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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Mr Matthew Hilborn, BA (Oxon), MRes (Durham)

(email at


I am a final-year AHRC-funded PhD researcher in Spanish Film Studies whose primary research interests lie in the interrelationship between Humour Theory and contemporary Spanish culture (literature and film). My doctorate, completed in September 2021, examines zones of traversal between comedy and 'Spanishness' through the prisms of evolving gender-roles, masculinities, national identities,conceptions of family, and shifting concepts of patriotic (anti)heroism. 

After achieving First-Class Honours with Distinction and the Orla Merino Prize in English Literature and Spanish at Oxford University, I ventured north to accept Masters and AHRC Northern Bridge scholarships at Durham University, funding research into national humours. 

My doctoral thesis, titled Humour and National Identity in Contemporary Spanish Cinema, 1970-2020, focuses on black, grim humour in contemporary Spanish cinema since 1970, a half-century of ubiquity, evolution, contradiction, and political impact. More specifically, it traces the development of Spanish film comedy from the decline and death of Franco (1975) after almost 40 years at the helm, to the fragile liberal compromise (Transition), right up to present-day pushes for independence and a far-right backlash. Five chapters cover five decades, interrogating to what degree this funniness is characteristically Spanish - or "Spanish":

1. 1970s Destape and comedia celtibérica
2. Almodóvar and 1980s Movida
3. Re-thinking European Spain – Bigas Luna’s 1990s Postmodern Comedy
4. Naughty Noughties: Politically Incorrect Comedy the Torrentiad (5 films, 1998-2014)
5. 2010s: The Surnames Saga (Ocho apellidos franchise, Superlopez [2018]) – Searching for Home/Land

I scrutinise 1) the usefulness of laughter when coming to terms - quite literally - with (national) trauma, 2) the presentation of comic bodies of excess, both living and dead, after a bloody Civil War that left graves unmarked and bodies unidentified, and 3) how the filmic staging of frequently hostile, unnerving stand-up comedy implicates the spectator in shared complicity, probing at their need for a mirthful escape. All of this feeds into a concern with how comedy constructs and/or dismantles national identity/ies.

My Masters thesis, Humor in the Postwar Spanish Social Realist Novel (2017), locates an undercurrent of bleak, dark humour in novels frequently pigeonholed as dispassionate, solemn, and sombre. I interrogated how comedy affects the representation of social conditions (and the reception of such representations), coining new ways of understanding bathetic, grim comedy: grey humour, a sluggish amusement originating fundamentally, and paradoxically, in boredom; and comic-kazi, a backfiring, debilitating, anti-comic funniness, based on privation. 

I have developed extensive teaching experience at Durham University, on four separate Hispanic Studies modules (both peninsular and Latin American), and have been chosen to deliver induction lectures to all Masters students at Durham University. 

Research Interests

  • Contemporary Spanish Cinema
  • Film Comedy
  • Film Studies
  • Humour Theory
  • National Humours

Teaching Areas

  • Identity in The Spanish Speaking World - SPAN1141

  • Introduction to Hispanic Literature and Culture (Ab Initio) - SPAN1171

  • Introduction to Hispanic Literature and Culture (Post A-level) - SPAN1161

  • Icons and Myths of the Spanish-Speaking World - SPAN2151

Selected Publications

Conference Paper

  • (2021), "España entra en el Año Nuevo a tiro limpio’. Metacomedy in Álex de la Iglesia’s "Muertos de risa" (1999)", AHGBI (Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland) Annual Conference. University College Dublin. March 29-31, 2021.
  • (2019), "Bridging the Gap: Humour in "El Puente" (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1977)", AGBHI Conference. Durham University. April 8-10, 2019.
  • (2018), "Dolor y Gloria: Ambiguous Irony in Almodóvar's "Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto?" (1984)", Symposium of the International Summer School on Humour and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications. University of Wolverhampton, UK. July 2-7, 2018.
  • (2018), "Pedro Almodóvar: The King of Kitsch?", Broaderlands Postgraduate Research Symposium. St John's College, Durham University. April 19, 2018.
  • (2018), Holding Out For A (Spanish!?) SuperHero: "Superlópez" (Javier Ruiz Caldera, 2018), Early Career Researcher Conference. Catedra de Cine, Valladolid.

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

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Is supervised by

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2021: AHGBI Conference Award - Best Paper, Annual Conference, University College Dublin:
  • 2018: (to 2020) - Full AHRC Research Grants, Cinematography Course - Universidad de Valladolid:
  • 2017: AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Centre Partnership:
  • 2016: MA Research Scholarship, Modern Languages and Cultures - Durham University:
  • 2015: Benefactor's Prize for Academic Achievement - Oxford University:
  • 2015: Dolores Oria Merino Prize - Highest Grade in FHS Spanish - Oxford University:
  • 2013: Abbott's Bursary - Oxford University: