colourful book shelves in a library

Modern literature research

We're exploring the ideas, language and form of literary texts

Studying literature enhances our understanding of how we communicate, and shapes our identities and understanding of the world, both in the present and the past. It enables us to envisage the future and its possibilities, and enriches our understanding of identity, citizenship and culture, inviting us to think imaginatively about these matters and to explore the forms in which they may be communicated.

It provides insight and understanding into the lives of other individuals, communities and cultures, helping to develop a critical understanding of crucial matters, such as identity, subjectivity, culture, place and belonging. When ‘fake news’ is part of everyday discourse, research into English literature is essential as the study of language, rhetoric and narrative helps us understand the ways in which truth and lies interrelate, overlap, and are often weaponised. 

English literature research can be a means through which marginalised voices and alternate perspectives, both present and past, can be made explicit. It can be a powerful form of protest against tyrannical regimes, helping to bring to light the power of the written word in resisting oppressive worldviews.

The literature we study is written in or translated into English, including texts from across the globe and within a range of genres, from the Renaissance to the present. We explore the ideas, language and form of literary — and other — texts, how they are informed by, interact with and sometimes challenge their cultural contexts.

Our work looks at the narratives through which we represent ourselves and how they might be imagined or conceived differently. This includes the study of the history of ideas and expressions of interdisciplinary thinking, and complex forms of representation through their embodiment in narrative, poetry, drama and other forms.

English literature examines the processes through which texts, literary and otherwise, are interpreted in different ways in different contexts and how reading critically is not just significant to how we read literary texts, but also to how we think about the world and our place within it more generally.

We ask questions concerning how literary texts shape ideas about national identity in reference to the contexts in which they were written. We also examine the ways in which literature can challenge orthodox views about gender, and how it can enable the reader to produce different interpretations - and consider whether one interpretation may be privileged over another.

In addition, we explore the forms that texts – literary and otherwise – use, and how this affects our understanding of the ideas presented. This includes looking at ways in which literature interacts with other texts from the same period, in terms of ideas, language and form.

Our research covers the following key topics

  • Genres, including: novels, short stories, plays, poetry and other types of imaginative writing.
  • Sub-genres, including crime writing, popular fiction, revenge tragedy, magical realism, neo-historical fiction, and early modern history plays.
  • Historical periods of literature and culture, including: Early modern writing, including Shakespeare, Nineteenth-century literature and culture, Twentieth-century and contemporary British and American literature
  • Specific areas of writing, including: Global literatures, Holocaust Literatures, Eco-writing
  • Specific issues, such as gender and sexuality, global identities, class identities, material culture.
  • Critical and cultural theories, including the relationship between different discourses and disciplines, such as psychoanalysis, philosophy, history, linguistics, and the close study of literary form


We use qualitative analysis – which gathers, discriminates between, and engages with a range of critical viewpoints – and conduct archival research of manuscripts, historical data, and cultural materials. Summative and evaluative research techniques are also used in selecting and discriminating between sources.

Partnerships and funding

We've conducted research in partnership with:

  • The registered national charity, the Guild of St George, which has been beneficial in terms of creating an impact case study and disseminating my research beyond the academic community.
  • The Emily Dickinson International Society and the Emily Dickinson Museum to foreground Dickinson’s British literary heritage
  • The Royal Observatory Greenwich to explore connections between literature and science in relation to time
  • D-Day Museum
  • Portsmouth City Council through participation in the nationwide Being Human Festival, and projects including the Arthur Conan Doyle collection and Dickens Birthplace Museum.
  • Mayville High School, Portsmouth
  • The Polish Community School in Portsmouth (Polska Sobotnia Skola)
  • Dimbola Museum and Galleries
  • Exchange partnerships with the Universities of Gent, Kiel, Gdansk, Luxembourg and Malaga. These benefit our students via Erasmus+ combined study/work years abroad but are also available for Staff collaborations and exchanges
  • University of Lincoln Architecture department for an interdisciplinary research project on magical realism
  • Network connections with the following universities: University of Helsinki, Finland; Paris-Diderot (Paris VII); Christian Albrecht University, Kiel, Germany; Otto von Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany; Heinrich Heine University, Dusseldorf, Germany; University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany; University of Pennsylvania, USA; University of Florida, USA; City University of New York, Graduate Centre, USA; University of Gdansk, Poland

Our work has been funded by:

  • AHRC Early Career Fellowship (PF 2012)
  • Being Human Festival of the Humanities (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
  • AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (2013)
  • Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (2018-22)
  • The Carlsberg Foundation
  • The Council for the Defence of British Universities

Publication highlights

Research projects

Portsmouth Literary Map

Explore Portsmouth's rich literary heritage and contemporary literature scene through an interactive map and blog

Status of Charles Dickens in Guildhall square
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Lockdown reading

This project researches reading habits during the COVID-19 pandemic through surveys, publisher data and interviews.

Man in mask reading under COVID-19 lockdown
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Our members

Christine Berberich Portrait

Media ready expert

Dr Christine Berberich

Associate Head (Global Engagement)

School of Area Studies, Sociology, History, Politics, and Literature

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

PhD Supervisor

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Margaret Ann Bowers-Bridge Portrait

Dr Maggie Bowers

Senior Lecturer

School of Area Studies, Sociology, History, Politics, and Literature

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

PhD Supervisor

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Ben Davies Portrait

Media ready expert

Dr Ben Davies

Associate Professor in Literature and Culture

UoA Coordinator (English Language and Literature)

School of Area Studies, Sociology, History, Politics, and Literature

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

PhD Supervisor

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Discover our areas of expertise

Modern literature is one of our four areas of expertise in our English Literature research area. Explore the others below.

Body politics

Through the study of literature, culture, sociology and politics, we're exploring how bodies shape political identity, how the body is presented through performance, and how cultural representations of bodies have changed over time.

Female protester raising her arms during a march
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Time, space and environment

We're exploring representations of time, space and environment in English Literature and culture – from the eighteenth century to the present day.

old books on a shelf, close-up
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Research groups

Centre for Studies in Literature

We're researching the history and culture of the English speaking world through literature.

bookshelf full of old books
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Early Modern Writing Research Group

We're researching topics based on the debates surrounding early modern writing and its translation.

old books on a shelf, close-up
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Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Literature and Culture

We're researching how culture and transnational identity is portrayed in twentieth and twenty-first century literature.

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Interested in a PhD in English Literature?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Literary Studies postgraduate research degrees page.