Meet the academics

Clare Lees

What do you specialise and research in?

My work starts in the seventh century and ends in the twenty-first. As a medievalist, I specialize in the earliest centuries of literature written in English and Latin in the Middle Ages in Britain and Ireland from the seventh to the eleventh centuries.  My particular focus is on the cultural history of these centuries.  I explore women’s writing, the literature of faith and conviction and how culture was produced in different communities and places during these long centuries.  The history of literature is a longstanding dimension of my work but equally important is how literary cultures of the past are evident in modern and contemporary writing in Britain, as well as in other English-language literatures.  Early medieval poetry was an important source of inspiration for post-War British writers, for example, and my current research explores how this poetry is used as a resource for new work by contemporary writers, artists and poets as well, in what I term the ‘contemporary medieval’.

What do you enjoy about teaching at the Institute?

As Director of the Institute, I don’t do as much teaching as I would like, but I have particularly enjoyed working with the students on the MA on the History of the Book on issues of anonymous authorship, early medieval objects as texts, and the revival of interest in medieval books in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’ve also contributed to teaching on the London International Palaeography Summer School (LIPSS). Students come to the Institute from all over the world and bring their different interests and expertise to our classrooms. This helps to make teaching in the Institute a dynamic and vibrant for all of us, staff and students alike. I enjoy seeing how students develop their interests over the course of their time at the Institute – and am always delighted to discover what they do next!

What do you think about Senate House and Bloomsbury?

I think of Senate House as a great monument to learning and discovery.  The Institute is small enough that we all know one another and we also benefit from our colleagues who work in the other Institutes in the School of Advanced Study, particularly the Warburg Institute, the Institute of Historical Research and the Institute of Modern Languages Research. I’ve been going to Senate House Library since I was a postgraduate student (eons ago) and I’m so happy to have this and other wonderful research libraries and museums to hand in Bloomsbury. We have rare book shops as well as the British Museum on our doorstep, the British Library is a short walk away, and we are surrounded by other major cultural institutions – and coffee shops.  

What topics are you supervising at the moment?

I have a longstanding commitment to collaboration and co-supervision. My current students work on how the story of the Norman Conquest is told through the Bayeux Tapestry (Miranda Rainbow, with Michael Lewis, the British Museum), on women, embroidery and cloth in England in the tenth to twelfth centuries (Millie Horton-Insch, with Robert Mills, UCL), and on women’s contribution to the trade in books in the twentieth century (Natalia Fantetti, with Laura Cleaver).  Recent PhDs include Dr Beth Whalley, who works on early medieval and modern cultures of water and Dr Fran Allfrey, who works on the twentieth-century history of the Sutton Hoo Ship burial.  Both graduated from King’s College London in 2020, and join a distinguished group of early medievalists I have been lucky enough to supervise during my career, including Fran Brooks (now Leverhulme ECR at York), Josh Davies and Carl Kears (both Lecturers at King’s College London), Becky Hardie (Bonn), James Paz (Manchester), Kathryn Maude (American University of Beirut).  

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Laura Cleaver

What do you specialise and research in?
I trained as an art historian specialising in illuminated manuscripts produced in England and France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. My current research explores the trade in medieval manuscripts between 1900 and 1945 and the impact of that trade on the formation of libraries and the development of scholarship.

What do you enjoy about teaching at the Institute?
I am not currently teaching so we should probably cut this...

What do you think about Senate House and Bloomsbury?
Senate House is a spectacular place to work. There is always something going on and a wealth of research seminars. We are also in easy walking distance from some wonderful collections of medieval manuscripts including the Wellcome collection and the British Library. 

What topics are you supervising at the moment?
My students are researching the role of women in the trade in medieval manuscripts, the significance of clubs and societies in shaping ideas about manuscripts, and the market for Indian manuscript material in Europe and America in the early twentieth century. 

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Cynthia Johnston

What do you specialise and research in?
I specialise in two research areas that are chronologically quite distant from one another: the development of commercial book production in urban areas at the end of the twelfth and into the thirteenth century in northern Europe, and the social phenomenon of book collecting in the UK associated with the Industrial Revolution, through to the post-modern period. I am particularly interested in the development of decorative apparti for commercially produced late medieval manuscripts; my special interest is in penflourishing and the establishment of the decorative frame to late medieval texts. For the collecting strand of my work, I have focused on the regional communities of the North West of England that manufactured cotton cloth. I have worked on collections of rare books and manuscripts held by museums and libraries in Blackburn, Preston and Burnley, Lancashire.

What do you enjoy about teaching at the Institute?
The vast range of topics and interests which our students bring to their study of the history of the book always provide exciting new approaches to the subject. Book history enables academics to link social movements and the history of texts and their production through engagement with physical archives and objects in cross-disciplinal approaches. My fantastic colleagues provide a wide range of subject expertise and always a creative approach to new ideas and discoveries.

What do you think about Senate House and Bloomsbury?
Working in Senate House in the centre of Bloomsbury is perhaps the perfect place for a book historian. With the literary history of Bloomsbury appearing by blue plaque around every corner (I find I am continuously encountering Woolf, Orwell, Eliot, Marx and Dickens), and the physical presence of Senate House Library as well as the British Library, the Wellcome Library and the Foundling Museum all within a 10-minute walk, we are truly at the intellectual heart of London.

What topics are you supervising at the moment?
I am currently supervising two PhD dissertations; one on Usuard martyrologies produced in England from the end of the twelfth through the beginning of the thirteenth centuries and the other on the development of heraldry in the context of English Psalters from the first decades of the thirteenth century through to the first half of the fourteenth.

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Sarah Churchwell

I specialize in American literature, culture, and history of the long 20th century, especially the 1920s and 1930s. My own research focuses broadly on popular mythologies, reception studies, and American icons, and specifically on F. Scott Fitzgerald and his circle, ideologies of the American dream, and (latterly) histories of American fascism. I am currently supervising PhDs on Scott Fitzgerald and early meanings of jazz, and masculinity and the representation of non-human animals in Ernest Hemingway.

We have wonderful colleagues, but beyond that I think my favorite part of IES is its national and public-facing aspect, its mission to support English literature, textual studies and book history around the country. I love working in a building as rich with cultural and architectural history as Senate House, and to be in the heart of Bloomsbury every day has to be a dream for anyone who studies modern English literature - its mix of literary history and current urban energy is a daily joy.

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Christopher Ohge

What do you specialise and research in?
My primary specialty is in textual studies: scholarly editing, the history of text technologies, and the use of archival materials for literary criticism. I tend to research nineteenth and twentieth century Anglophone literature, particularly Romanticism, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, anti-slavery literature, the history of ideas (especially philosophical pragmatism), and late modernism. Resulting publications usually apply computational approaches to these topics––digital scholarly editions and using computers to analyse texts, for example. I also generally like to explore allusion, the creative process and literary appreciation, all of which complement––and ideally enhance––my research.

What do you enjoy about teaching at the Institute?
The IES represents a terrific model for conducting English Studies. We are interested in high quality research and public engagement (a rare combination). We blend timeless topics (history of the book, e.g.) with technological experimentation. We have a truly interdisciplinary research culture situated within a group of vibrant and eclectic research institutes. I have close relationships with several scholars at other institutes who share my passion for historical and digital research. It is also a dream come true to be able to teach at an institute that values book history and textual studies––these are very important topics which are not represented widely.

What do you think about Senate House and Bloomsbury?
Like many others, I think about the literary genius loci of Bloomsbury––T. S. Eliot’s Faber office around the corner; the Bloomsbury Set at Gordon Square and Brunswick Gardens; Dickens's presence, in multiple locations; Orwell's former office (the impetus for the Ministry of Truth). I came to the Senate House during my first first visit to London, in 2013 (to attend an IES conference), so the building is very important to me.

What topics are you supervising at the moment?
I am currently supervising MA dissertations on fan fiction and collectors of Sir Thomas Browne books. I am also set to be a secondary supervisor on a PhD project on Ernest Hemingway and environmental studies. I am also happy to supervise any topic that combines literary, philosophical, and technological sophistication. There have been, and continue to be, opportunities to work with me and a team on a digital edition, the Herman Melville Electronic Library.

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Andrew Nash

Research
I have three main areas of research interest:

(1) the history of the book in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially authorship and copyright, the history of publishing, and the material history of the novel.

(2) Scottish literature from the late eighteenth century to the present, especially the work of J.M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hugh MacDiarmid and the writers of the Scottish literary renaissance, and Muriel Spark, and the history of Scottish publishing.

(3) Victorian literature, especially fiction and popular forms including adventure romance and the sea story.

I have recently begun work on a project entitled The British Publishing Industry 1815-1914. Co-edited with David Finkelstein, this will provide a documentary account of growth and change in the publishing industry from the mechanisation of print to the 1911 Copyright Act. It is scheduled for publication in four volumes by Routledge in 2023. I am also working on a series of essays on the London connections of the Scottish literary renaissance (including the publications of the firm of George Routledge & Sons) and attempting to complete a long-planned book on J.M. Barrie.

I am co-investigator on a new collaborative research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust entitled ‘The Society of Authors, 1884-1914’. I have mentored postdoctoral researchers working on a range of project including twentieth-century books clubs, biography and the book trade, and translation and book history.

I co-edit the journal Review of English Studies (I am responsible for article submissions in the Victorian and Modern periods, and for the extensive Reviews section), and sit on the editorial boards of Publishing History and Scottish Literary Review. I am also the Honorary President of the J.M. Barrie Literary Society.

Teaching
I direct the MA/MRes programme in the History of the Book and teach a course on ‘The Book in the Industrial Age, 1750 to the present’. I also direct the London Rare Books School where I have taught courses on the ‘History of the Book in Scotland’ and ‘Using Publishers’ Archives’.

Supervision
I am currently supervising the following postgraduate research students and topics:

Christopher Adams, ‘British Queer Fiction Publishing, 1945-1967’.

Rachel Calder (UCL), ‘Joseph Whitaker: “Mechanic” to the Victorian Book Trade’.

Matthew Fay (second supervisor), ‘The Fay Archive: A Copy-specific Analysis of Key Research Items by W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and J. M. Synge’.

Luna Liu, ‘George Allen & Unwin, 1945-1968’.

Carey Karmel, ‘A Psychogeography of Poems by T.S. Eliot’.

Stavroula Zarra, ‘Gender and Politics in Naomi Mitchison’s Historical Novels’.

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