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Staff Profile

Dr James Smith

Contact Dr James Smith (email at

I grew up in Australia and studied for my first degrees at the University of Sydney, before coming to the UK to do my PhD at Cambridge. After teaching for a year at Homerton College, Cambridge, I held a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Queensland and then a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Oxford. I came to Durham in 2012 to take up my current post, and I also serve as the founding director of Durham's Centre for Modern Conflicts and Cultures.


Much of my research is interested in questions concerning state surveillance, censorship, and subsidy of literature and culture. My most recent book, British Writers and MI5 Surveillance, 1930-1960, looked at the MI5 records held on key figures such as Auden, Spender, Koestler, and Orwell, and tried to show how many of these authors were not passive victims of the secret state but also conscious movers within it. (You can read a review of it in The Guardian).


I have published various other articles and chapters in this area, such as on governmental involvement in film censorship, security monitoring of radical literary magazines, and (with David Bradshaw) the collaboration between Ezra Pound and the fascist propagandist James Strachey Barnes.


More recent concerns have turned to cultural depictions of intelligence, spying, and the secret state. Publications in this area include an article exploring James Bond and Skyfall in the context of recent political debates on surveillance and intelligence, and a forthcoming chapter looking at how the legacy of wartime secret work manifests in the writing of George Orwell, Graham Greene, and Muriel Spark.


I am now working on a new book in this field, looking at the many and varied ways authors and cultural works have engaged with the British covert sphere over the past century. A recent piece in The Conversation, looking at the history of the spy satire in literature and film, shows some of the topics I will be addressing.


In 2013, I was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize, and during its tenure I have been undertaking several other projects, including editing The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the 1930s.


I also teach and research in the field of modern drama, offering a MA module on post-war British drama and having edited (with Richard Fotheringham) a collection of essays on contemporary Australian theatre. Finally, I have interests in critical theory, with my first book on Terry Eagleton published in 2008 (the full text of a review can be found here).

Selected Publications

Authored book

  • Smith, James (2013). British Writers and MI5 Surveillance, 1930-1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Smith, James (2008). Terry Eagleton. Polity.

Chapter in book

  • Smith, James (2013). 'Soviet Films and British intelligence in the 1930s: The Case of Kino Films and MI5'. In Russia in Britain, 1880-1940: From Melodrama to Modernism. Beasley, Rebecca & Bullock, Phillip. Oxford University Press. 241-257.
  • Smith, James (2010). ‘The British “Information Research Department” and Cold War Propaganda Publishing’. In Pressing the Fight: Print, Propaganda, and the Cold War. Barnhisel, Gregory & Turner, Catherine (eds), University of Massachusetts Press. 112-125.

Edited book

  • Fotheringham, Richard & Smith, James (2013). Catching Australian Theatre in the 2000s. Australian Playwrights. Rodopi.

Journal Article

  • Smith, James (2016). “How Safe Do You Feel?” James Bond, Skyfall and the Politics of the Secret Agent in an Age of Ubiquitous Threat. College Literature 43(1): 145-172.
  • Smith, J. (2015). 'The MacDonald Discussion Group: A Communist Conspiracy in Britain’s Cold War Film and Theatre Industry—Or MI5’s Honey-Pot?'. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 35(3): 454-472.
  • Bradshaw, David & Smith, James (2013). 'Ezra Pound, James Strachey Barnes (`The Italian Lord Haw-Haw’) and Italian Fascism'. Review of English Studies 64(266): 672-693.
  • Smith, James (2010). 'The Radical Literary Magazine of the 1930s and British Government Surveillance: the Case of Storm Magazine'. Literature & History 19(2): 69-86.
  • (2006). 'Brecht, the Berliner Ensemble, and the British Government'. New Theatre Quarterly 22(04): 307-323.

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