Call for Abstracts: Nineteenth-Century Contexts – Special Issue on Ecologies of the Atlantic Archipelago

Ellen Hutchins, Fucus ovalis, collected on Whiddy Island, 1805, Trinity College Dublin

Deadline: 31 January, 2020.
Guest Editors: Seán Hewitt & Anna Pilz
Publication: May 2021

Studies of the intertwined histories of Great Britain, Ireland, and their associated islands have given rise to the notion of ‘archipelagic studies’. As in John Kerrigan’s seminal work Archipelagic English, the cover of which shows the familiar image of Great Britain and Ireland on a map tilted, reaching out from mainland Europe and into the Atlantic, this involves a new perspective on geography, identity, and the relations between nations. Central to this field of criticism are concerns regarding land and the natural world.

Nineteenth-century developments resulted in dramatic shifts within the archipelago, with attending drastically-altered human-environment relationships. There were numerous instances of famine, subsistence crises, demographic change, and altered pressures on land and systems of tenure. Connective technologies of the modern world spread to sparsely populated regions, complicating notions of centre and periphery as well as tradition and modernity. Unprecedented infrastructural developments via roads and railway networks connected rural and urban geographies, resulting in increased tourist traffic; the expansion of ports further enhanced trading networks with Europe and beyond; and the spread of the colonial project led to various productions of knowledge of the natural world.

Alongside the British project, various nationalisms looked to the natural world as a way of arguing for racial, cultural and geographical distinction. Islands and coastlines, the ‘untouched’ places, were loaded with radical potential. The folk revivals, and the attention paid to local cultures, had political as well as ecological consequences. A pan-Celtic cultural movement sought to offer new visions of the natural world which might alter, supplement or correct Anglo-Saxon narratives. Thus, nature became a temporal category within the imperial project.

Within the archipelago, the ‘Celtic’ nations contributed both to the larger British scientific project and to individual, national attempts to consolidate a vision of cultural and geographical identity through nature. While civic science and natural history bloomed alongside folklore collection, the boundary between scientific and literary writing remained productively porous. Networks of knowledge exchange proliferated.

In ecocritical studies which respond to the notion of the Anthropocene, an emphasis has been placed on the transnational capacity of environmental crisis to break down, and spill over, national borders. Likewise, ways of seeing the world which were posited as outmoded, belated, or ‘primitive’ by the rationalising project of nineteenth-century Europe are being re-examined and explored as beneficial to reconsidering human/non-human relations in the twenty-first century. Thus, animism, pantheism and vitalism have all recently been posited as radical correctives to Western thought.

This issue aims to bring into focus interconnection, idiosyncrasy, and the ways in which national boundaries were simultaneously made porous and more distinct by writers and artists who sought to engage with the new visions of nature which the nineteenth-century offered. How does ecological disaster prompt shifts in artistic production? How were ecological relationships linked with colonialism and its legacies within the archipelago? How does contested religious thought and identity affect relationships with the natural world? How are natural histories and national histories bound and interlinked? Literary considerations of the archipelagic environment, and archipelagic ecological relationships, are varied and multitudinous.

To focus on nineteenth-century contexts of archipelagic ecologies enables the tracing of connections and the identification of shifts in perception that might not easily align with literary periodisation of Romantic, Victorian and early Modernist writing. New developments in ecocriticism, from new materialisms to notions of the Anthropocene, shed light on the innovations of nineteenth-century cultural responses to environmental shifts and scientific work.


  • gendered environments
  • urban environments and their cultural productions
  • folk revival and ‘local’ literature
  • discoveries of archipelagic environments
  • environments in children’s literature
  • natural history and education
  • human-animal relations
  • writing natural history
  • nature and regional languages / dialects
  • writing environmental catastrophe
  • nature, environment, and genre
  • poetics of place
  • nature writing and regional environments
  • literary geographies and environment
  • travel writing and environment  
  • nature as a museum of the past
  • nature and its regenerative potentials
  • colonial networks within and outside the archipelago
  • periodical culture, agricultural reform, and environmentalism

We invite 600-800-word abstracts for a 31 January 2020 deadline. The commissioned articles (of no longer than 9,000 words, inclusive of footnotes) will be due on 31 August 2020. All submissions will undergo peer review and may include illustrations with copyright to be secured by the author (colour for online publication and black and white for print). Abstracts should be submitted to both Dr Seán Hewitt ( and Dr Anna Pilz (