Suggested research topics
Below is a list of suggestions for PhD projects that English at Leicester would be interested in supervising.
Dr Claire Brock
Women Surgeons in Britain, 1860-1918
This Wellcome Trust-funded project is an exploration of the changes in the perception, both popular and medical, of the art of surgery and the figure of the surgeon and how they coincided with the entrance of women into the medical profession. It also considers the procedures women actually performed, their intervention in controversial surgery of the day, and their successes and failures, in order to assess how the ways in which women operated contributed to their public and professional reputation. How did the practice of surgery both help and hinder the cause of the medical woman in her pursuit of professional equality?
Risk and Responsibility in Surgery
How were risk and responsibility conceptualised in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods when surgery could be seen simultaneously as safe (due to developments in surgical science) and increasingly risky (because such progress allowed for greater experimentation)?
The Representation of Medical Women in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century
This project examines the cultural, social and self-representation of the woman surgeon from the second half of the 19th century until the end of the Great War.
Dr David Clark
Female Masculinities in Old English Literature
This project will assess the usefulness of Judith Halberstam's work on female masculinities in interpreting Old English texts such as Aelfric's female saints' lives.
Reworkings of Beowulf in Contemporary Culture
This project will explore the different ways in which Beowulf has been reinterpreted and remoulded in 20th and 21st century culture, for example in film and television, children's literature, science fiction and other genres.
Professor Martin Dzelzainis
The question of Marvell's religious identity is at least as challenging as that of his political one. His place on the spectrum that stretches from Anglicanism to proto-enlightenment free-thinker requires further investigation, drawing equally on his verse and prose writings.
Marvell and Visual Culture
No writer of the 17th century is more steeped in the visual culture of the period than Andrew Marvell. However, there has as yet been no synoptic account of the way in which his work is informed by visual tropes, whether artistic or scientific.
How and When was Milton Radicalised?
One of the faultlines in Milton studies currently concerns the development of his religious allegiances: was he a relatively conservative “Laudian” in his youth or an already opposition-minded puritan with marked Presbyterian sympathies?
Dr Lucy Evans
Representations of Caribbean Cities
Critical debates on Anglophone Caribbean literature have often been concerned with rural folk culture, despite the fact that cities such as Kingston, Jamaica and Port of Spain, Trinidad feature prominently in the region’s novels, short stories and poetry. This project will explore the role of urban experiences in shaping literary cultures of the Anglophone Caribbean.
Popular Music and Anglophone Caribbean Literature
This project will explore how Anglophone Caribbean literary writing has been informed by, and engages with, the region’s popular musical traditions, such as calypso and reggae. Considering both the local significance and the global reach of these musical forms, the project will investigate how they have influenced the style, structure and thematics of Caribbean fiction and poetry.
Dr Corinne Fowler
Slavery and the British Country House
There is a considerable amount of new historical research into connections between slavery and the British country house, traditionally a symbol of elegance and refinement. Far more needs to be done so that this historical research can be related to the field of British black writing. I would welcome supervisees who wish to work on this topic.
Literary Responses to Rural Racism
The University of Leicester is a centre of excellence in the field of rural racism. Among its key publications is the seminal collection Rural Racism edited by Neil Chakraborti and Jon Garland. Rural England traditionally embodies the core values of the nation. However, transnational flows of labour and agricultural work for migrants has meant that the countryside is increasingly a site of immigration. Little has been done so far about British black and British Asian responses to and expressions of attachment for the countryside. I would particularly welcome a PhD student working on this topic.
British Black and British Asian Regional Literary Cultures
There is very little work so far into regional sensibility in British black and British Asian writing. My co-authored study Postcolonial Manchester: Diaspora Space and the Devolution of Literary Culture (MUP 2013) focused on the North West, but there is very little investigation of literary cultures outside Manchester, Scotland or London.
Dr Sarah Graham
Representations of LGBTQ People in Comics and Graphic Novels
This project could map the changing depiction of LGBTQ figures in relation to changes in American society, or consider their representation in a specific genre, such as the superhero, or in relation to a specific event, such as the spread of HIV/AIDS.
New Yorker Cartoons and American Culture
This project will explore the portrayal of American culture and society in the cartoons published in one of its most popular magazines, The New Yorker.
Queer Writing in Fifties America
This project considers how queer writers, such as Carson McCullers, Gore Vidal, John Cheever, Paul Bowles, James Baldwin, Truman Capote critique American society in an era that was hostile to sexual difference.
Professor Martin Halliwell
Mental Health in 20th Century American Culture
This area of study – which can be defined in terms of period or genre – will examine the cultural representation of mental illness in the United States during a particular phase of the 20th century. The precise project could focus on autobiographical accounts of illness; institutional treatment; family and broader social relationships; the workplace; or gender and sexual identity.
Transatlantic Avant-Garde Culture
This project will focus on either (i) the early 20th-century avant-garde or (ii) the rediscovery of avant-garde practices in the 1940s and 1950s. The project will have a transatlantic dimension, exploring the movement of multimedia cultural forms (text, image, sound) across the Atlantic (for example, New York and Paris) by examining relevant publications and exhibitions.
This project will focus on a particular protest movement in the United States since World War II, for example: the 1960s Peace Movement, the Weather Underground, the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street. Through the examination of primary source documents it will look particularly at the interface between politics, activism and cultural expression.
Professor Sarah Knight
Drama at the Elizabethan Inns of Court
This project will consider the development of in-house drama at the Inns of Court from the mid-16th century until the early 17th century, exploring how the metropolitan setting and proximity both to commercial theatres and centres of political influence shaped its formation. Central to the dissertation will be a consideration of the role played by professional theatre companies (e.g. the Lord Chamberlain's Men) in helping to shape Inns drama.
Milton and Tragedy
This project will examine how Milton represented and experimented within the genre of tragedy throughout his writing life, extending from the early poem 'Il Penseroso' (c. 1630) to one of his last published works, Samson Agonistes (c. 1665-7). The influence of Reformation biblical tragedy and classical tragedy (particularly Euripides and Seneca) on Milton's writing will be of particular interest.
Ancient Poetry in the Modern World
This project will focus on three contemporary women writers' engagements with classical poetry, exploring in particular their use of epic and lyric forms. Alice Oswald's Memorial (2011) will be considered in relation to Homer's Iliad, while Anne Carson's Nox (2010) and Tiffany Atkinson's Catulla et al (2011) will be read as responses to Roman elegy.
Dr Catherine Morley
Religion and Spiritual Identity in the Work of John Updike
This project will take James Woods's essay on Updike and religion as its point of departure to examine the contours of religious identities in works such as the Rabbit tetralogy, In the Beauty of the Lilies, and Terrorist.
Finding an Authentic Self in the Later Writing of Philip Roth
This project will examine Roth's metafictional alter-egos in texts from Operation Shylock through to the Nemesis trilogy.
Language and Silence in Post-9/11 Fiction
This project will look at the role of literature in the wake of international terror and trauma.
Metropolitan Lives and Prairie Wives: Edith Wharton and Willa Cather's Modernist Aesthetics
This project will examine two very different responses to the American modernist moment and interrogate each writer's notions of the 'the modern'.
Dr Julian North
Mary Shelley as a Biographer
Some critical essays and articles have been published focusing on Mary Shelley’s work as a biographer. This research project would aim to build on these in order to present a major, integrated study of her biographical publications (e.g. for the Cabinet Cyclopaedia and as editor of her husband’s poetry) and of her unpublished auto/biographical work, including letters and journals. It would relate this to her fictional writing (e.g. the importance of biography in Frankenstein) and to the biographical culture of the period.
Theatre and the Gothic Novel
Some work has been done on gothic theatre in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and a considerable body of criticism exists on the gothic novel from this period. This project would develop this to look at the theatricality of the gothic novel. It could focus on one or all of the following: the interactions between novels and their stage adaptations; the use of theatrical devices in gothic fiction; and allusions to theatrical traditions, e.g. Shakespeare, in gothic fiction.
Dr Emma Parker
Jane Eyre and Contemporary Fiction
Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) has inspired numerous prequels, sequels, revisions, re-tellings, adaptations, and spin-offs, the most famous of which are Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). By considering the ways in which contemporary literature offers both a loving homage to and alternative perspective on Bronte's classic, the thesis will reflect on the influence and significance of Jane Eyre in contemporary culture. Texts studied might include Emma Tennant's Adele (2000), Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair (2001), and Michele Roberts's The Mistressclass (2002). A similar but alternative project would be a thesis on the influence of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). Texts studied might include Alasdair Gray's Poor Things (1992), Patricia Duncker's The Deadly Space Between (2002) and Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein (2008).
The Country House in Contemporary British Fiction
This project will consider the significance of a recent resurgence in the country house novel. It will examine the ways in which contemporary fiction responds to the tradition of country house literature, particularly in terms of gender, class and sexuality. It will also analyse how the country house is used to reflect on family, history, and the State of the Nation. Texts studied might include Toby Litt's Finding Myself (2004), Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger (2009), Martin Amis's The Pregnant Widow (2010) and Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child (2011).
Music in Contemporary Fiction
This project will examine the relationship between fiction and music (pop, opera, blues, jazz - one or all of these genres) and consider the representation of musicians and use of music both as theme and fictional trope. Texts studied might include Ann Patchett's Bel Canto (2001), Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) and Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues (2011).
Dr Mark Rawlinson
First World War Poetry
Investigating the legacy of war poetry (1914-18) in British and/or American writing up to the current centenary. Doctoral projects could focus on the concept of the war poet, on poets writing back to the First World War poets from the 1930s onwards, on poetry of later wars, on the representation of war poets in narrative genres such as fiction and feature film, or on any other aspect of war commemoration in literary writing.
The Second World War in Literature after 1945
This is an area in which much good work is being done, but in which there is still significant scope for original research on under-studied writers and problems. Projects could focus on individual writers (e.g. Doris Lessing or Robin Jenkins) or on political, historical or social contexts which have determined the way in which the Second World War has been re-presented in culture after 1945. This field overlaps with Cold War cultural studies, and projects might take this approach.
An investigation of the themes, forms and significance of the writings of one of the following 20th century British writers: George Friel, Rex Warner, T H White, Edward Upward, James Hanley, Elizabeth Taylor, Eric Ambler, Nigel Balchin, Rumer Godden, Anthony Burgess, and Angus Wilson. The resulting thesis could contextualise an oeuvre in historical, cultural and literary-historical terms, and include an analysis of its artistic distinctiveness.
Professor Philip Shaw
Religion in The Prelude
This project will examine Wordsworth’s treatment of Christianity and the Anglican tradition from the earliest manuscript versions of The Prelude to the final published version of 1850. Additional reference will be made to related works by Wordsworth, e.g. Ecclesiastical Sonnets, The Excursion.
Romantic Poetry and the Press
This project examines the relations between poetry and the press in the period 1789-1832. The project will make extensive use of the online resource Gale NewsVault to identify poems published in contemporary newspapers by canonical authors and non-canonical authors. Close attention will be paid to the material contexts in which Romantic poems are produced, disseminated, and discussed. Topics to discuss might include: the influence of history and politics; relations between poets, editors and newspaper proprietors.
Wordsworth and Byron
This thesis will explore the ways in which Wordsworth and Byron responded to each other's works and how these works, in turn, were read by subsequent generations. In addition to engaging in detailed analyses of these key Romantic poets students undertaking this project will be encouraged to consider how later Victorian writers, such as Matthew Arnold, A C Swinburne and Mark Rutherford, depicted Wordsworth and Byron as the bearers of diametrically opposed moral, political and religious values.
Dr Philip A. Shaw
The Textual Tradition of the Metrical Chronicle Attributed to Robert of Gloucester
This project will examine one or more of the unedited manuscripts of the metrical chronicle attributed to Robert of Gloucester in order to consider the ways in which the text was originally produced, and how it was later disseminated. This might involve the production of a critical edition of a particular manuscript, or it could look more broadly across the extant manuscripts.
Language Contact and Orthographic Practice in Early England
This project will analyse the impact of language contact situations on spelling practices in medieval England. The project could focus on a particular place and time (for example, it could consider the ways in which Latin spelling was influenced by Old English orthographic practice in ninth-century Canterbury charters), or it could bring together a number of case studies from different periods.
English Fish Names: Origins and Development
This project will study the stock of names for specific types of fish in English, considering their etymology and history, as well as the light that they can shed on the socio-cultural situations in which they developed and were perpetuated. This would be principally an exercise in lexicology, with a particular focus on medieval developments, but might also involve consideration of historical evidence and onomastic evidence such as surnames.
Dr Victoria Stewart
Parents and Children in the Fiction of Elizabeth Bowen
This project will focus on how the novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Bowen depicts relationships between parents and children in her work, contextualising these depictions historically and considering their thematic importance.
From the Golden Age to the Crime Novel
This project will examine British detective fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s, testing the critical assumption that the conventions of Golden Age detective fiction were displaced after the Second World War by a focus on police procedure. A range of pre- and post-war writers, including Dorothy L Sayers, Anthony Gilbert, and Agatha Christie will be considered.
Dr Jonathan Taylor
Contemporary Life Writing in Theory and Practice
The literary memoir has experienced a resurgence in popularity since the early 1990s, and this project encourages students to investigate the contemporary memoir form both in theory and creative practice. Possible topics might include: memoir and illness; memoir and subjectivity; memoir and 'truth'; memoir and contemporary psychology; memoir and political, cultural, or historical contexts; and contemporary forms of the personal essay.
Contemporary Fiction in Theory and Practice
This project encourages students to investigate the forms of contemporary prose fiction – novels, short stories, composite novels – and, particularly, ways in which these forms might be revitalised by contact with other disciplines and contexts. For example, students might investigate, both in theory and practice, points of convergence and divergence between music and fiction, history and fiction, literary theory and fiction, and memoir and fiction.