Experiments in Land and Society, 1793-1833



Partners and collaborators

Wordsworth Grasmere; Lancashire Wildlife Trust


This project explores the cultural history of environmental change amid the Industrial Revolution in Britain, from the 1790s to the 1830s. It examines poets, politicians and philosophers of the Romantic period who were also first-hand participants in experimental schemes to change the physical landscape around them. The writers who feature in this project drained marshlands, managed estates, designed industrial villages, or—on a smaller but still significant scale–gardened, farmed, or planned utopian communities. Their social and artistic ideals influenced their land reform enterprises. In turn, the successes and failures of those enterprises changed their ideas about society and art.

The project deals both with canonical Romantic poets—Wordsworth, Coleridge and Percy Shelley—and with others who are far less well remembered, like William Madocks, the radical MP who undertook a vast scheme to embank an estuary from the sea, and Charles Waterton, the naturalist who turned his ancestral estate into what has been called the world's first nature reserve. I track those reformers through five pivotal decades for Britain's economy and environment. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are the 'classic' era of the British Industrial Revolution. Historians have increasingly recognised that the Industrial Revolution involved the reshaping and rethinking of ecosystems. In Britain and its overseas colonies, industrialisation required both radically transformed landscapes and new conceptions of nature itself.

The results of this project will include a special issue of the field’s flagship journal, Studies in Romanticism, reassessing the relationship between Romantic culture, environmental change, and the Industrial Revolution. Its principal academic output will be a book that aims to rethink the interactions between nature, politics and imagination during a period that shaped the global environment of the present day.


Collaborations with Wordsworth Grasmere and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust on a range of public-facing activities.

Publications and outputs

An Inventive Age: Writing of the Industrial Revolution, 1770–1830', special issue of Studies in Romanticism, forthcoming; 'The Altered Landscape, 1793–1834: Environmental Changes in Romantic Culture' (book in progress).

Project website