Research - English Department

The English Department continues to develop its research activities in exciting ways, through publications, online projects and collaborative ventures. All members of our academic staff are engaged in research and publishing: over the past few years we have produced scholarly books, novels and poetry collections, journal articles, book chapters, and online publications. Some of us are editors of journals and magazines and we are regularly consulted by a range of publishers and editors as expert reviewers. Staff and postgraduates also organise academic conferences, public lecture programmes, workshops, study days and literary events.

English Department staff and postgraduates meet colleagues from the University of Keele outside the Vicarage before one of the Victorian Reading Group meetings
English Department staff and postgraduates meet colleagues from the University of Keele outside the Vicarage before one of the Victorian Reading Group meetings
As a Department we not only view research and publishing as integral to our work, we also feel passionate about our specialist areas. I can’t imagine working with more enthusiastic colleagues; both as teachers and researchers, academics in English are committed to achieving excellence and inspiring others.
Professor Deborah Wynne, the English Department’s Director of Research

Our research activities and specialised knowledge inform the modules we teach, ensuring that students are able to engage with the latest developments and research methods in the discipline. We also bring our research into the community through public lectures, talks and study days in schools, poetry readings and broadcasts on radio. We liaise with museums and libraries and speak at a range of events organised by literary societies, as well as receiving invitations to give keynote lectures at conferences and other events.

The English Department's three research areas are: English Literature, Creative Writing, and English Language. Academic staff are currently involved in a number of research projects and our work has resulted in a wide range of publications.  Among the recently-published books written and/or edited by members of the English Department are:

  • Professor Alan Wall's novel, Sylvie's Riddle (London: Quartet, 2008).
  • Professor Deborah Wynne's monograph, Women and Personal Property in the Victorian Novel (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).
  • Professor Alan Wall's book of poetry, Doctor Placebo (Shearsman Books, 2010) [Chosen as a book of the year by the Welsh Arts Council]
  • Dr William Stephenson's monograph, Gonzo Republic: Hunter S. Thompson's America (New York: Continuum, 2011).
  • Dr Ashley Chantler (working with Michael Davies and Philip Shaw) edited Literature and Authenticity, 1780-1900: Essays in Honour of Vincent Newey, (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011).
  • Dr Matt Davies's monograph, Oppositions and Ideology in News Discourse (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012).
  • Dr William Stephenson's book of poetry, Rain Dancers in the Data Cloud (Matlock: Templar, 2012) [Winner of the Iota shots award 2012]
  • Dr Joanne Close (working with B. Aarts, G. Leech & S. Wallis) edited The Verb Phrase in English: Investigating recent language change with corpora. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
  • Dr Sarah Heaton's edited collection of essays, Fashioning Identities: Cultures of Exchange (IDP, 2013)
  • Dr William Stephenson's book of poetry, Source Code (Bristol: Ravenglass Poetry Press, 2013) [Winner of the Ravenglass Poetry Prize 2012]
  • Dr Emma Rees's monograph, The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013).

Members of the English Department have also written textbooks designed to help undergraduates in their studies. Dr Ashley Chantler is the series editor for 'Character Studies', now published by Bloomsbury Academic Press. The following books in the series were published by members of the Department in 2008:

  • Dr Graham Atkin, Twelfth Night: Character Studies
  • Dr Melissa Fegan,  Wuthering Heights: Character Studies
  • Dr Ashley Chantler, Heart of Darkness: Character Studies

In 2010 a useful student guide, Studying English Literature, was published by Continuum, edited by Ashley Chantler and Dr David Higgins (from the University of Leeds). Several members of the English Department contributed chapters to the book: Dr Derek Alsop, Dr Emma Rees, Dr William Stephenson, and Professor Deborah Wynne.


Some of the current projects in English Literature include:

Literature and Music

THandelhere has been an exciting new development in the Department's work on literature and music - the establishment of Derek Alsop's Handel Blog. Dr Derek Alsop has been working on Handel and his literary sources for twenty years, and this new Blog both archives work from his previous publications and programmes for BBC Radio 3, as well as giving regular reports on work in progress. The main interest is in Handel's operas and oratorios, and the many poets and talented librettists whose work formed the basis for Handel's scores. Derek is an expert in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth-century literature, the period which saw the rise of Italian Opera in England, culminating in the establishment of the Royal Academy of Music and the production of over forty Handel operas on the London stage. Derek's work brings literary knowledge to a field dominated by musicologists (who are not always in the best position to judge the literary traditions that inspired the writing of the libretti). There have been four different kinds of outputs associated with this work:

  • Derek Alsop's Handel Blog
  • Academic articles and chapters on Handel and his sources, including:
    '"Strains of New Beauty": Handel and the Pleasures of Italian Opera, 1711-1728', in Pleasure in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Roy Porter and Marie Mulvey Roberts (Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1996), pp. 133-63.
    'Artful Anthology: The Use of Literary Sources for Handel's Jephtha' in The Musical Quarterly, Summer 2002 Volume 86, Number 2 (OUP, 2004) pp.349-62.

  • Dr Alsop's scripted and presented programmes for BBC Radio 3 include:
    'Handel's Ezio and the Second Period of the Royal Academy', two scripted interludes, produced by Kate Boulton,  for BBC Radio 3 opera  production,  6/12/95.
    'Handel's Rodelinda', interview for 'Music Matters', produced by Jessica Isaacs, BBC Radio 3, 10/2/96; 11/2/96
    'Handel's Semele: an English Opera?' - scripted interlude for BBC Radio 3 Proms production of Semele, produced by Fiona Shelmerdine, BBC Radio 3, 5/8/96.
    '"How Dark are Thy Decrees": The Sources of Handel's Jephtha' - scripted interlude for BBC Prom production - BBC Radio 3, 1/9/97.
    'Handel, Radamisto, and the Royal Academy' - a scripted interlude for BBC Radio Manchester, produced by Paul Hindmarsh, BBC Radio 3, 30/5/2000.
    'Celebrity, Scandal and Opera Genius: Handel's Rodelinda and the Royal Academy' - a scripted interlude for BBC Radio 3, produced by Freya Mitchell, BBC Radio 3, 6/5/06.
    'Handel's Words' [publicised as 'The Great and Good Mr Handel'] - a scripted talk for BBC Radio 3, produced by Clive Portbury, broadcast 16/4/09 and 17/12/09.

The Textile Story Project

This project has developed from the research activities of Professor Deborah Wynne and Dr Sarah Heaton on literature and material culture, based on their exploration into the ways in which objects 'speak' in literary contexts from 1800 to the present. Professor Wynne is writing a book called Literary Fabrics: Textile Languages, Novels and Costume Dramas, 1837-1914 and has recently published an article on Dickens and the costume drama co-authored with Dr Amber Regis of the University of Sheffield: 'Miss Havisham's Dress: Materialising Dickens in Film Adaptations of Great Expectations' 

Deborah has also published a book chapter, 'Charlotte Brontë's Frocks and Shirley's Queer Textiles', in Literary Bric-a-Brac: Victorian Oddities and Commodities (eds) J. Shears and J. Harrison (Ashgate, 2013)

Dr Heaton is writing a new book called Fashioning the Transatlantic and has published a book chapter on fashion and the Twilight series: 'Consuming Clothes and Dressing Desire in the Twilight Series' in The Modern Vampire and Human Identity (2012) and has edited a book on fashion called Fashioning Identities: Cultures of Exchange (2013).

Their research into textiles and clothing has also involved presenting papers at conferences, giving keynote lectures and workshops in local schools. In April 2013 Professor Wynne gave a talk on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and the costumes in a range of screen adaptations of the novel as part of the 200th year anniversary of the novel.

Sarah, Deborah and Amber manage a blog called Textile Stories. This highlights the ways in which textiles, like literary texts, can generate interesting stories. New developments which are currently in progress are Textile Stories: The Fabric of Everyday Life, a study day (June 2013) which explores the literary links with clothing, costume, textile activities and costume dramas, and a research project on the history of the Chester department store, Brown's of Chester (now owned by Debenhams), a drapery shop established in the eighteenth century by Susannah Brown.

An engraving depicting Brown’s of Chester from the 1840s

An engraving depicting Brown's of Chester from the 1840s

If you wish to find out more about The Textile Story Project, please email:


Literary Historiography

Members of the English Department with disparate research specialisms are brought together by a shared interest in literary historiography. As editors, authors and contributors to major literary histories that are variously narrative and encyclopedic, they have explored the ways in which writers engage with both literary tradition and social context, and how from these complex engagements literatures develop. Professor Chris Walsh is General Editor (with Michael Wheeler and David Carroll) of the highly regarded Longman Literature in English series. Dr Sally West, author of the monograph Coleridge and Shelley: Textual Engagement (Ashgate, 2007), specializes in poetic influence in the Romantic period. Dr Derek Alsop, Dr Francesca Haig and Dr Yvonne Siddle have between them contributed eleven articles to The Literary Encyclopedia (online). Professor Deborah Wynne is author of 'Readers and Reading Practices' in The Oxford History of the Novel in English: Vol. 3: The Nineteenth-Century Novel 1820-1880, ed. Jenny Bourne Taylor and John Kucich (Oxford University Press, 2011), and 'Critical Responses to Sensation' in A Companion to Sensation Fiction, ed. Pamela Gilbert (Blackwell, 2011). Dr Melissa Fegan, author of Literature and the Irish Famine 1845-1919 (Clarendon Press, 2002), contributed a chapter on 'The Great Famine in Literature, 1845-1896' to A Companion to Irish Literature, vol. 1, ed. Julia M. Wright (Blackwell, 2010). Dr Peter Blair contributed a chapter on 'The Liberal Tradition in Fiction' to The Cambridge History of South African Literature, ed. Derek Attridge and David Attwell (Cambridge University Press, 2012), and is contributing two articles to The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies (forthcoming).

Talking Bodies/ Speaking Genders

In March 2013, the Department hosted a major international, interdisciplinary conference called Talking Bodies: Identity, Sexuality and Representation. Along with Professor Deborah Wynne's popular Level 6 module on Language and Gender, the conference has placed the Department at the cutting edge of gender studies research. It was the brainchild of the Department's Dr Emma Rees, who came up with the idea as she was finishing her book (The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History). In researching this, Emma met and talked to people from all different walks of life with diverse experiences. She wanted to bring some of these people together - and the 2013 conference was the end result. The Talking Bodies Conference rapidly evolved into the Talking Bodies Project, with publications planned for 2015 (to coincide with another conference, again at Chester), and a 'virtual symposium' on the cards for 2014 (possibly in collaboration with the University of Kent). The participation of both undergraduate and postgraduate students from Chester was a particular strength in a conference, which over its three days welcomed over 130 delegates, with 92 papers from 94 presenters from all over the world: Australia, Nigeria, the US (including Hawai'i), India, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Bulgaria, Japan, Austria, Germany, South Africa, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus, Italy, Malta, Finland, Israel, Sweden, Poland, and the Ukraine. It was truly multidisciplinary conference. Academics spoke alongside activists, sex workers, visual artists and performers. The conference was also featured in the Times Higher, the UK's leading Higher Education weekly magazine.


Some of the projects in Creative Writing include:

The Creative Writing Flash Project: Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine

Flash is a major literary periodical founded and edited by two members of the Department, Drs Peter Blair and Ashley Chantler. Since the inaugural issue of October 2008, it has established itself as the world's leading publisher of quality short-short stories and serious reviews of flash-fiction anthologies and collections.

Writers from around the world have contributed stories, including a number in translation (from Chinese, German, Hebrew, and Spanish). Booker and Pulitzer Prize winners and nominees published include Margaret Atwood, Beryl Bainbridge, Robert Olen Butler, Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, James Kelman, Bernard MacLaverty, Jon McGregor, Matt Thorne, and William Wall.

Dr Peter Blair: 'Two significant aims when we founded the magazine were that it had to be diverse in content and international in scope. This inspired our word limit for each flash: 360. We wanted our world-wide readership to have stories told from all angles and by authors hailing from all points of the compass. We have certainly achieved this: we've published an extraordinary range of flashes by writers from over thirty countries.'

Dr Ashley Chantler: 'One of the other original features of the magazine is its "Flash Reviews" section. To date, we've published over fifty reviews, by academics and authors from Britain and beyond, of new short-short story anthologies and collections, including significant new books by, among others, Lydia Davis, Tania Hershman, David Gaffney, Vanessa Gebbie, Etgar Keret, Ewan Morrison, Dan Rhodes, and Ana María Shua.'

Dr Ashley Chantler is author of the path-breaking essay 'Notes Towards the Definition of the Short-Short Story', in The Short Story, ed. Ailsa Cox (Cambridge Scholars, 2009). Dr Peter Blair is author of the 'Flash Fiction' article in the bestselling Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2014 (Bloomsbury, 2013). Their interview with David Gaffney, Britain's foremost writer of flash fiction, is forthcoming in the interdisciplinary journal Short Fiction in Theory and Practice.

For further information about the magazine, and to discover the world's largest archive of short-short-story anthologies, collections, and magazines (an invaluable resource for students and researchers), go to: Flash.

Holocaust Representations

Another member of the Creative Writing team, Dr Francesca Haig, organised a successful international and interdisciplinary one-day conference in 2009, 'Holocaust Representations Since 1975', which explored contemporary Holocaust representations including memorials, poems, films, witness testimony, novels, plays and photography. The keynote speaker was Professor Robert Eaglestone (Royal Holloway, University of London), and delegates presented a diverse range of papers, ranging from ''Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders and Bajorans: The Americanized Holocaust of Star Trek' to 'Place as a Witness? Comparing Survivor and Second Generation Holocaust Memoirs of Return'. The conference provided a fruitful forum for discussing the complex ethical and aesthetic issues surrounding contemporary Holocaust representations. Dr Haig has also edited a special issue of the journal Modernism/Modernity (vol. 20, issue 1, Jan 2013), based on the conference.


Image credit: The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin. Photo by Colocho, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5


New Developments in English Language include:

Cutting-edge studies in computer-assisted linguistics (corpus linguistics, acoustic phonetics), cognitive stylistics, and the power of opposites in the news media. These topics characterize the research interests of the recently established English Language team. Our growing team of experts pride ourselves on disseminating our ideas through research seminars and on the modules we teach to undergraduate students, our presentations at international conferences, and our burgeoning publications profile.

Recent publications include:

A monograph by Dr Matt Davies called Oppositions and Ideology in News Discourse (2012), Bloomsbury Academic.

A collection of articles called The Verb Phrase in English: Investigating recent language change with corpora (2013), edited by Dr Joanne Close in collaboration with Geoff Leech, Bas Aarts and Sean Wallis, published by Cambridge University Press.

A contribution by Dr Clara Neary to the forthcoming The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics (2014) called 'Stylistics, Point of View and Modality' published by Routledge.

A recently-submitted paper co-authored by Dr Frank Herrmann with Stuart Cunningham and Sandra Whiteside called 'Speaker sex effects on temporal and spectro-temporal measures of speech' to the Journal of the International Phonetic Association.

The English Language team recently organised two very successful international conferences, hosted at the University of Chester.

The Spectres of Class conference in July 2011 brought together academics from many parts of the world and representing a range of disciplines including English Language and Linguistics, English Literature, and Media Studies, in order to explore various representations of social class in language.

We also hosted the Variation and Language Processing conference (VALP) in April 2011 attended by international specialists who presented research on the interface between linguistic variation and language processing.

The English Language team are active participants in and members of several important English Language and Linguistics organisations including: the Philological Society; ISLE (the International Society for the Linguistics of English); Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA); Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis Across Disciplines CADAAD; EACLALS (European Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies);  British Association of Academic Phoneticians (BAAP); and Acoustical Society of America (ASA).

Dr Matt Davies, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for Single Honours English Language said:

'Our research in English Language and linguistics is varied and innovative. Whilst aiming to publish to a high standard in reputable academic outlets, we also try to make our ideas accessible to our own students. For instance in a recent research seminar we each delivered a short talk to undergraduates, with topics including: a cognitive stylistic analysis of Gandhi's autobiography; changes in the English modal verb system; the effects of sex on speech production; the use of opposites to stigmatise groups in the news media; and lexical priming in corpus linguistics. Trialling our research interests with our own students is a great way to ensure we can communicate our ideas not only to other academics but also to the wider public interested in language issues. We have several big projects in preparation from our expanding team, reflecting the growing interest in and importance of what is a relatively new subject at the university. It is an exciting time for research in English language and linguistics in Chester and I am proud to be part of the team here.'



The English Department provides supervision and specialist training and support for a number of PhD students. The Department has an excellent track record for postgraduate student support and a very high proportion of its PhD projects have been brought to successful completion. 100% of PGR students have commented in feedback on how well-supported they have been in the Department. Among the successful PhD theses produced by research students working in the Department are projects on fin-de-siècle Gothic fiction; George Eliot and science; representations of intimacy between men in twentieth-century women's writing; the work of William Carleton; nineteenth-century British travel writing; Shakespeare's women and film adaptations; the Victorian female author-editor and the periodical press; the writing of a historical novel and analytical commentary; the fiction of Sarah Waters; nineteenth-century witch imagery in literature and culture; the adaptations of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; and representations of same-sex desire in Victorian women's novels; insanity in Victorian literature and medicine; and genre and performativity in the work of Shakespeare.

Current students registered for the M.Phil/ PhD qualification are working on a range of projects including: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and George Eliot and influence theory; the writings of Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley; representations of the fallen woman and the New Woman in Victorian literature and culture; representations of light in the nineteenth century; and representations of the mother in neo-Victorian fiction.

The Department encourages its graduate students to attend and organise conferences and in 2010 a major international conference, Queer Manifestations (with a keynote address from Professor Sally Munt, University of Sussex) was organised by two of its PhD students. The Department's postgraduates have been active in the events organised by the Faculty of Humanities' Gender Research Network. The Faculty of Humanities organises an annual conference, at which all PhD students present papers based on their current research. Members of the English Department, Dr Rees and Professor Wynne have contributed workshops and training sessions at these events. Professor Wynne has also produced a training aid for all of the University's PhD students in the form of a podcast called 'Preparing for the Viva', consisting of interviews with recent PhD graduates from a range of disciplines who reflect upon and share their experiences of the viva voce examination. More informally, the graduate community of the English Department has been involved in a reading group initiative with the University of Keele, whereby academics and postgraduates researching nineteenth-century literature meet twice a year to discuss relevant set texts. There have been 8 meetings so far and a typical discussion group attracts over 20 participants. This initiative offers an excellent networking opportunity for postgraduates at both universities.


Public Lecture Programmes

Dr Ashley Chantler founded 'The Professor Glyn Turton Lecture' (2010 onwards), a series of high-profile biannual public lectures delivered on the main Chester campus. Speakers so far have included Professor Michael Green (Northumbria University), Professor Juliet John (Royal Hollway), Professor Will Kaufman (University of Central Lancashire), Professor Martin Stannard (University of Leicester), and Professor John Bowen (University of York).