Manuscripts and Special Collections

Romantic Facts and Fantasies: Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840

Romantic Facts and Fantasies ran between 10 May and 25 August 2019. 

This exhibition explored sixty years of turbulence and innovation that laid the foundations of our modern world.The East Midlands is one of the heartlands of British Romanticism: Nottinghamshire was briefly home to one of its leading lights, the poet and celebrity Lord Byron; and Derbyshire still bears traces of the industrial landscape created by visionary engineers such as Richard Arkwright. Exhibits on display included images, documents and artefacts chronicling the landscape of the Romantic East Midlands, as well as pieces relating to Byron’s life at Newstead Abbey, including a 1st edition of his supernatural drama, Manfred (1817).

Romantic-period preoccupations with imagining and anatomising the natural world were reflected in William Blake’s engravings for The Botanic Garden and in the image of a flea found in The Wonders of the Microscope: or, An Explanation of the Wisdom of the Creator (1811).‘The Kangooroo’ (1789) and other representations of voyages of discovery and colonisation embodied Romantic concerns with real and imagined lands beyond Europe.

Engraving by William Blake

Visitors to the exhibition explored how Romantic ‘fact’ and ‘fantasy’ worked together and against one another during a complex age whose inventions and innovations paved the way for modernity and simultaneously exulted the power of the imagination and its creations.

The exhibition was jointly curated by a team from the School of English (Professor Lynda Pratt, Dr Máire ní Fhlathúin, Johnny Cammish, Colette Davies, Ruby Hawley-Sibbett, Jodie Marley, Amy Wilcockson and Dr Charlotte May) and Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham.


Listen again

Lakeside Arts Centre

The exhibition was accompanied by a series of lunchtime talks and more given by experts, available to watch again.

Exhibition poster

Romantic Facts Poster

Click on the image above to see a larger version of the poster.

Read our blog

Special Collections Librarian and exhibition curator discusses Microscopy, romanticism and anthropomophic fleas.


Exhibition themes

The exhibition boards which were displayed in the Weston Gallery are available to download:

Some of the panels that were in the cases are also available, but we don't have images available of all the items that were displayed:

Visitor comments

Small but stunning exhibition - excellent weaving together of the interplay of Romantic poetry / prose / science / exploration

Caught the attention of my 8 / 9 year olds. Amazing. I loved it too! Thank you

Really interesting to explore literary and scientific culture and to explore women's central role in both. 

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Manuscripts and Special Collections

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