In its first two decades the association, with it directors mostly drawn from the membership of the bibliophile Grolier Club, existed mainly to publish its journal, which, aside from articles and reviews, also kept readers informed of relevant activities in Rome, the U.K., and, less frequently, elsewhere in the world. At a certain point it also took on the sponsorship of sessions during the MLA conventions. In the ’70s the association, responding to a need for Romanticists to interact within a social atmosphere and for younger scholars to have an opportunity to become acquainted with more established figures, undertook to sponsor a cocktail reception during the MLA conventions. This was a relatively easy affair in the early days since a cash bar then paid for itself, and when it was instituted the association was the only organization in the field of continuing stability that could have guaranteed a year-to-year repetition. Then, in 1981, without perhaps realizing what would become its significance, the association decided to sponsor an Annual Awards Dinner to follow the reception. At these events, awards for distinguished scholarship would be presented to preeminent leaders of the field, with encomiums presented by a former student or professional colleague. Since a number of those deserving honors in the early ’80s were already retired, we began a process of doubling these awards, a format that has generally continued at ensuing dinners. At our January 5, 2013, affair, we honored our 58th and 59th distinguished scholars in this succession. Beginning in 1986, an essay published during the year in the area of British Romanticism would be cited as the best of that year’s production and its author given a celebratory plaque and a small honorarium. If, then, the annual reception created an atmosphere for bonhomie and intellectual exchange, the dinners have had an even greater impact in reinforcing the broad cohesion of the Romanticist community and its professional commitment to the advancement of learning. Many attendees consider this dinner the highpoint of the MLA convention, and it has drawn some 60-65 attendees annually. To keep costs reasonable enough so that graduate students and junior faculty could attend, an officer of the association secured a bequest from one of the original directors. This dedicated endowment has been invaluable in achieving that end.
In 1999, realizing that many younger scholars, whether independent or with an institutional affiliation, had little access to funds for research purposes, the association instituted an annual competition for two research grants of $2500 apiece named in honor of our long-time President, Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr. One of the directors was able to secure funding for these grants from an independent foundation, so as not to encumber the associations’s finances. Proposals for these grants are vetted by a committee formed from senior directors and members of the association, and over the ensuing years 30 of them have been awarded. The Pforzheimer Research Grants stipulate that recipients report on their year’s work after its completion, so we can maintain control of the rigor and success of the program. And successful it has been: when we contemplate the full list of grantees over 15 years, we realize that for these relatively small sums the association has realized a return of major scholarly proportions in assisting once obscure and youthful voices to establish themselves on a solid professional footing. An ancillary aim was our hope that grant recipients would conceive a loyalty to the association and become continuing members.
To a similar joint end of lending assistance and fostering loyalty, and recognizing that many younger scholars find themselves in isolated circumstances without a professional sounding board among their colleagues, in 2004 the association initiated a mentorship process that, over the intervening years and under four successive administrators, has brought together dozens of such junior faculty with senior advisors. Since some in the latter category are in institutions without advanced graduate programs, the exchange has proven mutually beneficial. Although the project was initiated experimentally by a member of the Board, once its success was clear, it has been directed by members of the association who are not directors.
This desire for greater inclusion, in turn, leads us to the latest ventures in outreach. In September 2009, through the initiative of one of the directors, the association was able to secure an advance copy of the biopic Bright Star, which, with the collaboration of the New York Public Library, we were able to show gratis in the Bruno Walter Auditorium of the NYPL, Performing Arts Division. The audience was sizable, and after the showing, we mounted a panel discussion among directors Stuart Curran and Susan Wolfson, joined by the film historian-Romanticist Timothy Corrigan, and Christopher Ricks, whose voluminous critical output includes the influential Keats and Embarrassment. The lengthy discussion that ensued was recorded for a podcast that was widely advertised and made available on the Romantic Circles website (which is guided by two of the directors) for universal accession.
Then, in 2011 the association initiated a more ambitious program of outreach to our membership through which we anticipate holding a day-long symposium every other year on a large topic of scholarship or methodology, planned for the Saturday after the general membership meeting in May. The rubric posed for the 2011 meeting, which was cosponsored by Fordham University, Lincoln Center, was “Was There a Literary Regency?”. The initial round table, composed of major scholars in the field, drew between 60 and 70 auditors; later sessions attracted about 50. The format allowed for only plenary presentation with considerable room for audience interaction with speakers. It was by all accounts a great success, so much so that the written papers form the basis of the 2012 Keats-Shelley Journal, volume 61 in its series. In May 2013, the K-SAA held a successor program whose subject was narrower but perhaps more urgent to the scholarly phase into which we are entering, on “Romantic Manuscripts in a Digital World.” A report on that event can be found here.
One final note: although the KSMA in the U.K. has administrative and financial control of the operations of the Keats-Shelley House in Rome, the association has always taken an active interest in its well-being and maintains a cordial acquaintance with its curator and staff. (The same may be said of the Keats House maintained as a scholarly resource and museum in Hampstead.) The entry fees now are sufficient to maintain the Memorial on a sound fitting. Nonetheless, the association regularly contributes $1000 a year to assist in its programming and library purchases. In addition, in 2008 the former curator, Catherine Payling, who is largely responsible for securing that advantageous financial position, was able to lead the House in the purchase of a half-floor apartment below the rooms where Keats died. A centenary appeal was launched from the U.K. to which the association lent its active assistance, so that a substantial amount of money was raised from members toward the purchase of the apartment and for its conversion into exhibition, lecture, and study space. The current curator, Giuseppe Albano, holding a Ph.D in English from Cambridge University, is the first academic to be appointed to that position, and, in addition to the poetry readings and educational tours that have been standard fare at the House over the years, since he assumed his position a year ago, he has seized the opportunity provided by this additional space to launch a lecture series with a more substantively intellectual cast to it. To those involved in this centenary appeal the united contribution from British and American sources seemed a fitting reconstruction of the generous transatlantic spirit in which the Memorial was founded a century ago.
– Stuart Curran, President