Romantic Science

“Romantic imagination, even within science, played a key role in the transition from knowledge production to knowledge regulation.”

Join us for a lecture by Richard Sha (Department of Literature, American University) on Frankenstein and romantic science.

Frankenstein & Romantic Science

Wednesday, February, 2017, 1 pm at 228 Battelle-Tompkins Hall


(Need to edit this and put Frankenstein in.) Professor Sha will present “Romantic Science and Romantic Imagination.” He theorizes that Romantic poets, scientists, and philosophers saw the imagination as mattering because it was a primary force behind the production of knowledge. The entry under “Imagination” in Rees’ Cyclopedia, for instance, begins: “Imagination is a power or faculty of the soul, whereby it conceives and forms ideas of things, by means of the impressions made on the fibres of the brain, by sensation.” In Kant, and more generally, the imagination was the ground of perception and new thought. The imagination allows the mind to conceive, but as Plato, Descartes, Kant and others recognized, nothing guarantees the accuracy of its conceptions. Accuracy is the task of reason for Kant or of experimental regulation in science after the middle of the nineteenth century. As Sha will show, the Romantic imagination, even within science, played a key role in the transition from knowledge production to knowledge regulation.

About our speaker

Professor Sha teaches courses in Nineteenth-Century Literature, especially British Romanticism, and in Asian American Literature. His new book, Imagination and Science in Romanticism, 1750-1850, is forthcoming from the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2018. His next book project is tentatively titled, Modelling Emotion in Romanticism, and will treat Voltaire, Goethe, Hume, Wordsworth, Mary Robinson, and Leopardi. The book examines the multiple models Romantic writers had for thinking about the emotions and their vexed relations to subjectivity. Professor Sha is also the author of Perverse Romanticism: Aesthetics and Sexuality in Britain, 1750-1832 (Johns Hopkins UP, 2009) and The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism (Penn Press, 1998). He has won the University faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching in General Education (2002) and the award for Teaching Excellence (2004) bestowed by the University Undergraduate Student Confederation. In 2012, he was named AU’s “Scholar Teacher of the Year.” Together with Joel Faflak, he edited a volume of critical essays on Romanticism and the Emotions that was published by Cambridge UP in 2014 and in paperback in 2016.



Check out some of Richard Sha’s books below. Click here to learn more about his publications. 

Richard C. Sha’s revealing study considers how science shaped notions of sexuality, reproduction, and gender in the Romantic period.
Through careful and imaginative readings of various scientific texts, the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Longinus, and the works of such writers as William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lord Byron, Sha explores the influence of contemporary aesthetics and biology on literary Romanticism.

Revealing that ideas of sexuality during the Romantic era were much more fluid and undecided than they are often characterized in the existing scholarship, Sha’s innovative study complicates received claims concerning the shift from perversity to perversion in the nineteenth century. He observes that the questions of perversity—or purposelessness—became simultaneously critical in Kantian aesthetics, biological functionalism, and Romantic ideas of private and public sexuality. The Romantics, then, sought to reconceptualize sexual pleasure as deriving from mutuality rather than from the biological purpose of reproduction.At the nexus of Kantian aesthetics, literary analysis, and the history of medicine, Perverse Romanticism makes an important contribution to the study of sexuality in the long eighteenth century.