Photo of Paul Keen

Paul Keen

Degrees:B.A. Honours (Dalhousie), M.A. (St. Andrews, U.K.), (British Columbia), D.Phil. (York, England)
Phone:613-520-2600 x 2333
Office:512 Tory Building

Research Interests

  • Romantic and eighteenth-century print culture
  • Literature and politics in the Romantic period
  • The cultural impact of commercial modernity
  • Changing constructions of authorship

Current Research

My current book, entitled Imagining What We Know: A Defense of the Humanities in a Utilitarian Age, explores the ways that critics writing in the early nineteenth century developed arguments in favour of the humanities in the face of utilitarian pressures that dismissed the arts as self-indulgent pursuits incapable of addressing real-world problems. Its focus reflects the ways that similar pressures today have foregrounded all over again the question of how to make the case for the value of the humanities. Evidence of these problems surrounds us, but the core of my argument is that these pressures also constitute an important opportunity: a chance to re-imagine our answers to questions about the nature and role of the humanities, their potential benefits to contemporary life, and how we might channel these benefits back into the larger society. The good news is that in many ways, this self-reflexive challenge is precisely what the humanities have always done best: highlight the nature and the force of the narratives that have helped to define how we understand our society – its various pasts and its possible futures – and to suggest the larger contexts within which these issues must ultimately be situated. History repeats itself, but never in quite the same way: knowing more about past debates will provide a crucial basis for moving forward as universities, and the humanities in particular, position themselves to respond to new challenges during an age of radical change.

My other research project, The Idea of the Author in Pre-Confederation Canada, which I am co-writing with Cynthia Sugars, explores the ways that early nineteenth-century writers in what was to become known as Canada formulated ideas about the nature and importance of a domestic literature in the British American colonies, and, what was inseparable from that, about what it meant to be a professional author.  D.C. Harvey’s description of Nova Scotia in the years between 1835 and 1848 (the years between Joseph Howe’s libel trial and the achievement of responsible government) as a period of “intellectual awakening” applied to other regions equally well. It was a period of considerable unrest (symbolized most dramatically by the 1837-38 uprisings in Lower and Upper Canada) but also of cultural and intellectual fermentation; a time when writers from a range of cultural and political perspectives raised important questions about the public worth of a domestic literature, the status of the authors who produced it, and the challenges to colonial cultural production.

Honours and Awards

  • SSHRC Insight Grant ($109,464), with Cynthia Sugars (PI): Imprinting Authority: Literature, Community, and Settler Legitimation in Pre-Confederation English (2017-22)
  • Davidson Dunton Research Lectureship (2013)
  • University Research Achievement Award (2011)
  • University Teaching Achievement Award (2003)
  • University Research Achievement Award (2001)
  • SSHRC Insight Development Grant, co-applicant with Cynthia Sugars: The Idea of the Author in Pre-Confederation Canada (2014-16)
  • SSHRC Insight Grant: Imagining What We Know: A Defence of the Humanities in a Utilitarian Age (2013-18)
  • SSHRC Standard Research Grant ($32,425): World of Wonders: An Anthology of Eighteenth-Century Print Culture (2010-13)
  • SSHRC Standard Research Grant: Fashionable Subjects: Literature, Commerce and the Spectacle of Modernity, 1750-1800 (2006-09)
  • SSHRC Standard Research Grant: Reading for Profit: Literature, Commerce and Fashion, 1750-1800 (2002-05)
  • SSHRC Conference Grant: “Wicked and Seditious Writings”: The   Politics of Print Culture, 1750-1850 (2004)


The Humanities in a Utilitarian Age: Imagining What We Know, 1800-1850. Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming.

Mary Wollstonecraft in Context. Co-edited with Nancy E. Johnson. Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

Interacting with Print: Keywords for the Era of Media Saturation. One of 24 equal authors. Chicago University Press, 2018.

The Age of Authors: An Anthology of Eighteenth-Century Print Culture. Broadview Press, 2014.

Literature, Commerce, and the Spectacle of Modernity, 1750-1800. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Bookish Histories: Books, Literature and Commercial Modernity, 1700-1900. Co-edited with Ina Ferris. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Revolutions in Romantic Literature: An Anthology of Print Culture, 1780-1832. Broadview Press, 2004.

The Radical Popular Press in Britain, 1817-1821. Editor. 6 Volumes. Pickering & Chatto, 2003.

The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s: Print Culture and the Public Sphere. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Recent Articles

“Towards a Radical Humanism,” special issue of the Praxis series in Romantic Circles on “Raymond Williams and Romanticism,” ed. Jonathan Sachs and Jon Klancher (2018)

“Fashionable Subjects: Curious Exhibits and the Limits of Sociability,” The Sites of Romantic Sociability.  Ed. Kevin Gilmartin. Cambridge UP, 2016.

“Radical Atlantic: Joseph Howe and the Culture of Reform,” Journal of Canadian Studies. Volume 48.3 (2014): 1-18.

“Imagining What We Know: The Humanities in a Utilitarian Age,” Humanities 3 (2014): 73-87. Special Issue: “The Challenges of the Humanities, Past, Present, and Future,” ed. Albrecht Classen.

“‘The Good Things Above’: The Commercial Modernity of Vincent Lunardi,” The 18-Century Common (2013)

“Shelley on the Assembly Line: A Defence of the Humanities,” Keats-Shelley Review 26.2 (2012).

“‘Uncommon Animals’: Making Virtue of Necessity in the Age of Authors,” Bookish Histories: Books, Literature and Commercial Modernity, 1700-1900. Ed. Paul Keen and Ina Ferris. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Pp. 41-60.

“Foolish Knowledge: The Commercial Modernity of the Periodical Press.” European Romantic Review 19 (July 2008): 199-218.

“The ‘Balloonomania’: Science and Spectacle in 1780s England.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.4 (2006): 507-535.


“‘The Philosopher in the Workshop’: Rethinking the Literatures of Knowledge and Power,” Symposium in Honour of Jerome McGann, Boston University (Spring 2019).

“‘Shooting Niagara’: The Humanities on the Edge”: Plenary Speaker, Canadian Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies Conference, Niagara Falls (October 2018)

“John Stuart Mill’s ‘Transitional Age,’” NASSR, Ottawa (August 2017)

“’Glad Enlightenment’”: Leigh Hunt’s Radical Humanism,” BARS, York, UK (July 2017)

“Joseph Howe and the Novascotian: Reimagining Literary Authority in Pre-Confederation Canada,” Co-presented with Cynthia Sugars, BARS, York, UK (July 2017)

“Making Nova Scotia Great Again: Revisiting Thomas McCulloch’s The Nature and Uses of a Liberal Education Illustrated,” Co-presented with Cynthia Sugars, Raddall Symposium: “Thoughts from the Eastern Edge,” Wolfville, NS (July 2017)

“Culture and Anarchy: Thomas Arnold’s ‘Great World of Knowledge,’” ACCUTE, Calgary (May 2016)

“Reinventing the Humanities: Thomas Arnold’s ‘Great World of Knowledge,’” University of North Texas (April 2015)

“”All I Ever Learned About Uselessness I learned From the Late Eighteenth Century,” Special panel on Useless Knowledge and the Eighteenth Century, MLA, Austin, Texas (January 2015)

“Conjuring Humanism: Southey, Macaulay, and the Invention of Tradition,” BARS, Cardiff, UK (July 2015)

“‘Who Do You Think Came to See Me?’ Blackwood’s Magazine and Early Canadian Satire,” Co-presented with Cynthia Sugars, BARS, Cardiff, UK (July 2015)

“Organizing Excess: Romantic Evolution and the Bibliographic Sublime,” North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, Washington, DC (July 2014)

“‘The Long Revolution: The Challenge of the Humanities Today,” New Directions in the Humanities Conference, Madrid (June 2014)

“Radical Atlantic: Joseph Howe and the Culture of Reform,” ASCUS, Tampa, FL (November, 2013)

“Unconsoled: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Outposts,” Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies Triennial Conference, St. Lucia (August 2013)

“Transatlantic Rambles: Joseph Howe, Popular Radicalism, and Local Culture,” Raddall Symposium: “Atlantic Canada in a Shifting World,” Wolfville, NS (July 2013)

“Hanging by a Thread: Social Media and Literary Value in a London Field, August 1754,” Davidson Dunton Lecture, Carleton University (April, 2013)

“Fashionable Subjects: Curious Exhibits and the Limits of Sociability,” Romantic Sociability Workshop, Huntington Library (January 2012)

“‘Diminutive History’: Reinventing Everyday Life,” International Conference on Romanticism, Montreal (November 2011)

“A Modest Proposal: Grotesque Complicity in Don Le Pan’s Animals,” ACQL, Fredericton, NB (June 2011)

“Shelley on the Assembly Line: A Defence of the Humanities,” ACCUTE, Fredericton, NB (June 2011)

“‘Bastilled by Nature’: Geometric Print Culture,” Romantic Evolution Conference, London, ON (May 2011)

Keynote Speaker: “Recycled Paper: The Afterlives of Literature,” New Materialities Conference, Toronto (February 2010)

“The Evolutionary Uncanny: Transgenerational Phantoms from Freud to Derrida,” co-written with Cynthia Sugars, Freud After Derrida Conference, Winnipeg (October 2010).

“Orphaned by Nature: The Unnatural Daughter in Anne of Green Gables,” L.M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature Conference, Charlottetown (June 2010)

“‘The Masquerades of the Grand Carnival of Our Age’: Fashionable Politics in the 1790s,” CSECS, Ottawa, ON (November 2009)

“World of Wonders: Advertising Culture in Eighteenth-Century England,” ACCUTE, Ottawa, ON (May 2009)

“‘So — so — commonplace’:  Romancing the Local in Anne of Green Gables and Aurora Leigh,” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables and the Idea of Classic Conference, Charlottetown, (June 2008)

“Uncommon Animals: Making Virtue of Necessity in the Age of Authors,” Bookish Histories Workshop, Ottawa (August 2007)

“‘The Tyranny of Fashion’: The Learned Pig and The Reading Nation,” British Association for Romantic Studies, Bristol, England (July 2007)

“Bedlam,” American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Montreal (March 2006).

“‘With Seeming Inattention’: The Politics of Manners in the Late Eighteenth-Century Periodicals,” Concordia University English Department Lecture Series (September 2005)

“‘Coin for General Use’: Commercial Humanism, and the Periodical Press,” ACCUTE, London, ON (May 2005)

“The ‘Balloonomania’: Science and Spectacle in 1780s England,” the annual Ogden Glass Lecture, Bishop’s University (January 2005)

“The Learned Pig and the Swinish Multitude: Still Troubling the Public Sphere,” CSECS, London, ON (October 2004)

“‘Favoured Minds’: Literary Authority and the Public Sphere,” ACCUTE, Winnipeg (May 2004)

“‘Aerial Quixotes’: Ballooning and Cultural Ambivalence in 1780s England,” ASECS, Boston (March 2004)

Recent Graduate Courses

The Production of Literature: Doctoral core course (ENGL 6000)

Revolutions in Romantic Literature: Debates in Romantic Print Culture (ENGL 5408)

Culture and Anarchy: Victorian Prose Writers (ENGL 5508)                                                          

Cultural Commerce: The Spectacle of Modernity in 18th-C Britain (ENGL 5402)