Jimmy Packham

Jimmy Packham

Jimmy Packham

Lecturer in North American Literature, University of Birmingham

My interests in landscape and environment flow in two (occasionally overlapping) directions: the literature of the sea and the blue humanities, on the one hand, and the gothic and the nonhuman, on the other. What unites these topics is how literature can speak to us on an ethical level – not how it can dictate certain morals to us, not how it might tell us how we can or how we should behave; but rather, how careful and considered engagement with a piece of writing, how listening to the voices and representational work within that piece of writing, provides the building blocks for understanding our own ethical relationship with others, and with the world we inhabit. By inflecting this process by the seascapes and environments, and nonhuman creatures (and monsters) of maritime and gothic fiction, we are challenged to engage with ideas, worlds, behaviours, forms of being that are at times wholly unfamiliar, alien to, hostile to, our usual terrestrial world and the modes of being and behaviour we are used to engaging in.

My recent research follows several trajectories with this literature: the cultural history of the deep sea, exploring how the deep and its ecosystems are often portrayed as being somehow “beyond” our limited human knowledge and asking what it means to cast a natural environment in these terms; the representation of human-animal relationships in recent gothic fiction about vegetarianism or meat production; and the role of the coast in gothic fiction from the eighteenth-century to the present, exploring the intersection of human culture and an environmental ecotone traditionally seen as “in-between”, neither sea nor land proper, neither here nor there.

Matthew Ward

Matthew Ward

Matthew Ward

Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature, University of Birmingham

Matthew is interested in the art of place specifically from the perspective of soundscapes and listening to (primarily natural) environments. His background is in the history of emotions of the long eighteenth century and Romantic-period writing, and his fascination with our relation to, and feelings for, the natural world stems in part from the emergence during this time of what we might call an ecological way of thinking. Specifically, then, what we might say is a certain Romantic hope (perhaps most clearly articulated in the writing of the Wordsworths) that sympathy with nature leads also to greater understanding of ourselves and others.

Matthew’s next project will hopefully explore the sorts of thinking and feeling produced by listening to the sounds of the natural world, and how particular places (for instance riverbanks, seashores, forests, mountain-tops, open fields) might speak with distinctive resonance. He hopes that a consideration of listening in literature (and especially the response and attitude of Romantic and post-Romantic poets) to landscape, location, place, and space, will encourage us to be more attentive and attuned to the natural world. Listening in literature is also an invitation to become better listeners – both to literature and its sounds, rhymes and rhythms, its sonic effects and in our lives and how we listen to the environment and its ever-changing soundscape. During a time of ecological and environmental crisis, such possibilities lead to opportunities to better process how we listen to nature and what it is telling us about our fragile planet. Matthew is keen to explore how this project might have educational value as well – not only to inspire greater environmentalism but also to encourage children to spend more time outside as a way of helping them reflect on their place in the world, and how environments provide imaginative space as well.

Rona Cran

Rona Cran

Rona Cran

Senior Lecturer in Twentieth-Century American Literature and Director of the Centre for the Study of North America, University of Birmingham

My current book-in-progress, Everyday Rebellion: Poetry and Resistance in New York, 1960-1995, is a study of poetry and resistance from the counterculture to the AIDS crisis. The study of New York poets involves an intellectual and affective closeness with the spaces and places of the city: much of their work is framed or shaped by what Jane Jacobs called (‘the heart-of-the-day ballet’, the immediate and localised intensities of New York. And yet, as Megan Bradbury writes, ‘the city is not a work of art. It is not an object. It is not something to be admired from a distance – it is a process’. Everyday Rebellion explores this process, arguing that socially-situated poetry offers crucial sites of resistance. It asks what we can learn from a poetics of loitering, of being on the street, of making contact with people in contingent places rather than within institutions; it examines the ways in which New York poets negotiate conflicting perceptions or experiences within the city; it considers the significance of working within a definable urban community, such as the New York School or the Black Arts Movement, or without one; it ponders the changing nature of the city streets for women poets, queer poets, and poets of colour, thinking about what it means to move or not move around the city; it investigates the erasure of queer connections and the work that city poetry does to combat this, thinking about the importance of alternative mapping to queer work; and considers the ways in which the poetry accounts for, or fails to account for, the environment out of which it emerges, that ‘Byzantine City’, to borrow from Jed Perl, that ‘place of exchanges, of cross-fertilizations’.

Will Bateman

Will Bateman

William Bateman

PhD Candidate, Department of English Literature, University of Birmingham

Sitting in the gardens of San Gaudenzio, above Lake Garda, D. H Lawrence reflected of the spirit of place, ‘Does it pass away, or does it only lose its pristine quality? It deepens and intensifies, like experience’. In the perplexity of this reflection, Lawrence captures the curious contradictions which permeate his intense depictions of places and their populations. It is in this context that my research attends to the significance of place for both literary impressionism and modernism.

My current project explores Lawrence’s impressionistic responses to landscape and place in his writings on travel. Reading Lawrence’s travel sketches from the perspective of literary impressionism, it seeks to understand how a writer might codify and express the ambiguous and subjective nature of place. Exploring relevant ideas of otherness and alterity, it goes on to explore how we can read the indecipherability of place through the compositional history of texts. Finally, through an examination of Lawrence’s writings on Etruscan archaeology, it explores the significance of Ambivalence as a narrative strategy for ‘working-out’ the stratified layers of place.

Accordingly, my research engages actively with ideas of home, alterity, self-exile, and landscape. In addition, I am interested in how the narrativization and fictionalisation of ‘place’ and ‘emplacement’ contributes to resurgences in popular nationalistic feeling.

A glimpse of the Brenner Pass

The Brenner Pass represented a significant point of transition for D. H. Lawrence – both geographically and culturally. The ancient imperial road, the Via Imperii, once crossed the border between Austria and Italy at the Brenner, and for Lawrence the mountain pass marked the divide between industrialised northern Europe and the sensuous south. As part of my current research, I am reflecting on the significance of border crossing and mobility in the landscapes of Lawrence’s travel writing. Lawrence’s journey across the Alps to Italy, described in Twilight in Italy (1916), juxtaposes strange ‘atmospheres’ with moments of startling cognition – a contrast which highlights his intense interest in the literary investigation of perception and expression. Making comparisons with the ontology of literary impressionism, and in particular the writings of Ford Madox Ford, my research explores how Lawrence combined evocative depictions of place with metaphors of mobility, estranging landscapes, and invoking otherness in order to reproduce and comprehend his own bewildered impression of modernity.  

Andrew Hodgson

Andrew Hodgson

Andrew Hodgson

Lecturer in Romanticism at the University of Birmingham

My research focuses on poets and poetry, largely from the Romantic period onwards. I have written a book, Lyric Individualism (Palgrave, 2020), about four lyric poets – John Clare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Thomas, and Ivor Gurney – each of whom finds subtle and affecting ways of conveying a sense of place and the significance of home in their writing. My next project is a new edition of the correspondence of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Shelley’s letters breathe an imaginative apprehension of the natural spirit and cultural inheritance of the places across Europe from which they were written.