Romantic Conversations: The human, the inhuman and the non-human,16-17 November 2012, Melbourne. Abstracts due 19 October 2012

full name / name of organization: 
Romantic Studies Association of Australasia, Postgraduate Symposium
contact email: 

Papers are invited from all postgraduate students on the subject of the human, the inhuman and the non-human in Romantic literature and culture


One of the characteristic features of British Romanticism is a pervasive belief in the transformative power of Nature. For the Wordsworth of The Prelude, this entailed a tempering of his youthful energies and animalistic passions so as to become a wiser, more mature man and poet. But many of Wordsworth's precursors and contemporaries were concerned with more literal transformations. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Lord Monboddo pointed to uncanny similarities between humans and great apes and wondered about one transforming into the other. Ethicists began to question whether animals might possess rights to match those conferred on men and women by Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. Social philosophers began to unpick the Enlightenment conception of the 'state of nature', while new ideas advanced by their counterparts in political economy (Malthus and Ricardo most prominently) were denounced as inhuman responses to social problems. Meanwhile, a number of dramatic scientific advances raised disturbing questions about humanity's future; for Mary Shelley, amongst others, it became possible to imagine manufacturing humans (but would they be human?).

In this postgraduate symposium, we aim to explore the – at times – uncertain borders between humans and non-humans in Romantic literature and culture and, in particular, the occasions for conversations between the two. Key questions include: what does it mean to be human? What are our rights and responsibilities towards non-human animals? Is it possible to lose our humanity and transform into animals, or even monsters? And what roles, more broadly, did nature, reason, the imagination, and science play in this period's conceptualisation of humanity?

We welcome papers on this theme (broadly defined). Possible topics include:

· Animal rights/human rights
· Contemporary philosophical, political and social debates
· Humans and monsters
· Metamorphosis and hybridity
· Human/animal hierarchies (eg the Great Chain of Being)
· Romantic science and animals (evolutionary theory,
comparative anatomy, taxonomy, collecting etc)
· New technologies and economies
· The State of Nature, savagery and Romantic colonialism
· War and barbarity
· Civilisation/non-civilisation
· Romantic ecology and eco-criticism

For more information, please visit:

Please direct inquiries and send paper proposals to Elias Greig ( by 19 October 2012.

Conference Fee: $85

Three travel scholarships, provided by the RSAA, are available to defray expenses. These include:

Two scholarships, worth $500, to be awarded to students from interstate.
One scholarship, worth $750, to be awarded to a student from outside Australia

Interest in any of these scholarships may be included in the abstract, or emailed separately to the same address.