How can literature, history, music and drama illuminate our understanding of human experience? How do thought, feeling, emotion, memory and imagination contribute to our sense of wellness or illness and our construction of the self and others?
This research strand explores how insights from the arts and humanities, through literary and cultural sources from classical to contemporary, might be used to enrich and complicate our concepts of ‘normal’ and ‘pathological', with a particular focus on invisible, inner, affective or volatile experience.
Mind, body, affect
Corinne Saunders is exploring how mind, body and affect are constructed and intersect in medieval thought and literature, with a particular focus on how voice-hearing and visionary experience are portrayed and understood. Forthcoming publications include her monograph Mind, Body and Affect in Medieval English Narrative: Romance, Story, Vision (D.S. Brewer, 2025), a co- edited volume on Women and Medieval Literary Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2023) which includes essays on women’s roles in medical and health-related discourses, and a co-edited (with Michael Huxtable) Handbook to Medieval Literature and Science (Palgrave Macmillan, 2025).
Music and musicology
Recent work by Fraser Riddell investigates the central place music held for emergent queer identities in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, with reference to the work of writers like John Addington Symonds, Walter Pater, Vernon Lee, E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. A programme of research led by Patrick Zuk is examining the centrality of trauma for understanding musical creativity in the modernist era – for example, on how the lives and work of Soviet composers were shaped by experiences of war, revolution, genocide and living under a repressive totalitarian regime.
Our researchers are exploring different forms of sensory experience, particularly those marginalised or neglected as a result of the long-standing dominance of sight. Ruben Verwaal has worked extensively on cultural experiences and medical perceptions of deafness in early modern Europe. He has also collaborated with clinicians and patient groups in the Netherlands to promote more inclusive forms of healthcare for people who are Deaf or Hard-of-hearing. Fraser Riddell is building upon recent debates in Victorian studies on cognition and the senses, investigating the place of tactile sensory perception in nineteenth-century literature and culture.
Victorian intelligence and illiteracy
Louise Creechan is examining the representation of illiteracy and intelligence in Victorian fiction and culture. Her forthcoming book Unwriting Victorian Illiteracy explores how the written word became established as the primary carrier of knowledge and how the rise of mass literacy in the nineteenth century influenced the ways in which we construct learning difficulty. Her current project, ‘The Dunce’s Hat’, continues her investigation of Victorian constructs of intelligence to interrogate and disrupt neurotypical biases.
Powell, Hilary and Saunders, Corinne (eds.) (2021). Visions and Voice-hearing in Medieval and Early Modern Contexts. Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine. Palgrave Macmillan.
Riddell, Fraser (2022). Music and the Queer Body in English Literature at the Fin de Siècle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Riddell, Fraser (2022). Gripping Words: Sensing the World Beyond the Page in Victorian Literature. The Senses and Society 17 (3): 359–361.
Zuk, Patrick (2018). Music as post-traumatic discourse: Nikolay Myaskovsky’s Sixth Symphony. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 17(1): 104–118.
‘Yo, doc, listen up!’
An online exhibition on deafness that seeks to raise awareness of the obstacles that Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing patients encounter when accessing healthcare. Led by Ruben Verwaal.