Research

We are one of the UK’s leading English departments with an international reputation for innovative research. Our research is diverse and inclusive, encompassing literatures in English from the UK and all parts of the world. Key approaches include interdisciplinarity and creative writing.

The Department of English supports research into the production, transmission, and reception of literatures in English from the earliest period to the present day. Acknowledging the long and continuing importance of English as a world language, our aim is to investigate the historical, geographical, and contemporary contexts in which literary texts are produced in the UK, in its former colonies, and in many other parts of the world.

Through individual and collaborative projects we undertake specialist research in the literatures of all periods. We interrogate what ‘literature’ is at different historical moments, who writes it and who reads it, and we evaluate the significance of English literature in the formation of cultural identities, beliefs, and cultural capital.

Our research mission is implemented through a wide range of approaches and methodologies, including literary criticism, literary history, interdisciplinary approaches, cultural materialism, critical and cultural theory, archival research, discourse analysis, digital humanities, and scholarly editing. Our research strategy is managed by the Research Advisory Group, comprising Readers and Professors in the department, who also provide research mentoring for all staff.

Research Areas

The diversity of our research encourages interdisciplinary and collaborative projects within the department and also with colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and other faculties in the university. Our research clusters, both period-based and thematic, are designed to align with faculty and university centres and to support the development of innovative projects and grant applications. Combining complementary research strengths, the clusters are inclusive and dynamic: each of us belongs to at least one cluster and most of us belong to more than one.

  • Medieval Studies We have a distinctive profile in this area, covering Old and Middle English, history of the language, metrics, and the medieval literatures of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This group is closely aligned with the Faculty Research Cluster, ‘Borders and Borderlands’, and with the Faculty Centre for Medieval Studies.
  • Early Modern to 1780 A substantial group of senior and early-career staff with particular strengths in Shakespeare, Renaissance literature, book history, Scottish literature, and the ‘long eighteenth century’. This cluster is aligned with the Faculty Research Clusters, ‘Early Modern Studies’ and ‘The Perspective from the Sea’, and the Faculty Centre for Material Texts.
  • Romantics and Victorians This cluster works across British, American, and colonial literatures of the period, including African American and Indian literatures. This cluster is aligned with the Faculty Research Collaboration, ‘Romantic and Victorian Studies’, and with the Faculty Centre for Material Texts, Faculty Centre for Environmental Humanities and the Faculty Research Cluster, ‘Global Feminisms’.
  • Modernism Investigating the links between literature and modernity, cluster interests include women’s writing, eco-criticism, nationalism, medico-scientific writing and war. The group is aligned with the Faculty Research Clusters, ‘Modern Britain Research’ and ‘Global Feminisms’.
  • American Literature We have significant diversity in this field, from nineteenth to twenty-first century writing and including African American literature. The cluster is aligned with the Faculty Research Cluster, ‘Global Feminisms’, and with the Faculty Centre for Black Humanities.
  • Global Literatures Part of our mission to represent world literatures in English, this substantial cluster covers literatures from Britain, Ireland, America, the African continent, and India. The group has close links with Faculty Research Clusters, ‘Global Feminisms’ and ‘Global Slaveries’, with the Faculty Centre for Black Humanities, the Faculty Centre for Environmental Humanities, and with the Bristol Institute for Migration and Mobility Studies.
  • Literature, Science and Medicine An interdisciplinary cluster working with colleagues in science and health sciences, this group covers literary texts from the eighteenth to twenty-first centuries and their links with health and environmental issues. The cluster is closely aligned with the Faculty Centre for Health, Humanities and Science and the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research.
  • Poetry and Poetics With a number of practising poets in the department, this cluster focuses on the technical, historical, contemporary and aesthetic value of poetry. The group works closely with the Bristol Poetry Institute in the Faculty of Arts.
  • Creative Writing Producing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, our writers work with colleagues to explore the theory and practice of creative writing and the relationships between writers, readers, and the cultural industries. The group has particular synergies with the Faculty Centre for Material Texts and the university’s Brigstow Institute.

Projects

  • The Literary Heritage of Anglo-Dutch Relations c. 1050–c. 1550. PI: Ad Putter (2018–20, £363,449). A team of scholars on this Leverhulme Research Project is investigating literary exchanges and international relations between England and the Low Countries. A major exhibition, ‘North Sea Crossings’, will open in November 2020 at the Weston Library, University of Oxford.
  • Manuscript Pamphleteering in Early Stuart England. PI: Noah Millstone, Co-I: Sebastiaan Verweij (2017–18). AHRC Project Grant. The project is to collect and digitise an archive of manuscript pamphlets in order to explore the political concerns of early Stuart England.
  • Literature and Transatlantic Exchange in the British Atlantic World 1640–1750. PI: Edward Holberton (2017-18, c. £71,500). This British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship supports research into transatlantic literary exchanges in the early modern world, with a focus on writers in Britain communicating with Anglophone colonies in America and the Caribbean.
  • Literary Entrepreneurship, Arts Management and Cultural Industries on the African Continent. PI: Madhu Krishnan (2017-18, £14,545). ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to establish new literary institutions (festivals, prizes, book distributions and translation initiatives) on the African continent.
  • Ugandan Youth and Creative Writing: New Perspectives on Conflict and Development. PI: Madhu Krishnan (2016-18, £74,665). AHRC/GCRF Research Innovation Award on Conflict and International Development. This project explores the potential of creative writing as a source of new insight into the development needs of young people living in (post)conflict Uganda.
  • Small Magazines, Literary Networks and Self-Fashioning in Africa and its Diasporas. PI: Madhu Krishnan (2017-18, £35,210). AHRC Research Grant. Through a study of small magazines, both print and digital, this project aims to explore the legacies of black internationalism in the construction of African and diasporic identities.
  • Manuscripts and Printed Books at Woburn Abbey. PI: Sebastiaan Verweij (2016–17). Funded by the Society of Antiquaries, the purpose of the project is to survey the manuscripts written and collected by Francis Russell, 4th earl of Bedford, in the first half of the seventeenth century.
  • Literary Archaeology: Exploring the Lived Environment of the Slave. PI: Josie Gill (2016–17, £63,365). This AHRC Research Grant brought together a team of archaeological scientists, writers, and literary scholars to explore the experience of being enslaved.

Associated centres

Members of the department and their research projects are linked to one or more of these groups and centres. Members of the Department also sit on Centre committees.

 Faculty of Arts Research Centres

Faculty of Arts Research Clusters

Faculty of Arts Research Collaborations

University Research Institutes

Cabot Institute

Our research in eco-criticism and literature and the environment is linked to the Cabot Institute themes of global environmental change.

Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research

The Institute provides opportunities for funding and networking for our researchers who are working in the field of medical humanities.

Brigstow Institute

The Brigstow Institute has provided seed funding for some of our research projects and public engagement activities.

University Specialist Research Institutes

Our research has affinities with work supported by the Bristol Institute for Migration and Mobility Studies, especially our projects on ‘Borders and Borderlands’, global literatures, and creative writing.

GW4 Alliance

We benefit from the collaborative and cross-disciplinary opportunities provided by this research alliance of the universities of Bristol, Bath, Cardiff, and Exeter.

Collaborations and activities

Four of the Faculty of Arts Research Clusters are led by members of the English Department:

‘Borders and Borderlands’ (Professor Helen Fulton)

This group brings together researchers in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to explore representations of border spaces and cultural practices in unstable multicultural and multilingual border environments.

‘Early Modern Studies’ (Dr Sebastiaan Verweij and Dr Kenneth Austin)

A cross-disciplinary group of researchers working in the Early Modern period and sharing critical approaches, new methodologies, and ideas for grant bids.

‘Global Feminisms’ (Dr Rowena Kennedy-Epstein, Dr Sumita Mukherjee, and Dr Tara Puri)

Bringing researchers together from across the Faculty, this group explores feminist approaches to the understanding and representation of human experience.

‘The Perspective from the Sea’ (Dr Laurence Publicover)

This group focuses on the sea as a physical and environmental phenomenon around which literary and historical texts find their purpose and meaning.

Public engagement

The Department has ongoing partnerships with many organisations and institutions in and around Bristol, providing a focus for lectures, readings, debates, and similar public events. Recent events include:

Events

We run a regular research-seminar series that takes place every fortnight during term time. We also host numerous conferences and other research events for the academic community and the general public.

Beyond the department

Our research feeds into School of Humanities research clusters, and forms part of the overall research strategies of the Faculty of Arts.

Interested in being a visiting researcher?

If you would like to be a visiting researcher at the University of Bristol, please see the School of Humanities' guidelines for visiting researchers, where you will also find an application form.

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