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Professor James Smith


Professor in the Department of English Studies


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 government 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 chapter looking at how the legacy of wartime secret work manifests in the writing of George Orwell, Graham Greene, and Muriel Spark.


Work in the medium and longer term will include: a new book looking at the many and varied ways authors and cultural works have engaged with the British intelligence services over the past century; a study of how the leaks of Edward Snowden have influenced recent film and television narratives; a Leverhulme-funded project looking at British ‘black propaganda’ operations during the Second World War; and an investigation of the role played by literature in British cultural diplomacy during the Cold War.


I have recently edited The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the 1930s (2019). 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 book on Terry Eagleton published in 2008 (the full text of a review can be found here).



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