Q&A

European Romanticism and Colonial Environmental Violence

2022 Honours Fellow Vivienne Goodes talks to SEI about the parallels between the rise of ecological consciousness in Europe and colonial destruction of Indigenous environments and cultures.

Part of Weeli Wolli Creek a billabong in Western Australia by René Riegal via Unsplash.
Part of Weeli Wolli Creek, a billabong in Western Australia by René Riegal via Unsplash.

Emma Holland: What are you researching for Honours?  

Vivienne Goodes: I’m researching the connections between the development of European ecological consciousness and colonial environmental violence. My focus is the Romantic period (1780s-1830s), which has frequently been associated with early environmentalism due to significant cultural shifts in thinking about self, history, nature and religion. We still think of Romantic writers as ‘nature lovers’. I’m interested in how British Romanticism emerged parallel to the destruction of Indigenous cultures and environments. 

British possession of Australia and the Pacific established networks for systematically ‘exchanging’ nature, especially the transportation of plants and animals for the pursuit of scientific advancement. Receiving specimens of recently ‘discovered’ species from the colonies was essential for classifying the natural world. Literature, as a site of cultural struggle, was inseparable from this process. I’m using a multidisciplinary approach to examine textual representations of ‘nature exchanges’, combining literary, historical and philosophical analysis to explore the intersection between colonial destruction of the environment and its Romantic ‘rebirth’.   

“My focus is the Romantic period (1780s-1830s), which has frequently been associated with early environmentalism due to significant cultural shifts in thinking about self, history, nature and religion. We still think of Romantic writers as ‘nature lovers’. I’m interested in how British Romanticism emerged parallel to the destruction of Indigenous cultures and environments.” 

What is your academic background and what was the inspiration behind your Honours research?  

I studied Politics, International Relations and European Studies at the undergraduate level. While I loved studying politics, I was attracted to pursuing honours in European Studies because of its multidisciplinary character. Incorporating multiple disciplinary perspectives is vital for researching the relationships between human society and the environment.  

I knew I wanted to pursue a literary topic within the environmental humanities. The inspiration came from a third-year politics elective studying critical environmental justice, which involved applying different frames of justice to current environmental issues. In another subject I studied Europe’s colonial actions in Australia and South America expansively through literary, historical and philosophical lenses. These were my two favourite units of my degree. My honours research aims to combine what I learnt from them – to examine British colonialism in Australia from an environmental perspective. 

What do you hope this research will contribute to society and its future?  

The failings of Western knowledge and values in the Australian ecological context are becoming increasingly prominent in the slow government response to climate change. There’s been more interest in moving towards Indigenous land management since the Black Summer fires. I believe successfully introducing such structural change necessitates an epistemological reset, recognising Indigenous Australians’ holistic understanding of the interconnections between species and Country in managing ecosystems over millennia.  

For this, settler Australia must understand its alienation from land and place. Many of the issues we currently face – extinction, extractivism, deforestation – and the injustices linked to them can be traced back to 18th and 19th century Europe. I hope my research will contribute to the mammoth process of understanding the legacies of this history in the present.  

Why were you interested in applying for an Honours Fellowship with the Sydney Environment Institute?  

I love how the SEI has such a diverse network of researchers. Because I’m interested in collaborative and transdisciplinary research, I felt that there was a lot I could learn from the SEI community. I was also excited by potential opportunities to contribute to the SEI’s current projects.  

I’ve found that individual research can be lonely at times, so I feel incredibly grateful to have access to a desk in the SEI office. Hearing other people’s ideas and research makes me feel more positive about the climate crisis.  

“Settler Australia must understand its alienation from land and place. Many of the issues we currently face – extinction, extractivism, deforestation – and the injustices linked to them can be traced back to 18th and 19th century Europe. I hope my research will contribute to the mammoth process of understanding the legacies of this history in the present.”

Aside from research, what are your interests and passions?  

I love being out in the fresh air! I go for long walks in my local area and enjoy swimming in Sydney’s gorgeous ocean pools. Spending time outdoors helps me keep the present in perspective and feel purposeful about the future.  

I also enjoy reading, going to the theatre, shopping at op shops and markets, and catching up with friends for coffee or brunch. Though it has been difficult for the past couple of years, I hope to be able to travel to new places in Australia and overseas soon. 


Vivienne Goodes is a 2022 Honours Fellow with the Sydney Environment Institute. She completed her Bachelor of Arts majoring in Politics, International Relations and European Studies in 2021, and is now undertaking Honours with the School of Languages and Cultures.   

Vivienne’s Honours research is on the connections between colonial environmental destruction and British Romantic literature. Her research interests also include contemporary environmental justice issues such as mining, pollution and climate change.