Professor Nicholas Halmi

Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Faculty of English; Margaret Candfield Fellow, University College


Professor Nicholas Halmi is Professor of English and Comparative Literature in the Faculty of English and Margaret Candfield Fellow at University College, University of Oxford.

His research is concerned principally with British and Continental literature, philosophy, and visual arts of the 'long eighteenth century' (roughly, mid-17th to mid-19th century), particularly in their responses to the challenges and discontents of modernity and in their relation to the historical past.

Romantic symbol: Professor Halmi's book The Genealogy of the Romantic Symbol (2007) analysed an historically significant attempt to overcome, through means bequeathed by the Enlightenment itself, a profound dissatisfaction with the dualisms of Enlightenment epistemology, semiotics, aesthetics, and natural science. A primary purpose of the book was to explain what intellectual purposes the Romantic theorization of the symbol — which was very influential in post-Romantic criticism and has caused much contention in critical theory since the 1960s — served in the 19th century itself. The book's own genealogy is recounted in the article 'Telling Stories about Romantic Theory' (2012), and its central argument is summarized in a discussion with Robert Harrison in his radio programme Entitled Opinions (please see below). 

Historicization and aesthetics: More recently Professor Halmi has been writing about historical self-consciousness and the aestheticization of the past in poetry, painting, and architecture of the long eighteenth century (e.g. in representations of imaginary ruins), as well as on the relation of the Romantics’ self-consciously new literary forms to traditional genres and genre theory (e.g. Byron's ironization of epic in Don Juan). Professor Halmi was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship for 2015–17 to work on a comparative study of the relationship of historical understanding to aesthetic theory and artistic form; History's Forms: Historicization, Aesthetics, and the Past. Extending chronologically from the early Renaissance to the mid-19th century, this book reconceives the concepts of renaissance and nostalgia, contests a too-exclusive identification of historicization in European thought with what Reinhart Koselleck called the Sattelzeit (roughly 1750-1850), emphasizes resistances to historicization in the aesthetic sphere, and questions literary/artistic periodization (which is itself a product of historicization). An anticipation of some of the book's arguments was published in Modern Language Quarterly in September 2013. Outgrowths of this project include chapters and lectures on the discontents of historicization more generally and on historical periodization.

Professor Halmi has also done a good deal of textual scholarship — editing or co-editing scholary editions of works by Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Percy Shelley — and served for four years on the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions (in 2007–9 as co-chair). From 2010 to 2018 he was an advisory editor of Oxford University Press’s Oxford Scholarly Editions Online project, with particular responsibility for Romantic-period editions. His Norton Critical Edition of Wordsworth (2013), described in the TLS as 'likely to set the agenda for classroom study of Wordsworth for years to come' and 'an essential text for scholars', contains a generous selection of the poetry and critical prose, including a newly edited and annotated text of the 1805 Prelude and — for the first time—en face texts of The Ruined Cottage and book 1 of The Excursion.

Professor Halmi is an Associated Academic Staff member of the History of Art Department, is involved in the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Group, and is a member of the editorial board of the series Close Reading: Schriften zur britischen Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft, published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. He has twice served on the Advisory Board of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR), most recently as chair (in 2015 and 2016), and in the English Faculty has been a co-convenor of the Romanticism Research Seminar.

Professor Halmi has also served formerly on the editorial boards of Romanticism on the Net (as reviews editor, 2004–8) and Modern Language Quarterly.


  • European Romanticism (literary and philosophical; British and German)
  • European Enlightenment
  • European intellectual history, 18th-19th centuries
  • European aesthetics and visual culture (including architecture), 18th-19th centuries
  • William Wordsworth
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Lord Byron

Media experience

Professor Nicholas Halmi has experience working with broadcast and online media (please see examples opposite).