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The Embodied Imagination: British Romantic Cognitive Science Open Access


Other title
aesthetic theory
Erasmus Darwin
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
David Hartley
Joseph Priestley
cognitive historicism
William Wordsworth
cognitive science
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Robertson, Lisa Ann
Supervisor and department
Miall, David (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Ruecker, Stan (Humanities Computing)
Reimer, Stephen (English and Film Studies)
Smith, Robert (History and Classics)
Mulvihill, James (English and Film Studies)
Richardson, Alan (Boston College)
Department of English and Film Studies
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation examines the intersection of British Romantic literary and scientific cognitive theory from 1749 to 1818. Asserting that William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge participated in cognitive science debates initiated by Joseph Priestley’s popularization of David Hartley’s physiological theory of sentience, it argues that the dual lenses of British empiricism and twenty-first-century cognitive science best explicate the poets’ theories of imagination. The poets’ philosophical positions are often understood as a progression from youthful fascination with empiricism to mature transcendentalism. Examining their work in relationship to the cognitive hypotheses of contemporary scientists—Erasmus Darwin, Humphry Davy, and Tom Wedgwood—this study demonstrates that their theories reconcile materialist and transcendentalist epistemologies. I use a cognitive historicist methodology to examine categories of experience that New Historicist critics have considered in terms of transcendentalism. I argue that both poets and scientists saw transcendental experiences, such as encounters with the sublime, in terms of embodied emotion. Enaction, a twenty-first century cognitive theory, exhibits similar fundamental premises as Romantic hypotheses about the relationship between mind, matter, human beings, and the natural world and the importance of emotion in cognition. This thesis examines parallels between contemporary and Romantic-era cognitive science discourse, helps resolve certain longstanding cruxes in the scholarship on Wordsworth and Coleridge, and brings to light overlooked scientific figures in Romantic culture whose intellectual contributions are important to Romantic literary theory.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
“Soulful Sensorium: The Body in Early British Romantic Brain Science,” La Questione Romantica: Rivista Interdisciplinare di Studi Romantici 3.1 (2011): 17-28

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