Women and Romantic Science

“Her Information Various”: Women and Romantic Science

28 June 2021

12:00-14:00, Central Standard Time [10:00-12:00 PDT; 13:00-15:00 EDT; 18:00-20:00pm BST]

Organisers: Lisa Ann Robertson (University of South Dakota), Dahlia Porter (University of Glasgow), and Michelle Faubert (University of Manitoba)

This roundtable discussion features five brief presentations that explore how women participated in late-eighteenth and early nineteenth-century science. As with women poets and novelists in the early days of the Romantic canon, women’s contributions to scientific discourse have often been elided. This roundtable makes visible different ways that women participated in scientific thinking in a variety of disciplines and genres. After the presentations, we will open the floor for discussion amongst panelists and attendees.


To register please click here. Registration is free. However, we do encourage registrants to become members of NASSR


Presentations and Discussants


“midst Rosanna’s groves, to science dear”: the Affective Internal Landscapes of Mary Tighe’s Psyche, Colleen English, Loyola University Chicago, colleenjenglish[at]gmail.com


This paper will examine Mary Tighe’s epic poem Psyche (1801) a re-telling of the Apeuleian myth of Cupid and Psyche in relation to Methodist discourses of the soul and the emergent field of physiological psychology to suggest that the poem’s focus on the mapping of interior mental spaces onto idyllic landscapes is informed by the political upheaval of the 1801 Act of Union to a larger extent than has been previously acknowledged. Psyche registers a sentimentalized historical present through visual imagery and through the mapping of emotional states onto shifting geographic spaces, suggesting a link between internalized motion, morality, and social communication.


Joanna Baillie’s DeMontfort and The Gothic Sympathetic Nervous System, Renee Harris (Lewis-Clark State College) trharris[at]lcsc.edu


The sympathetic nervous system provides Joanna Baillie with a systematic means of turning Gothic drama to critical account and social function. She presents what can seem gothic and supernatural, the sympathetic nervous system, as perfectly natural and medical, easily explained by the contemporary cognitive science. In her “Introductory Discourse” to the Plays on the Passions, Baillie explains her bold choice in exploring hatred, a decidedly unsympathetic feeling, bringing scientific and philosophical models to bear on the problem of strong passions by way of dramatic literature.


Joanna Baillie and the Science of Song, John Savarese, University of Waterloo, john.savarese[at]uwaterloo.ca


While Joanna Baillie laid out her scientific aesthetics most programmatically as a theory of drama, the same concerns inform her theories of poetry, musicality, and popular song. This talk will look at how Baillie’s songs and ballads drew on medical psychology and the science of music, with attention to two of her projects: her musical collaborations with the collector George Thompson, and the ballads she included in her Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters.


Non-observationalism in Romantic science, John Mulligan, Rice University, jcm10[at]rice.edu


Romantic historians of science have looked for, found, and articulated counter-histories of scientific vision that might provide ways of seeing and knowing alternative to the hyper-rationalizations of Cartesian visuo-spatiality. This rejection of this particular form of rationalism, however, has at times led to an uncritical embrace of apparently liberated forms of perception, to be found in the aesthetics of chiaroscuro in the Romantic period and “noise” in contemporary digital media. This paper proposes an alternative aesthetics and history of visuo-spatial abstraction by examining the siblings Caroline and William Herschel’s deep-space astronomy, which laid the foundations for the modern science of cosmology. I propose a strain of non-observational empiricism in Romantic science, and generally unrecognized in critiques of the industrialized, professionalized, and quantified sciences. In order to make the case for its relevance to our contemporary moment, I introduce critical engagements with data science via this non-observationalist aesthetic.


She Thinks for Herself: Exploring Women’s Participation in Mind-Matter Debates, Lisa Ann Robertson University of South Dakota, lisaann.robertson[at]usd.edu


This exploratory presentation examines She Thinks for Herself, a little-known work published anonymously by Harriet Hughes in 1813. I argue that novels offered women ingress to male-dominated philosophical debates about the human mind. Furthermore, as a genre it enabled them to make feminist arguments based on contemporary scientific theories. I approach Hughes’s novel as a preliminary case study that sheds light on women’s use of the novel to advance complex, intertextual responses to prevailing definitions of gender.