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SEL3379 : Enlightened Romantics: A Revolution in Feeling

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Jennifer Orr
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 48 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


Since the Covid pandemic, psychological research has shown that although we are more likely to remember negative events than positive ones, in our day-to-day interactions, there is much more kindness in the world than we think (Hammond, 2022). The discipline of the Humanities demands that we consider life's 'big' questions from the perspective of different voices, asking critically why some voices have been, and continue to be, heard above others.

While the past might seem like a foreign country, writers were asking very similar questions in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. The Eighteenth Century did not see a global pandemic, but it was a period of revolutionary change, inspired by the philosophical ideas of Enlightenment which put the study of the common man at the centre of its philosophical world. It also saw the creation of the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland out of the emerging British Empire, the consequences of which we are still living with today. It was one of the most exciting periods in the expansion of literacy and print culture; newspapers, lending libraries and sociable gatherings extended opportunities for people across society to read, debate ideas and to demand change. City merchants in coffeehouses, artisan weavers gathered in cottage bookclubs, and working people gathered in the local pub not only engaged with these conversations but could see themselves become fitting subjects as writers sought to capture real life and local character.

Yet until recently, the version of Romanticism taught in schools was mostly confined to poetry written by middle class, white, English men. While we don't exclude these writers, we want to look at British Romanticism as a transnational movement where the idea of being a corner of an emerging Empire with a global reach was looked at critically. Some embraced it, some resisted it, and others engaged with it whilst seeking to preserve and animate their own local cultures on the page.

A growing literary marketplace which included larger numbers of middle- and working class readers, as well as the wealthy, desired to hear an 'authentic' voice emerge from the page, one that engaged with the deepest human questions and echoed their own human desires and aspirations. The labouring-class poet took the marketplace by storm, particularly in the glamorous ploughman-poet figure of Robert Burns whose 'heaven-taught' poetic skill seemed to offer the British public a taste of the deepest feelings of the human heart in the real language of men. But there is more to the labouring poet than meets the eye. Engaged with the philosophy and politics of their day, they took ideas to the widest possible audience, subverting audience expectations to set their own literary agenda and paving the way for the marginalised voices for centuries to come.

Outline Of Syllabus

Beginning with the latest psychological research into empathy and kindness, we will examine how the relationship between the individual and society around us has shaped and been shaped by literature.
We will look at how this expanded the literary marketplace for groups previously excluded (such as the 'self-taught' poet, the female revolutionary), how the revolutionary era provided opportunities to challenge all kinds of oppression (e.g. slavery and feminism) to the growing idea of individual genius and individual worth the changing conceptions of national and cosmopolitan identity within Britain, the individual poetic voice, the importance of sentiment and sensibility, and the growth of revolutionary writing.

The module will cover a number of general literary themes (including gender, class, place, politics, thought, colonialism, love and loss) and will include the following themed topics:

The Birth of Great Britain: Enlightenment, Nation and the Union
Self and Society
Place and the People
Letters, Epistles and Social networking
Labouring class poetry
Writing the landscape
Poetry and politics
Poetry, Patriotism and Empire
Love, Sex and the Body

As well as studying literary works, students will get to work with archival source material (the best part of academic scholarship IMHO). We will analyse essays, letters, journals and newspaper excerpts in which these writers expressed their theories of poetry and their relationships to their contemporaries.

The module will refer widely to a number of important thinkers and writers but we will focus mainly on Robert Burns, Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson, James Orr, Samuel Thomson, Mary Ann McCracken and Anna Letitia Barbauld.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion170:0070:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture101:0010:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading180:0080:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching102:0020:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity121:0012:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDissertation/project related supervision81:008:00One-to-one meetings to discuss essay
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures introduce students to knowledge outcomes relevant to the module. They address themes common to the authors studied and encourage the students to think comparatively. They also provide short examples of close reading technique to be practised further in seminar.

The seminars allow for the development of knowledge outcomes through close reading of specified texts, and the practice of skills, especially oral presentation and interpersonal communication.

The extra time at the end of the lecture is budgeted for students to meet in their study groups to undertake group prep (short exercises) for the following seminars. Students can still elect to meet in their own time to do this but having a timetabled collective space, immediately following the lecture will incentivise both in-person lecture attendance and study group engagement.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise2A1004000 word essay
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise2M1000 word exercise
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Assessment by written exercise at the end of the semester is appropriate for a Stage 3 module. Formative writing practise (including commentary, close reading, transcription exercises) both in seminar and in self-study time ensures that students are engaging appropriately with the module at an early stage and can benefit from continuous feedback. The above exercises develop important research and comprehensions skills and are tested in the summative assessment.

Reading Lists