It’s time for a ‘What Are You Reading’ interview, this time with PhD candidate, Chris Kelleher.
Chris studies at the University of Toronto, is Chancellor Jackman Junior Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute, and a former fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto. Completed as part of the “Second Cities in the Circuits of Empire” research project based in the University of Glasgow and funded by the British Academy, Chris’ work examines the history of imperial circulation during the Romantic period, as well as the emergence of cosmopolitan culture within the modern global credit economy. He has published an essay in English Language Notes and recently had another essay accepted for publication in Studies in English Literature, entitled “Oriental Debts and Occidental Avatars in Robert Southey’s The Curse of Kehama.” Chris has also written for University Affairs Magazine and the NASSR Grad Student Blog.
You can read our other ‘What Are You Reading?’ interviews here. Perhaps you have a new publication in Romantic studies that you’d like to discuss in a future piece here on the K-SAA Blog, or perhaps you’d just like to tell what you are reading! We love to hear from our members and followers. Get in touch. For now, enjoy our interview with Chris!
What are you working on at the moment, and which writing informs your current research?
I am currently working to finalize my dissertation before submitting and defending in the coming year. Because of this (and, perhaps both fortunately and unfortunately), a slew of recent publications is providing my work with thrilling new thought and direction. In particular, Angela Esterhammer’s Print and Performance in the 1820s: Improvisation, Speculation, and Identity (Cambridge UP, 2020) and Will Bowers’ The Italian Idea: Anglo-Italian Radical Literary Culture, 1815–23 (Cambridge UP, 2020) have been essential in helping me to better contextualize my work on imperial circulation within the broader scope of global transformations in technology, mobility, communication, and consumerism. Bowers’ work especially has helped me to answer the question of how Italianate culture and verse made its way–via a more global Romanticism–to the grand colonnades and neoclassical architecture of that “city of palaces” in early nineteenth-century British India, Calcutta.
Which books do you frequently recommend to your students, and why?
For a time, and for some, the task of expanding our understanding of the Romantic canon beyond the original “Big 6” may have seemed to represent something of a solemn duty. Now, a generation of younger scholars, I think, are approaching this “duty” with more of a sense of adventure and discovery (fun, in other words). For this reason, I love recommending to both students and colleagues Rosinka Chaudhuri’s definitive edition of the collected writings of the mixed-race author, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, entitled Derozio, Poet of India (Oxford UP, 2008). Because his work is so fun to read, Derozio was largely responsible for the direction of my dissertation, which first led me to follow his rollicking continuation of Byron’s Don Juan in “Don Juanics” (1825–26) all the way to Kolkata and the National Library of India. In it, Derozio resumes Juan’s exploits in nineteenth-century Calcutta, with the same salacious detail told in the same ottava rima as Byron’s unfinished original.
Not only is Derozio fun, however. He also remains for the most part a still-unrecognized name for many students eager to read authors from more diverse backgrounds. Moreover, his writing is well worth reading for how it both transposes across the globe, and innovates atop, so much of what Romanticists already love about Keats, Byron, Shelley, etc. And finally, his writing is eminently accessible, to boot.
What books are on your “to read” pile?
Atop my ever-growing pile lies Devin Griffith’s recent monograph, The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature between the Darwins (Johns Hopkins UP, 2016). Though I have already read through a few chapters, I am anxious to get through the rest of Griffith’s work before long. While much of it focuses on the historical relations between literature and science, there is considerable overlap in the way that “comparative historicism,” as Griffith defines it, was deployed in a variety of colonial contexts for “liberal imperialist” ends, from philologist Sir William Jones’ first translations of Sanskrit into English to Sir Walter Scott’s historical romances that established an “aesthetics of correspondence” between medieval Scotland and colonial India. In short, I am interested in thinking through how Griffith’s work fits into the argument of Theodore Koditschek’s in Liberalism, Imperialism, and the Historical Imagination (Cambridge UP, 2011), which continues to be very influential in my work.
Have there been any mainstream articles or publications on the Romantics you would recommend?
Recently, I came across Jamison Kantor’s “Horace Walpole and the Fate of Finance” in The Eighteenth Century 58.2 (Summer 2017), pp. 135–55. In the article, Kantor argues for the importance of considering genre – particularly the way in which the literary history of the ghost story in England interacted with contemporary finance capital – when attempting to understand the significance of works like The Castle of Otranto, and its historical situation alongside the rise of financial speculation, public credit, and other ghostly abstractions of value.
For Romanticists interested in the long eighteenth century and the history of finance, Kantor’s article offers a model of the kind of scholarship that is recently making headwinds in the field of fiction and finance.
What has been your favourite archival find?
When I was last in the British Library’s Africa & East Asia Collection in 2017, I thoroughly enjoyed finding some of the earliest banknotes and other currencies that once circulated in colonial India and throughout nineteenth-century Britain and her Empire. As one can see from these artefacts, the aesthetic choices that went into banknote design were deliberative, often with an eye toward both enshrining the authority of the state and guarding against the circulation of counterfeit money. Indeed, so much of contemporary banknote design on currencies circulating around the world today draws from practices that originated in the nineteenth century.
These finds have seemed especially relevant in view of the Bank of England’s recent release in February 2020 of a new polymer £20 banknote featuring J.M.W Turner and his seminal work, The Fighting Temeraire. Like Turner’s representation of the steamship, which sought to capture the disruptive effect of technology on mobility and circulation, so too will the coming year’s World Banknote Summit in 2021 aim to address how new forms of payment, including cryptocurrencies, will reshape the global economy in years to come.
Which books are on your bedside table to read at the minute?
At the moment, there is John Dickie’s The Craft (2020). It is a work of popular history, to be sure. However, it is an extremely well written, engaging account of the founding of the Freemasons and their historical influence over the last few centuries by the prolific John Dickie, Professor of Italian Studies at University College, London. What has been personally fascinating is the book’s explanation of how the kinds of extensive patronage networks fostered by Freemasonry were instrumental in the proliferation of British imperialism (and also, as it turns out, the Italian Mafia). And yet, for all of the ways in which these male patronage networks could serve to shore up imperialism’s many systems of rank and privilege, lodges (places where masons congregated in secret) were also, by their own rules, spaces in which divisions of race or rank from the outside world had no meaning. In colonial Calcutta, for example, where Freemasonry came along with Empire, white Company administrators were known to greet those few Indian subjects they invited to join their society as equals and brothers within the walls of their lodges. It is little wonder then that Robert Burns – Scottish Romantic and famed author of the lyrics, “That Man to Man, the world o’er, / Shall brothers be for a’ that” – was himself a Freemason.
Follow Chris on Twitter here.
View all of the posts in this series here.