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Through our departments, centres, institutes, and cultural partnerships, Arts and Humanities at Durham engages with communities, groups, and cultural institutions locally, nationally, and internationally. Durham has research resources of international importance including Durham’s Residential Research Library.

The Faculty has an active postgraduate research community, and postdoctoral and early-career fellows and scholars working in all its disciplines and centres. It hosts and supports conferences, colloquia, performances, and projects across Arts and Humanities research. 

Below are some recent highlights about impact projects across the Faculty:  

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The Ordered Universe

The Ordered Universe Project, involving medieval scholars in the Department of History, is dedicated to fresh and original examinations of medieval science. Funded by the AHRC, the project focuses on interdisciplinary readings of the scientific works of the remarkable English thinker Robert Grosseteste (c.1170–1253). It brought together a unique configuration of natural scientists, social scientists and arts and humanities scholars. The project integrates the conceptual tools of modern science with the textual methods of the humanities to explore the richness of Grosseteste’s thought. The translations, many for the first time, and which incorporate the groundbreaking concept of translation into mathematics, enable wider access to this wonderful mind, compelling us to make new assessments of his perceptive and inventive imagination.

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Understanding Voices

An international research team including academics from the Departments of English Studies have shed light on the relations between hearing voices and everyday processes of sensory perception, memory, language and creativity. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, 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. The project will continue to develop new methods for interdisciplinary research into human experience, and transform the way in which voice-hearing is managed, treated and understood through a comprehensive online resource for voice-hearers and mental health professionals, as well as an ambitious arts-led programme of public engagement.

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The Earworms Project

Dr Kelly Jakubowski from the Department of Music has led the first large-scale study into why some songs get stuck in your head.


The study has shown that songs that get stuck in your head – called earworms or involuntary musical imagery – are usually faster, with a fairly generic and easy-to-remember melody but with some unique intervals such as leaps or repetitions that set it apart from the "average pop song". Prime examples of earworms named in the study include Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey and perhaps not surprisingly Can’t Get You Out Of My Head by Kylie Minogue. The study, published in the academic journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, was conducted by researchers based at Durham University, Goldsmiths, University of London and the University of Tübingen in Germany with funding from the Leverhulme Trust. You can hear more about this study in the ‘Possible Podcast’, a podcast bringing creative thinking into arts & humanities research on SoundCloud or Spotify.

Women (In Parenthesis)

Research in the Department of Philosophy has led to renewed interest in ‘the Golden-Age of Female Philosophy’ through research into the Quartet of Mary Midgley, Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, and Philippa Foot. Dr Clare MacCumhaill (Durham University) and Dr Rachael Wisemen (Liverpool University), funded by the British Academy, conducted a detailed historical study of this period, with particular focus on the lives and works of the Quartet. In Parenthesis describes the particular conditions under which this happened. As well as illuminating some of the more well-documented barriers to inclusion, they discovered unknown factors and ultimately new strategies for gender activism within philosophy. By examining a brief window, albeit in parenthesis, where the social and intellectual landscape of academic philosophy was altered as a result of the disruptions of the second World War, the project reflected on the questions facing contemporary women philosophers and the more general question of ‘women in philosophy’, as it is known. You can hear more about this study in the ‘Possible Podcast’, a podcast bringing creative thinking into arts & humanities research on SoundCloud or Spotify.

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Monks in Motion

Since 2015, the ‘Monks in Motion’ project team has been investigating the activities and membership of the English and Welsh Benedictines, 1553–1800, exploring their changing political role in transnational familial and intellectual networks. Dr James Kelly and Professor Alec Ryrie from the Department of Theology and Religion have led the project, funded by the AHRC, that has seen the creation of an open source, searchable electronic database of all English and Welsh Benedictines from the period, including those who were early leavers or did not pass the selection process.


The major aim of the project is to explore the changing political role in England of the English Benedictines. This will be achieved by examining their transnational networks through the creation of a dynamic, searchable database of the membership and activities of English and Welsh Benedictines from Mary I’s reign to 1800, when many English Catholic exiles were forced to return to their homeland because of the French Revolution and its associated violence. This will include exploration of the monks’ roles in the English diaspora and their involvement in bringing European ideas into an English context. Moreover, it will consider the position of the four nationality-defined monasteries as English institutions in Europe, plugged into both the intellectual networks of the Catholic Reformation and the political developments of their homeland. It will be vital for re-imagining the Catholic community during the period of religious proscription.

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Performing Cancer in the Middle East

As part of her project on cultures of cancer in the Arab World, Dr Abir Hamdar has co-produced a theatre performance on this topic, based on interviews with cancer patients and consultations with oncologists at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre (AUBMC). The premiere of the play took place in Beirut in the Summer of 2017, raising awareness of the politics of talking about, and caring for, cancer patients in the Arab region. 

Find out more on Performing Cancer in the Middle East

Find out more about research in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures