Our research extends from the early modern to the contemporary and is characterised by a strongly interdisciplinary approach and ethos. We host two long-established research groups, Postcolonial Literatures and the History of Books and Reading, with additional groupings in creative writing, literature and music, life-writing, and the writing of the romantic period.
Our areas of Research
The English discipline runs three discipline-centred research groups and three interdisciplinary groups:
- History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) (Director: Shafquat Towheed)
This group focuses on book history and the history of reading. Members work on scholarly editing, the history of editing and serialisation, attribution studies, the history of publishing and contemporary publishing studies, bibliographic sociology and literary entrepreneurship, colonial and postcolonial book history, early modern manuscript studies, drama and performance studies, digital material, oral history, and World War 1.
- Postcolonial and Global Literatures (Director: Alex Tickell)
The predominant focus of the group is on Anglophone literatures from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, and forms of colonial and neo-colonial experience represented in these literary traditions, but group members’ interests also encompass the writing of the Caribbean and South-Asian diasporas; colonial cultural and literary history; anti-colonial political thought, and wider global literary systems.
- Contemporary Cultures of Writing (Co-convenors: Derek Neale and Sally O’Reilly)
This group explores all forms of creative and academic writing, with an interdisciplinary outlook. Our Membership comprises novelists, poets, dramatists and life writers, as well as academics specialising in Literature, Linguistics and Translation Studies. Our focus is on writing practice, and its many cultural contexts and impacts. Our activities include collaborative work, publications, seminars and conferences; events investigating wide-ranging subjects, including historical fiction, life writing, multimodal writing, style, creativity and language, short stories, translation, diversity in publishing and the rise of creative writing. Our collection of 'past seminar series' contains a wealth of audio recordings from many of the presentations.
- Literature and Music (Co-director: Delia Da Sousa Correa)
This Research Group aims to encourage wide-ranging interdisciplinary study of literature and music and to foster a research community in this area within and beyond the university. Members of the Research Group publish in the interdisciplinary field, organise and participate in international conferences and offer graduate supervision. They also engage in Knowledge Transfer activity and events including consultancies for broadcasting and the performing arts.
- Digital Humanities (DH_OU) (Co-Director: Francesca Benatti)
DH_OU is an interdisciplinary research group which utilises the digital to study the Humanities and interrogates the digital through the methods of the Humanities. Members include scholars from Humanities, Linguistics, Computing and with partners from the cultural heritage sector. The group run public-facing seminars and events to increase awareness of Digital Humanities for students, researchers and for the public.
- GOTH (Director: M. A. Katritzky)
Awareness of the centrality of human diversity to a full understanding of the Humanities is crucial to The Open University. GOTH contributes to this by supporting humanities and humanities-related research focusing on diverse facets of otherness, and especially gender, throughout the university. Our events, including regular Postgraduate Forums, Awaydays, Reading Groups and Workshops, bring together the valuable OU research in progress at every level in these areas by identifying points of connection and providing a space for productive interdisciplinary research collaborations between OU academics.
Engaging with the wider world
Colleagues from the English department are involved with a variety of partners including the Knowledge Media Institute humanities festivals such as Being Human; Belfast Imagine! Festival of Politics and Ideas, the Cambridge Science Festival; cultural organisations such as Scottish Book Trust, Institute of English Studies, The Cowper & Newton Museum, Verbal Arts Centre; interdisciplinary partners Theatre Without Borders, and the Insight Centre; educators such as The Brilliant Club, and charities such as The Reader.
Creative writing colleagues have established partnerships outside The Open University with the John Hewitt International Summer School | Digital Literary Festival (johnhewittsociety.org), Open the Door | Glasgow Women's Library, the AyeWrite Festival.
Recent projects include Researching the uses of Creative Writing during Covid with frontline NHS Health Care Workers, Expressive Writing workshops with survivors of gender-based violence in Iraq, a Viaro Energy sponsored Expressive Life Writing website for frontline health care workers (in English, Italian and Arabic). Creative writers have also been instrumental in the interdisciplinary project Stitches and stories: a different kind of research impact – OU Psychology and Counselling.
Recent BBC collaborations
- Claiming Schubert, BBC Radio 3 (Available as a podcast), Dr Delia de Sousa Correa
- The Secret Life of Books, Series 2, Dr Shafquat Towheed
- Legacy of War, Dr Shafquat Towheed
- Sleuths, Spies and Sorcerers: Andrew Marr’s Paperback Heroes, Professor Derek Neale
- To Walk Invisible, Professor Sara Haslam
- BBC World Service International Radio Playwriting Competition, Professor Derek Neale
- ICONS, Dr Richard Jones
- Coming soon: ‘Write Around the World’, Dr Joanne Reardon and Dr Nicola Watson
Selected current and recent projects:
Members of the English and Creative Writing discipline have either led or contributed to a number of major externally funded research projects. For details on these projects, follow the links below:
- Expressive Writing and Telling in Crisis: addressing urgent needs in Aakar governate, Lebanon (2020-2021) Principal Investigator: Siobhan Campbell, Funding: AHRC.
- Reading Europe Advanced Data Investigation Tool (READ-IT) (2018-21), Principal Investigator-2 (UK Lead): Dr Shafquat Towheed, Funding: AHRC under the Joint Programme in Cultural Heritage (JPICH)
- Dreaming Romantic Europe (2018-20), Principal Investigator: Nicola J Watson, Funding: AHRC
- Reading the Middle East: examining the reading culture of Freya Stark, 1919-1945 (2018-2021), Principal Investigator: Dr Shafquat Towheed, Funding: British Academy
- Entrepreneurial Literary Research (2016-17), Principal Investigator: Suman Gupta, Funding: British Academy Newton Grant
- Beyond do no harm: Life Writing and Expressive Writing after sexual violence in conflict (2016), Co-Investigator: Siobhan Campbell, Funding: Beyond Borders (Charity, Scotland) with INMAA (NGO) Kirkuk
- Reading Communities: Connecting the Past and the Present (2015-16), Principal Investigator: Dr Shafquat Towheed, Funding: AHRC
- Framing Financial Crisis and Protest: North-West and South-East Europe (2014-16), Principal Investigator: Suman Gupta, Funding: Leverhulme Trust
- Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature (2014-16), Co-I: Alex Tickell, Funding: Leverhulme Trust
- Beyond the Frame: Indian British Connections (2011-17), Principal Investigator: Susheila Nasta, Funding: AHRC
- Prospects for English Studies: India and Britain Compared (2011-14), Principal Investigator: Suman Gupta and Richard Allen, Funding: AHRC
- Making Britain: Visions of Home and Abroad (1870-1950) (2007-11), Principal Investigator: Susheila Nasta, Funding: AHRC
- UK Reading Experience Database (RED) project was founded and coordinated by discipline members. The UK RED is an open-access database housed at the Open University, containing over 30,000 easily searchable records documenting the history of reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945. Evidence of reading presented in UK RED is drawn from published and unpublished sources as diverse as diaries, commonplace books, memoirs, sociological surveys, and criminal court and prison records.
- The Making Britain: Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950 project was founded and built up by discipline members. This open-access online database provides information about South Asians in Britain from 1870 to 1950, the organizations they were involved in, their British connections, and the major events in which they participated.
- Listening Experience Database (LED) project. LED is an open and freely searchable database that brings together a mass of data about people’s experiences of listening to music of all kinds, in any historical period and any culture.