Research Students in CTTR

‘To render present that which is absent’: Hair, mourning, and memory in Victorian and Neo-Victorian literature and culture

This research project examines the use of hair to aid with mourning and stimulate memory during the nineteenth century as depicted in the contemporary popular press, literature, and culture, and its later reconstruction in neo-Victorianism.

Found in numerous Victorian and neo-Victorian texts, a popular practice during the nineteenth century involved retaining a lock of hair, or fashioning it into jewellery or artwork, to help evoke memories of an absent or deceased loved one. However, the preservation of hair is also described as being used for duplicitous and sometimes nefarious means, with preserved locks representing clandestine relationships, illegitimate children, and concealing affection in plain sight when it is assumed to be someone else’s hair.

Drawing on both object and psychoanalytical theory, an analysis of both nineteenth-century depictions of the use of hair to memorialise, and neo-Victorian interpretations of the same, this study will explore whether the representations of the role of hair in mourning in neo-Victorianism is a contradiction of historical fact, and whether the practice has been, in a sense, mythologised by modern authors. The extent to which hair is used as a commodity for subversion and deception in neo-Victorianism, and whether this reflects its nineteenth century use or is a unique trope, will also be considered.


Twitter: @CKBartle

Consumed by the Spirit: How does the seventeenth century prophetic body become a site of political signification (1640-1660).

During the  period  covering  the  English  Civil  Wars  and  Interregnum (1645-60)  factors including the fluctuating state of print regulation, the rise of cheap pamphlet culture, alongside the growth of religious enthusiasm contributed to a corresponding increase in the number popular prophetic texts in print circulation.  Largely grounded in biblical prophecy the ‘manic rhetoric’ of these texts has been academically received as both marginalised ramblings and as a potent discourse of popular, radical dissent. Exploring the latter approach, I intend to interrogate the extent to which the symbolic adoption of the biblical identities and their associated prophetic performance, within these texts, facilitated a dialectic relationship between the prophet, the public, and contemporary power structures. I shall also assess the extent to which this dialogue, once established, presented as a politically oppositional medium to those otherwise assigned a marginalised social identity.         

My research explores both the “folk” and the “horror” of contemporary Folk Horror novels, with a particular focus on the representations of the “folk” (the folk/their practises are typically the source of the “horror” in such texts), and also how these works intersect with Gothic/Eco-Gothic theories. The study is focussed on borders, belonging and being, as both physical and psychological states, with the characters in these novels examined as psycho-geographical “products” of time, place, class and circumstance. I’m interested in the tensions between inclusion and alienation, the past and the present, the rational and the superstitious/irrational, and how the authors use folklore/myths/rituals to comment upon contemporary society.


Dusk of Realities: Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality: a looming chimerical world of the digital and physical

A multi-layered reality will be unfolding in the coming decades through the development of Augmented Reality (AR), which places digital objects in the physical reality; Mixed Reality (MR), which merges the digital and physical even more; and Virtual Reality (VR), which situates one in a completely digital world. AR, MR and VR will present us with more options in personalizing our experience of reality and further integrate our off- and online lives. My research focusses on questions of selfhood in this ambiguous dusk of realities, asking in what kind of hybrid spaces we will exist and how we will decide which of our actions are real. I approach these questions transnationally as Japanese thought plays an important role in my research – especially concerning the flexibility of ‘the real’.


My research focuses on the 20th-century American author, William S. Burroughs who was associated with and influenced various cultural movements. I will explore themes in his work that highlight a paranoid culture wherein governmental entities seek to regulate all aspects of societal life. Drawing from Michel Foucault's biopolitical discourse, I will explore biopolitical action in Burroughs' novels. The study specifically explores biopolitical themes with Burroughs' literary techniques, notably the "cut-up" method—where existing text is physically rearranged to construct new narratives. My research aims to demonstrate how Burroughs's fragmented literary style critiques and rejects social control within the biopolitical framework that seeks to construct social norms. My research also considers the broader implications of his work in the context of contemporary digital media and online platforms where the use of language has become a vital tool for influencing people's thoughts, beliefs and identities while also becoming a space of resistance to Biopolitical discourse. The study also examines Burroughs' influence on postmodern literature and the crossover of his methods into music as a counterculture rejection of the normative body.

Hong Kong Queer Poetry in English

Hong Kong, with its colonial British history and the large influx of mainland Chinese immigrants, has cultivated a unique bilingual environment for its literary scene. Queer poetry in English, can be claimed as one of the most successful and thriving genre that the city has produced, whilst, ironically, the city under the political and cultural influence of China has remained largely gender conservative. The medium of English, a language that is considered as L2 by most Hongkongers, becomes a medium of free expression to these poets, on their struggles with the collectivist ideals and political correctness they face from increased Chinese influence. My research explores poems from Nicholas Wong, Mary Jean Chan and Kit Fan, as well as other emerging Hong Kong poets, on how they associate queerness with Hongkongness, and how these two on one hand intermingly defend against heteronormativity and Chinese influences, and on the other hand embrace them by recognizing heterosexuality and Chineseness as unavoidable elements of the natural world and Hongkongness respectively.

Zelda Fitzgerald: A Modernist Aesthetic

Zelda Fitzgerald is most widely known in popular culture as the “Jazz-Age High Priestess” and mentally ill wife of author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. This perception of her has influenced many readings of Zelda Fitzgerald’s literature - particularly her only completed novel Save Me the Waltz (1932) . My research will take into consideration Fitzgerald’s other artistic practices (ballet and painting) to demonstrate that she is conscious of the modernist style and that, although heavily influenced by the experiences of her own life, Fitzgerald is writing with intent. My research will consider Zelda Fitzgerald independently of her husband’s work, establishing her as a social critic and modernist author in her own right.

The Bookbinder and Historical Invisibility: Bookbinding and the Staffordshire Book Trade 1750 – 1850 

My thesis argues that the historical 'image' of bookbinding was centred on the London trade, and it was given that the best quality work could only originate there. I want to investigate and challenge this attitude. Bookbinding and the Staffordshire book trade have had a substantial presence within the UK publishing scene between 1750-1850. This is overlooked by current scholarship, and my thesis aims to put this contribution on the map.

The Representation of Unconscious Bias against Women in Contemporary Fiction.

Sheila McDonagh

My thesis explores how, in a highly technologised twenty-first century context, inherited structures of power and agency continue to generate new and exacerbate old prejudices against women.  More specifically, I will explore how contemporary novels such as Dave Eggers’ The Circle (2013), Lottie Moggach’s Kiss Me First (2014) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (2023) expose how AI algorithms, which are believed to be objective and neutral, already have various biases coded into them and continue to reward historically privileged groups. My work will assess and celebrate

the antinomies of female contribution to social relations; its goal is to help reimagine our relationship to technology and create pathways that lead to a fairer future in the digital age.


Greening Wells: Ecocritical Readings of The Time Machine, The Island of Dr Moreau, War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon

An unending love and passion for Science Fiction and Dystopian Literature has led me to pursue research at Doctoral level within this field. In particular, I am fascinated by the work of H.G. Wells and the way in which his fiction articulates numerous concerns in relation to nature and the environment, which existing scholarly debates have not always acknowledged, as much as other social, cultural and political anxieties. My project aims to explore The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr Moreau and The First Men in the Moon. Through a systematic and comparative examination of these texts, I will apply ecocritical perspectives to them as well as consider how these texts articulate concerns surrounding the Anthropocene, Climate Trauma and Violence. Crucially, 'what relationship does Wells present between the human, nature and time itself in his works?' will be of particular importance here. As concerns for the environment are growing apace, revisiting texts from the past and applying ecocritical perspectives on them has never been more crucial. 


The Making of Mary Prince, 1811-1831

My interest in the West Indian slave narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831) is three-fold.  First, I intend to review Thomas Pringle’s role in the production of History and to undermine the current scholarly view of Pringle as the white male editor who stifled Mary Prince’s black female voice through his ‘obsessive use’ of paratextual materials. Secondly, I will analyse Prince’s oral narration as a contribution to the co-construction of her image as a compliant Christian woman attempting to appease a 19th century white readership; I will also argue that she fails to hide her ‘formidable’ independent nature.  Thirdly, I will examine the role of Susanna Strickland, Prince’s anonymous amanuensis against the backdrop of white female benefactors such as the Birmingham Ladies’ Society for the Relief of British Negro Slaves.

In re-positioning this Prince-Strickland-Pringle triad, I argue that there is an essential value in reading Pringle’s paratextual material hand-in-hand with Prince’s History in order to understand the complex social relationships which, if carefully read, defy the simplistic binary narrative of powerful/powerless, white/black and slave master/slave.

Recalling Trauma: The Legacy of Slavery and Colonialism in Black Women’s Fiction

Nneoma Otuegbe

 My research centers on how Black history has been significantly impacted and traumatized by slavery and colonialism as well as the often-sidelined perspective of women’s implication in that trauma. One of my major arguments is that as a result of some of the horrific manifestations of slavery and colonialism many decades after their occurrences, black women’s identity is shaped by these traumas which are passed down from generation to generation. In order to understand these traumatic histories and some of their consequences like war, genocide and racism, my thesis explores the literary recollection of women’s historical trauma through fiction by analyzing the traumatic effects of colonialism and slavery on women in my selected primary texts. The traumas are examined, not as personal experiences, but as collective memory within the framework of cultural trauma theory and postcolonial feminist theories.

The black female writers selected for my cross-cultural comparative readings and their novels are: American Toni Morrison (A Mercy 2008), Haitian Edwidge Danticat (The Dew Breaker 2006, Claire of the Sea Light 2013), Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun 2009), Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga (The Book of Not 2006) and Rwandan Scholastique Mukasonga (Our Lady of the Nile 2014). The selected writers share some similarities especially in their commitment to inscribing black womanhood. Their novels are all fictional engagements with painful historical events connected to slavery or colonialism and I analyse them as inscriptions of black women’s traumatic history in order to highlight the interconnectedness of history, trauma and the identity of black women.

The forgotten and frequently ignored impact of female autonomy - Why are significant 'herstories' not being told?

It could be suggested that the current social environment is less tolerant of history and seems to want to erase events and public figures that do not match present-day opinions and beliefs. Additionally, there are increasing debates about gender and the dynamics of gender identity, with attempts to redefine the definition of 'Woman/Females'. This 'neutralising gender' ideology is widely seen as a neo-patriarchal move that is to the detriment of biological women/females and 'herstories'.

My research will investigate the impact of 'herstories' on these cultural debates and explore just how important it is to identify and protect the narratives of women's unique experiences and contributions, which seem largely ignored and are at high risk of disappearing from history books.

Using Aethelflaed: Lady of Mercia as the basis for this creative project, I will look to establish if alternative resources in the form of the historical fiction novel can be used to support a more cohesive approach to increasing awareness of the many hidden historical contributions women have made and safeguard their 'herstories' for future generations.

My research project is the  intersection where the burgeoning field of black British feminist digital media studies and literary disability studies meet. I locate my work in the constellation of contemporary diasporic and  black British feminist research that aims to make the 'invisible' digital practices and socialities of black women visible, and explore the ways that technological interventions are transforming how they configure their black materialities and subjectivities. Offering a unique contribution through the comparative study of digital and literary narratives of black female disability experience to stage a wider inquiry into the (bio)politics of "mattering" and the rhetorical, political and imaginative limitations of 'humanisation' as a recognition strategy in online and offline black feminist political organising and knowledge communities/spaces. I specifically look at how black British women writers and creatives connect the racialised and gendered histories of subjection, coloniality and extraction to present and emerging forms of discrimination in order to devise strategies of resistance.

‘Misunderstanding all you see’: The Beatles, The Everyday, The Visionary, and the Avant-Garde. 


Connections of the Beatles to the avant-garde is often neglected in critical thought but is inherently acknowledged. It is amongst common knowledge that the Beatles became experimental during their later years. However, examples of avant-garde engagement are explicit as early as 1962 with original compositions, such as ‘Love Me Do.’ This thesis will prove the connection between the historiography of the band to their developed innovations to evidence how the Beatles were implementing avant-garde forms and why this evoked a shift in their identity. It will uncover whether this revolutionary shift was enabled in 1967, at a time when popular imagination was being permeated through their sense of identity, thus creating a turning point for their transformation. This will be useful to understanding how this momentous shift continued throughout their history and align essential recognition of the avant-garde to the legacy of the most successful band in British history. In doing so, evidence will be revealed to decide what was the most significant factor to enable this and propose 1967 to being the catalyst of presenting unwavering and confident experimentations. Throughout the thesis, key research questions will be generated: how was the Beatles influenced by the avant-garde throughout their career? Was 1967 the year to signify this change or was there more of a diffused temporal process that democratised the avant-garde influences? What factors contributed to this change? How has this continued the Beatles legacy today? 

Twitter: @mnpowell24

Autism, Neurodiversity and Discrimination in the Twenty-First Century

My research focused on the discrimination faced by those who have Autism Spectrum Condition. Neurodiversity is the idea that autism is a natural variant of the human mind and a part of one's identity akin to ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Mainstream research into the condition has been slow to acknowledge this autistic perspective. My research aims to correct that imbalance. 

The cognitive nonconscious and the nouveau roman tradition

My research brings together the concept of our cognitive nonconscious alongside experimental literary techniques and narrative stylistics part of the nouveau roman tradition to demonstrate the underlying connection between (non)conscious states and language. I propose a shift in terminology in order to provide a grounding for the concept of nonconscious processes within habitual realities that we can already navigate. I argue that the nonconscious is a postverbal state closely dependent upon a form of language that is devoid of expression. Thoughts are the senses of sentences and a sensorial mode of thinking amplifies our understanding of our immediate reality. The main body of research comes from tracing a loose lineage of literature, spanning from the modernist to the contemporary era, that contains examples of postverbal behaviour to resituate the limits of language.