Institute news and events
The Former Boy Wonder
Thursday 24 March 2022, at 5.30pm in the Johnson Foundation Auditorium of the John Lennon Building
Novelist, playwright and short-story writer Robert Graham teaches Creative Writing at LJMU.
He will read extracts from his novel The Former Boy Wonder, in conversation with Caroline Smailes (Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Liverpool and LJMU tutor).
Although this seminar will be the closing event of the 2022 APSS PGR conference, it is open to all LJMU colleagues.
Jackie Kay event: 3 June 2021
RILCH was delighted to host an evening with Professor Jackie Kay, who has just completed a five-year tenure as Scotland’s Makar (the national poet). Kay read from her work and responded generously to questions from the sixty or so participants in attendance. The online event provided the final session of ‘Jackie Kay: An International Conference’ – the first such conference on Kay’s work – which was organised by Dr Fiona Tolan (LJMU English) and Dr Tasha Alden from Aberystwyth University. The conference brought together scholars from around the world to examine and discuss Kay’s remarkable body of writing, which encompasses plays, poetry, non-fiction, children’s literature, short stories and a ground-breaking novel. The reading and Q&A provided the perfect celebratory conclusion to an incredibly productive and stimulating day of shared research and discussion and brought in a number of additional participants – readers and fans of Kay’s work – in testament to the wide and enduring reach of her writing.
The evening commenced with an introduction by Nancy Gish, Professor Emerita of English and former Director of Women’s Studies at the University of Southern Maine and author of numerous books and articles on Scottish modernism and Scottish women poets. Gish spoke of her own engagement with Kay’s writing over many years, and rightly noted that, as well as a powerful writer, Kay is also a brilliant speaker and performer of her own work. This element of performance was subsequently demonstrated in Kay’s moving readings from poems such as ‘Fiere’, about love and friendship, ‘Brendon Gallacher’, about childhood and the power of imagination, as well as some of her poems on Bessie Smith from her recently republished biography of the legendary Blues singer. These readings were interspersed with reflections and anecdotes about Scotland, family, and ideas about language and identity: all recurring themes in Kay’s work.
With great generosity and openness, Kay answered questions on a range of topics, from the changing readings of queer lives in her novel Trumpet, to the influence of other women poets on her own poetry, and the manner in which writing can function as a mode of self-reflection. Many of the questions came from students working on Kay’s writing at universities across Europe, and Kay responded to all points raised with detail and attention.
Kay’s consistently inventive writing tests the limits of genres, exploring representation, and forges, in the most intimate of tales, deeply political, philosophical examinations of identity, selfhood, and nationhood. These themes will be developed in a forthcoming collection on Jackie Kay’s work, edited by Alden and Tolan and to be published as part of Gylphi’s Contemporary Writers Series. The RILCH event with Kay can be viewed online.
Nancy Cho - Visiting Research Fellowship
From March to August 2021 Nancy Cho, Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Seoul National University, has been a Visiting Research Fellow at the Research Institute, working on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British hymns. As her time with us draws to a close, she reflects on her experiences.
“The fellowship has been a stimulating and nourishing experience. Although the unusual circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic have meant that, sadly, I have been unable to attend in-person events, I have benefitted hugely from participating in the Institute’s fascinating and inspiring online activities. Living through my first lockdown, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to connect with many scholars and writers sharing ideas on important discussions and debates. Each event added richness to my research leave. Learning about Horatio Clare’s journey through mental breakdown, treatment, recovery and healing in ‘Heavy Light: An Interview with Horatio Clare’ and hearing James Whitehead’s reflections emerging out of his expertise in the field of mental illness and literature was compelling and inspiring. I enjoyed the celebratory occasion of Jude Piesse’s The Ghost in the Garden book launch. It was excellent to hear Jude read extracts from her evocative work telling the story of Darwin’s childhood garden. Another memorable event was the Jackie Kay conference in June. Prior to the conference, I was mainly familiar with Kay’s poetry. I ended the day wanting to read her children’s writings, biography of Bessie Smith, radio plays and short stories! At Seoul National University, I sometimes have the opportunity to introduce English literature to non-major undergraduate students on general education courses. With her mastery of different genres and explorations of globally-relevant contemporary issues, I came away thinking that Jackie Kay would be an excellent writer to introduce to students in South Korea.
In May, I also had the privilege of presenting my own work at a research seminar. It was a happy event where I enjoyed discussing my ideas and received valuable feedback from the Research Institute’s members. My paper examined the Advent poems of Charlotte Elliott arguing that Victorian women’s poems about the second coming should be understood as theological texts of gynocentric eschatology. Written at a period when women were barred from official ministry and systematic theology, women's Advent poems explore the gendered ramifications of a new Heaven and Earth where -- finally -- wrongs will be righted and the fullness of life experienced freely. I received many thoughtful and insightful comments, questions and reflections, such as on the significance of female community, the curative nature of hymn-writing, and the strange temporality of Advent, which have helped me to think through my ideas further. Conversing with Research Institute members, I gained a strong sense of the supportive and collegial nature of the RI and English department at LJMU. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Glenda Norquay, Fiona Tolan and members of the Institute for their hospitality, kindness and encouragement throughout my fellowship.”
British Academy Showcases War Widows’ Quilt
On Tuesday, 15 June 2021, Dr Nadine Muller’s War Widows’ Stories Project took centre stage at the British Academy’s Summer Showcase. The showcase, conducted virtually this year, is an annual free festival of ideas, bringing the best and most innovative humanities and social sciences research to life.
Focusing on the War Widows’ Quilt, a moving piece of collaborative art that relays the realities of war widowhood in Britain, past and present, the event explored the power of creativity at the centre of the War Widows’ Stories project, asking how the meditative process of stitching and sewing can offer an outlet for the memories of those we have loved and lost.
Made from second-hand armed forces shirts by more than 100 war widows and their families, its squares tell stories of love, loss and grief that connect women across generations, from the Second World War to the Falklands, Iraq, and peacetime.
Nadine, a recipient of the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award (2018), was joined by the project’s lead artist, Lois Blackburn (arthur+martha), war widow and former Chair of the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain Mary Moreland, and Sue Prichard, Senior Curator (Arts) at Royal Musuems Greenwich.
Nadine said: “It’s a wonderful opportunity to continue working with the British Academy and to showcase the work of the War Widows’ Stories project and the wonderful women at its heart.
“The War Widows’ Quilt is a really extraordinary and striking piece of art. While we were looking forward to being able to show it to people in person, it’s exciting to think that through this virtual event so many more people were able to hear about the quilt and the stories and processes behind it.”
“It was fascinating to hear from members of the audience about their own experiences of stitching and making as a means of coping with life and all the challenges it throws at us.”
You can now watch the event as well as the whole Summer Showcase programme via the British Academy’s YouTube Channel.
Book Launch: Heavy Light - an Interview with Horatio Clare
On 29 April we held a launch for Horatio Clare’s new memoir, Heavy Light This book tells the story of a breakdown: Horatio Clare’s journey through mania, psychosis and treatment in a psychiatric hospital, and onwards to release, recovery and healing. It presents an extraordinarily compelling story about the manic experience, a story shot through with the love, kindness, humour and care of those who looked after Horatio, from family and friends to strangers and professionals (social services, police and mental health workers). It is also an investigation into how we understand and treat acute crises of mental health.
Horatio was interviewed by James Whitehead in a rich and wide-ranging discussion which covered the issues surrounding writing a memoir of madness and much more.
James, a lecturer in English at LJMU, is a literary and cultural historian with a longstanding interest in the history of autobiographical narratives of mental breakdown and psychiatric treatment. He is especially interested in the relationship between literary or cultural history and psychiatric ideas, and the history of narratives of madness and mental health. James has explored these issues in his book, Madness and the Romantic Poet.
Leading the way on archival research
Following an introduction by Val Stevenson, Associate Director, LJMU Library, on the amazing work of Special Collections, Katie and led spoke on their own research and use of very different kinds of archival material. Katie’s presentation was on ‘Digitised Magazines: Reading The Brownies' Book (1920-1921) Online’ and Lynne’s on ‘Tracing the Past: tangible archive research’. This led to a rich discussion of both methodological and political issues around archives, accessibility and the pandemic.
Book Launch: The Ghost in the Garden with Dr Jude Piesse
On 20 May the Research Institute held a launch for Dr. Jude Piesse's acclaimed new book: The Ghost in the Garden: in search of Darwin's lost garden (Scribe, 2021). Jude read excerpts from the book, followed by a Q & A with Dr Kathryn Walchester.
About The Ghost in the Garden
‘A fascinating and very personal book in which Darwin’s relationship to his family’s garden reflects directly on his visionary understanding of the natural world in its entirety. A delight!’ - Julia Blackburn, author of Thin Paths
The forgotten garden that inspired Charles Darwin becomes the modern-day setting for an exploration of memory, family, and the legacy of genius.
Darwin never stopped thinking about the garden at his childhood home, The Mount, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. It was here, under the tutelage of his green-fingered mother and sisters, that he first examined the reproductive life of flowers, collected birds’ eggs, and began the experiments that would lead to his theory of evolution.
A century and a half later, with one small child in tow and another on the way, Jude Piesse finds herself living next door to this secret garden. Two acres of the original site remain, now resplendent with overgrown ashes, sycamores, and hollies. The carefully tended beds and circular flower garden are buried under suburban housing; the hothouses where the Darwins and their skilful gardeners grew pineapples are long gone. Walking the pathways with her new baby, Piesse starts to discover what impact the garden and the people who tended it had on Darwin’s work.
Blending biography, nature writing, and memoir, The Ghost in the Garden traces the origins of the theory of evolution and uncovers the lost histories that inspired it, ultimately evoking the interconnectedness of all things.
The Ghost in the Garden is available from bookshops and online.
‘Jude Piesse’s beautiful piece of detective work, The Ghost in the Garden, uncovers and brings to life the place that inspired the curiosity and spirit of enquiry of the boy and man who would become probably the most influential thinker and scientist in history: Charles Darwin. What makes this book so emotionally beguiling is the way the tale unfolds of an ordinary, yet handsome provincial house with a garden — and that was all it took. It moved me because inside Piesse’s book she could be describing every boy and girl free to roam and encouraged to explore, and you can feel the melancholy ghost of your own lost youth and heartbreak for those millions without the good fortune to have that freedom. It is a small story with a huge overtone that will stay with you long after the last page is turned.’ - Sir Tim Smit, Executive Vice Chair & Co-founder of The Eden Project
‘There are two ghosts in the garden here: the young Charles aboard the Beagle, writing salt-stained letters to his sisters, and the figure of Jude Piesse herself, author of this tender and unexpected memoir. Slightly at sea herself in a new job, at one point marooned in her new office by flood water, she gives a vivid picture of the obsessiveness of research: the hallucinogenic quality of the trees as she paces the overgrown garden, the feel of the manuscripts as she pores over the sisters’ letters in nine-hour stints in the library, a young woman navigating a course through early motherhood and the world of academe.’- Katherine Swift, author of The Morville Hours
‘The Ghost in the Garden is intelligent, curious, and moving nonfiction. It brings together biography, history, horticulture, and memoir — and does so with style and poignancy. Like the finest gardeners, Jude Piesse has laboured to give us something beautiful but also challenging; something that offers comforts without letting us get too comfortable with ourselves.’ - Damon Young, author of Philosophy in the Garden
‘Jude Piesse’s The Ghost in the Garden is a fascinating, beautifully written blend of biography, memoir, nature-writing, psychogeography, and history of science. Piesse shows us the human, quotidian world of the Darwin clan through the story of her discovery of their places and their stories, and the way they helped to seed Charles Darwin’s world-changing discoveries. In doing so, Piesse beautifully evokes what it is to be obsessed with a place, even when it no longer, quite, exists.’ - Emma Darwin
Book launch for The Lost Letters of Flann O’Brien February 2021
‘A fun-packed stash of missives from a motley crew of twentieth-century personages to the great blaggard.’ (Alan McMonagle)
‘The definitive antidote to 2020-21.’ (Julian Hanna)
Under his non de plume, Gerry McGown, Professor Gerry Smyth launched this book, edited with Andrew Sherlock, to an audience of 148 attendees from about 20 countries.
Discovered in a disused cupboard in a Dublin pub during lockdown, here are 107 never-before-seen letters 'written' to the Irish writer Flann O’Brien by a list of twentieth-century luminaries, including Joseph Goebbels, Walt Disney, Virginia Woolf, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan and Rachel Carson. In the end the book featured 107 letters from contributors in over twenty countries worldwide. The list includes three Booker Prize winners, a Pulitzer Prize winner, an Oscar nominee, a two-time Carnegie Medal winner, a Costa Book Prize winner, a Guardian Fiction Prize winner, the co-creator of the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics, and a host of distinguished writers and academics from around the world. Gerry notes, however, that ‘Some of my favourite letters are by non-specialists – ordinary people who simply like Flann’s writing and who relished the opportunity to visit his world while their own was enduring the ravages of Covid.’
Gerry Smyth’s recent project, Sailor Song: the Shanties and Ballads of the High Seas (British Library Publishing, 2021) is a beautifully illustrated volume of rollicking songs, which has received even wider attention because of the TikTok phenomenon:
Gerry has been interviewed the New York Times, the Independent, the Spectator, BBC Radio Scotland, and BBC Radio 6, as well as online interviews, blogs, and such like. See, for example, this short article from the music journal Songlines.
Celebrating Andrea Levy
'Celebrating Andrea Levy' (March 2021) was hosted by the British Library, in association with Leeds Lit Fest and the Royal Society of Literature. Michael Perfect of LJMU English was one of four panellists, and spoke about his ongoing research into Levy's archive. He discussed material from the archive that has never been seen before, as well as his forthcoming research outputs (a monograph with Manchester UP, a Special Issue of the journal ARIEL, and an article in that Special Issue). Other speakers included the award-winning poet and scholar Kwame Dawes, as well as Levy's husband. Chaired by journalist and Professor of Sociology Gary Younge, this event marked the British Library's acquisition of Levy's archive, as well as her birthday. It was watched live by more than seven hundred people around the world.
Glenda Norquay: Visiting Research Fellowship
Glenda Norquay has been awarded a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, February-July 2021. She will be working on her next monograph, Topographies of Identity in Scottish Fiction 1880-2020, to be published by Edinburgh University Press.
IASH is one of the world’s premier Institutes for Advanced Study.
It offers a range of highly competitive fellowships which give access to resources at the University of Edinburgh, an excellent working environment in its beautiful eighteenth-century building (pandemic excepting!), and the chance to become part of a vibrant interdisciplinary community.
Book launch for Rachel Willie’s co-edited collection on early modern mobility
On 11 March 2021, The Society for Renaissance Studies hosted the book launch of Travel and Conflict in the Early Modern World, which Rachel Willie co-edited with Gábor Gelléri, a Lecturer in French at Aberystwyth University. This volume contains twelve essays from established and emerging scholars and addresses the interrelationship between travel and conflict: it traverses real and imagined geo-political spaces; language miscommunication; devious translators; dissembling travel writers; shock-jock poets surviving assassination attempts; Alpine bandits warded off by saints; disquieted diplomats; the semiotics of a turban; women on the art of travel. The book launch has so far been seen by 101 people globally and involved brief presentations from Jane Grogan (UCD), the editors and four contributors to the volume: Daniel Carey (Galway), Robert John Clines (Western Carolina University); Natalya Din-Kariuki (Warwick) and Eva Johanna Holmberg (Helsinki). It formed part of a series of online events that Rachel, in her capacity as honorary secretary of the SRS, was instrumental in setting up. At the beginning of March, John Gallagher, Lecturer in History at the University of Leeds and an AHRC BBC New Generation thinker, interviewed Rachel about setting up online scholarly events for the SRS’s Public Engagement Toolbox; this is a series of informal discussions between John and scholars that offers advice on delivering public engagement activities. The interview with Rachel can be watched here.
Jennifer Cavanagh: creative publications from her PhD
Jennifer Cavanagh’s short story, ‘Office Space’, from the collection written for her PhD thesis, was published in February by Fairlight Books. Another of the stories, ‘The Daughter’, will be published in an upcoming issue of Arthropod Literary Journal.
‘Office Space’ is available to read online.
In November, she will be presenting the special online session ‘The City Speaks. How Should We Answer?’ at the international PAMLA 2021 conference.
Conference abstracts can be submitted online.
Katie Taylor on the (virtual) conference circuit
Katie Taylor is currently “touring” a paper on the virtual conference circuit about a new area of her PhD research on The Brownies’ Book. The first magazine for African American children, The Brownies’ Book sought to create progressive models of citizenship and childhood for the modern black child, offering a rich variety of literature that remain important contributions to the development of black American children’s literature. Her paper ‘Strange and Peculiar: Double Consciousness, Nature, and the Black Child inThe Brownies’ Book’ considers W.E.B Du Bois’s theory of double consciousness to examine how birds and bird characters feature in the writing of Du Bois and Effie Lee Newsome as simultaneously beautiful, strange, and sometimes troubled creatures.
Katie writes, ‘I kicked off the tour presenting at LJMU’s APSS Research Student Conference in February alongside numerous postgraduate researchers across the faculty. My paper for this was pre-recorded and is available to view on YouTube. The paper has already undergone some revisions since recording as I continue to research the new areas of nature writing and eco-literary criticism in African American writing. Giving the paper at the SASA (Scottish Association for the Study of America) conference on March 6 provided a rich discussion with my co-panellists around the significance of nature writing to African American literary traditions and folklore. I have a review of the conference upcoming which will be published on U.S Studies Online soon so watch this space! Next up, I am really excited about presenting the developing paper at the BAAS (British Association for American Studies) conference in April and the SHARP (The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) conference in July. I will also be giving a Research Institute Seminar on 13 April alongside fellow PGRs in the faculty, and finally, I will be presenting at one of LJMU’s Research Café’s on 12 May, speaking about using digital archives to read The Brownies’ Book.
Helen Tookey awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship
In November 2020 Helen Tookey was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship 2021, to work on her third Carcanet collection (scheduled for publication in 2022). This book aims to explore a set of questions centring around the writer’s sense of the present moment as a pivot or threshold point, on various levels from the biographical to the cultural and ecological. The poems explore the ways in which we experience the present as ghosted both by the past (in terms of childhood memory, but also more broadly in terms of histories held within places and landscapes) and the future – or, increasingly, by the sense of the future as threatened or lost. Many of them focus on encounters with water (swimming, reflections, mirroring, scrying) and with landscapes, often depicted as though from a slightly fictionalised, near-future perspective. The poems draw on Helen’s encounters with places and landscapes including Nova Scotia (following a residency there in September 2019), southern France, Anglesey, northern England, and Edinburgh and its surroundings – thus continuing and developing the focus on place in her creative and critical work so far.
Teaching decolonisation and world literature in Higher Education
Dr Fillipo Menozzi will be delivering a workshop for the Anti-Racism and Decolonising the Curriculum Webinar Series on 8 December 11-12:00. Please book your place on My Kingston Events via the Kingston University website.
Robert Louis Stevenson Day - 13 November
Watch the video below with Glenda Norquay discussing her book: Robert Louis Stevenson, Literary Networks and Transatlantic Publishing as part of the celebrations for RLS day – an annual celebration of Stevenson.
New book by Dr Jude Piesse: The Ghost in the Garden: In Search of Darwin's Lost Garden
The book blends biography, nature writing, and memoir to tell the story of Darwin's childhood garden in Shrewsbury.
Walking with a Convict
12 November, 12:00pm - 22 November, 12:00pm
Part of the Being Human Festival
Let’s go back to a period when crimes turned convicts into colonists and punishment by transportation was a fate second only to execution. Did you know that impersonating an Egyptian or stealing a shroud from a grave would result in penal servitude on the other side of the globe? As we walk through the streets of 19th-century East End London, we discover what happened at Blue gate Fields when Mary’s pocket-picking crime saw her imprisoned and transported ‘beyond the seas’ to Australia.
This family-friendly virtual walk will be intercut with details of Mary’s trial at the Old Bailey and her time at Millbank Prison. We end the tour at the only existing buttress that stands at the head of the River Thames steps, from which passengers sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.
New book by Michael Hollows
Professor Gerry Smyth of the Department of English is publishing three books over the coming months:
"Sailor Song: The Shanties and Ballads of the High Seas" (November 2020) is a publishing collaboration between the British Library and the University of Washington Press. As well as a large number of archive images from the British Library archives, the book includes numerous original paintings by the Scottish folk artist and former LJMU student Jonny Hannah.
"Joyces Noyces" (Palgrave Macmillian, January 2021) is a monograph on the subject of music and sound in the life and literature of James Joyce.
In "The Lost Letters of Flann O'Brien" (PenandPencil Gallery Press, February 2021) Prof. Smyth and Dr Andrew Sherlock (LJMU Drama) have recruited over 100 people from 22 different countries to compose imaginary letters written to the cult Irish writer Flann O'Brien.
New book and blog published
Lecturer in Postcolonial and World Literature, Dr Filippo Menozzi publishes World Literature, Non-Synchronism, and the Politics of Time. Read Filippo's blog in The Conversation about how 1950s Marxist writer, Ernst Bloch, can offer us hope: Militant optimism: a state of mind that can help us find hope in dark times.
Oscar Wilde and the First Bloody Sunday
In January Dr Deaglán Ó Donghaile, LJMU British Academy Mid-Career Research Fellow, gave a public lecture drawing on his research on Oscar Wilde during the week of commemorative events marking the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 31st January 1972, when British soldiers murdered 14 civilians in Derry during a peaceful demonstration against internment. During his talk, entitled “Oscar Wilde and the First Bloody Sunday”, Dr Ó Donghaile explained that Oscar Wilde’s literary and political writings, especially his 1895 play, The Importance of Being Earnest, and his 1891 essay, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”, were deeply influenced by another “Bloody Sunday”, which occurred in London on November 13th, 1887. On this day, another peaceful march protesting against internment in Ireland was attacked by the British army and the Metropolitan Police in Trafalgar Square. Hundreds of demonstrators were severely injured, and two were killed.
In his lecture, Dr Ó Donghaile pointed to Oscar Wilde’s public opposition to internment, his support for the Irish Land League, and his repeated calls for Irish independence. He also described how Wilde’s friend, the poet and anarchist, John Evelyn Barlas, was one of those severely injured during the attack, and how Wilde’s radical socialism is key to both his play and essay.
This talk followed other successful events in Derry, where Dr Ó Donghaile has lectured on Wilde and held reading groups focusing on his literary writings during the Foyle Pride Festival. During these events, held in 2018 and 2019, he spoke on Wilde’s support for Irish independence.
In February Dr Ó Donghaile also discussed Oscar Wilde’s writings during an interview broadcast on Liverpool Community Radio.
His new monograph, Oscar Wilde and the Radical Politics of the Fin de Siècle, will be published by Edinburgh University Press in November.
He is currently writing a new critical biography of Wilde entitled Revolutionary Wilde, which will be completed in 2021. This research is being supported by a British Academy Mid-Career Research Fellowship.
‘Educational Pioneers: Fanny Calder, James Gill and the Making of a Modern University’ Exhibition
On the 12th February 2020 an exhibition was launched at Aldham Robarts Library, ‘Educational Pioneers: Fanny Calder, James Gill and the Making of a Modern University’. The exhibition was co-organised and curated by LJMU PhD researchers Lynne Wainwright and Wayne Turnbull of the Literature and Cultural History Institute. Lynne is a second year PhD student who focuses on the lives of students who attended the F.L. Calder Teacher Training College of Domestic Science, 1915 -1925. Wayne is a first year PhD student who is looking at the impact and history of the Liverpool Nautical College (est 1892).
The launch event included homemade cakes, baked from recipes that students of the F.L Calder College would have used. Calder’s MA robes were also on display as was student records from both the Domestic Science College and the Nautical College.
The exhibition showcases the work of two educational pioneers, Calder and Gill, who developed and provided expertise in growing areas of education during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also shows how that education was built upon by their students, creating an educational ripple effect. The exhibition is open until the end of March.
Other Cities/Other Lives
On 20 February at the Bluecoat, three leading contemporary poets read from their new collections exploring more-than-human perspectives on place and landscape. Cities, rivers, parklands and docks all came to life as these innovative poets re-imagined, for these complex times, what it is to be human. LJMU's Helen Tookey took part in a reading.
The Uncollegial Precariat, or, the Character of Academic Fiction in the Age of the Neoliberal University
At an event held at LJMU on 18 February, Senior Lecturer in English, Ross Dawson interrogated the shifting literary representation of academic labour within the increasingly corporate institutions of Anglo-American Higher Education. Two post-millennial novels, Incredible Bodies by Ian McGuire (2007), and The Lecturer’s Tale by James Hynes (2001) were used to examine the way that teaching in Higher Education has been affected by the neo-liberalization of the university on both sides of the Atlantic.
Fin-de-Siècle: new directions
On 8 January 2020 the Research Institute hosted a New Year symposium entitled ‘New Directions in Fin-de-Siècle Studies’, attended by delegates from across the North West. Celebrating fifty years since the emergence of the field, the afternoon symposium was privileged to open with new work by Professor Margaret Stetz (Mae and Robert Carter Professor in Women’s Studies, University of Delaware and Institute Advisory Board member.) Discussing the collaboration of writer Ella Erskine and publisher Elkin Matthews Professor Stetz suggested that, rather than collapsing around the trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895, aestheticism was alive and well in the early twentieth century. Understandings of the fin de siècle were further re-evaluated by Institute member, Dr Deaglan O Donghaile, who discussed his new book on the little-known radical politics practised and promoted by Oscar Wilde. A lively paper from recent doctoral success in English at LJMU, Dr Joseph Thorne, examined Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations of Malory’s Mort d’Arthur in terms of the collapse of social networks they appear to prophesise. Finally, Dr Matthew Bradley of the University of Liverpool gave a thought-provoking position paper on new directions that the field might take in which he argued that we can find the predecessors to the inter-generational conflict marking global politics today in this earlier period. More provocatively, Dr Bradly argued that, like our Victorian forebears, collectively we deal with the concept of imminent global collapse through humour. In the context of recent television adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, the symposium, organised by Dr Sonny Kandola (English), ably demonstrated that fin-de-siècle studies are more urgently relevant today than ever before to popular and academic audiences alike. The event offered new directions in which participating scholars and audience might take these interdisciplinary interests.
Image: "How Four Queens Found Launcelot Sleeping" by ghost archives is licensed under CC PDM 1.0
'Between Land and Sea': Launch of the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History
The plenary lecture from the launch event, ‘Between Land and Sea’, held in September 2019 at Tate Liverpool, is available to enjoy. Professor Steve Mentz, St John’s University New York, presents a keynote on: ‘Acting Human in the Anthropocene: A Shakespearean Immersion’.
He is introduced by Professor Elspeth Graham, from the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History. Concluding remarks are from Professor Joe Yates, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Arts, Professional and Social Studies. You can explore the work of Steve Mentz further on his website.
On a beautiful blue-skied day in late September, LJMU launched its newest research institute: the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History. Held at Tate Liverpool, in a space between the waters of the Albert Dock and the Mersey that seemed to float above them, the theme of the launch was ‘Between Land and Sea’. The event showcased the work of staff in English and Creative Writing through critical, historical, and creative presentations, readings, and films, based on their cutting-edge research and writing, which crossed and explored the borders and margins not only of the sea and land in literary and cultural history, but also the current edges and horizons of our academic disciplines and intellectual cultures — the littoral zone of literature.
Professor Steven Mentz, Plenary Speaker
The keynote speaker, Professor Steven Mentz, from St John’s University, New York, is a leading figure in the ‘blue humanities’, currently one of the most exciting and innovative areas of research in which literary scholars are taking part. His wide-ranging and compelling lecture moved from Shakespeare and colonial exploration to the climate crisis and swimming. Other plenary speakers included Professor David Amigoni, PVC Research at Keele University, and formerly one of the first PhD students in English at LJMU. He spoke of the energy and innovative atmosphere of the then Polytechnics, and the ways in which their commitment to innovation and inclusion was being sustained in the work of the Institute. Dr Alex Thomson, University of Edinburgh and Chair of University English, the national subject body, described the huge potential for socially valuable and interdisciplinary research in English embodied in an Institute which is known by its commitment to ‘new and unexpected fields of inquiry’. Guests at the launch included representatives of cultural partnerships across the city, senior staff from HE institutions across the north west, Honorary Fellows and staff from across LJMU, and members of the English postgraduate student body.
At the end of the plenary lecture, Professor Joe Yates (PVC, APSS) thanked everyone, further endorsing the vibrancy of the research culture in the Institute, and commenting on the synergy of the themes of cultural migration and mobility, clearly relevant to the city of Liverpool, with its rich history of maritime transit and exchange, and the wider region. The afternoon ended with a spirited performance by the LJMU sea shanty choir, ‘Anti-Shanties’, and a toast (no grog, sadly) to this exciting new development in the faculty and university.
Speakers: Dr Alex Thomson, University of Edinburgh,Professor David Amigoni, Keele University, Professor Glenda Norquay, head of the Institute, Professor Joe Yates, PVC LJMU.
Afterwards Professor Amigoni said:
It was a real honour to be invited to speak at the launch of the launch of the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History at LJMU. It was a personally resonant occasion for me to reflect on the opportunity I was given to undertake my PhD in the nascent research environment from which the current, impressive Institute has grown. It enabled me to recall the excitement generated by the innovative intellectual and theoretical horizons offered by humanities in the 'polys' before they became the post-92 universities. It was wonderful to share in the research and community impact that is being produced in the Institute today. Congratulations to everyone on a superb and stimulating launch event.
Dr Alex Thomson, Chair of University English and Head of Department, University of Edinburgh, noted that research in English has been characterised by two massive success stories. The historical and archival turn has helped us articulate both the ‘cultural’ value and the ‘economic value of what we do: to reflect on our contribution to cultural industries and to the heritage sector -- and just as much to helping foster the living of meaningful lives in all kinds of places through the understanding of social and cultural histories, and individual lives.
The integration of creative writing into English has provided strong institutional support for living literature in an era when publishing is no longer offering anything like a living wage for most writers.
The stress on articulating the impact of what we do has strengthened our awareness of the relationship between the study of literature and the production of literature, between research and creativity, and between scholarship and the cultural industries. Understanding the connections between universities and the places in which they are found has renewed the idea of the civic, engaged, university as a platform for interaction between writers, readers and researchers.
He went on to congratulate LJMU on this significant step: the Institute reflects the strength of their research across the board in English: study of literature, language, creative writing; characteristic of English studies that it is widely distributed across the sector and that excellence can be found at any scale.
Fern Crazy at Sefton Park Palm House
Local children have created a beautiful new fernery at Sefton Park Palm House as part of a Being Human festival event organised by the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History.
‘Fern Crazy’, led by English literature lecturer Dr Jude Piesse in collaboration with the Palm House, succeeded in bringing 250 visitors to the Palm House on 14 November, 2019, to discover the forgotten history of the Victorian fern craze. Over one hundred children from city schools and children’s groups, including Liverpool College, St Anne’s Catholic Primary School, Granby and Dingle Children’s Centre, Belvedere Preparatory School, and Millstead Primary School joined forces to plant the fernery by the Palm House’s famous Peter Pan statue. Some of the children involved had never been to the Palm House before and it is hoped that many will return over the years to see the 130 ferns they planted growing.
The fernery was built by the Palm House’s horticultural expert Colin Hughes using sections of a 300 year-old horse chestnut tree that was recently felled at Clarke Gardens. Its design has been inspired by original Victorian stumperies that make use of gnarled roots and branches.
‘Fern Crazy’ was part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities.
Other family-friendly activities on the day included fern-themed crafts with local designer Nghia Ton and storytelling featuring a pop-up book based on original Victorian fern fairy tales, created by LJMU English student Holly Fenn. LJMU Special Collections and Archives displayed rare Victorian fern books for adults and children, supported by the British Association for Victorian Studies. A pop-up exhibition by Dr Piesse illuminated the fern craze’s history and culture, covering urban gardening practices, fern folklore, environmental issues and more.
Feedback from visitors about the day has been fantastic: some of the words used by children to describe their visit included ‘brilliant,’ ‘fun’, ‘great’, ‘friendly’, ‘interesting’, ‘amazing’, ‘excellent’, and ‘cool’!
A smaller version of the exhibition was on display from 18-22 November, increasing access to approximately 500 additional visitors.
This event was funded by the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, taking place 14–23 November. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. Supported by the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS). Thanks to Liverpool City Council for providing the wood used in the stumpery and to Nghia Ton.
Major Conan Doyle Symposium
On 15 November 2019, LJMU Lecturer Jonathan Cranfield spoke at a major symposium on the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. Hosted at the Institute of English Studies at Senate House in London, the event also featured talks from major figures including Christine Ferguson (Language, Science and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin-de-Siècle), Roger Luckhurst (The Invention of Telepathy) and Douglas Kerr (Conan Doyle: Writing, Profession, and Practice).
Jonathan’s talk (‘Conan Doyle and London Print Culture’) examined Conan Doyle’s relationship to London through the lens of the periodicals and publishers which printed his early work.
The event was organised to celebrate the launch of Edinburgh University Press’ editions of the work of Arthur Conan Doyle which will appear from 2020. The series will feature an edition of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes prepared by Jonathan.
Lowry Lounge Programme
Events were held on 2 November, 2019 at the Bluecoat, Williamson Art Gallery and New Brighton Promenade.
Highlights of the programme included Helen Tookey's talk on the significance of symbolic images and landmarks of Wirral that connect to Malcolm Lowry's writing and later life.
Find out more about the programme.
Thinking Out Loud: Shyness, Writing and the Everyday
Led by Professor Joe Moran and artist Jess Scott - 23 October, Bloom, Birkenhead
Professor Joe Moran has focused on the everyday – the history of mundane phenomena such as queuing, motorways or watching television that we mostly fail to notice or take for granted. More recently he has written on shyness, a chronic and common condition. His latest book, First You Write a Sentence, is a ‘style guide by stealth’, a celebration of how good writing can help us to notice the world and live more meaningful lives. This talk will bring together these interests as he explores the links between shyness, writing and observing the everyday.
Poet Helen Tookey has collaborated with artist Sarah Hymas to create 30 limited edition poetry pamphlets in response to Shanghai Sacred exhibition at Victoria Gallery. The work focuses on Sudley Field in south Liverpool, a space sacred to Helen. The free booklets are hidden in special places around Liverpool…so keep a look out.
Find out more
Latest publication: Travelling Servants
The latest publication from Research Institute staff is Travelling Servants by Kathryn Walchester. Published by Routledge, it offers an account of alternative modes of writing about and experiencing the Home Tour and the Grand Tour. Kate’s other publications on travel writing include Gamle Norge and Nineteenth-Century British Women Travellers in Norway (2014) and Keywords for Travel Writing Studies (2019) with Charles Forsdick and Zoe Kinsley. Kate teaches a level 6 module on travel writing for LJMU English.
Beyond Western Eyes: South Asian Women's Writing in Contemporary Contexts
On 28 June, LJMU hosted an international symposium, ‘Beyond Western Eyes: South Asian Women’s Writing in Contemporary Contexts’. The event was part of ‘Decolonising Feminism’, a research project led by Dr Fiona Tolan (English Studies, LJMU) and Dr Rachel Carroll (Teesside University) and funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund. The symposium brought together scholars working on South Asian and contemporary women’s writing in the UK, India and Pakistan.
Rich and challenging keynote papers were delivered by Dr Navtej Purewal (SOAS) on coloniality and the imperatives of contemporary feminist scholarship, and Dr Amina Yaqin (SOAS) on feminism and the secular sacred divide in contemporary Pakistan. A particular highlight of the day was a roundtable hosted by Dr Stuti Khanna from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and Dr Nukhbah Langah from Forman Christian College, Lahore: LJMU’s international partners on the Decolonising Feminism project. The roundtable included contributions via skype from postgraduate and early career participants joining the discussion from India and Pakistan, providing for an inspiring exchange of ideas across borders.
Society for the Promotion of Urban Discussion
On 28 June [the new Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History at] LJMU hosted the fifteenth meeting of SPUD: the Society for the Promotion of Urban Discussion. The society’s aim is to bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines (urban history, cultural history, architecture, planning, literature and other areas) to discuss the interaction between the social and the physical changes that occurred in British cities during the post-war period. Each meeting of SPUD takes place in a different city. At SPUD XV on 28 June, about 30 scholars participated and responded to papers given by Dr. Phil Child (University of Birmingham), Dr. Barnabas Calder (University of Liverpool) and Lynsey Hanley (LJMU).
Lynsey is a journalist and author of the books Estates: An Intimate History (2006) and Respectable: The Experience of Class (2016). A visiting research fellow at LJMU, she is also completing a PhD here on the role of public transport in the cultural imagination in the postwar era. Her paper for SPUD was titled ‘Imagining Good Transport’.
At the end of the event, the co-founders of SPUD, Dr. Otto Suamarez-Smith (University of Warwick) and Professor Simon Gunn (University of Leicester) thanked LJMU for hosting the event and making them so welcome.
Beyond Western Eyes keynote speakers: Dr Amina Yaqin (SOAS) and Dr Navtej Purewal (SOAS)
Beyond Western Eyes Symposium poster