research focuses on the intersections of literature and natural philosophy in the long eighteenth century. He is the author of the scholarly monograph William Blake as Natural Philosopher, 1788-1795 (Anthem), the poetry collection The Hatch (Brooklyn Arts Press), the novella Jenny Haniver (Bored Wolves), and five chapbooks. He is the Assistant Editor of the William Blake Archive.

Program Highlights

The British Romantic period (~1789-1834) witnessed both a political revolution, in the overthrow of the French monarchy, and an aesthetic revolution, as the ideas proclaimed in William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Preface to the Lyrical Balladsupended prevailing literary values. These ideological transformations continue to influence our contemporary ideas about literature, art, politics, and the environment. Notably, insofar as this course is concerned, Romantic attitudes toward the natural world gave rise to modern conservation efforts and environmental movements. Being outside in nature, as the poet John Keats argued, is medicinal—much more than just a pretty backdrop for human affairs. Equally important to the British Romantic imagination was London, which was the epicenter of the rapid Western industrialization and modernization occurring during this period. Several prominent Romantic figures, including William Blake, made London their home despite expressing negative opinions about the city’s effects in their writing. The metropolis offered the culture and resources unavailable in more rural environments. Concurrently, Jane Austen’s work focused on the changing fortunes of a landowning class that, while reaping the profits of colonialism and agrarian capitalism, was driven by an ethos of landscape ‘improvement.’

We will spend our first two weeks in London, which offers an abundance of historical, literary, and artistic sites which will enrich our understanding of Romanticism’s historical context. From there we will head north for two weeks in the mountainous Lake District, which was home to Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, Coleridge, and other Romantic figures, and which has been preserved as a national park. These four weeks will thus provide a vivid contrast between urban and rural modes of being—both now and in the Romantic period. Our final two weeks will be spent in Oxford, a university town that combines both rural and urban characteristics, while also showcasing a storied academic tradition. We thus have a unique opportunity to study the literature and aesthetics of this period in the environments that profoundly influenced its core values. We will read, discuss, and write about major Romantic literary and aesthetic/philosophical works, to gain a sense of how attitudes toward the nonhuman world developed in literature and the visual arts over course of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Additionally, we will explore how the Romantic movement influenced 20th-century and contemporary literary figures—how many of its foundational aesthetic premises are still with us today.

In addition to studying the literature of the period, we will take multiple excursions (to borrow the title of one of Wordsworth’s early poems) through London, the rural surroundings of Oxford, and the Lake District, often following the very paths that the Romantics walked, bringing with us our texts, notebooks, pencils, and sensibilities sharpened by the landscape. We will also visit museums and cultural sites such as the Tate Britain, Keats House, the Oxford Museum of Natural History, and Dove Cottage in the Lake District.