Ian Duncan studied at King's College, Cambridge (BA, 1977) and Yale University (PhD, 1989), and taught in the Yale English department before being appointed Barbara and Carlisle Moore Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Oregon in 1995. He came to Berkeley in 2001, and was appointed to the Florence Green Bixby Chair in English in 2011. He is a recipient (2017) of the university's Distinguished Teaching Award. Duncan is the author of Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel (Cambridge, 1992), Scott's Shadow: The Novel in Romantic Edinburgh (Princeton, 2007), and Human Forms: The Novel in the Age of Evolution (Princeton, 2019). He is currently writing a book on Scotland and Romanticism, and editing The Cambridge History of Scottish Literature. Fields of research and teaching include the theory and history of the novel, British literature and culture of the long nineteenth century, Scottish literature, literature and the natural sciences, and literature in relation to other storytelling media (opera; film). Duncan is a Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Scottish Literature, a member of the editorial board of Representations, a General Editor of the Collected Works of James Hogg, and co-editor of a book series, Edinburgh Critical Studies in Romanticism. He has held visiting positions at the Universities of British Columbia and Konstanz, Boğaziçi University, LMU Munich, Princeton University, Aix-Marseille University, and Paul Valery University–Montpellier 3.
My last book Human Forms: The Novel in the Age of Evolution was published in 2019. A major rethinking of the history of the novel as well as the cultural impact of evolutionary science before Darwin, Human Forms is the first book-length critical study of the interaction of European fiction with natural history and philosophical anthropology from the late Enlightenment through the mid-Victorian era, when the ascendancy of realist fiction coincided with the rise of evolutionary theory. Novelists claimed human nature as the scientific basis of their art at the same time that the human species became the subject of the new natural history and an organic transmutation of forms and kinds. A supposed aesthetic disability, lack of form, now equipped the novel to model the modern scientific conception of a developmental – mutable rather than fixed – human nature. The principle of development, invoked at first as a uniquely human property, subverted the exception it was meant to save once evolutionary science applied it to the whole of nature. The novel became the major experimental instrument for managing the new set of divisions – between nature and history, individual and species, Bildung and biological life – that replaced the ancient schism between animal body and immortal soul.
Chapters consider the rise of Enlightenment philosophical anthropology; the new Romantic genres of the Bildungsroman and the historical novel; the investment of historical romance with Lamarckian evolutionism; Dickens’s transformist aesthetic and its challenge to the anthropomorphic techniques of Victorian realism; high realism, “species consciousness,” and the science-fiction turn in major novels by George Eliot.
You can listen to a conversation about Human Forms with Kevin Padian (Professor of Integrative Biology here at Berkeley) at the Townsend Humanities Center website.
My current work in progress is a short book, Scotland and Romanticism, for Cambridge University Press. It offers a critical overview of Scotland's long Romantic century, from Macpherson's Ossianic poetry through Fergusson and Burns to Scott's historical romances and Carlyle's French Revolution. The book is organized around a series of topics: the urban imagination; tourism and settlement in the Highlands; colonial pastoral; the progress of poetry; lost and secret nations; popular festivity; politics and the passions. I am also currently editing The Cambridge History of Scottish Literature and The Cambridge Companion to Walter Scott. I've also been writing a series of essays on Scott and historical fiction, and on human natural history (from Darwin to the present surge of popular science books).