[In Progress] Why We Still Read (and Sing!) Robert Burns with Steve Newman | Virtual Course

Date / Time

  • February 20, 2024
    6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
  • February 27, 2024
    6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
  • March 19, 2024
    6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
  • March 26, 2024
    6:00 pm - 7:30 pm



  • Tuition for this course is $200. 10% off for Rosenbach members and the Delancey Society. Not a member? Learn more.
  • Includes admission to optional in-person Burns Seminar at the Rosenbach on Sunday, March 10. More info
  • This course is limited to participants who are 18 years of age or older.
  • 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 

This course is currently in progress; registration is now closed.


On the evening of January 25th, people from Edinburgh to Shanghai to Philadelphia gather to toast “the immortal memory” of Robert Burns. For he is not only Scotland’s national poet, his work has also been translated into Hebrew, Russian, Chinese, Esperanto, and a host of other languages. To discover the range and depth of work that established Burns as a poet of global significance, we will dive into a great deal of his poetry and a bit of his prose, drawing significantly on one of the world’s finest collections of his works: the Rosenbach’s.  

We will begin with Burns’ spectacular burst onto the scene in 1786, investigating the literary and political matrices that made it possible for this son of a short-lease farmer to become so celebrated, so quickly, though not entirely on his own terms. We will then focus on his love songs and bawdy songs, considering how Burns drew on and transformed tradition with lyrics on affection and lust and how codes of gender and sexuality informed them. Next, we’ll examine his interventions in the politics of the nation, as he presented himself as a “Bardie” licensed to comment on a range of state and religious matters while navigating the electrified disputes of his time. We will conclude with some of his masterpieces, including “Tam O’Shanter “and “Love and Liberty;” the ways his work is circulated, celebrated, and critiqued by readers ranging from Walt Whitman to Frederick Douglass to Abraham Lincoln to Maya Angelou; and how his work has become part of Scotland’s reckoning with its role in the slave trade. Along the way, we will take time to enjoy Burns, paying attention to his remarkable craft, the keen edge of his wit, and the wide range of his sympathy. So don’t “gang agley.” Join us! 

Robert Burns syllabus

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).