Guyer, "Public Romanticism and the Public Humanities: A Graduate Seminar"

"Public Romanticism and the Public Humanities: A Graduate Seminar"

Sara Guyer
University of Wisconsin-Madison


1.        In the spring of 2013 I taught a new graduate seminar on “Public Romanticism and the Public Humanities.” The course rested on the assumption that the turn to thinking about publics in romanticism (from work on print culture and publication, to political culture, posterity, and more recently the romantic lecture) could help us to understand the emerging field of the public humanities and could exemplify the possibility of a serious engagement with public scholarship that overcomes the putative opposition between theoretical rigor and expanding audiences. The aim of this course was to consider the “resistance to public scholarship,” along the lines that Paul de Man (and later J. Hillis Miller and Rey Chow) examined the resistance to - and of - theory.

2.        As Director of the Center for the Humanities at UW-Madison, I am intensely focused on two overlapping aspects of the public humanities, (1) the development of new audiences for research in the humanities and relatedly of a culture in which scholars and not only journalists help to shape public discourse (2) the recognition that due to shrinking enrollments on campuses and growing enrollments online, the job market for humanities PhDs is as tight as ever. Rather than simply give up on the PhD in the humanities, discouraging even our best undergraduates from undertaking graduate work, I advocate strongly for the position that we should begin to see the PhD, , as preparation for a range of careers. To make good on this position, I am committed to developing new opportunities to prepare our graduates for careers other than those as tenure-track professors and also to help effect a cultural shift that registers the value of the humanities. My most recent efforts have included, the development and implementation of job-based fellowships in cultural institutions in lieu of TA-ships, programs for graduate students (and faculty) who wish to translate their research into projects that will reach new audiences, and this course.

3.        Now, a course on romanticism seems like one of the least likely places to explore these shifts and possibilities, but the poetry that interests me and that I love to teach – poetry that is alternatively hermetic and activist, and resistant in every sense – turns out to be a model for thinking about the very relations that are at the heart of contemporary discussions of the public humanities: questions of the individual, the poor, education, cities, the value of poetry and the arts, vocation, etc. Thus, in preparation for the development of a full-scale graduate certificate in the Public Humanities, I undertook to offer an experimental graduate seminar that set out from thinking about romantic, idealist, and post-romantic theories of the public (and in particular , e.g., Schiller, Habermas) before turning to an intensive examination of romantic poetry and its readers (Wordsworth, Shelley, Clare, and Keats) and culminating in a consideration of contemporary reflections on the humanities (e.g., recent essays collected in and elsewhere) and examples of public experiments (in the digital public sphere above all, but also including the Movement). For their final paper, students were given the option of writing a conventional seminar paper (these included an essay on Byron’s hands, on Clare as a public poet, and on the letter from the editor in the nineteenth century press and its parallels in contemporary internet culture) or developing a project that could reach a broader audience, which included an essay on popular environmental poetry written for a popular audience, and a video on the public eye of Google Earth.

4.        While much of the recent work in the public humanities has focused on public scholarship by historians and on storytelling more generally, with this course I expected graduate students in literature – indeed in a field that is at once popular (who doesn’t love Keats!?!) and obscure (who reads poetry!?!) – to discover that their work can at once maintain the highest levels of scholarly rigor and also find audiences and recognition beyond the narrowest domains of their field. Weekly course discussions often exceeded the topics formally outlined and included avid discussions of access (digital and physical); university administration; the value of close reading and that of computational methods and statistical research (heightened by Mary Poovey’s visit to campus the previous semester). Students emerged energized. Those who doubted whether they would stick with the PhD program found a new way of thinking about their research. Others expressed an interest in undertaking their own public projects. And (perhaps above all) rather than seeing romanticism as opposed to the kind of committed work in which they believed, they found romanticism to be a tool that could leverage critical energy and possibility. While the debate about the crisis of the humanities endures, the students in this course found a new way in and through it – and a new way of articulating the possibilities of scholarly work in literature.

Course Description:

Several recent critics, including Andrew Franta and Paul Magnuson, have considered romanticism's unlikely engagement with the public and the place of public discourse, publication, and audience for poets who are conventionally understood as withdrawn and obsessed with a private aesthetic. Can this approach to romanticism and its poetry help us to rethink the current (and ongoing) crisis in the humanities, and in particular, the efforts to invent a public humanities that imagines new audiences, new media, and new venues for scholarly research? In this seminar we will consider the competing versions of “public” romanticism that have emerged in recent years with the aim of thinking about the public humanities more generally.  Along the way, we may take up questions of gender, resistance, activism, and posterity. In addition to the authors named above, we will read works by William Wordsworth, Mary Wollstonecraft, PB Shelley, Friedrich Schiller, John Clare, Michael Warner, Michael Bérubé, Doris Sommer, Susan Wolfson, Lauren Berlant, and Andrew Bennett, among others, including Rebecca Solnit and contributors to Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America.


J. Habermas, Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (MIT)

M. Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (Zone)

Shelley’s Poetry and Prose (Norton)

Keats’s Poetry and Prose (Norton)

Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads (Longman)

Clare, Major Works (Oxford)

Schiller, The Aesthetic Education of Man (Oxford)

Mee and Fallon, Romanticism and Revolution (Wiley-Blackwell)

M.H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (Oxford)

Marc Redfield, The Politics of Aesthetics (Stanford)

Andrew Franta, Romanticism and the Rise of the Mass Public (Cambrdge)


Wolfson, Romantic Interactions (Kindle)

Keen, The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s (Kindle)

Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (Kindle)


Each student will be responsible for initiating class discussion once during the semester. Please let us know one week in advance what texts or passages will be of primary concern to your engagement so that we can focus our reading accordingly.

Research Paper

Due in my University Club office at 4pm on May 17th. Please plan to discuss your research paper with me early in the semester. Papers need not be “about” romantic period texts although they should reflect a serious engagement with and understanding of romanticism.

Reading Schedule

January 28: Introductions

February 4: What do we mean when we say Public (I)?

Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

February 11: What do we mean when we say Public (II)?

Warner, Publics and Counterpublics

Lauren Berlant, "The Intimate Public Sphere" (online)

February 18: Aesthetics and Politics I

Schiller, The Aesthetic Education of Man

February 25: Aesthetics and Politics II

Adorno, "Commitment" ; "On Lyric Poetry and Society" (online)

Sartre, "Why Write?" Judith Butler, "Values of Difficulty" (online)

March 4: No Seminar (Heavy Reading for 3/11!)


March 11: Romanticism and Public Romanticism Then Now

Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp

Romanticism and its Publics: A Forum. Studies in Romanticism 1994 (online)

Langan and McLane, "The Medium of Romantic Poetry" (online)

A. Bennett, "Narrative and Audience in Romantic Poetics" in Keats, Narrative, and Audience: The Posthumous Life of Writing (online)

March 18: Wordsworth and Coleridge, The Lyrical Ballads

Ballads and Prefaces

Wordsworth, "Essay Supplementary to the Preface of 1815"

Franta, "Wordsworth’s Audience Problem" in Romanticism and the Rise of the Mass Public

: Magnuson, "The Tempests of Lyrical Ballads" (online)

March 25: Spring Break

April 1: Shelley’s Poetry and Prose

"England in 1819" ; "Mask of Anarchy," "A Defense of Poetry"

S. Wolfson, "Poetic Form and Political Reform" (Norton Shelley)

M. Redfield, "Shelley’s Political Poetics"

April 8: Clare, Major Works

Poems: “I Am” (both); “The Mores,” “On Taste,” “Fate of Genius,”; etc.

Prose: all.

April 15: Keats’s Poetry and Prose

“Hyperion” poems

“This living hand…”

“To Autumn” and odes.

Franta, “Keats and the Review Aesthetic” in

A. Bennett, “Hyperion Poems” (Norton Keats)

April 22: Romanticism and Revolution

Mee and Fallon.

April 29: Anxiety, Crisis, Reflection, Use

Essays published in:


PDF available here:

May 6: Action, Intervention, Invention: Case Studies

May include essays from n+1 on Occupy!; “Cette France-là”; TED and the romantic lecture craze (Favret); discussion of a new “Public Humanities” graduate certificate, etc.

May 17: Paper Due