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Department of English Language and Literature

Faculty and Staff Directory

Jeanne M. Britton

Title: Affiliate Faculty
Curator, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
Department: English Language and Literature
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-576-5954
Office: HUO 303
Resources: English Language and Literature


BA University of South Carolina (English)
PhD University of Chicago (Comparative Literature)


   Eighteenth-Century Literature
    Book History
   History of Science


ENG 102  Histories of Reading
ENG 288  British Literature Survey
ENG 419  Reorienting Plot: Maps and Fiction
ENG 724  Reading, Thinking, and Feeling in the Romantic Period
SCHC 457  Frankenstein: Sources, Revisions, Influence
SCHC 457  Piranesi and Romanticism: Architecture and the Literary Imagination

Current Research Projects

My teaching and research focus on British and French literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Broadly speaking, I study Romanticism, the Enlightenment, the novel, the history of science, and book history. More specifically, I am interested in fiction’s engagement with visual experience (especially novelistic perspective), historical conceptions of sympathy, and graphic representations of knowledge.

My book, Vicarious Narratives: A Literary History of Sympathy, 1750-1850 (forthcoming from Oxford University Press), describes fiction’s formal engagement with theories of feeling against the backdrop of abolitionism and imperialism. It argues that Romantic-era fiction responds to Enlightenment theories of shared feeling with a novelistic model of sympathy that struggles to overcome human difference through the active engagement with narrative—through hearing, re-telling, and transcribing the stories of others. In novels by Laurence Sterne, Francois-René de Chateaubriand, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Mary Shelley, and Emily Brontë, characters who are separated by differences of class, race, or species experience a version of sympathy that works to accommodate such differences. Through discussions of epistolary novels, frame tales, and literary anthologies, I argue that fiction reshapes the mental, abstract faculty that Adam Smith defined as sympathy into an element of novelistic form. Central topics include moral philosophy, historical conceptions of race, sentimentalism and abolition, the French Revolution, fraternity and kinship, and narrative form. In addition to this project, some of my recent and current work discusses John Keats and the history of medicine, Jane Austen and cognitive science, and Romantic poetry, botany, and book history.

Ongoing research projects take advantage of my position as a curator in USC’s Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and my background in Comparative Literature. I am the lead PI (with co-PI Mike Gavin, English) on a developing digital humanities project that uses new technologies to make the works of Giovanni Piranesi (1720-1778) accessible and legible ( This project has been funded by a grant from the NEH for 2019-2021. With Michael Weisenburg in Rare Books, I co-manage a digital project called “Ghostwriting” that collects and shares historical marginalia in USC’s library books. My motivations for this project are described in a short piece published with The Conversation. In addition, I am planning an article on Piranesi’s encyclopedic maps and cartographic metaphors in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie.

My curatorial work in Rare Books has included organizing events and staging exhibits. In Fall 2018, I curated an exhibit to commemorate Frankenstein’s 200th anniversary that shared two extraordinary books in our collections: the first edition (1818) and Shelley’s revised edition (1831) of the novel. Local media coverage appeared with The StateFree Times, and South Carolina Public Radio. As of early 2019, I am planning a full gallery exhibit scheduled for Fall 2020 on Giovanni Piranesi that will commemorate his birth in 1720, showcase USC’s extremely rare 29-volume set of his complete works, and announce the launch of The Digital Piranesi.

Digital Humanities Project

   • "The Digital Piranesi,” a digital humanities project that reimagines the works of eighteenth-century printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi (supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, an ASPIRE II Grant, the Center for Digital Humanities, the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, and the Magellan Scholar Program) (
   • “Ghostwriting: Historical Readers and Library Collections,” a digital humanities project that collects, catalogs, and disseminates significant marks left by historical readers in library books (funded by a Provost’s grant)  (

Selected Publications

   • Vicarious Narratives: A Literary History of Sympathy, 1750-1850 (forthcoming, Oxford University Press)
   • “‘Irritable Reaching’ and the Conditions of Romantic Mediation,” in Keatss Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives, ed. Brian Rejack and Michael Theune (Liverpool UP, 2019): 108-121
   • “‘To Know What You Are All Thinking’: Riddles and Minds in Jane Austen’s EmmaPoetics Today4 (Winter 2018): 651-678
   • “Fictional Footnotes, Novelistic Mediation, and Romantic Orientalism: Elizabeth Hamilton’s Translation of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah” European Romantic Review(Dec 2015): 773-787
   • “Theorizing Character in Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda” Nineteenth-Century Literature4 (March 2013): 433-456
   • “Written on the Brow: Character, Narrative, and the Face in Byron and Austen” Nineteenth-Century Contexts5 (Dec 2012): 1-15
   • “Translating Sympathy by the Letter: Henry Mackenzie, Sophie de Condorcet, and Adam Smith” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 2 (Fall 2009): 71-98
   • “Novelistic Sympathy in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” Studies in Romanticism 48.1 (Spring 2009): 3-22, reprinted in Frankenstein: Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations (2013)

Recent Conference Presentations

   • “Image, Index, and Interface in Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Views and Maps of Rome”
   • American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Denver, CO (Mar. 2019)
   • “Piranesi’s System between Enlightenment and Romanticism”
       International Conference on Romanticism, Clemson, SC (Oct. 2018)
   • “Piranesi’s Views of Rome: Cartographic Measure and Referential Excess”
       Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference, Rome, Italy (June 2018)
   • “Piranesi, Place, and the Space of the Page”
       Carolina Conference for Romance Studies, University of North Carolina (April 2018)
   • “The Digital Piranesi: Image, Index, Hyperlink”
       American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Orlando, FL (Mar. 2018)
   • “‘Irritable Reaching,’ Poetic Creativity”
       Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, Atlanta, GA (Nov. 2016)
   • “Reading ‘Character’ in Natural History and the Novel”
       Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference, Asheville, NC (Mar. 2016)
   • “Sciences of the Face and the Literature of Character”
       South Atlantic Modern Language Association, Atlanta (Nov. 2013)
   • “The ‘Face Swelling into Reality’ of Keats’s Fall of Hyperion
       Society for Comparative Literature and the Arts, Greensboro, NC (Oct. 2013)
   • “‘Irritable Reaching’:  John Keats and the Nature of the Poetic Character”
       College English Association, Savannah, GA (April 2013)

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.