The Department has particular strengths in Medieval and early modern studies, eighteenth and nineteenth century literature, modernism and twentieth-century literature, world literatures and literary theory and creative writing. There are additional strengths in a number of trans-historical topics, including medical humanities, digital humanities, poetics, and textual editing.
Recent work in the Department has helped to develop the discipline of medical humanities and encouraged a trans-historical interest in the relationships between literature, medicine and science. There is a strong environment of creative writing, including creative non-fiction, among staff and students, and there are further specialisms in American, African, Indian and Pakistani, and Irish writing.
We host, or are associated with, a number of major research projects:
The Political Warfare Executive, Covert Propaganda, and British Culture: While ‘fake news’ is an urgent political topic at the moment, state-backed disinformation is a practice with a long and controversial history. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust and based in the Department of English Studies at Durham University, this research project is investigating the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), a secret organisation created by Britain during the Second World War with the mission of spreading propaganda to the enemy.
Hearing the Voice: is a large interdisciplinary study of voice-hearing, funded by the Wellcome Trust. The international research team includes academics from anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, history, linguistics, literary studies, medical humanities, philosophy, psychology and theology. Hearing the Voice also works closely with clinicians, voice-hearers and other experts by experience. In addition to shedding light on the relations between hearing voices and everyday processes of sensory perception, memory, language and creativity, the team are exploring why it is that some voices (and not others) are experienced as distressing, how they can change across the life course, and the ways in which voices can act as important social, cultural and political forces.
Life of Breath: was a five year (2015-20) research project funded by the Wellcome Trust. It was led jointly by Prof Jane Macnaughton (Durham University) and Prof Havi Carel (University of Bristol). The Life of Breath team included researchers from a number of different subjects including medicine, philosophy, anthropology, history, arts and literature. It also worked with the British Lung Foundation, people affected by lung disease, healthcare professionals and people who use their breath in interesting ways (e.g. musicians).
Records of Early English Drama North East (REED NE): is part of a massive international project to assemble a complete survey of medieval and early modern performance in Britain. By searching through records and archives from Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire, REED NE is uncovering previously hidden traditions of folk performance, religious ceremonies and processions, and illegal recusant drama. The project will culminate in a critical edition of all surviving records of performance and entertainment in the North East from about the ninth century up to 1642; this volume will be to scholars in literature and theatre what Pevsner is to architects and art historians.