Projects, centres, networks and publications in English and Scottish Literature.
Research in English Literature, and the benefits it has brought to a range of partners and beneficiaries, have received outstanding endorsements in the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) – the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.
In Times Higher Education, English at Edinburgh is ranked fifth in the UK (out of more than 90 institutions) for the overall quality of its publications and other outputs, the impact of its research on people’s lives, and its supportive research environment.
Over 90 per cent of our research and impact is classed as world-leading and internationally excellent by Research Professional. 69 per cent is graded at the world-leading level – the highest of the REF’s four categories.
We have received this standout evaluation for research that ranges across literary history from the later Middle Ages to the present day, and is at the forefront of interdisciplinary fields including Digital and Environmental Humanities and studies of the history and future of books and material culture. Our submission covered collaboration with researchers in disciplines as varied as Education, Economic History, Informatics, and Astronomy.
We are particularly pleased that our research environment has been assessed as 100 per cent world-leading for the support we give to postgraduate and early career researchers, our research facilities, and our partnerships and collaborations within and beyond the University.
Selected research centres and networks
Research centres and networks range from formal collaborations to informal groups of researchers working together on a theme or challenge.
A number are based in - or are affiliated with - English and Scottish Literature; others are based elsewhere in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), the University of Edinburgh, or the wider academic community, but involve our staff and students.
The groups provide opportunities for researchers at all career stages to work together with partners and stakeholders in organising events, workshopping publications, engaging audiences outside the academy, and exploring ideas for future projects and funding bids.
Here are just a few of our current groups, and significant networks that are no longer live but have left a legacy of networking and collaboration...
Established in 1995, the interdisciplinary Centre for the History of the Book was active at the University of Edinburgh for 25 years. Hosting visiting fellows, public lectures, workshops and seminars, the Centre promoted research into the production, circulation and reception of published material, from manuscripts to electronic texts. You can still access its video resources online.
Spanning a range of disciplines in European, Islamic, American and Asian studies, including medieval literatures and cultures, the Centre brings together around 70 researchers across the University of Edinburgh.
Bringing together specialists in the fields of anglophone and francophone diasporas, this international network is unique in comparing the various diasporic communities’ responses to issues of identity, belonging and relocation in the specific contexts of British/French and Canadian immigration policies.
An informal interdisciplinary network meeting in-person and online, this group brings together researchers, artists, and writers interested in the gastronomics of modern literature and life. Spanning diverse critical contexts, from the medical humanities to posthumanism, Digestive Modernisms looks at food, diet, and gut health in modernist literature, art, culture and philosophy.
Founded in 2008, SWINC builds connections between researchers working in the field of 19th century Scottish studies and fosters public awareness of the richness and diversity of Scottish culture in the period. The network supports early career researchers, including current holders of ARHC Studentships and Marie-Curie Fellowships, and runs workshops, lectures and other events, a number of which are associated with the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott in 2021.
Selected research projects
Dr Hannah Jeffery’s interdisciplinary research focuses on the understudied role of Black muralism in the Black Freedom Movement. In the first of two recent projects, Beauty in the Struggle, she sought to uncover the empowering, educational, and self-affirming role Black-created interior mural art played in segregated public spaces in the USA, from enslavement to the early-twentieth century. In particular, the project explored how Black artists resurrected inspiring Black and African diasporic memory, history and culture to transform the interiors of segregated public buildings into sites of protest, creating visual platforms for Black liberation.
Drawing on unexplored archival materials, Beauty in the Struggle focused on the work of Charles White, Aaron Douglas, Hale Woodruff, Charles Alston, Robert Scott Duncanson, William Edouard Scott, and John Biggers. Say Their Names brought the research into the 21st century, and widened its scope beyond interior art and the USA to the commemorative street art which has marked a new age of international muralism since the death of Oscar Grant in 2009. For this project, Dr Jeffery created an online digital archive and curriculum tool preserving all known Black Lives Matter murals across the world.
Funded by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship: September 2020 to August 2023 (Beauty in the Struggle), and by a Small Research Grant Award from the British Academy: September 2021 to June 2023 (Say Their Names)
LLC team: Dr Hannah Jeffery (Principal Investigator; Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow)
The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed a number of devastating famines in British colonies, resulting in a huge body of literary and artistic work and journalistic debate around their ‘man-made’ nature. While the Irish literary case, for example, is relatively well known, the same cannot be said of literary-cultural responses to the Indian famines, including the 1943 crisis in Bengal. Over a number of projects, Dr Sourit Bhattacharya is recovering famine works, and administrative and periodical sources by Indian and British writers and critics, including influential Scots. A key aim is to maximise visibility of events that were much debated at the time, but are now rarely discussed, despite having influenced anticolonial mobilisation and postcolonial food crisis debates.
This body of work aims to catalyse extensive, long-term research that historicises contemporary debates on neo-colonialism and global food crisis, and indigenous responses to them. Outputs will include an online literary bibliography of the Bengal famine, annotations of major works, and a short film on famine survivors. The projects variously include archival fieldwork in Britain and India, and collaboration with an international team of researchers, library professionals, and curators to form a Network on the British Empire, Scotland, and Indian famines. The Network will host academic conferences in Edinburgh and Guwahati, an authors’ workshop and knowledge exchange programme in Edinburgh, and a public engagement event in Kolkata.
Funded by a Research Incentive Grant from the Carnegie Trust: July 2021 to November 2022, and by a Royal Society of Edinburgh Network Award: March 2022 to March 2024
LLC team: Dr Sourit Bhattacharya (Principal Investigator)
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) and Jane Welsh Carlyle (1801-1866) were prolific Scottish writers who corresponded with many of the outstanding cultural and political figures of their time in the UK, Europe and North America. The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, Duke-Edinburgh edition is one of the major editorial projects in Victorian studies of the last half-century. Started by C.R.Sanders of Duke University, in co-operation with John Butt in Edinburgh, it has since amassed an archive of over 10,000 surviving letters, mostly in manuscript, the core collections being in the National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh University Library.
Since the publication of the first four volumes in 1970, the project has produced 48 (of 50) fully-edited, annotated and indexed volumes. Drawing on multiple scholarly collections, work proceeds simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. The publishers are Duke University Press in the USA, advised by academics from around the world. Other research papers have regularly appeared, and the project has held a number of conferences and published a free digital archive, the Carlyle Letters Online.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy, the Binks Trust, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and private donations.
LLC team: Professor Kenneth Fielding, Professor Ian Campbell, Aileen Christianson, Dr Jonathan Wild, Dr Katherine Inglis, Jane Roberts, Liz Sutherland
Are there challenges or difficulties unique to the task of exhibiting books and manuscripts? What kinds of pressures and demands do librarians and curators face? How do policies and frameworks aimed at connecting archives, libraries and museums with the communities around them shape our approach to staging such exhibitions? Beginning with a workshop, and culminating in an advisory report that remains widely used, Exhibiting the Written Word brought academics, librarians and curators together to find out.
Exhibiting the Written Word was led by the Making Our Connections team comprising researchers from the University of Edinburgh (including the Centre for Research Collections) and the National Library of Scotland. Together with the core team, participants included the British Library, National Galleries of Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Trinity College Dublin, University of Ulster, Edinburgh Napier University, Dublin City Library and Archive, Scottish Poetry Library, Seven Stories children's book centre and the Wordsworth Trust.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): February 2011 - August 2011
LLC team: Professor James Loxley (Principal Investigator)
A unique exploration of the possibilities of big data for literary research, LitLong is a project to digitally map the ways in which Edinburgh has been used as a setting by myriad writers. Over two key phases, it has mapped around 47,000 excerpts from more than a million books made available by the British Library, the National Library of Scotland and the Hathi Trust, collectively spanning five centuries of writing. The project brings together researchers in literature, informatics and the digital humanities at three Scottish universities to text mine and analyse narratives. Its interactive map of literary Edinburgh has two visual interfaces: a website; and a free-to-download app.
Since 2014, LitLong has been embedded in Edinburgh’s UNESCO City of Literature digital and on-site programming, with character-led walking tours being a particularly popular addition to the city’s cultural offer. Through foregrounding marginalised voices, including on Wikipedia, the project has also inspired new work by over 80 of the city’s contemporary poets and prose writers whose work is published in the Umbrellas of Edinburgh anthology. Latterly, its methods have been adopted by Edinburgh International Book Festival and its partner Jalada Africa to map a series of transcontinental journeys and trace trajectories of African writing in English.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): January 2014 - March 2015; January 2017 - January 2018
LLC team: Professor James Loxley (Principal Investigator), Dr Beatrice Alex (Chancellor’s Fellow)
Between 1946 and 1958, the US conducted 67 nuclear bomb tests across the Republic of the Marshall Islands, forcing many communities into open-ended exile, including over 2,300 miles away in Hawaii. Led by Professor Michelle Keown (LLC) and Dr Shari Sabeti (Moray House School of Education and Sport), the Marshallese Arts Project (MAP) aims to better understand the Marshallese experience of displacement, and to explore how strategies of resilience that remain within the community might be deployed to build educational and socioeconomic capacity in the future.
Collaborating with artists Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Solomon Enos and Christine Germano, the project team ran a series of participatory arts workshops with school-aged children to generate new understandings of the unique historical trajectories and community development needs of Marshall Islanders. Raising international awareness of the effects of America’s enduring nuclear legacy in the Pacific, the project has led to the publication of the first Marshallese graphic novel, a video performance poem, improved pedagogical approaches in participating and other schools, and an anthology of poetry by children who have demonstrated significant personal growth through MAP.
Funded by an ESRC/AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund award: November 2016 - April 2018; AHRC Follow-on Funding: December 2018 - March 2019, and an EPSRC Global Impact Accelerator Account: February 2019 - January 2020.
LLC team - Professor Michelle Keown (Principal Investigator)
As a world famous African American author, activist and philosopher, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) is often presented as an exceptional individual working in isolation. Our Bondage and Our Freedom breaks new ground by reinterpreting Douglass’ activism and authorship in relation to that of his wife Anna Murray, daughters Rosetta and Annie, and sons Lewis Henry, Frederick Jr and Charles Remond Douglass, as well as hundreds of other 19th century African American freedom-fighters on both sides of the Atlantic.
The project has involved recovering, digitising and interpreting over 1,000 documents, artworks and artefacts, and making these available to new audiences through four site-specific exhibitions, an award-winning book, free digital assets such as the National Library of Scotland’s 'Struggles for Liberty' learning resource, talks, walking tours, interviews and a documentary. Working collaboratively, the team of US and UK partners has helped educators, curators, and archivists to interpret the Douglass family’s intergenerational fight for liberation and to share the lives and works of nineteenth-century African American freedom-fighters with US and UK audiences in their thousands.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): August 2018 - January 2020
LLC team - Professor Celeste-Marie Bernier (Principal Investigator), Professor Andrew Taylor
Through two projects on the culture of finance – Picturing Finance and The History of Financial Advice – Dr Paul Crosthwaite's research has brought humanities approaches to bear on economic questions, helping us better understand the abstract, and often mystifying, domain of money, investment, credit and debt. Involving the Universities of Edinburgh, Manchester and Southampton, and galleries and other partners across the UK, the projects have used literary and cultural methodologies to explore the integral importance of visual culture to finance and to a critical questioning of some of its assumptions and practices.
Picturing Finance’s co-curated exhibition 'Show Me the Money: The Image of Finance, 1700 to the Present' reached around 70,000 people, producing acclaimed new work by commissioned artists, and receiving excellent reviews from the public and media alike. Free digital resources from both projects, including an app, MOOC, and eight quality-accredited lesson plans, have improved financial literacy - a relatively new addition to the National Curriculum, and one that has rapidly increased in importance as Britain prepares to meet the twin economic challenges posed by Brexit and the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): March 2013 - September 2014; January 2016 - May 2019
LLC team - Dr Paul Crosthwaite (Co-Investigator)
Working within the field of Applied Theatre, Nicola McCartney has developed a unique, research-led methodology that helps people affected by conflict or inequality to better interpret and address their life circumstances through dramaturgy. Her research has underpinned the significant international expansion of Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre’s flagship education project Class Act which, between 2016 and 2019, developed 55 new plays by 120 young people working with various cultural practitioners in Russia, Ukraine and India.
In addition to Class Act and her own plays, Nicola worked with Dritan Kastrati, who was smuggled from Kosovo to the UK as a child and then spent many years in the care system. Their award-winning, co-written play How Not to Drown (2019) is a piece of physical theatre interweaving interviews with Kastrati’s own writing. In October 2020, McCartney was named as lead artist on the National Theatre Scotland project, Care in Contemporary Scotland, A Creative Enquiry. Involving local authorities, carers and cared for young people, this project enables her to continue her work on the positive impact of creative responses to experiences of the care system.
Funded by various bodies including Traverse Theatre, the British Council, BBC (Emerging Artists Award), and National Theatre Scotland
LLC team: Nicola McCartney
Scotland and Russia have a long tradition of mutual engagement and influence, going back to the Middle Ages and still thriving today. Drawing on the expertise of scholars, creative practitioners and the general public, Scotland and Russia: Cultural Encounters Since 1900 explores the full spectrum of these connections: from passive consumption of each other’s culture to ethnographic reflection upon it; from creative transformation of each other’s cultural products to professional collaboration in the creation of joint cultural capital.
In addition to three collaboratively-hosted academic conferences covering music, theatre, literature, art, politics and history, the project has organised concerts, a performance workshop, and talks by visiting speakers. Its website hosts an extensive cultural archive of textual, audio and visual materials - some newly translated and all brought together for the first time.
Funded by the University of Edinburgh Challenge Investment Fund: 2014-2015, by the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee, and by the Royal Society of Edinburgh Arts and Humanities Research Network Award: January 2015 - December 2016
LLC team: Dr Anna Vaninskaya (Principal Investigator), Dr Rania Karoula (Research Assistant)
Since the mid twentieth century, a rapid rise in optical technologies has made the textual and the visual more intimately bound than ever. This project explored the ways in which post-war literature has contemplated the perceptual challenges posed by movement, optical illusion, and new media. In thinking about the implications of the kinetic in literature, it asked how motion is expressed, and what impact this had had on the ways we experience or 'read' the world.
Technicities of Illusion traced the lineage of technological literacy in the arts through archival collections of optical devices, artworks, digital design and literary responses. Reappraising the work of authors, sculptors, filmmakers, and designers, it identified the literary strategies that developed in Britain and America in the post-war period to keep pace with a culture increasingly driven by technological enhancement and the rapid flow of information. In doing so, Natalie Ferris built a new history of the ways we manage and visualise information, deepening our understanding of how we read, think, create, and write now.
Funded by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship: October 2018 - September 2021
LLC team: Dr Natalie Ferris (Principal Investigator)
Coastal Routes offers the first comparative study of a neglected archive of Romantic travel writing that explores the deep history of human-environment relationships along the environmentally fragile Atlantic coasts of Ireland and Scotland. Combining approaches from the Environmental Humanities, Archipelagic Criticism and Geocriticism, it examines the ways in which tourists construct landscapes as a resource; considers changing attitudes and values; and demonstrates how environmental narratives grew up around particular locations.
Coastal Routes thereby contributes to the UN’s 2030 Sustainability Agenda in relation to sustainable development of marine resources as well as consumption and production patterns. Uncovering lost environmental understandings captured in travel writing from 1770 to 1840 allows critical reflection on contemporary practices and future directions. Project outputs include a Special Issue of Nineteenth-Century Contexts on ‘Ecologies of the Atlantic Archipelago’ and a one-day workshop on ‘Scotland’s Coastal Romanticisms’ (hosted by Scottish Writing in the Nineteenth Century (SWINC) and The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities).
Funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship: September 2020 - August 2022
LLC team: Dr Anna Pilz (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow), Professor Penny Fielding (Supervisor)
The Northern Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland have both a rich literary history and an active community of poets and novelists at work today. Exploring the many continuities between the historic and the contemporary is challenging, given the location of the islands, and the geographic dispersal of the many people who can contribute to the process, including literary historians, museum professionals, writers, and their audiences. Bringing these groups together, Writing the North unlocked a range of archival and contextual material - shedding light on forgotten writers, and inspiring new work.
Arising out of Professor Penny Fielding's earlier AHRC Fellowship on Shetland and Orkney literature and the literary record of visitors to the islands, the project involved a major six-week exhibition bringing together two collections at Shetland Museum and Archives. Associated activities and events included an animation, lesson packs for schools, digital resources, and a series of creative 'dialogues' resulting in "Archipelagos", an anthology steeped in Shetlandic and Orcadian history. Beyond Scotland, the project has acted as a model for preserving and celebrating minority languages and dialects, including through connections with Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in Manitoba, Canada. Although Writing the North has formally ended, related activities such as writing workshops, continue.
Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): May 2013 - June 2014
LLC team: Professor Penny Fielding (Principal Investigator), Robert Alan Jamieson, Dr Alex Thomson
Postgraduate research and supervision
Doctorate-level study is an opportunity to make an original, positive contribution to research in literature and related fields.
As the oldest department of English Literature in the UK, based in one of the largest and most diverse Schools in the University of Edinburgh, we are the ideal place for PhD study.
We also offer a one year Masters by Research degree, which is a good stepping stone between undergraduate and doctoral study.
Our interdisciplinary environment brings together specialists in all periods and genres of literature and literary analysis. Given the breadth and depth of our expertise, we are able to support students wishing to develop research projects in any field of Anglophone literary studies.
Beyond the books
Beyond the Books is a podcast that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at research in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures and the people who make it happen.
To date, hosts Ellen and Emma have talked to the following researchers from our community in English and Scottish Literature:
- Series 1: Episode 1 - Rachel Chung, PhD candidate in English Literature
- Series 1: Episode 2 - David Farrier, Professor of Literature and the Environment
- Series 2: Episode 2 - Anna Kemball, PhD candidate in English Literature