Harvey, "The Idea of Nature in Transatlantic Romanticism"

"The Idea of Nature in Transatlantic Romanticism"

Samantha Harvey, Associate Professor
Boise State University



"The Idea of Nature in Transatlantic Romanticism," and an accompanying public lecture series at Boise State that is entering its third year, are both based on the underlying premise that "big questions need interdisciplinary answers." The class examines Anglo-American ideas of nature through an interdisciplinary lens: how are conceptions of nature expressed in literature, art, philosophy, music, and other humanities disciplines? How did ideas of nature change from 1760-1860, a period of radical change and revolution?

The course fosters interdisciplinary inquiry in two ways: the reading includes a wide variety of primary materials, including novels, poetry, essays, philosophical texts, political tracts, musical compositions, and visual art from both sides of the Atlantic. Secondly, in addition to my own lectures, the course is supplemented by nine guest speakers from Boise State, and three distinguished speakers from off campus, to lecture from the perspective of their disciplinary specialties in the departments of English, Philosophy, Music, Art History, History, and Anthropology.

The methodology behind the class is based on the rapidly expanding field of transatlantic studies, which questions existing boundaries that have circumscribed time periods, disciplines, and movements, including the division between British and American Romanticism prevalent in the modern academy. Transatlantic studies envisions the Atlantic ocean not as a negative space that divides nations, but rather as a dynamic arena of cultural interchange. This course not only addresses the movement of books, periodicals, people and ideas across this space, but also associated debates about abolition, empire, reform, women’s rights, utopian communities, and early environmentalism. It looks at genres that crossed the Atlantic, including autobiography, the pastoral, the lyric, the essay, and the Gothic. Finally it examines certain Romantic paradigms such as the poet-prophet, the elevation of the ordinary, and the sublime that shifted and changed as they crossed the Atlantic. The course frames these topics as attempts to investigate the question "What is nature?" in a transatlantic context.



  • Newman, Lance et al, eds. Transatlantic Romanticism: An Anthology of British, American, and Canadian Literature, 1797-1867, Pearson Longman, 2006.
  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.
  • Readings posted on Blackboard.

8/26 Class introduction: go over syllabus and discuss class expectations.

UNIT 1 (Weeks 1-6) Historical context

8/28 Introduction to Transatlantic Romanticism

9/2 The French Revolution Edmund Burke: "Reflections on the Revolution in France" 67-74; Mary Wollstonecraft: "A Vindication of the Rights of Men" 293-9.

9/4 Slavery and Abolition: William Wordsworth: "To Thomas Clarkson" 430; Quobna Ottobah Cugoano: "Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species" 237-41; Fanny Kemble: "Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839" 252-5; Phillis Wheatley: "On Being Brought from Africa to America" 219.

9/9 Nationhood Margaret Fuller: "Things and Thoughts in Europe" 995-9; Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The American Scholar" 845-57; Washington Irving: "Rip van Winkle" 585-95.

9/11 Women’s Rights: Wollstonecraft: "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" 299-303; Sophia Ripley "Woman" 366-8; Anna Laetitia Barbauld: "The Rights of Woman" 182; "The Female Choice" 195-6.

9/16 Reactions to a mechanized age: Thomas Carlyle: "Signs of the Times" 727-31; William Wordsworth: "The world is too much with us" 431; John Clare: "The Mores" 1078-9; George Perkins Marsh: Man and Nature 1080-3.

Interdisciplinary Lenses: Philosophy and History

9/18 Guest Lecture: Natural Law: Locke and Hobbes – Stewart Gardener, Philosophy

9/23 Guest Lecture: Rousseau and the Natural Man – Steve Crowley, Philosophy

9/25 Guest Lecture: Jefferson's America: Nature in the Early Republic – Lisa Brady, History

Unit 2 (Weeks 7-11) Themes of Transatlantic Romanticism

10/2 The Deification of Nature Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "The Eolian Harp" 487; Wordsworth "I wandered lonely as a cloud" 433; P. B. Shelley "Mont Blanc" 678-81; William Cullen Bryant: "A Forest Hymn" 720-22; "To Cole" 723.

10/7 Poet-Prophets William Blake, "The Lamb" 264; "The Tyger" 264; P. B. Shelley: "Ode to the West Wind" 694-6.

10/9 Transatlantic Sublime: The Hudson River School of landscape painting Thomas Cole: "Essay on American Scenery" (reading on Blackboard)

10/14 Natural Supernatural S. T. Coleridge "Kubla Khan" 484; Thomas De Quincey: "Opium Reveries and Dreams" (reading on Blackboard); Edgar Allen Poe: "The Raven" 928-31; "Annabel Lee" 933-4.

10/16 What is natural? Mary Shelley: "The Mortal Immortal" 800-8; Nathaniel Hawthorne: "The Birth-mark" 883-94.

10/ 21 Mid-term exam

Interdisciplinary Lenses: Science

10/23 Guest Lecture: Parlor Pieces: Women and Natural History in the Long Eighteenth Century – Janice Neri, Art History

10/28 Guest Lecture: Wonder Cabinets and Natural History Museums: Curious Discoveries to a View of Nature – Chris Hill, Anthropology

10/30 Guest Lecture: The Age of the Earth – Matt Kohn, Geology

Unit 3 (Weeks 12-16) Genres of Transatlantic Romanticism

11/4 The Pastoral William Wordsworth: "Michael"; "Resolution and Independence" (reading on Blackboard); John Greenleaf Whittier "The Fisherman" 920-22; "The Lumbermen" 922-6.

11/6 Subjectivity and the Lyric John Keats: "Ode on A Grecian Urn" 780; "Ode to a Nightingale" 781; Emily Dickinson: "Wild nights – Wild nights!" 1223; "I heard a Fly buzz – when I died" 1227; "Nature – the Gentlest Mother is" 1231; "A narrow Fellow in the Grass" 1232.

11/11 Romantic Autobiography Susan Fenimore Cooper "Otsego Leaves. Birds Then and Now" 1093-9; Dorothy Wordsworth (reading on Blackboard).

11/13 Pilgrimage in Nature Byron: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage 606-9; 624-30; 636-7; Henry David Thoreau "Walking" 1052-6.

11/18 Fusions Walt Whitman: "Song of Myself" 1179-82; 1195-1209.

11/20 Fusions Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Interdisciplinary Lenses: the Arts

12/2 Guest Lecture: Melville’s Moby-Dick – Steven Olsen-Smith, English

12/4 Guest Lecture: Transatlantic Gothic – Tom Hillard, English. S. T. Coleridge: "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" 465-81; Edgar Allen Poe: "The Fall of the House of Usher" 944-56.

12/9 Guest Lecture: Musical Images of Romantic Nature – Jeanne Belfy, Music

12/11 Final paper due and closing thoughts