Doctoral Student Spotlight: Abbey Ballard

In this month’s Doctoral Student Spotlight we meet Abbey Ballard, who introduces us to her PhD project.

Having completed my undergraduate degree in Literary Studies at the University of Worcester in 2017, I am very happy to be returning to the department to begin my PhD project within the Environmental Humanities.

While I began my academic journey as an ecocritic, as I furthered my understanding within this field of study the connection between ecological degradation and social injustice became overwhelming, particularly with regard to the experiences of Indigenous communities around the world. Through a persistence of settler colonialism which violently disrupts Indigenous relations with the land, environmental injustices continue to be committed. It is therefore clear that discourses of ecology are often closely related to those of colonialism.

In 2016, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests were led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the construction of a new crude oil pipeline which would cross their ancestral homelands and lead to the possible contamination of their local water source. The protest gained support from around the world, both from other Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous peoples. My literary project will investigate how similar acts of protest and resistance are taking place within the written word. Focusing on contemporary writing by Native American and Aboriginal Canadian women, my project will seek to answer the question of how these authors are approaching issues of environmental and social justice within their work to not only actively challenge Western colonial ideologies, but also concepts of genre.

Centring my analysis on innovative literary works of political Indigenous activism, I will emphasise the importance of Indigenous authors who reject Western literary norms and are instead reclaiming traditional tribal storytelling practices within their writing through the use of creation myths, lyrical language, and interspecies tales. We only have to look to recent events to see how deeply entrenched issues of colonialism and dispossession are within Western society. My hope is that through my research, and with the support of the excellent team at Worcester, I will be able to explore how non-Indigenous critics, such as myself, can best support and amplify Indigenous voices of political resistance through a reading of shared environmental concern and solidarity

When the world opens up, be ready to take it on

2021 is a year of new opportunities in the Department of English, Media and Culture, and one of our most exciting is the launch of a brand-new English Language and Literature joint honours programme which allows you to not only immerse yourself in diverse and challenging literary texts, and to become an astute and sophisticated linguistic thinker, but also to achieve a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) qualification.

The CELTA is the gold standard in language teaching qualifications, with three out of four English Language teaching positions requiring a this qualification. This addition to your BA, built into our new programme, enriches your undergraduate degree with a globally-recognised qualification which can take you around the world and connect you to communities of learners internationally. Whether you see yourself working at a language school, working flexibly as a private tutor or simply want to make yourself stand out in the crowd when applying for a PGCE, our English Language and Literature joint honours programme now combines your subject specific expertise with a practice-based qualification in a way that will leave you ready to take on the world.

To find out more about this new programme, and the places in might take you visit our course web page: https://www.worcester.ac.uk/courses/english-language-joint-honours.aspx

If you have any questions about the course our Admissions Tutors Dr Lefteris Kailoglou (e.kailoglou@worc.ac.uk) and Dr Lucy Arnold (lucy.arnold@worc.ac.uk) – we would love to hear from you!

Research Spotlight: Literary Approaches to Pandemic Disasters

Professor Jean Webb discusses her newly accepted abstract on children, pandemics and literature.

Prof Jean Webb has had a proposal accepted by the Book 2.0 Journal for an article entitled ‘Ghosts, murder and mutation: literary approaches to pandemic disasters’ which will discuss the various ways that texts for children have approached pandemics and trace the emergent themes. The coronavirus pandemic has stimulated a number of texts aimed at helping children to cope with situations alien to them. For example, the picture book Staying Home by Sally Nichols and Vivienne Schwarz (2020) deals with the conditions of lockdown and family isolation whilst Piperpotamus by Annis Watts, endeavours to explain Covid-19.

Sally Nicholls and Vivienne Schwarz, Staying Home
Illustration from Annis Watts’ Piperpotamus

Tragically this pandemic is not the only such event in history. The Black Death swept across Europe (1347- 1351); The Great Plague in 1665 and the Spanish Flu pandemic, 1918-1920 stimulating historical fiction for older children and Young Adults interestingly employing differing literary approaches. For instance, Cat Winters’ In the Shadow of Blackbirds (2013), incorporates a ghost story set against the contexts of séances and spirit photographers as the bereaved hope to gain comfort, whilst Charles Todd’s An Unmarked Grave (2012), is a murder mystery. Dystopian science fiction has also been employed to examine the equivalent circumstances of such pandemics. The plague in Michael Grant’s Gone (2008-2014) follows a nuclear disaster which has produced a world where only those under fifteen have survived beneath a dome created by a young autistic child at the point of the explosion. Unforeseen forces have erupted resulting in mutation where individuals have super-natural powers taking them into a posthuman state. Their world is later blighted by plague and the children have to deal with re-making their lives and their society without the help of adults. These texts are not merely entertainment but give our current generation of children ways of thinking about their present and their futures.

Research Spotlight: Migration and Refuge in the Romantic Era

In this regular feature staff members provide us with insights into their current research activity.

Mike Bradshaw is co-editing a special issue of the journal La Questione Romantica with Gioia Angeletti, a colleague from the University of Parma.

International literary research has long promoted the crossing and erasure of national boundaries to create a genuinely European Romanticism. Recent scholarship on international cultural exchanges, collaboration, and social networks has further promoted the diversification of Romantic studies. Increasingly, new research on transnational Romantic cultures shows a mutually enriching dialogue with the expanding field of critical Refugee Studies.

This special issue of La Questione Romantica aims to consolidate these gains by showcasing new research on the international movement of people in the long Romantic period, and to consider resonances between the Romantic era and contemporary phenomena of migration and expatriation, especially the European refugee crisis of the 21st century. The collection will include themes such as: expatriate communities; political exile and refuge; transnational and cosmopolitan identities; international literary influence; and multilingual authorship.

It’s a regular feature of this journal to include a selection of original poetry in every issue. For our special number on Migration and Refuge, the editors have invited a range of exciting migrant / diasporic writers to share some new poems which reflect on the lived experience of crossing borders.

New Non-Human Pathways: PhD Student Spotlight

In this post we introduce you to Ollie Case, a PhD candidate who will be joining the Department of English, Media and Culture in October. Ollie‘s project concerns the non-human in the work of Virginia Woolf. Here he tells us a little about his journey to a PhD at Worcester and how his interest in Woolf’s work developed.

In the third year of my undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway college of London I chose to study two ‘Special Author Projects’, each comprehensively studying one author’s body of work, rather than writing a dissertation. I picked Thomas Hardy and Virginia Woolf for these two projects on the basis that I had enjoyed Far from the Madding Crowd and that I was also interested in Modernist women’s writing. I quickly learned the value of reading an author’s oeuvre from start to finish and found that my greatest interest lay in Woolf. I wrote a paper on her innovative examinations of the nonhuman in several of her novels. My fascination with Woolf increased while studying for my master’s degree at Goldsmiths college of London. Here I studied a range of movements in modern literary history but found I was drawn back to Woolf time and again. Her examinations of the human psyche, our relationship to others and to the other-than-human are uniquely compelling and provocative. I wrote my thesis on three of her novels, exploring ideas of ‘intersubjectivity’ and multifaceted consciousness, and became inspired to pursue Woolf studies to doctoral level.

In the years that followed, the ideas I had formulated during both degrees began to crystallise and formed the foundations of my doctoral project. The field of environmental humanities is fast growing and has already resulted in fascinating new understandings of the role of literature on the world stage, the position of the human within the natural world, and the future of human identities. Woolf’s writing can and should play an important role in this new movement of literary criticism as an author whose works present understandings of consciousness and identity, human and nonhuman, which are so radically different and have left such an influential mark on the landscape of literature.

While exploring the ideas of recent critics in this area, I found there has been little if any study of Woolf’s approach to the nonhuman in relation to her manipulation of form and narrative style. In her later novels Woolf experiments drastically with different ways of communicating a radical vision of the natural world and the position of the human within it, pushing, stretching, and manipulating language and form to communicate that which evades human understanding because it exists beyond our reach. In reading Woolf from these perspectives, exciting new pathways appear. Looking to twenty-first century theories of posthumanism or earlier formulations of assemblage theory, for example, I found that there are vistas of new insight to be found in studying Woolf from an eco-critical point of view and that in doing so I might also be able to increase the scope and influence of the environmental humanities in literary studies.

During and after the completion of my doctoral studies I hope to continue research, disseminate my work as widely as possible, teach others and share my passion for Woolf studies with as many interested people as I can.

Opportunity Awaits: MA Student Spotlight

Guest Contributor MA Student Lucy Greenwood gives us her take on the English Literature MA at Worcester.

It has been extremely exciting to be a part of the first cohort of the taught MA English degree at University of Worcester. I was drawn to this course because of the varied and interesting modules, that gave me transferable skills. The ‘Digital Editing Project’ gave me the opportunity to create an online critical edition of an Eighteenth-century text that had not up until that point had a critical edition. I chose A description of Bath by Mary Chandler. The project was fun as it gave me a chance to develop my research skills (like trying to write about someone who does not have a lot written about them!) but also practical skills like designing a website. You can see this work here.

If you want to continue your studies and are unsure of what you would like to focus on, or alternatively if you have a very focused idea on what you want to research then my advice is be open to everything. This course is designed to give each student broad inspiration over a wide variety of topics, most notably the module ‘Evolving Genres’ where you will get to look at historical and contemporary examples of different genres which include satire, gothic, epic, tragedy and pastoral.

Personally, I found the pastoral interesting as a genre to explore ecological discourse and all the work I have produced this year has had an ecocritical focus. ‘The New Humanities’ module demonstrates how literary is important to scientific, medical and environmental research, we got to explore this further by organising a post graduate academic conference, Natural Bodies: An Exploration of the New Humanities which was a requirement for our ‘Professional Development’ module. I thought it was wonderful that all our modules integrated with each other and supported by our ‘Research Approaches in the Humanities and Arts’ module which was as essential underpinning to my understanding of being a researcher at post graduate level.

The university has also given me great opportunities such as the Students as Academic Partners scheme, where you can apply to be on a research project with current staff at the university. Despite having a very different MA experience due to coronavirus I can say very happily that I have thoroughly enjoyed this course. I have felt supported, the quality of teaching has been amazing, and the expertise of staff is inspiring. If you are considering the MA, good luck. Opportunity awaits.  

Supportive lecturers and vast career options…

Guest Post by Amy Hill

Studying a degree in English Literature allows you to learn about so much more than texts alone, you become knowledgeable in history, politics, sociology, gender equality, culture – the list goes on! I chose Worcester University because I fell in love with the city and the campus, the humanities department is extremely friendly, supportive and they have expert knowledge in their subject fields. My lecturers have supported me in so many ways to achieve the best in my degree – as a mature student I have appreciated their support in helping me on my academic journey.

After my degree, I will be studying an MA in English Literature with the University of Worcester and after this a PGCE. I enjoyed the course so much I just really had to give myself an extra year with the University of Worcester and the lecturers in the English department.

My career options are so vast – currently I worked, and will work next year, with the Academic Sponsorship Trust as a student facilitator with a charity that supports people who have experienced homelessness or are homeless in Worcestershire, we read aloud to re-engage with education and confidence. I also work as an Editor / Reader for an online magazine and take part in the Worcester Literature and Fringe community. The great thing about studying with the University of Worcester is you become part of a community and have the opportunity to give to the people in the community. I really wish I had realised all the possibilities and opportunities that were available to me as a student at Worcester earlier and taken full advantage!

My advice to a first year studying English Literature is to get involved with everything in the department. The humanities department runs additional lectures on the evenings which are open to everyone and it gives you an opportunity to see how lecturers prepare and present new academic papers. My second piece of advice would be to make use of all the free educational material the university gives you access to and in this vein – Show up to all your lectures and do the reading! When you’re prepared a lecture is so much better. Finally, your lecturers are there to help – so if you need help just ask.

Falling in Love with ‘Faustus’

At Worcester you can combine your study of English with multiple other subjects, including Film Studies, as either a Joint Honours degree or in a Major/Minor arrangement. Ahead of starting his third year of his English and Film Studies degree, our student Aaron Johnson tells us about a highlight of his course so far and how it shaped his engagement with both sides of his degree.

My first year English module, ‘Introduction to Literature’ established a deeper interest in dramas, acquainting me with Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Prior to my studies I lacked ability to engage with the play form. Surprisingly I fell in love with Faustus, learning that, as a Film Studies student, the narrative is an integral staple and cornerstone for modern day story-telling, inspiring media ranging from Netflix’s film Upgrade, The Comedian and episode of Jordan Peele’s rebooted The Twilight Zone, and even an episode of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty. As my education has continued and my contact with dramatic texts has increased, I’ve even stumbled upon my current favourite play The Tempest, by William Shakespeare. Comparatively, film studies expanded on my personal interest for film score and soundtrack, exploring it further through the likes of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, and James Gunn’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol.2. Strengthening my ability to analyse sound and view a film entirely through soundtrack, be it diegetic (within the film’s world) or non-diegetic (beyond the film’s world), I found an ever-expanding interest that I now aim to expand and utilise in my third-year dissertation on the works of John Powell.

For more information on studying English Literature with Film Studies check out our course page https://www.worcester.ac.uk/courses/english-literature-and-film-studies-ba-hons or email our admissions tutor Dr Lucy Arnold lucy.arnold@worc.ac.uk

English, Media and Culture Lockdown Lecture Series

Building on the work of our fantastic colleagues in the Department of Politics, History and Sociology, the Department of English, Media and Culture will be running a series of Lockdown Lectures throughout June and July. Featuring talks on Shakespeare Festivals in Europe from Professor Nicoleta Cinpoes, monstrous twins and The Duchess of Malfi from Dr Sharon Young and English Literature, as well as a Q and A between Dr Whitney Standlee and acclaimed poet and member of our Creative Writing team, Ruch Stacey and a paper on social media, gender and youth culture from the Media team’s Dr Barbara Mitra, the series allows you to be at the cutting edge of what we do in our department without leaving the comfort of your own home!

To ‘attend’ any of the above virtual lectures, click on the link to our Sway page and then click on the title of the lecture you wish to attend at its start time. You will be taken straight through to the virtual classroom to enjoy the talk and, if you wish, take part in our discussions. Missed a session? No problem, all of the talks will be recorded and links provided to allow you to enjoy them in your own time. For more information check out our programme: https://sway.office.com/mBcAHr4hcH9AyDrg?ref=Link

‘They buried him at Worcester’: Heritage Sites, Historical Fiction and a Local Look at Wolf Hall

The ‘Cunning Scribe’ Misericord. Image taken by the author on a trip to Worcester Cathedral

The following article was first comissioned and published by The History Workshop and is gratefully republished with thier permission. The original article can be found here: https://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/they-buried-him-at-worcester/

Worcester Cathedral, rising above the banks of the River Severn, dominates the Worcester skyline and shapes the city centre’s aural character as its bourdon bell strikes each hour. As a landmark, it has punctuated my commute, from Foregate Street Station, across the river and uphill to the St John’s campus of the University of Worcester, for nearly two years, wreathed in mist or glowing in early summer sun. As the publication of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light approached in March of this year, I was drawn inside the building to ask how putting this local landmark into conversation with Mantel’s Tudor novels – particularly the text which introduced her readership to Thomas Cromwell’s England, Wolf Hall – destabilises a perception of the historic building as an incontestable element of the narrative of certain moments in the historical past. My visits revealed how historical fictions and the heritage sites they reference intersect through their accommodation of the gaps in the historical record, the moments when documentary evidence fails and we are thrown back on our own imaginations. Such texts and places have the capacity to put pressure on the dominant narratives of history, to allow us, as visitors and readers, to pose a new set of questions.

‘How lonely it is to die young, to go down into the dark without any company! Maurice St John is not there with him, in his vault at Worcester Cathedral: nor Mr Cromer William Woodall, nor any of the men who heard him say, “Masters, it is a good pastime to have a wife.”’ 

So observes Cromwell in Wolf Hall, a comment which forges tense connections between novel and place, between literary fiction, architectural fact and historiographic conjecture. Perhaps to a greater degree than other kinds of genre fiction, the historical novel makes claims on our material world and the way we understand it, makes claims on the historical documents we read, and on the heritage sites we visit such as Worcester Cathedral. Moreover, heritage sites, whether places of worship or not, similarly generate relationships to the historical past and the historical dead. We sit where they sat, we touch what they touched – or at least, we may assume we do.

Worcester Cathedral. Image taken by author.

Cromwell’s comment foregrounds Worcester’s most prominent connection to the Tudor world, and to the world of Wolf Hall: it is the final resting place of Prince Arthur Tudor, the great hope of the Tudor dynasty, whose death at the age of fifteen ushered in the reign of Henry VIII, the Henrician Reformation and, tangentially, the unprecedented rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell. Yet if Arthur walks as ‘a ghost [. . .] studious and pale’ in Wolf Hall, a phantom who appears in dreams to make cryptic claims on the future, we might assume that stepping into his chantry chapel at Worcester would offer a more tangible and unambiguous connection to Arthur’s story, so frequently abridged or forgotten, occulted by his brother’s more famous narrative.

But as Steven Gunn and Linda Monckton observe in their book Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: Life, Death and Commemoration, Arthur’s chantry poses a number of ‘problems of interpretation’. No records exist pertaining to the commissioning of building of the tomb, the labour or costs involved or the extent of royal involvement in its erection. How long the chapel took to build, whether it has always stood in its current position – all of these details remain in question, none more so than the location of Arthur’s body itself. The position of the chantry encourages the untrained eye to assume that Arthur’s bones repose either in his box tomb itself (as is the case for his royal companion in the cathedral, King John) or else beneath it. However, archaeological surveys undertaken in 2011 using ground penetrating radar revealed a large chamber off to one side of the tomb which may, or may not, contain Arthur’s remains. The material history which relates to Arthur, far from offering a straightforwardly graspable account of his burial and memorialisation, instead continues both to provoke and resist interpretation.

To grasp the challenges to interpretation that this structure poses to the visitor, and the way that resistance mirrors other resistances present in Mantel’s account of the Tudor world and of Prince Arthur’s haunting legacy in particular, it is necessary to examine the architecture of the tomb in detail. In Wolf Hall, Mantel depicts the ruthless process of architectural editing commissioned by Anne Boleyn as she seeks to eradicate any material trace of her forebear, Katherine of Aragon: ‘[Anne] is planning to commandeer Katherine’s royal barge [. . .] and have the device “H&K” burned away, all Katherine’s badges obliterated.’ An examination of Prince Arthur’s chantry, however, reveals that the historical Anne’s efforts were not universally successful. High on the walls of the chapel are carved pomegranates, Katherine of Aragon’s emblem. Meanwhile, the chamber conjectured by archaeologists to contain Arthur’s remains is much larger than necessary to contain one body, prompting speculation from historians such as Mark Duffy that the chamber may have originally been intended to allow Katherine to be laid to rest next to her husband.

The stone pomegranates and empty chamber continue to attest to a narrative which never came to fruition, to uphold Arthur and Katherine’s marriage as licit, to maintain Katherine’s presence in the Tudor narrative. They speak to the provisional quality of history, an awareness of which saturates Wolf Hall. In a passage which echoes the inscription on the historical Arthur’s tomb, Mantel states of the forgotten prince: ‘If he were alive now he would be King of England. His younger brother Henry would likely be Archbishop of Canterbury, and would not (at least we devoutly hope not) be in pursuit of a woman of whom the Cardinal hears nothing good. [. . .] Beneath every history, another history.’

Arthur’s tomb possesses a further perplexing feature: a ‘squint’, an aperture included in a chantry chapel to enable a chantry priest to see the high altar during mass. Such features are common in chantry architecture, however, as Christopher Guy and John Hunter point out in their contribution to Gunn and Monckton’s study, ‘Prince Arthur’s Chapel and Tomb: An Archaeological Analysis’, the squint in Arthur’s chantry is unnecessary – there is a direct line of sight across to the altar – and is facing in the wrong direction, positioned at the south west corner, giving a view down the south aisle of the cathedral to the west. Nor does the squint allow the congregation in the quire to see into the chapel. While archaeologically and architecturally a definitive reason for the squint’s unorthodox positioning has yet to be concluded, this ‘squint’, which seems not to serve its purpose at all, seems to negate the expected perspective, resonates powerfully with what Mantel’s historical fiction achieves. Her account of events, one version of which is firmly embedded in the cultural imaginary, turns the reader around, provides an alternative line of sight, and asks them to look at things that the dominant narrative, the obvious angle, might miss.

A further site of occluded architectural ambiguity is found in the seats of the quire stalls which feature a series of carved misericords, many of which date from the 1300s. The Worcester misericords combine the spiritual and the profane, the quotidian and the supernatural; the carvings depict a diverse range of scenes: jousting knights at the moment of impact, a basilisk supported by two weasels , a robed fox preaching and a rabbit riding a hound. Because they are not on general display, like other cathedral statuary, or its stained-glass windows, they become sites for surreptitious subversion where alternative narratives might play out.

One misericord stands out among the rest, a carving which has come to be described as ‘the Cunning Scribe’. It depicts a woman dressed in a gable hood sitting at a writing desk. In one hand she holds a quill and is captured in the act of writing. Her other hand appears to be taking a bottle from the beak of a large bird at her feet, or else is placing it there. From the sleeve of her left hand, a serpent or dog is emerging, snatching a smaller, trusting bird in its jaws. This scene of writing is instructive for us, both as readers of historical fiction, and as visitors to historical sites. It provides us with an elegant allegory for our consumption of history as contemporary subjects. The Cunning Scribe appears focussed on her writing, fuelled perhaps by the contents of the bottle taken directly from the beak of the larger bird – easy to see and to recognise, pulling focus in the carving, just as dominant historical narratives can take on the quality of a singular truth, drowning out all other potentialities and might-have-beens. Reading Mantel’s work alongside this carving, it is tempting to read the image both as a metaphor for the production of historical fiction and as a warning not to be seduced by an apparently simple, comfortable and recognisable historical narrative. It as a warning we would be wise to heed, lest we be lured into the error of over simplification ourselves, like the snatched bird in the jaws of the creature surreptitiously emerging from the scribe’s sleeve –  beneath every history, another history.

Author Bio: Lucy Arnold is a lecturer in English Literature (Contemporary) at the University of Worcester. Her book Reading Hilary Mantel: Haunted Decades as published with Bloomsbury in 2019

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