Theresa M. Kelley, PhD

Marjorie and Lorin Tiefenthaler Professor

Department of English

Faculty Associate

Holzt Center for Science and Society

Senior Fellow

Institute for Research in the Humanities


7187 H.C. White Hall
600 Park St
Madison, WI 53706 

(608) 263-3824
picture of Theresa M. Kelley, PhD


B.A., 1965, University of Washington
M.A., 1973, Northwestern University
Ph.D., 1977, Northwestern University


Research Interests

Professor Kelley has written widely on aspects of Romanticism, late-eighteenth-century aesthetics and philosophy, critical theory, and the history and philosophy of science.  She is author of Wordsworth's Revisionary Aesthetics (Cambridge 1988), co-editor of Romantic Women Writers: Voices and Countervoices (New England 1995), Reinventing Allegory (Cambridge 1997—which won the SCMLA award for best scholarly book in 1997), and Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture (Johns Hopkins 2012, awarded  the British Society for Science and Literature Prize for the best book in the field in 2012), and a recent collection of essays, titled "Romantic Difference,”and published by Praxis, the online journal of Romantic Circles.  Forthcoming essays include one on color around 1800, the subject of her recent McPherson ERI talk, on Shelley and futurity, and on the role of chance Romantic narrative. She is co-director, with Richard Sha, of an online Gallery of Romantic Visual Culture housed on the Romantic Circles site ( Her most recent book, Clandestine Marriage, explores relations between botanical theory and practice and Romantic literary and philosophical culture, with sustained notice of the problem of taxonomy as a specific manifestation of Romanticism's broader anxieties about knowledge and epistemological control. Its topics include Erasmus Darwin on the sexuality of plants; Charles Darwin on orchid fertilization; Romantic poets on botany; German philosophical thinking about Romantic poets on botany; German philosophical thinking about plant and human life; problems in taxonomy and botanical classification, and colonial botanical art in British India. Together with other UW colleagues, Theresa Kelley began a new, cross-disciplinary group: Middle Modernity, 1760-1910, that concerns itself with British culture and thought throughout this key moment in the onset of modernity.  She is at present writing a book titled provisionally Reading for the Future that explores why prophecy, supposedly the guiding spirit of this era, proves in fact to be so difficult for Romantic writers.  Her exploration of this question takes in the role of contingency in modernity, the expanding global concerns that take shape in the eighteenth century and with the revolutions that soon follow.  The book asks further how the Romantic experience of trying to read for the future might inform our present.  She is here specifically concerned with  ideas about life and possibility that Romantic writers theorize and contemporary thinking about evolutionary possibility develop.  A second book is in the wings:  a study of the epistemological difficulty and continuing attraction of color as a material event. 


Professor Kelley is also serving as Interim Director of the Center for Visual Cultures for the 2015-16 academic year.