CfP: BARS 2017: Romantic Improvement

Call for Papers

Proposals are invited for the 2017 conference of the British Association for Romantic Studies, to be hosted by the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies and the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York from 27-30th July. The theme of this interdisciplinary conference is ‘improvement’, which marks a semantic field also encompassing cognate terms such as ‘innovation’, ‘progress’, and ‘reform’, all with implications across a range of discourses. The aim of the conference is to develop a collective investigation of the different but imbricated meanings of improvement in a period alternatively optimistic and pessimistic about its prospects in literary and other fields. The keynote speakers for Romantic Improvement are Catherine Hall (UCL), Jon Klancher (Carnegie Mellon), Nigel Leask (Glasgow), and Jane Rendall (York).

We encourage proposals for open-call sessions and themed panels as well as individual proposals for 20-minute papers. Subjects covered might include (but are not limited to):

Progress and perfectibility: ‘the march of mind’; universal modernity; ‘four stages’ theory and conjectural history; utopias and anti-utopias; millenarianism; philanthropy; socialism and social security

Languages of reform: the 1790s and the Revolution controversy; popular radicalism; evangelicalism and atonement; innovation/ renovation; utilitarianism

Education and useful knowledge: libraries, readers and reading; dissenting academies, schools, universities; Sunday Schools; clubs, societies, and networks of improvement; ‘home’ and domesticity

The arts and ‘improvement’: genre; adaptation, mediation, performance; legacies and afterlives; ‘crooked roads … of Genius’; ruin writing; nostalgia; the arts as ‘non-progressive’

Fiction and romance: the ‘progress of romance’; historical fiction and national pasts; Gothic; didacticism and improvement fiction; children’s literature

Print and material culture: technologies of print and publishing; book history; editing and illustrating; museums; exhibition and display

Empire: the ‘improvement’ of subject-peoples; four-nations Britain; travel-writing and cultural comparison; missionaries; settling, planting, transplanting; abolitionism and amelioration; colonial administration

The city: urban planning and urbanization; architectural improvement; consumer culture, fashion, shopping; interior decoration; policing; assembly rooms, theatres, and spaces of sociability

Land and landscape: estates, parks, gardens; enclosure; farming and agriculture; radical agrarianism; animal husbandry

Commerce and manufacture: political economy; industrialization; machines and machinery; the factory system; steam power; roads, turnpikes, canals

The sciences: botany and botanic gardens; medicine; asylums and mental health; chemistry; public science; electricity; experiment and spectacle

Presentation formats

We welcome proposals for the following:

Individual 20 minute papers. Abstracts of no more than 250 words. Please include your name and institutional affiliation (if applicable).

Panels of three 20 minute papers or four 15 minute papers. Please include an abstract of the panel theme, together with 250-word proposals from each of the speakers, in a single document.

Open-call sessions. Proposals should include a 350-word description of the potential session, outlining its importance and relevance to the conference theme. Accepted open-call sessions will be advertised on the BARS 2017 website from mid-November 2016.


The deadline for proposals for open-call sessions is 1 November 2016.

The deadline for submissions of panels and individual papers is 18 December 2016.

Please email proposals to, directing any inquiries to Dr Joanna Wharton.