Books and Borrowing 1750-1830

Conference Report: BARS ‘Romantic Boundaries’

Over the course of the past year, I have been organising, in my remit as Postgraduate Representative (PR) for the British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS), the 2023 BARS Postgraduate and Early Career Conference, alongside my fellow PR, Yu-Hung Tien (University of Edinburgh), and Dr Amanda Blake Davis (University of Derby), the Early Career Representative for BARS.

Left to right: Cleo O’Callaghan Yeoman, Yu-Hung Tien, Amanda Blake Davis. Image source: Amy Wilcockson

On Thursday 15th June 2023, we were delighted to welcome over 80 delegates to the University of Edinburgh for a two-day conference titled ‘Romantic Boundaries’. This was the first in-person BARS Postgraduate and Early Career conference since 2018 and so we were very grateful to everyone for making the effort to travel to Edinburgh to join us in person.

Romantic Boundaries was also the biggest BARS Postgraduate and Early Career conference to date; we received a total of 82 abstracts in response to our call for papers, from researchers in 18 different countries (spanning Europe, Asia, and North America). The international scope of these responses is something of which we are especially proud and is testimony to the growing reach of BARS and to the widespread enthusiasm of a new generation of Romantic scholars.

We were very pleased to collaborate with the Byron Society during the run-up to the conference and, on Wednesday 14th June 2023, all delegates were invited to attend the Byron Society’s 4th Annual Scotland Lecture and also a wine reception, generously sponsored by the Society, to kickstart our conference celebrations. Dr Emily Bernhard-Jackson (University of Exeter) presented a wonderful paper titled ‘“Hope You Guessed My Name”: The Devil and the Making of Lord Byron’, which we enjoyed within the very resplendent and historic setting of St Celia’s Hall, located in Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The Byron Society’s 4th Annual Scotland Lecture, held at St Celia’s Hall, was delivered by Dr Emily Bernhard-Jackston (right on stage) and chaired by Dr Emily Paterson Morgan (left on stage). Image source: Almudena Jiménez Virosta

Over the course of the next two days, we held a total of 20 panels across two buildings in the University of Edinburgh’s George Square campus, also located in the city’s Old Town. Topics included, but were by no means limited to, new perspectives on canonical authors (Austen, Blake, Byron, Coleridge, Keats), travel writing, print culture, ecocriticism, Scottish Romanticism, gender studies, and much more (click here to see the full programme).

We were very grateful, once again, to the Byron Society for sponsoring a panel of three delegates, each of whom received a Byron Society bursary, chaired by the Society’s director, Dr Emily Paterson Morgan. We were also very grateful to the Universities’ Committee for Scottish Literature for awarding a further two bursaries to delegates working within Scottish Romanticism, who comprised a second sponsored panel, chaired by Dr Honor Rieley (UCSL Representative). BARS also sponsored two travel bursaries to help support delegates without access to any other source of funding or conference support.

Each conference day included a workshop geared towards enabling delegates to focus on and consider their own professional development. On Thursday, we were delighted to welcome Dr Colette Davies (University of Nottingham), who spoke to us via Zoom about the importance of Knowledge Exchange, how to define and apply it, and its increasing relevance to career options both within and outwith academia.

Friday’s workshop comprised a round table discussion on academic publishing, kindly sponsored by the Keats-Shelley Association of America (K-SAA). This round table was chaired by Professor Kate Singer (Mount Holyoke College), President of the K-SAA, and featured the following representatives from prestigious journals within the field, some of whom we welcomed in person and some of whom we welcomed on Zoom: Jonathan Mulrooney (Keats-Shelley Journal), Jennifer Reed (Studies in Romanticism), Matthew Sangster (Romanticism on the Net), Alex Regier (Studies in English Literature), and Benjamin Colbert (European Romantic Review).

Professor Penny Fielding presenting our first keynote on Thursday afternoon. Image source: Amy Wilcockson

We were also treated to two fantastic keynotes. On Thursday afternoon, Professor Penny Fielding (University of Edinburgh), gave a talk titled ‘Romantic Spies and Secrets’, in which she discussed secret history, the boundaries of espionage, and the effect these have on the boundaries of identity, with compelling reference being made to Scottish Enlightenment ideas of sympathy and spectatorship. On Friday afternoon, Dr Andrew Hodgson (University of Birmingham) gave a talk titled ‘Romantic Questions’, in which he discussed the liminal nature of and relationship that exists between questions and answers within Romantic poetry, and the ‘revolving uncertainty’ that this produces. Close textual analysis was accompanied by evocative readings from Beddoes, Gray, Shelley, and Wordsworth, among others. Both keynotes were followed by lively and engaged discussion, making them a great highlight of the conference.

Dr Andrew Hodgson presenting our second keynote on Friday afternoon. Image source: Amy Wilcockson

In between panels, delegates had the opportunity to browse the publishers’ tables. In addition to displaying recent publications and discount flyers generously supplied by Palgrave, we were very glad to welcome in person: two representatives from Edinburgh University Press (who sold out after the first day!), Jennifer Reed from Studies in Romanticism (who very generously brought with her giveaway copies of recent journal issues for delegates to take home), and Jeff Cowton, who very kindly came to speak to delegates about the opportunities available at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.

We were very pleased to see our delegates take to Twitter with as much enthusiasm as they did to share frequent updates from Edinburgh – search #RomanticBoundaries2023 to see what everyone got up to. We were also very glad to continue celebrations on Thursday evening with a conference dinner at the local Pizza Express for some much needed sustenance after a long first day!

Delegates Kate Ferrier (Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh) and Hilary Clydesdale (University of Edinburgh) enjoying the sun and an al fresco lunch in George Square Gardens. Image source: Cleo O’Callaghan Yeoman

Overall, it was a convivial, inspiring, and intellectually stimulating few days, made all the more enjoyable by Edinburgh’s (unexpectedly) sunny climes. On behalf of myself and my co-organisers, I’d like to thank once again all our delegates, keynote speakers, workshop leaders, volunteer helpers, bursary providers, publishing representatives, catering team, tech support team, and the rest of the BARS Executive for their support in making Romantic Boundaries such a success. I’d also like to thank my three supervisors for supporting me in what has been a valuable learning experience and a definite highlight of my PhD so far.

N.B. If you are interested in contributing to the BARS blog, please do contact our Communications Officer, Amy Wilcockson (University of Nottingham) at – we are especially keen to hear from PGR/ECR colleagues! In like manner, please do not hesitate to reach out to myself or my fellow PGR/ECR BARS Representatives (at if there are opportunities or events that you would like to see more of or that you would like to access more easily as a PGR/ECR working in Romanticism. As Postgraduate and Early Career Representatives for BARS, we are very keen to tailor what we do next to align as closely as possible with what you would like to see happen for and within our community.

Hometime! View of the Walter Scott Monument at sunset, Edinburgh. Image source: Cleo O’Callaghan Yeoman