Portrait of Dr Robbie Richardson

Dr Robbie Richardson

Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature
Director of Studies/Deputy Director of Education


PhD, McMaster University
Robbie Richardson joined the School of English in 2013 after a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. His book The Savage and Modern Self: North American Indians in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture (University of Toronto Press, 2018) examines the representations of North American 'Indians' in novels, poetry, plays, and material culture from eighteenth-century Britain. It argues that depictions of 'Indians' in British literature were used to critique and articulate evolving ideas about consumerism, colonialism, 'Britishness,' and, ultimately, the 'modern self' over the course of the century. He was recently awarded a travel grant at the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University to study the ways in which British antiquarians studied and understood Indigenous people in the light of their own ‘primitive’ past. He is editing an upcoming special issue of the journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction titled 'The Indigenous Eighteenth Century.' You can hear him discuss Indigenous people and Canadian identity on Radio 3 here.

Research interests

Eighteenth-Century British and Transatlantic literature and culture; material culture; museum studies; Indigenous studies; literature of empire




  • Richardson, R. (2010). Consuming Indians: Tsonnonthouan, Colonialism, and the Commodification of Culture. Eighteenth-Century Fiction [Online] 22:693-715. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/ecf.0.0160.
    During and following the Seven Years War, North American Indigenous people began to occupy a unique position in the British imaginary as compelling yet contradictory subjects, existing outside the culture of consumerism that was rapidly rising in Britain. The satirical novel Memoirs of the Life and Adventures of Tsonnonthouan (1763) mimicked both the ethnographic works that British people read in increasing numbers and the body of Grub Street texts imitating Tristram Shandy. The novel, which depicts "Indians" as consumers and worshippers of European commodities, negotiates the entanglement of culture and consumerism in both Britain and the colonies.
  • Gilman, M., Arrowsmith, J., French, S. and Richardson, R. (2001). Performance-related Pay in Health Care. Journal of Health Services Research and Policy 6:114-120.


  • Richardson, R. (2018). A Statue of Queen Anne and an Indian at St. Paul’s: North American ’Indians’ and British Modernity. [Online mp3, iTunes]. Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/urbanlab/news/counterspeculations-audio-tour.
    How did 18th century British myths and fantasies about Indigenous people in the Americas inform and shape the growth of its financialized empire? In this episode of the Counterspeculations audio tour, originally recorded at the base of the statue of Queen Anne which stands in front of St. Paul's Cathedral, Robbie Richardson presents on "North American Indians and 'British' Modernity."
  • Richardson, R. (2015). “[T]he most mysterious thing in the World”: British Interpretations of First Nations Material Culture. [Online mp3, iTunes]. Available at: https://sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1920339.
    A talk on British collections of Indigenous material culture.


  • Richardson, R. (2018). The Savage and Modern Self: North American Indians in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture. [Online]. University of Toronto Press. Available at: https://utorontopress.com/ca/the-savage-and-modern-self-1.
    The Savage and Modern Self examines the representations of North American "Indians" in novels, poetry, plays, and material culture from eighteenth-century Britain. Author Robbie Richardson argues that depictions of "Indians" in British literature were used to critique and articulate evolving ideas about consumerism, colonialism, "Britishness," and, ultimately, the "modern self" over the course of the century. Considering the ways in which British writers represented contact between Britons and "Indians," both at home and abroad, the author shows how these sites of contact moved from a self-affirmation of British authority earlier in the century, to a mutual corruption, to a desire to appropriate perceived traits of "Indianess." Looking at texts exclusively produced in Britain, The Savage and Modern Self reveals that "the modern" finds definition through imagined scenes of cultural contact. By the end of the century, Richardson concludes, the hybrid Indian-Brition emerging in literature and visual culture exemplifies a form of modern, British masculinity.

Book section

  • Richardson, R. (2013). The Site of the Struggle: Colonialism, Violence, and the Captive Body. In: Fulford, T. and Hutchings, K. eds. Native Americans and Anglo-American Culture, 1750-1850: The Indian Atlantic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 39-55.

Edited journal

  • Richardson, R.J. ed. (2019). The Indigenous Eighteenth Century. Eighteenth-Century Fiction [Online]. Available at: https://ecf.humanities.mcmaster.ca/call-for-articles/.
    The editor of this special issue of ECF invites manuscripts that consider the roles and representations of Indigenous peoples from the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand during the long eighteenth century. In what ways did Indigenous peoples shape European literature and knowledge? How can we recover sites of agency and response, and how do we read alternative strategies of representation outside of the written word? How were European writers who encountered “Indians” and “savages” influenced by these exchanges? How was Indigenous material culture collected and understood by Europeans? This special issue seeks to bring the interdisciplinary approaches of Indigenous Studies to bear on the eighteenth century, and to continue the work of decolonizing the period as we know it. Deadline for manuscripts: 15 July 2019 (6,000–8,000 words).

Internet publication

  • Richardson, R. (2018). Allegories of America: American “Indians” and the British Imperial Imaginary [Online]. Available at: http://www.publicseminar.org/2018/06/allegories-of-america/.
    A discussion of an often ignored statue of an Indian in from of St. Paul's Cathedral and what it signifies in the British imaginary.


  • Richardson, R. (2017). Review of ’Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire’ by Coll Thrush. Journal of British Studies [Online]:704-705. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-british-studies/.
  • Richardson, R. (2012). Review of Ponteach, or the Savages of America, A Tragedy. Eighteenth-Century Fiction [Online] 25:477-478. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/ecf.2012.0075.
    Robert Rogers was more renowned in his own time as a military leader than as a writer, leading a successful colonial militia known as "Rogers' Rangers" during the French and Indian War (1754-63). Off the battlefield, his forays into authorship were primarily dedicated to cultivating this image of martial achievement; he wrote two reasonably successful books on North America, one a broad historical account of the land and the Indigenous people and the other a collection of his own journals and firsthand observations. The review of his A Concise Account of North America (1765) in the Critical Review suggests that "the picture which Mr. Rogers has exhibited of the emperor Ponteack is new and curious, and his character would appear to vast advantage in the hands of a great dramatic genius." His subsequent dramatic work Ponteach, or the Savages of America: A Tragedy (1766) was panned by critics and was most likely never performed. This work has received increased attention in recent years because of its singular and sympathetic depiction of its First Nations hero, a fictionalized version of the real-life Ottawa leader Pontiac. This edition, edited by Tiffany Potter, is an important resource for studies in eighteenth-century British colonial representations, Indigenous studies, and work on transatlantic culture and literature.
  • Richardson, R. (2010). Experience Mayhew’s Indian Converts: A Cultural Edition (Review). American Indian Quarterly [Online] 34:118-120. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/aiq.0.0085.
    Among the large body of missionary texts documenting the conversion of Native North American peoples during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Experience Mayhew's Indian Converts (1727) is unique for its attention to the individual lives of Wampanoag people on Martha's Vineyard and for the long history of interaction between the Mayhew family and the Indigenous people they sought to convert. Fluent in the Algonquian language Wôpanâak, Mayhew spent his life, like three generations of his family before him, preaching to the Wampanoag community on the island. His book offers the greatest detail of any written about an Algonquian community during the period, and, given the recent scholarly interest in the literature produced around the efforts to Christianize Native people in North America, Laura Arnold Leibman's edition of this significant book is a timely one.
  • Richardson, R. (2009). Savages Within the Empire: Representations of American Indians in Eighteenth-Century Britain, and: Romantic Indians: Native Americans, British Literature, and Transatlantic Culture 1756–1830 (review). Eighteenth-Century Fiction [Online] 21:451-453. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/ecf.0.0058.


  • Falk, M. (2018). Frankenstein’s Siblings: Self-Deformation in Romantic Literature.
    According to a widely-accepted interpretation, Romantic literature is characterised by a particular conception of the self. For the Romantics, the self was deep and developmental. We are not born with a stable sense of identity, but have to discover or create one through a course of reflective experience. To explore this form of selfhood, the Romantics developed new forms of literature. They wrote lyrical poems and plays depicting the formation of consciousness in nature, "Bildungsromane" depicting the formation of people in society, and autobiographies depicting the formation of the author in the world. The self-formation interpretation of Romanticism remains influential today, even though decades of historicist scholarship have uncovered numerous unfamiliar texts, and new aspects of familiar texts that the concept of self-formation cannot explain.

    The biggest, yet frequently disregarded problem with the self-formation interpretation is that so many Romantic texts seem to be about exactly the opposite. The most famous example is "Frankenstein" (1818). Victor and his creature, far from forming coherent senses of identity, are deformed by their experience. In this thesis, I consider a range of other deformed selves in British Romanticism, from the sad protagonist of Amelia Opie's "Adeline Mowbray" (1805) to the speaker of John Clare's sonnets and the heroes of Joanna Baillie's tragedies. I describe the different kinds of self-deformation these authors portray, and show how they shaped their texts in order to portray it. While other scholars-most recently Alan Richardson, Andrea Henderson, Jacques Khalip and Michael Gamer-have considered neglected varieties of selfhood in Romantic literature, this is the first study which systematically considers the relationship between deformed selfhood and the different forms of Romantic writing. I am thus able to provide wider and more powerful descriptions of the major Romantic genres.

    The self-formation interpretation has affected how scholars define and evaluate every genre of Romantic literature. In each chapter, I tackle a different one, showing how our received understanding of the genre is challenged by texts of self-deformation. Chapter 1 lays the philosophical groundwork. In it, I show how eighteenth-century ideas about self-deformation survived into Romantic-era thought. In Chapter 2, on fiction, I compare Amelia Opie's "Adeline Mowbray" to Maria Edgeworth's "Vivian" (1812). In these tragic anti-Bildungsromane, the very possibility of self-formation is questioned, as the protagonists are ensnared in social conventions. In Chapter 3, on poetry, I analyse the sonnets of Charlotte Smith and John Clare, which resist the synthesis of mind and nature usually held to be typical of Romantic lyric. In Chapter 4, on life-writing, I focus on Moore's "Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, With Notices of his Life" (1830-31), whose baggy form mirrors its subject's "multiform" personality, and embodies its author's sceptical, Humean philosophy of self. In Chapter 5, on drama, I compare the gothic tragedies of Joanna Baillie and Charles Harpur, which reveal the frightening and metaphysical aspects of Romantic self-deformation.

    As I argue throughout this thesis, it is no coincidence that readers have often found these texts ugly and banished them from the canon. They challenge our received notions of genre, and so can appear deformed, when in fact their apparent deformities are sound aesthetic strategies for portraying self-deformation. To show how well-formed they are for this purpose, I employ a range of digital techniques, such as text analysis, sentiment analysis and character networks. Not only can these techniques uncover hidden aspects of a text's structure, but they also allow precise, large-scale comparisons of many texts, allowing me to demonstrate for the first time that these apparently marginal books about misfits and failures are actually central to Romantic debates about aesthetics and selfhood.

    The Romantic self, I argue, is mysterious and complex, and its deep and developmental aspects are often in conflict. The self can be deformed by deep inner forces, as in Opie, Smith and Baillie, and grow into a monstrous, malformed self. Or it can be deformed by excessive openness to external influence, as in Edgeworth, Clare and Harpur, and crumble into a formless self. Moore's multiform Byron is malformed and formless all at once, and indeed the two paradigms of self-deformation mix in complex ways in all these texts. These are Frankenstein's siblings, the agonised villains, quivering victims and self-annihilating mystics who stalked the darker byways of the Romantic mind, shedding new light on the challenges of self-identity, and its burden.


  • Richardson, R. (2018). Review of ’Travellers Through Empire: Indigenous Voyages from Early Canada.’ By Cecilia Morgan. Journal of American Ethnic History [Online]:21-22. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/journal/jamerethnhist.
  • Richardson, R. (2017). Entry on ’Hermsprong, or, Man as He is Not’. In: The Cambridge Guide to the Eighteenth-Century Novel, 1660-1820. Cambridge University Press. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/.
    A critical description and analysis of the novel Hermsprong.
  • Richardson, R. (2017). Entry on ’The Female American’. In: The Cambridge Guide to the Eighteenth-Century Novel, 1660-1820. Cambridge University Press. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/.
  • Richardson, R. (2017). Entry on ’Tsonnonthouan’. In: The Cambridge Guide to the Eighteenth-Century Novel, 1660-1820. Cambridge University Press. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/.
Last updated