Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Jill Heydt-Stevenson

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Cox

Third Advisor

Paul Youngquist

Fourth Advisor

Helmut Muller-Sievers

Fifth Advisor

Tim Fulford


Poetry and Chemistry, 1770-1830: Mingling Exploded Systems argues that changes in how scientists understood and practiced chemistry influenced how literary writers defined their field. These changes also contributed to a profound transformation occurring between 1770 and 1830: the separation of the arts and sciences into disciplines. I examine the establishment of chemistry as a branch of physical science, the relationship between poetic criticism and scientific theory, and the growing estrangement during the period among humanistic, aesthetic and scientific pursuits. Authors including Anna Barbauld, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, and Humphry Davy responded to the specialization of knowledge ambivalently, embracing the capacity of new methods of order to intensify intellectual scrutiny, but resisting the tendency of disciplines to produce epistemological stability. My project highlights how the period’s writers of imaginative literature found chemistry entrancing. For example, I draw attention to Anna Barbauld’s eager depictions of Joseph Priestley’s laboratory and experiments, and feature Humphry Davy’s multifaceted generic and disciplinary fusions in his Consolations in Travel. In particular, I explore how the concept of the chemical element changed during the period, and how it changed literature: Antoine Lavoisier, in collaboration with other French chemists and following the work of an international scientific community, rejected the idea of four basic elements that the sciences had received from antiquity. Literary authors variously adopted and adapted his new concept to give order to their pursuits, and its prominence inflected their ideas about aesthetic wholeness and poetic fragmentation.