Robert Burns In Person Seminar with Steve Newman

Date / Time

  • March 10, 2024
    11:00 am - 3:00 pm


2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103, United States


  • Tuition for this course is $75. 10% off for Rosenbach members and the Delancey Society. Not a member? Learn more.
  • This in person seminar is also free for those who register for the online Robert Burns course. More info here.
  • This is an in-person program held at the Rosenbach. Please check your spam folder for your email confirmation. If you have questions, please call (215) 732-1600 or email [email protected].
  • Registration opens for Delancey Society on December 6, for Rosenbach members on December 14, and for the general public on January 3 


Description — Burns’ Networks

How did Robert Burns, born into poverty in the rural reaches of southwest Scotland, gain literary renown in his too-short life, earn worldwide fame as Scotland’s Bard, and become a great poet of democracy? Digging into the riches of one of the world’s great Burns collections at the Rosenbach, we will discover that his success was due, in significant part, to his stupendous talent and remarkable drive. But also necessary to Burns’ success were the various networks of friends, lovers, patrons, and authors – both men and women – who inspired and sponsored his work, often sought to set limits on it, and revealed the ideological forces structuring the worlds he traveled. 

By looking at the manuscripts of Burns’ very first poem and another about his plans to ship off to the West Indies (which also puts him and us in touch with the poisonous network of the transatlantic slave trade) we’ll gain an understanding of the desires firing and the challenges facing him as he commenced his poetic career. Then, we’ll examine the overlapping networks that helped and challenged him and set the terms by which his work was circulated and received, terms largely beyond his control. For instance, his masterpiece, “Tam O’Shanter,” was initially produced for Francis Grose’s Antiquities of Scotland, part of an antiquarian network that both celebrated Scottish folkways but threatened to render them merely quaint. And his exchange with writer Helen Maria Williams about her poem on slavery brings him into context with the literary world of his time and reformist/radical networks. That same radical network came to include “For a’ That & a’ That,” Burns’ great anthem of democracy, though Burns, like many others, chose to participate in it anonymously for fear of losing his job, his liberty, and even his life. His “Epistle to Robert Graham, Esq. of Fintry” highlights the patronage he sought, to get and keep his job with the Excise, and the humbling modes of address that came with it, in tension with the sentiments of “For a’ That…” and many other works. But mostly, we will focus our attention on one of the other gems from the Rosenbach’s collection: the copy of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Originally presented to Mrs. Frances Dunlop of Dunlop, we will look at the manuscript poems and letters found therein, which give us a unique view of how Burns’ epoch-making volume came to be and how his poetic production was shaped by friendship, patronage, and the forces of gender and class. 

Seminar schedule

About the Instructor

Steve Newman is Associate Professor of English at Temple University, where he has won multiple teaching awards. Robert Burns figures centrally into his book, Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon: The Call of the Popular from the Restoration to the New Criticism (Penn Press), a recent article in Global Romanticism (Bucknell University Press), a forthcoming article from Blackwell, and his book-in-progress, Time for the Humanities: Competing Narratives of Value from the Scottish Enlightenment to the 21st Century Academy. His edition of The Gentle Shepherd was published this year as the inaugural volume of the Edinburgh University Press edition of The Works of Allan Ramsay, and he heads up a digital humanities project on The Beggar’s Opera. He recently served as the President of Temple’s faculty union, the Temple Association of University Professionals (AFT #4531).