Romanticism and the Black Atlantic

Romanticism is best known as a movement celebrating political and imaginative liberty - the human mind freeing itself from the shackles of tradition. But Romanticism also coincided with the apex of the transatlantic slave trade.

In this Cambridge Festival Lecture, Dr Mathelinda Nabugodi drew on her current work in progress, The Trembling Hand: Reflections of a Black Woman in the Romantic Archive, which examines objects found in the archives of the major Romantic poets: unexpected treasures such as Wordsworth’s teacup, Shelley’s baby rattle, or Byron’s carnival mask. In the wake of calls to decolonise the curriculum, Mathelinda explained how poets' relics can prompt wide-ranging reflection on the Romantic period’s legacy in our own time – its poetic ideals as well as its painful realities.

She then focussed on poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was a student at Jesus College where Mathelinda is currently a Postdoctoral Associate. Starting with Coleridge's time at Jesus, where he won a prize for an Ode on the Slave Trade written in Ancient Greek, she uncovered some of the links between the poetry of freedom and the practices of slavery in the Romantic period.

The lecture formed part of Jesus College’s Coleridge250 series, a commemoration of this controversial figure marking 250 years since Coleridge’s birth.

A recording of the talk is available on our College YouTube channel.