The Romantic period spanned more than half a century, commonly understood to have begun in 1798 in England and to have lasted through to 1865. Its beginnings were in England but its terminus was in the United States. Because the literature spans seven prolific decades and two distinct cultures, choosing a research topic can be daunting. But Romanticism has a few overarching themes that can form the basis of a research topic.
Romanticism is broadly divided between the English and American schools of thought and is a term widely applied to literature, art, music and intellectualism. Your research topic could form a comparison between the two schools, with an emphasis on key players in literature or art in both cultures. Ask if the culture presented in the art is similar or distinctly different, and then look for reasons why the English school of Romanticism might differ from the American school. Consider comparing William Blake or Wordsworth to Whitman and the popular interpretation that Whitman’s Romanticism was fundamentally different because of the land he lived in and the people who surrounded him.
In England in particular, poetry was the principal literary form of Romanticism. Comparing Wordsworth, Coleridge, two mid-era poets, with Blake and Burns, two early-era poets, could help illustrate the growth of the movement and the change in focus from early Romantic poetry to later Romantic poetry. Or consider drawing in the poems of Lord Byron or Keats’ odes. For a more specific treatment, look for recurring themes in Romantic poetry, looking for oppressed figures or marginalized heroes and heroines.
The Romantic era followed on the heels of the Enlightenment, a period of radial social change through Europe. Its writers, artists and thinkers, some say, were responding to Enlightenment-era ideas; as such, the Romantic era is often viewed as counter to the Enlightenment, a conservative reaction. Others argue that Romanticism follows logically from the Enlightenment and builds upon an already solid foundation. Explore contemporary critiques of both schools to explore the relationship between the ideologies.
Look at the art and literature of the Romantic period as a way of relating the art to the culture from which it sprang. Stephen Behrendt suggests starting by looking at a particular year during the Romantic period to decide which poet or artist was the most popular, and then to ask yourself what might have lead to that popularity. Research what happened to writers who went against commonly held positions. What happened when Romantics opposed the state?
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