Discover more about current and recent research projects in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.
Murals by Black artists have lined the walls of Black institutions throughout the US since the early-nineteenth century. Using unexplored archival materials, alongside personally-conducted oral history interviews, Dr Hannah Jeffery’s interdisciplinary research focuses on the understudied role of Black muralism in the Black Freedom Movement. Beauty in the Struggle seeks to uncover the empowering, educational, and self-affirming role Black-created interior mural art played in segregated public spaces for local Black communities in the US.
The project will excavate how the public murals of Charles White, Aaron Douglas, Hale Woodruff, Charles Alston, Robert Scott Duncanson, William Edouard Scott, and John Biggers used empowering iconography to protest US white supremacy, from enslavement to the early-twentieth century. It will uncover how these Black artists resurrected inspiring Black and African diasporic memory, history and culture to transform walls of black colleges, hospitals, government buildings and libraries into public sites of protest, creating visual platforms for Black liberation during racial segregation.
Funded by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship: September 2020 - August 2023
LLC team: Dr Hannah Jeffery (Leverhulme Trust Fellowship holder)
The Abbasids were the second longest ruling dynasty in Islamic history (750-1258). The first centuries of their rise to power are of key importance for the history of Islam, as the earliest surviving literary texts written by Muslims were composed at this time and in their capital, Baghdad. These texts have been the preferred sources for scholars working on the Abbasid period, meaning that our current view of Abbasid state structures is a view from the top.
The five-year Caliphal Finances project (2021-2026) will refocus scholarship on the totality of Abbasid administration. In doing so, it will provide for the first time a view ‘from below’ on Abbasid fiscal history through a study of papyrus documents in Greek, Coptic and Arabic written in Egypt. In a field largely dominated by religious history, the project will renew our understanding of the dynamics of change in pre-modern state structures, with a focus on the complexity of local agency.
Funded by a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC): September 2021 - August 2026
LLC team: Dr Marie Legendre (Principal Investigator)
The pilot for a monograph-length study on the life-course of Chinese Christians, this project builds on ten years of ethnographic fieldwork undertaken by the Principal Investigator in a group of Protestant churches in China. Through a combination of participant observation and in-depth interviews, it investigates how a shared religious identity is established and maintained among Protestant Christians in a rapidly-changing socio-political context.
In its early phase, the research focused on Chinese Protestant naming practices, demonstrating the complex layers of meaning in Chinese-Christian personal names. Now it is exploring a second key aspect of the Chinese-Christian life course; the role of church festivals (for example Christmas and Easter), exploring the interactions between individual Christians and their congregation, and how this shapes religious meaning, identity and authority.
Funded by Small Grant awards from The Carnegie Trust: March 2019 - February 2020, and The Royal Society of Edinburgh: December 2019 - April 2022
LLC team: Dr Mark McLeister (Principal Investigator)
Iran has been the focus of many studies on the subjugation and marginality of women, but little has been studied about the theocracy’s impact on male identities. In her research into constructions of masculinity in Iranian cinema, Professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz examines a number of films with men as the focus. In published papers and curated film seasons, Pak-Shiraz demonstrates how recent Iranian films have skilfully used the cinematic language to narrate men’s stories of alienation and despair. Challenging stereotypes, she explores how such tales provide a more complex insight into masculine identities in patriarchal society than has been studied to date.
This research is part of Pak-Shiraz’s wider exploration of Iranian cinema, with a particular focus on the role it plays in exploring the complexities of Iranian society and Islam. One particularly innovative strand of her research is on female filmmakers’ representations of men. Other themes include Iranian film directors’ treatment of religious and historical narratives, and continuities and discontinuities in Iranian cinema over the last six decades. Her work has underpinned over 60 film screenings and events on Iranian film, largely as part of the Edinburgh Iranian Festival - Film Season (EIF-FS) and Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Funded by the AHRC-CASAW Research Network: 2014, and a Small Grant award from the Royal Society of Edinburgh: 2019
LLC team: Professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz (Principal Investigator)
Can translation theory and methods help us study the way religions travel? And to what extent are the linguistic and conceptual elements of translation linked to the articulation of religious identity? Bringing together an international team of academics from the UK, India and Germany, the two-year Conversion, Translation and the Language of Autobiography (CTLA) project asked these questions, investigating the role of translation in the movement of religious ideas and beliefs across cultures and historical periods.
Conversions to Protestant Christianity in India began in the early 1700s and continued through the period of British colonialism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many Protestant converts wrote autobiographical narratives on their conversion experience which were translated for wider circulation within India and in Europe and North America. Taking in a range of narratives (tracts, journal articles, letters, obituaries, and autobiographies), the interdisciplinary project explored the translation of Protestant subjectivity across English, German, Marathi and Tamil. The materials collected and interpreted have been of particular use in secondary level teaching, with CPD events for teachers awarded follow-on funding in 2019.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): November 2014 - May 2017
LLC team: Dr Hephzibah Israel (Principal Investigator)
Although Scottish Gaelic now has at least nascent representation in several language processing fields and resources, two cornerstones of modern language technology remain undeveloped: a general Language Model (LM); and an Automatic Speech Recognition system (ASR). Focusing on developing an ASR, by which we use our voices to interact with technology such as smart devices, this project has various applications, including enhancing Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), broadening communicative domains, and facilitating automatic transcription and translation for Scottish Gaelic.
Developing an ASR is part of an iterative research programme at the University of Edinburgh devoted to developing language technology tools for Scottish Gaelic, therein advancing a number of interlinked research, media and government agendas. Specifically, it builds upon resources and techniques developed in two previous studies: the Gaelic Part-of-Speech Tagging Project (funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Carnegie); and the Gaelic Handwriting Recognition Project, which involved digitising hundreds of manuscripts in the School of Scottish Studies Archives. It also incorporates two recent spoken language ethnographic recording projects - Saoghal Thormoid and Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal - conducted by project partners, the University of the Highlands and Islands and Quorate Technology Limited.
Funded by Soillse, the National Research Network for the Maintenance and Revitalisation of Gaelic Language and Culture: September 2020 - February 2021, and by the Scottish Funding Council through the Edinburgh Futures Institute, a Data-Driven Innovation hub: March 2021 - July 2021
LLC team: Dr Will Lamb (Principal Investigator)
Italian Great War literature is an extraordinarily diverse corpus in terms of genres, agents, and ideological backgrounds. Fatherland as Motherland was one of the first research projects to explore the conflict’s gendered nature, especially the interplay between nationalism and gender. The project combined methodologies from literary studies, political history, and gender and cultural studies to examine both fiction and non-fiction, including diaries, letters and memoirs. It excavated the layered site of invention of Italian Great War literature, interpreting between the lines of its various conflicting masculine discourses and representations.
Fatherland as Motherland studied the female icon of the motherland in Italian Great War literature by analysing its unstable symbolic contents and rhetorical features and comparing them with nationalist propaganda. It proposed a new interpretation of the exploitation of the literature in fascist nationalist culture by analysing edited collections of war writings published in the 1920s and 30s. Overall, the project marked the centenary of World War I by fostering a better understanding of the gendered character of modern nationalism and its cultural roots against the backdrop of European integration. Findings were published in the 2020 book 'Mobilizing Cultural Identities in the First World War: History, Representations and Memory', and shared in various papers and talks.
Funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) – Individual Fellowship: September 2015 - August 2017
LLC team: Dr Cristina Savettieri (MSCA Fellowship holder), Professor Federica Pedriali (Supervisor)
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)
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)
Why do some military transitions succeed while others fail? Drawing lessons from the democratisation of South Korea in the late 1980s, this project aims to tease out the mechanisms that led to a successful outcome in Korea, and to identify the key challenges confronting Myanmar. Moving beyond an exclusive focus on repression and army leadership, the project analyses the military-economic complex and its broader impact on society. This approach is especially timely in the wake of the current humanitarian crisis and military-led operations against the Rohingya community in Rakhine state and, more recently, the February 2021 military coup.
In this three-year project, the Principal Investigator has conducted extensive fieldwork in both Korea and Myanmar. Alongside, and in cooperation with the Pansodan Art Gallery in Yangon, she led the Bahu (Art is Plural) Healing Festival in May 2019, a series of art exhibitions in Myanmar promoting participation and inclusion among the country’s youth. In March 2021, she jointly organised the Arts, Freedom, and Resistance: Voices from Myanmar workshop with the University of St Andrews. The event gave a platform to artists and activists from Myanmar to share perspectives on current events, and enabled academics to draw parallels with the democratization movement in Korea.
Funded by a British Academy / Leverhulme Small Research Grant: 2018-2020
LLC team: Dr Youngmi Kim (Principal Investigator)
By the turn of the 21st century, UNESCO had categorised Scottish Gaelic as an ‘endangered’ language. Over the past 20 years, successive Scottish governments have sought to reverse this decline, revitalising Scotland’s Gaelic language, culture and heritage in a range of ways. Using their research into language development in both an historical and comparative context, as well as linguistic work and research on education and media, colleagues in Celtic and Scottish Studies have helped the lead Gaelic development agency, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, to shape evidence-based policy on language planning and maintenance, including through the development of three successive National Gaelic Language Plans.
The research has played a critical role in the development of Gaelic education policy and helped lawmakers strengthen education authorities’ obligations in relation to Gaelic Medium Education (GME). It has demonstrated the high attainment of pupils in GME, who are comparatively more accomplished in English reading than English-medium pupils. A retraining programme started in 2014 has now returned approximately 30 professionals to teach through the medium of Gaelic in schools across the country. By the 2019/20 academic year, over 5,000 pupils in Scotland were enrolled in GME, a 34.4% increase from 2013/14.
Funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig
LLC team: Professor Rob Dunbar, Professor Wilson McLeod, Dr Fiona O’Hanlon (Postdoctoral Fellow, 2010-2014), Dr Stuart Dunmore (Postdoctoral Fellow)
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)
Recent developments in Education Studies have provided the tools to better understand the teaching and learning experience in higher education. However, the interdisciplinarity of Japanese Studies - an ambiguous and diffuse field, apparently without the particular sets of well-defined methods, theories and questions found in other disciplines - represents a particular challenge to understanding why teaching in Japanese Studies happens in a particular way, what its intended outcomes are, and how it all fits together.
Focusing on the perspectives of practitioners and students through interviews and focus groups, this project aims to understand and explore the range of socialisation processes in different Japanese Studies departments across the UK. As well as publishing results in Japan Forum journal, the project team have been recording and publishing interviews with Japanese Studies academics focusing on their careers to date. The Voices in Japanese Studies podcast offers a window into the field for prospective and existing scholars. As such, and along with the journal article, it makes a valuable, evidenced-based contribution to the ongoing global discussion on the role of Area Studies in higher education.
Funded by the British Association for Japanese Studies (BAJS): February 2017 - April 2021
LLC team - Dr Chris Perkins (Principal Investigator), Matt Loten and Anna Vittinghoff (PhD researchers and podcast hosts)
Building on Laura Bradley’s earlier AHRC-funded project on theatre censorship in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) 1961-1990, Who’s Watching Who? marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The public engagement project involved award-winning dramatist Peter Arnott writing a play, Ensemble, based on the research, and sharing this creative process with audiences. The relationship between film, research and audience was traced by film-maker, academic and project co-designer, Susan Kemp, in the 2016 documentary Writing Ensemble. The project was developed in partnership with Playwrights' Studio, Scotland, which connects playwrights with audiences and encourages critical discussion about playwriting.
Who’s Watching Who? comprised 13 events in four UK cities, including rehearsed readings of the play-in-progress and screenings of the film. The project website showcased archival and contemporary resources, including a blog by playwright Peter Arnott. Through this extensive engagement, audiences reported learning more about how GDR censorship functioned, the psychology of surveillance, the ethics of playwriting and research, and the complexities and possibilities of verbatim theatre. A collaborative symposium promoted awareness of opportunities for collaboration between theatre practitioners and the Higher Education sector.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): November 2014 - January 2016
LLC team: Professor Laura Bradley (Principal Investigator), Susan Kemp (Co-designer)