Michael Gamer

Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities

20022003 Forum on The Book

Michael Gamer

Associate Professor, English

Recollections in Tranquility: Museums, Collecting, and the Institutionalization of Romantic Authorship

Dr. Gamer’s investigation brings two bodies of critical writing – recent theoretical work on collecting and museum culture, and historicist work on 19th century poetic collections – to bear on the 19th century canonization of Romantic poetry. In doing so, he poses several questions: How do certain writers become national institutions, specifically Britain’s Robert Burns?; Why do the acts of literary canonization coincide with the founding of Britain’s first explicitly national museums?; What does this process have to do with the history of authorship? Figuring prominently in his project is the changing conception of authorship at the turn of the 19th century. By comparing the idealized notion of the author, identified in the works of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, and other Romantic writers, with alternative types of authorship – newspaper poets, Gothic dramatists, and the poet laureate, Gamer challenges late 18th century notions of literary authority. Romantic writers actively worked to re-configure themselves as independent, autonomous authors whose books had lasting value (i.e. were worthy of being collected) for themselves, independent collectors, and national institutions.