The Department of English has a proud history of research work across the fields of colonial and postcolonial studies.
It has long boasted one of the strongest and most diverse groupings in London of scholars committed to the analysis of the colonial epoch as well as of our post-imperial and neo-colonial present. Particular areas of expertise include the Caribbean, contemporary multicultural Britain, Iraq, Ireland, Israel/Palestine, and Southern Africa.
Our work falls into these main categories:
- Colonial history, politics, and literary and material cultures
- Memorializing of subjects of empire
- The postcolonial or post-imperial nation state
- Britain as a postcolonial nation
Research in this area includes work on colonial-era language policy, translation, and linguistic encounter (Rachael Gilmour’s work on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Southern Africa), colonial-era travel writing (Nadia Atia, Suzanne Hobson), print cultures (Andrew van der Vlies’s work on South African book history from 1883 to the present), decolonization and the end of empire (Bill Schwarz), and anti-colonial intellectuals (Schwarz on Caribbean writers).
Scholars working outside the modern period have also made significant contributions to the understanding of colonialism. Alfred Hiatt has studied the relationship between medieval maps and empire with reference to the concept of postcolonial space. Markman Ellis has written about slave narratives, British representations of the Caribbean, and Anglo-Chinese relations in eighteenth-century literature. Shahidha Bari has investigated Romantic Orientalism. Nadia Valman reads twentieth-century Anglo-Jewish literature within the paradigm of postcolonial studies.
Bill Schwarz is a leading scholar of postcolonial historiography and memory; Nadia Atia writes about British representations of Mesopotamia before, during, and after the First World War; Michèle Barrett has written about the politics of the commemoration of colonial and dominion First World War service personnel.
Jacqueline Rose is one of the world’s leading thinkers about Palestine, Israel, and Zionism (and has also written about South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Nadia Atia works on Iraqi literature from the early twentieth century to the present. Nadia Valman has co-edited a volume on Jews, Empire, and Zionism. Bill Schwarz is a leading scholar of Caribbean fiction and non-fiction, cultural modernity, and regional identity. Clair Wills is an eminent scholar of twentieth-century Irish literature and culture. Andrew van der Vlies has written on the construction of the idea of a ‘South African’ literary tradition, and is a scholar of post-apartheid art and literature (both Afrikaans-language and Anglophone, from J.M. Coetzee to Zoë Wicomb).
Rachael Gilmour works on language politics and multilingual literary experimentalism in Britain from the 1950s to the present day (from Sam Selvon to Daljit Nagra). David James has written about contemporary black British writers (especially Caryl Philips and Andrea Levy). Gilmour and Bill Schwarz recently co-edited a volume entitled End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945.
Staff are engaged, too, in assessing the move to ‘world literatures’ in the fields of anglophone and comparative literary studies, and in addressing the relations between literary form, and political and cultural critique. In this vein David James has written about contemporary world Anglophone writers J. M. Coetzee and Michael Ondaatje and novelistic innovation.
Collaborations and research culture
Staff are involved in a number of public events and initiatives, collaborations, and scholarly publications and forums. Clair Wills runs the interdisciplinary London Irish Studies Seminar at the Institute of English Studies, Senate House. Bill Schwarz has been instrumental in bringing to Queen Mary such writers and thinkers as Chinua Achebe, Stuart Hall, and Earl Lovelace. He is an editor of History Workshop Journal, and has long been associated with New Formations, on whose board Shahidha Bari also serves. Rachael Gilmour has long been associated with Wasafiri, a journal of international creative writing. Nadia Valman is co-editor of the journal Jewish Culture and History. Andrew van der Vlies is an editor of Safundi, a journal of comparative South African and American studies.