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Professor Nicola J Watson

Nicola Watson recovering from Victor Hugo’s house, Paris, 2013

Profile summary

Web links

Professional biography

I trained at Oxford University in the literature and culture of the Romantic period, studying with Jonathan Wordsworth, Marilyn Butler, and Paul Hamilton. In 1985, I took up a Frank Knox Fellowship to Harvard University and spent four years there, before moving to Northwestern University, Chicago. Ten years later, I came back to Oxford, before joining the Open University in 1999.

Research interests

My research interests are based within the Romantic period but extend backwards into the eighteenth century and forwards into the nineteenth. I specialise in the cultural afterlives of authors and texts, with particular reference to literary tourism and geography, forms of literary commemoration and heritage, and related practices of adaptation.

In addition to an edition of Walter Scott's The Antiquary, two edited collections of essays, and many essays and articles, I have published four books. My first, Revolution and the Form of the British Novel 1790-1820 (OUP, 1994), dealt with the politics of novelistic form in the period. England's Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy (OUP, 2002), my second book, was co-authored with Professor Michael Dobson and was a study of the afterlives of Elizabeth I in history, biography, fiction, poetry, drama, opera, film,and other media. My third monograph, The Literary Tourist: Readers and Places in Romantic and Victorian Britain (Palgrave, 2006) investigated the history of the phenomenon of literary tourism.   The book I published in 2020, The Author’s Effects: On the Writer's House Museum (OUP, 2020), explores the cult of the author through investigating the emergence of the writer’s house museum as idea and actuality.  I look at a series of celebrated objects associated with writers to trace the cultural meanings they have accumulated over time, and consider how such objects have been used in place-making.  Other recent related essays have dealt with the history of the 'Shakespeare garden', the emergence of 'Juliet's tomb' as a tourist destination, and the development of tourism associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jane Austen. If you would like to learn more please see my research blog ( Most recently, I have been increasingly working on the digital futures of writer's house museums; for one online exhibition devised recently for the Birthplace Trust, see 'Shakespeare and Literary Pilgrimage' at Trust

I act as Association Co-ordinator for ERA (European Romanticisms in Association), a pan-European association of scholarly institutions and heritage institutions devoted to the arts and culture of the Romantic period which was founded and launched at a meeting in Rome in late 2016.  Members of ERA worked on the AHRC-funded network (2018-2020) on which I served as PI, Dreaming Romantic Europe (DREAM) (Co-I Professor Catriona Seth, All Souls, Oxford). Work continues on the core project initiated under ERA and funded by DREAM, the online exhibition REVE (Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition) of iconic objects exemplifying pan-European aspects of Romanticism. We now have some 150 objects drawn from right across Europe and beyond on display, along with 8 collections and associated pedagogic resource. For the latest, including the new walk-in virtual exhibition, Romanticism in 100 Objects, go to A forthcoming special issue of Romanticism on the Net, entitled Materialsing Romanticism, reflects on the project as a whole.

My current project, Coastlines, returns to questions of literary geography and ideas of nation. In collaboration with English heritage and Natural England, it explores how England’s coastline has been written in the past and reimagines it for the future. It maps a coastal literary canon from medieval to contemporary along the King Charles III England Coast Path, due to be completed in 2024, and uses it to inspire newly commissioned writings that can speak to an increasingly diverse population, staging a conversation between English voices past and present to think about future English identities.

Recent speaking engagements have included the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, the University of Gottingen, and the University of Oslo. Upcoming engagements include keynotes in Budapest and BSECS 2024. 

Teaching interests

Over my career at the OU I have developed undergraduate teaching material for the Open University (print, video, audio, digital, and automated) on a wide variety of subjects: the literature and culture of the late eighteenth century and romantic period, nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, children’s literature, and travel-writing;   I’ve authored material for undergraduate study on the literary fairy tale, Shakespeare and tourism, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Byron, Thomas de Quincey, Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf, Louisa M. Alcott, J.M. Barrie and Daphne du Maurier. You can see  some of my work on the Royal Pavilion at Brighton on OpenLearn.

I have chaired a number of teams responsible for the development and management of courses in production and presentation including A103 (An introduction to the humanities), A207 (From Enlightenment to Romanticism c.1780-1830), A230 (Reading and studying literature), and A300 (Twentieth-century literature).  I have a strong interest in new modes of online teaching and learning, inventing short-form learning materials such as 1-minute cartoon introductions to literary theory Outside the book - OpenLearn - Open University, apps such as the Poetry Prescription Poetry Prescription - OpenLearn - Open University, and material supporting the BBC4 series The Secret Life of Books (on which I was academic consultant and an interviewee) on OpenLearn The Secret Life of Books: Series Two - OpenLearn - Open University

At postgraduate level, I have contributed material on Romanticism and on literary geography to our new MA. I have supervised projects on topics ranging from Samuel Richardson, through William Blake, late eighteenth-century theatre, eighteenth-century fiction and the American wars, Charlotte Smith, mental illness and the Victorian novel, and modern children’s literature. I welcome approaches from students interested in the late eighteenth century and romantic period generally, historical fiction, travel-writing, place-writing, literary biography and afterlives, and forms of literary commemoration.

Impact and engagement

In addition to regularly speaking by invitation at academic conferences and symposia, I frequently give public lectures: at the Stratford Shakespeare Club, Dr Johnson’s House, the Edinburgh Scott Club, the Humanities Festival at the University of Lund in Sweden; the Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschäft in Vienna; the Humanities Festival at the University of Linköping, Sweden; Chawton House Library; the Johnson Society of London; the Oxford Italian Association; the York Festival of Ideas; The Burns Birthplace; the Sorbonne; The British Council in Paris; and the Being Human Festival 2017.  Media appearances have included slots on Woman’s Hour, Time Team special on Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, an ‘audio postcard’ from Poet’s Corner in conversation with Andrew Motion ahead of the Royal Wedding for Radio 4’s The Sunday Programme,  a programme on Oxford’s literary sites for Radio 4’s Night Waves; and BBC 4’s series The Secret Life of Books. Consultanices have most recently included BBC 4's Write Around the World with Richard E Grant (2021) and Kae Tempest (2023).  An audio-visual installation based on my research was first shown at the York Festival of Ideas 2016 and restaged for at MKLitFest 2018. I have made a number of appearances at literary festivals, most recently at MKLitFest 2019. In 2012 I advised the British Library on its exhibition 'Writing Britain' and since then have acted as consultant to various tourist boards and museums on exhibition strategies, including advising the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on the redevelopment of New Place for the anniversary of 2016.  In 2019 I founded the first and second iterations of 'The Memoir Club' which facilitates and investigates the therapeutic benefts of memoir-writing for the older writer. My work with and on writer's house museums formed the basis of an Impact Case Study for REF 2021.

External collaborations

I have acted as advisor and collaborator on a number of funded projects to do with tourism and commemoration including: ‘Burns; The Object of Memory’ based in Edinburgh and Dundee; ‘Locating Imagination’, based at Rotterdam, ‘Shakespeare: Cultures of Commemoration’ based in Murcia, Spain, and ‘Writing Britain’s Ruins’ based in Stirling. I have acted as consultant on the redisplay of Shakespeare’s New Place for 2016 and on the upcoming redecelopment of Anne Hathaway's Cottage, and I am presently working with TRAUM on the futures of writer’s house museums in Norway. Nowadays, I am also Trustee of the Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney, and sitting on the advisory board of MKLitFest. The AHRC-funded Dreaming Romantic Europe (Co-I Prof Catriona Seth, All Souls, Oxford) brings together scholarly associations and heritage organizations from across Europe to collaborate in the making of REVE (Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition), a searchable virtual museum.  See:

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Heritage Studies Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts
Romantic Period Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts
The Arts and their Audiences Research ClusterClusterFaculty of Arts


Afterword (2020)
Watson, Nicola J.
Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 42(4) (pp. 467-471)

[Book Review] Transatlantic Literature and Author Love in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Paul Westover and Ann Wierda Rowland (2018)
Watson, Nicola J.
Victorian Studies, 60(4) (pp. 666-668)

Afterword: ‘Dear Shakespeare-land’: investing in Stratford (2012-07)
Watson, N. J.
Critical Survey, 24(2) (pp. 88-98)

Fandom mapped: Rousseau, Scott and Byron on the itinerary of Lady Frances Shelley (2011-04)
Watson, Nicola
Romantic Circles Praxis Series: Romantic Fandom, Article , article 2

Lady of the Lake Colloquium: The Trossachs: 23rd May 2010 (2010)
Watson, Nicola
Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club Annual Bulletin, MMX (pp. 48-51)

Shakespeare en Elizabeth: Een liefdesgeschiedenis (2002-01-01)
Dobson, Michael and Watson, Nicola
Feit und Fictie, 5(3) (pp. 62-81)

The Author’s Effects: On the Writer’s House Museum (2020)
Watson, N. J.
ISBN : 9780198847571 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford, New York

The Literary Tourist: Readers and Places in Romantic and Victorian Britain (2006-10)
Watson, Nicola J.
ISBN : 1403999929 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Basingstoke, UK

England's Elizabeth: an afterlife in fame and fantasy (2002-11-07)
Dobson, Michael and Watson, Nicola J.
ISBN : 198183771 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford, UK

Revolution and the Form of the British Novel 1790-1825: Intercepted Letters, Interrupted Seductions (1994)
Watson, Nicola
ISBN : 978-0-19-811297-6 | Publisher : Clarendon Press | Published : Oxford

At Juliet's Tomb: Anglophone Travel-writing and Shakespeare's Verona, 1814-1914 (2016-10-06)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Bigliazzi, Silvia and Calvi, Lisanna eds. Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet, and Civic Life: The Boundaries of Civic Space. Routledge Studies in Shakespeare (pp. 224-237)
ISBN : 978-1-138-83998-4 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : New York

Gardening with Shakespeare (2015-11-30)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Calvo, Clara and Kahn, Coppélia eds. Celebrating Shakespeare: Commemoration and Cultural Memory (pp. 301-329)
ISBN : 978-1-107-04277-3 | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge

Rousseau on the Tourist Trail (2015-05-05)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Esterhammer, Angela; Piccitto, Diane and Vincent, Patrick eds. Romanticism, Rousseau, Switzerland: New Prospects. Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and the Cultures of Print (pp. 84-100)
ISBN : 978-1-137-47585-5 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Houndmills, UK

Epistolary fiction (2015)
Watson, Nicola
In: Garside, Peter and O'Brien, Karen eds. The Oxford History of the Novel in English (pp. 370-384)
ISBN : 978-0-19-957480-3 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford

American Travel-writing and the invention of 'Story-book England' (2013)
Watson, Nicola
In: de Sousa, Alcinda Pinheiro; Flora, Luísa and Malafaia, Teresa eds. From Brazil to Macao: Travel Writing and Diasporic Spaces (pp. 57-74)
Publisher : University of Lisbon Centre for English Studies | Published : Lisbon

Exhibiting Literature. Austen Exhibited (2013)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Kroucheva, Katerina and Schaff, Barbara eds. Kafkas Gabel: Uberlegungen zum Ausstellen von Literatur (pp. 227-250)
ISBN : 978-3-8376-2258-4 | Publisher : transcript Verlag | Published : Bielefeld

Holiday Excursions to Scott Country (2012-12-13)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Colbert, Benjamin ed. Travel Writing and Tourism in Britain and Ireland (pp. 132-146)
ISBN : 9780230251083 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Houndsmills

Afterlives (2012-09-25)
Watson, Nicola
In: Robertson, Fiona ed. The Edinburgh Companion to Sir Walter Scott. Edinburgh Companions to Scottish Literature (pp. 143-155)
ISBN : 9780748641307 | Publisher : Edinburgh University Press | Published : Edinburgh

Holiday romances: or, Loch Katrine and the literary tourist (2012)
Watson, Nicola
In: Brown, Ian ed. Literary Tourism, the Trossachs and Walter Scott. ASLS Occasional Papers (16) (pp. 56-69)
ISBN : 978-1-908980-00-7 | Publisher : Scottish Literature International | Published : Glasgow

Sir Walter Scott: the bard of Abbotsford and the Laird of Avon (2011-03-24)
Watson, Nicola
In: Holland, Peter and Poole, Adrian eds. Great Shakespeareans Set II. Great Shakespeareans
ISBN : 9781441149237 | Publisher : Continuum | Published : Cambridge

Readers of romantic locality: tourists, Loch Katrine and 'The Lady of the Lake' (2010-06)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Labbe, Jacqueline M. and Bode, Christoph eds. Romantic Localities: Europe Writes Place (pp. 67-80)
ISBN : 9781848930025 | Publisher : Pickering & Chatto | Published : London, UK

Museum practice and heritage (2010)
Benton, Tim and Watson, Nicola
In: West, Susie ed. Understanding Heritage in Practice (pp. 127-165)
ISBN : 978-0-7190-8154-5 | Publisher : Manchester University Press | Published : Manchester

Rambles in Literary London (2009)
Watson, Nicola
In: Watson, Nicola ed. Literary Tourism and Nineteenth-Century Culture (pp. 139-149)
ISBN : 978-0-230-22281-6 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Houndmills, Basingstoke

Shakespeare on the tourist trail (2007-06)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Shaughnessy, Robert ed. Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture. Cambridge Companions to Literature (pp. 199-226)
ISBN : 978-0-521-84429-1 | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge, UK

Food and drink (2001-09-20)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Dobson, Michael and Wells, Stanley eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare (pp. 147-148)
ISBN : 198117353 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford, UK

Fiction (2001-09-20)
Watson, Nicola J.
In: Dobson, Michael and Wells, Stanley eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare (pp. 137-138)
ISBN : 198117353 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford, UK

Elizabeth's Legacy (2001-03-01)
Watson, Nicola J and Dobson, Michael
In: Doran, Susan and Starkey, David eds. Elizabeth: The Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum (pp. 255-261)
ISBN : 99286572 | Publisher : Vintage | Published : London, UK

Trans-figuring Byronic Identity (1994-01-04)
Watson, Nicola
In: Favret, Mary A and Watson, Nicola eds. At the Limits of Romanticism: Essays in Cultural, Feminist, and Materialist Criticism (pp. 185-206)
ISBN : 978-0-253-20853-8 | Publisher : Indiana University Press | Published : Bloomington, Indiana

Kemble, Scott, and the Mantle of the Bard (1991)
Watson, Nicola
In: Marsden, Jean I. ed. The Appropriation of Shakespeare: Post-Renaissance Reconstructions of the Works and the Myth (pp. 73-92)
ISBN : 0-7450-0927-1 | Publisher : Harvester Wheatsheaf | Published : New York, London etc.

Romantics and Victorians (2011-11-30)
Watson, Nicola J. and Towheed, Shafquat eds.
Reading and Studying Literature
ISBN : 9781849666237 | Publisher : Bloomsbury Academic | Published : London

Children's literature: Classic texts and contemporary trends (2009-08-26)
Montgomery, Heather and Watson, Nicola eds.
ISBN : 978-0-230-22714-9 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Houndmills, Basingstoke

Children's Literature: Approaches and Territories (2009-08-26)
Watson, Nicola J. and Maybin, Janet eds.
ISBN : 9780230227132 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan in association with The Open University | Published : Basingstoke, England

Literary Tourism and Nineteenth-Century Culture (2009)
Watson, Nicola J. ed.
ISBN : 978-0-230-22281-6 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Houndmills, Basingstoke

At the Limits of Romanticism: Essays in Cultural, Feminist, and Materialist Criticism (1994-04-01)
Favret, Mary A. and Watson, Nicola eds.
ISBN : 978-0-253-20853-8 | Publisher : Indiana University Press | Published : Bloomington, Indiana

Death and Transmediations: Manuscripts in the Age of Hypertext (2021-07-09)
Antonini, Alessio; Benatti, Francesca; Watson, Nicola; King, Edmund and Gibson, Jonathan
In : 32nd ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media, HT 2021 (30 Aug - 2 Sep 2021, Virtual Event USA) (pp. 17-26)

The Antiquary (2002-03-21)
Scott, Walter
Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.