Archive-enriched research which spans history
The English Literature Department pursues internationally recognised research across the historical spectrum. Our distinctive strengths lie in the areas of Book and Publishing Studies, Poetry and Poetics, Recovered Voices and Minority Perspectives, Samuel Beckett Studies, Medical Humanities and Early Modern Literature.
The University of Reading Special Collections Service has world-leading holdings in publishers' archives and in Samuel Beckett material; but in other areas also, the curation, exploration, and digitisation of archives provides a major research impetus. Current research includes collaborative digital projects on the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, the Modernist Archives Publishing Project, and Early Modern Verse Miscellanies.
Our Research Groups: many researchers within English are actively involved in collaborative and interdisciplinary research centres and groupings.
Publications from the Department of English Literature: we share with you here our research publications, which can also be found at CentAUR: Central Archive at the University of Reading
Research Projects: projects by researchers within the department develop specialist knowledge in our areas of excellence.
NEWS AND EVENTS
research and impact highlights
Samuel Beckett's Legacies
The University of Reading has both the largest archive of materials relating to the Irish writer Samuel Beckett in the world and the largest concentration of Beckett scholars globally. Research activities frequently centre on the Beckett manuscript and book archive, which is housed in Special Collections and overseen by the Beckett International Foundation.
The Beckett Digital Manuscript Project: Co-Led by Dr Mark Nixon, Co-Director of the Beckett International Foundation, this project aims to present, in facsimile and transcription, all of Beckett's original handwritten manuscripts held in collections around the world in an accessible electronic format with accompanying print analyses.
Creative fellowships: The Samuel Beckett Research Centre, founded in 2017 and directed by Professor Steven Matthews, hosts a fellowship scheme whereby creative practitioners are engaged to make new work from the opportunity to spend time with the Beckett archives and with Centre staff. The novelist Eimear McBride held the inaugural Fellowship 2018-19, and produced three new works, including the drama 'Mouthpieces'. Writer and editor Robert McCrum and composer Tim Parkinson have held subsequent Fellowships, working on a play and a string quartet respectively, each receiving premieres in November 2019.
What children's literature says about us
Members of our Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, and Media (CIRCL) explore theoretical ideas of how we treat and define childhood. The interdisciplinary research of CIRCL's Director, Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein, aims to deconstruct cultural and social preconceptions, for example exploring ideas of childhood relating to psychology, sociology, philosophy and anthropology.
Modernist Archives Publishing Project
Dr Nicola Wilson's research focuses on 20th century print culture and literary history. She is part of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) - a critical digital archive of early twentieth-century publishing history which displays, curates, and describes the documents that go into the making of a book. The digital archive contains thousands of images from the archive of Virginia and Leonard Woolf's Hogarth Press, which is held within the University of Reading's Special Collections.
Digitising Elizabethan poetry anthologies
Professor Michelle O'Callaghan has digitised Elizabethan poetry anthologies, bringing them together to make them available via an online database: http://versemiscellaniesonline.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/. This is housed on a website providing contextual information on the printers, publishers, editors and authors involved in the composition of the Elizabethan poetry miscellanies.
Altered bodies and Contexts of Identity:
Dr Alanna Skuse's Wellcome Trust-funded literary research looks at how people in early modern England perceived altered bodies - for example by the surgeon's knife, disease or self wounding. It explores how early modern attitudes to altered bodies influences those of later ages, including today. Her first book looked at how cancer was conceived of, diagnosed and treated in the early modern period c.1580-1720 and her forthcoming book, Surgery and Selfhood in Early Modern England: Altered Bodies and Contexts of Identity, explores surgery and disability in the seventeenth century, asking what happened to people who underwent life-altering operations such as amputation, castration, and mastectomy. Read a recent article stemming from her project, 'Missing parts in The Shoemaker's Holiday': https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/694329
Diasporic Literary Archives
This project brings together a variety of organisations, scholars, and creative writers from across the globe around impact activities relating to authors' papers. The issue of preservation of authors' drafts is particularly alive in a world where migration and displacement form an increasing aspect of their lives. Much archival material is in danger of being lost from its original contexts, or, in the case of women and minority writers, of being overlooked or ignored, and so made absent from future descriptions of writing and publishing culture.
Henslowe-Alleyn and Shakespeare projects
The website and electronic manuscript archive of the Digitisation Project relating to two theatrical producers and entrepreneurs of Shakespeare's day, Henslowe and Alleyn, was founded in 2004.
The Project made the documents widely available to all interested in performance history (and including that history within new performance), and to those working on the social, regional, economic and legal aspects of Early Modern England. This resource has been extended through collaboration with an interface at the Globe Theatre, London, which enables an international audience better to understand issues relating to the practicalities of theatre and performance in Shakespeare's time.
Stories of Ageing: Patient Experience and Patient Care
Funded by the Collaborative Innovation Fund, a partnership between the University of Reading and the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust, this project led by Professor Andrew Mangham suggests that there is a great deal to be gained from looking to the humanities, particularly to the use and understanding of stories within a healthcare setting, for ways of improving both the reputation of geriatric medicine and for assisting in the treatment of elderly, frail, and palliative-care patients. Looking to the rich and varied archives available to us locally, we expand the Centre for Health Humanities's strengths in historicist and literary research to explore how stories told by, and to, patients are connected to certain objects and texts, and how these associations can be used as the basis for a better understanding of the distinctive needs and pressures of Elderly Care medicine.
Reading and writing sexual violence
Dr Nicola Abram's new research project explores representations of sexual violence in contemporary prose fiction from across the world. It asks: how far can language convey experiences of rape and sexual assault? What is the relationship between bodily violence and cultural trauma? And what can literature teach us about personal and societal healing? Key texts include A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (2013) by Eimear McBride, Yvonne Vera's Under the Tongue (1996), and Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994).
In England and Wales, one in five women and 4% of men have experienced sexual assault since the age of 16, and 7.5% of adults experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16. As part of this project Nicola will be working with local charity Trust House Reading to run therapeutic writing workshops for survivors of rape and sexual abuse.
'Lost and Found? A Digital Archive of Testimonies of Migration, Displacement, and Resettlement'
To read about Yasmine Shamma's research project, funded by the British Academy, go to: http://www.reading.ac.uk/english-literature/our-research/digital-archive.aspx
When we talk about home: testimonies, oral histories, and poetry of migration
Yasmine Shamma's project reads interviews with refugees and displaced subjects of recent migration crises against poetry that addresses such human movement. Featuring theoretically informed commentary on a self-curated collection of interviews with refugees from Syria, Palestine, and Africa, this project asks what 'home' means to these 'placeless people' who left their homes under the assumption that their displacement would be temporary. How do the displaced make themselves at 'home' in supposedly temporary settings? How do they sense lost homes when they create new homes? This project features original interview material and reads it alongside the contemporary poetry of migration.
African Writers Series
Sue Walsh is working with Heinemann Educational Books' publishers' archive on the African Writers Series held in Special Collections at Reading. This series was particularly significant for the development of postcolonial literature in Africa and when it was first established in 1962, Nigerian authors were amongst its most significant contributors, many being from the south-east (including Chinua Achebe who became its editorial advisor for the first ten years of its existence); but in 1967 civil war broke out when the south-eastern part of Nigeria (under the new name of Biafra) attempted to secede from the rest of the country. My particular interest at this juncture is to investigate the archives to see how the African Writers Series, being the product of a British publishing house with a significant number of authors originating from the secessionist territory might be viewed both as an enclave of literary resistance to Biafran marginalisation and yet also as a potential site for censorship of Biafran perspectives.
Ayn Rand from the left
Ayn Rand's books have been made into films, topped bestseller lists and admired by capitalists from Reagan to Trump, but left-leaning thinkers have generally failed to take her seriously. In November 2018, Dr Neil Cocks organised the first ever conference examining her work from a left-wing perspective. The conference included group discussions and lectures by academics with an interest in Rand, taking her seriously, even as it resists her ideas, and asking what study of Rand might contribute to wider contemporary debates within literature theory and philosophy. An edited collection of essays, Questioning Ayn Rand: Subjectivity, Political Economy, and the Arts was published in 2020 by Palgrave Macmillan: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030530723
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