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  • On Behalf of the Academics Formerly Known as Romanticists
  • Daniel Block (bio)

Does teaching the opening lines of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound to high school sophomores still qualify me as a practicing Romanticist? For its own sake, our scholarly community needs to start answering yes. When I left academia to teach English at a private high school, I never thought I would return to the body of literature I wrote about for my dissertation and taught during the five years I spent searching for a tenure-track job. But there we were, chanting Prometheus's agonizing refrain "Ah me, alas, pain, pain ever, forever," scanning the rhythms, breaking down the allusions, rhetorical situation, and so on.1 In short, I covered all the [End Page 95] pedagogical bases with my class of admittedly advanced fifteenand sixteen-year-olds. Given the ever-growing number of Ph.D.-trained Romanticists who have exited the field or left academia altogether, my career trajectory is hardly unique. Yet the professoriate tends to overlook the population of diasporic Romanticists, shall we say, who rarely qualify as a target audience despite their established affinity for the scholarship.

The first step towards remedying the field's blind spot for its former colleagues and graduate students is to recognize the limitations inherent in our job categories. Take my case as an example. It would be inaccurate to call myself an "independent" scholar because I am employed by an academic institution, just not a college or university. "Alt-ac" or "post-ac" do not fit for the same reason. Terms such as "generalist" or "writing instructor" likewise do the field a disservice by wrongly disaffiliating the sizeable population of what we might call heritage Romanticists, who completed a dissertation on authors of the period yet now teach other material. Our labels simply do not reflect the increasingly decentralized ambit of scholarly activity.

Well-intentioned efforts to make scholarly writing more publicfacing and accessible to broader audiences similarly obscure just how "public" we Romanticists already are.2 You can find us inside academia and out; teaching and not; in literature, composition, and generalist positions, among other places. In a world where literature positions grow ever scarcer and English departments increasingly choose to merge Romanticism into either a long eighteenthor a long nineteenth-century framework, Romantic studies must conceptualize a place for its non-traditional participants. The field can ill afford to talk past a potentially receptive audience just because their job descriptions do not fit the traditional mold.

So when you envision a Romanticist, recall the acquaintances who have supposedly left the profession. You just might find us working through Frankenstein, Pride and Prejudice, or even Prometheus Unbound with the adolescents who will soon consider taking a Romanticism [End Page 96] course in college. Our heritage Romanticists, correspondents from the scholarly diaspora, represent a largely untapped audience of educated, invested readers who can provide our field with a much-needed opportunity for growth.

Daniel Block

Daniel Block teaches English at King School in Stamford, Connecticut.


1. Percy Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, in Shelley's Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald Reiman and Neil Fraistat, 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), lines 23, 30.

2. Rebecca Colesworthy (@RColesworthy), "Part of what I hear you saying is that, for all the talk of being more public-facing (eg in scholarly writing?), there's little recognition of how "public" we—PhDs not in ac—already are," Twitter, February 1, 2019, 9:44AM,



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