Siobhan Carroll specializes in British literature from 1750-1850 – the turbulent historical period called the “Romantic Century” – and in modern science fiction and fantasy. She is interested in the ways that literature has shaped our understanding of empire, community, and the natural world.
Professor Carroll’s first book, An Empire of Air and Water: Uncolonizable Space in the British Imagination, 1750-1850 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), describes the complicated relationship between literature, science, and exploration during the growth of the British Empire. Natural spaces such as the atmosphere and the North Pole were once inaccessible to humans and thus also ideal settings for fantastic tales. But during the Romantic Century, inventions such as the air balloon brought these spaces within the potential reach of human empire. Some authors, like Mary Shelley, reacted against this ‘invasion’ of previously imagined spaces. Others, like Charles Dickens, saw it as an opportunity to argue for the importance of literature to imperial expansion. Whatever their position, writers crafted images of “uncolonizable” spaces that reflected their attitudes towards the growth of the British Empire. The images that literature helped develop – such as the notion that the Arctic and Antarctic are identical “polar spaces” and should be grouped together by scientists and politicians – continue to shape the stories we tell in fiction and in politics.
Professor Carroll is currently working on a new book, Circulating Nature: Planetary Politics in the Transatlantic Imagination, 1791-1914, which examines how Americans, Canadians and Britons came to view Nature as a global phenomena. As part of this project, she is researching depictions of travel in nineteenth-century board games. Undergraduate students who might be interested in serving as summer research assistants on this project are encouraged to get in touch with her.
Professor Carroll’s teaching interests include 18th and 19th century British literature, imperialism, nationalism, the environmental imagination, marine studies, and science fiction and fantasy literature. Her upcoming courses include “Dangerous Victorians” (undergraduate) and ““Nature’s Empire: Imperialism, Ecology, and the Invention of the Global” (a graduate course in our department’s transatlantic research track).