Peter Dayan

Professor of Word and Music Studies, Head of French and Francophone Studies

  • French and Francophone Studies
  • Department of European Languages and Cultures
  • School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

Contact details



Room 3.45
50 George Square

Post code


  • Please feel free to knock on my door at any time (if I am busy I will say so!). Office hours: normally Tuesdays 11-12 and Thursdays 10-11, though I will sometimes be away at these times. If you can't find me, please e-mail for an appointment.


Peter Dayan grew up in South Shields, and went to university in Oxford, where he was Junior Research Fellow at Lincoln College. He came to Edinburgh as a lecturer in French in 1985, and has been here ever since, apart from a year teaching at the university of Aix-en-Provence, and another at the University of New South Wales. He became the world’s first (and to date, only!) Professor of Word and Music Studies in 2007.

From 2015 to 2019, he is also Obel Visiting Professor at the University of Aalborg, where he works with the Centre for Research in Contemporary Poetry and the Interdisciplinary Research Group in Culture.



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Undergraduate teaching

My undergraduate teaching concentrates on French 19th-century literature, especially poetry after 1850. My French undergraduate honours option courses are on the figure of the monster in French literature, and French verse in the second half of the 19th century.

Postgraduate teaching

My main contribution to postgraduate teaching is my MSc option entitled Poetry Music Translation, which has been taken by many students who have subsequently gone on to do PhDs (here or elsewhere) in the field of Word and Music Studies. The syllabus is largely determined by the students: they bring to the course poems on the theme of music originally written in a language other than English, and we discuss the theme of music in poetry, the link between that theme and the properties of the poem itself (such as form and sound), and what happens to musicality when a poem is translated. I also offer an option on "America Translated", on how American and French poets and artists (including Poe, Whistler, Baudelaire and Mallarmé) saw each other's nations, in artistic terms, between about 1830 and 1920. I provide modules on Derrida and on Word and Music Studies as part of courses on theory and methods of literary study.

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I am proud of my record as supervisor of adventurously comparative or interdisciplinary PhDs. Three of my students have successfully completed their PhDs in the past year (all awarded the degree with only minor corrections), so I am keen to take on more! Former postgraduate students of mine are now teaching at universities in Scotland, England, Canada, the USA, China, New Zealand, France, and Germany.

My current research students are working on: memory in the music of Schoenberg; Russolo’s “art of noise”; music in the medieval prose Tristan; Algernon Swinburne, Shao Xunmei, and music; novels about composers of music. Past students have successfully completed theses on: the history of the concept of "esprit de corps", in English and in French; music and the influence of European writers on the work of Shen Congwen; Tristan Tzara's artist's books; the place of literature in the development of Englightenment opera; prophecy and apocalypse in avant-garde poetry; the concept of music in the works of Edgar Allan Poe; music and vagueness in French 19th-century painting; music in postcolonial Indian literature; Nerval and the concept of madness in literature; retranslations into English of novels by Flaubert and Sand; Benjamin, Barthes, and photography; the figure of the woman of mixed race in French literature; Derrida and German romanticism; rhythm in French verse, from Baudelaire to Mallarmé; Stendhal and anti-psychiatry; Zola and the legal system; Lyotard and John Cage; gender and narrative voice in the novels of George Sand. I would be very keen to supervise students interested in any aspect of word and music studies, but as the above list will have suggested, if a prospective student has a promising idea, however unusual, I will be happy to discuss it.

A number of students have come to Edinburgh for one semester as visiting postgraduate students, to work with me on “word and music topics” and to take my postgraduate taught course on poetry, music, and translation; this has been a very rewarding experience, and I am happy to consider such applications.

Project activity

In the academic year 2016-2017, I am on half-time research leave. My primary research projects are:

1) to continue my work on the place of music in the Dada movement;

2) to begin a new project investigating the history of free verse as an international phenomenon;

3) to support the community of young scholars working in the field of work and music studies;

4) to contribute to the seminars, conferences, and publications organised by the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Poetry and by the Department of Culture and Global Studies in Aalborg;

5) to engage with the research strand "Valuing Creativity" at Edinburgh.

View all 47 publications on Research Explorer

Conference details

For information on my conference papers, please see my "CV", in the "Biography" section of this web site.