Skip to main content
Arts & Culture

The Shared Air

‘The Shared Air’ offers a history of how writers and scientists from 1640-1840 debated the political implications of air. Usually invisible and seemingly immaterial, air often goes unnoticed, yet when it is apprehended – as scent, freshness or pollution - air is recognised as a common resource and a symbol of freedom. In this symbol lies a nascent concept of a right to clean air.

Close readings across legal, philosophical, scientific and literary texts of the period reveal the inescapably shared nature of air, and so our fundamental interdependency with other humans, nonhumans and the environment. Coming at a moment of great public and scientific concern about air pollution and its pathologies – intensified by COVID-19 – The Shared Air will provide an essential historical framework for debates on air quality and the right to breathe.

Insights from this Enlightenment history will be invaluable for looming questions over the legal right to pollute and to be protected from pollution, and whether the air will remain a commons or whether it may become increasingly privatized. The research will be of interest to literary, cultural and intellectual historians. It will contribute to two major approaches to eighteenth-century and Romantic studies: the sensory turn, in highlighting the experience of air and smell; and the environmental humanities, in providing an original investigation of air rights and freedoms.

Project status: Completed

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: Leverhulme Trust

Amount: £54,093.82

Period: July 2021 - June 2022