Dr Francesca Mackenney


I joined the University of Leeds in 2021 as a Research and Teaching Fellow in Romanticism. After completing my PhD at the University of Bristol in 2016, I held positions at Bristol, Edinburgh Napier University and Royal Holloway, University of London. 

Research interests

My research mainly concerns how writers in the long nineteenth century thought and wrote about the natural world, and understood their own place within it. My first book, Birdsong, Speech and Poetry: The Art of Composition in the Long Nineteenth Century, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press in 2022. Drawing together responses to birdsong in science, music and poetry, this interdisciplinary work raises fundamental questions about the medium of poetry—what poetry can and cannot do, and how it differs from, for example, a piece of music.

My research has increasingly focused on the role that literature can and should play in environmental education. Following a series of guided walks designed to introduce young people to the different ‘ways’ in which scientists, musicians and poets have responded to birdsong, I developed an educational podcast with Creative Scotland. My work in this area also forms the basis for a forthcoming chapter in a volume entitled Poetry and Sustainability in Education (forthcoming, Palgrave: 2022).

In my current role at Leeds, I am working with Dr Jeremy Davies on his AHRC-funded project examining Romantic-period schemes to change the physical environment, ‘Experiments in Land and Society: 1793–1834’. Particularly, my role involves investigating Robert Owen’s ‘experiments’ at New Lanark Mills; I am especially interested in how communities forcibly evicted from their homes during the Highland Clearances adjusted to their new ‘environment’ at New Lanark. Alongside this, I am also working with external partners such as the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the Wordsworth Trust to create educational activities and podcasts exploring the ‘improvement’ of Chat Moss and gardening in the writings of the Wordsworth siblings.

I am also now laying the groundwork for my next project on peatlands. As urgent action is being undertaken to restore these landscapes worldwide (Paris Climate Agreement, 2016), my research will explore how they were imagined, interpreted and very often misunderstood in literature and culture of the long nineteenth century. An international placement at the Library of Congress in 2022 will enable me to begin work in this area by delving into the writings of American essayist Henry David Thoreau, who discovered in even the most ‘dismal’ of American swamps ‘a sacred place, a sanctum sanctorum’ (‘Walking’, 1862).

My research and related work with young people has been supported by an AHRC Doctoral Award, an Early Career Fellowship with the British Association for Romantic Studies and the Wordsworth Trust, a Creative Scotland Sustaining Creative Development Award and, most recently, an AHRC International Placement at the Library of Congress.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • BA Hons in English Literature
  • MA in English Literature
  • PhD in English Literature

Student education

I teach or have taught modules on:

  • Restoration and eighteenth-century writing
  • Romanticism
  • environment
  • Victorian and Modernist literature
  • poetry