Critical to the objectives of the Department of English, research acts as a contribution towards expanding or changing existing knowledge and new ways of thinking about literature and writing. Opening up explorations in both historical and contemporary contexts, these projects engage with the social, political, aesthetic and cognitive aspects of textual production and reception.
Research tends to focus on studies of written and visual cultures in Australia, the English literary tradition, contemporary and global literature, and creative writing — both fictional and non-fictional.
The English Department brings new depth to the study of Australian written and visual cultures. 'Aust Lit' is entering a vital new phase of global significance as an English-based literature of rapidly-growing indigenous and multicultural voices in a unique setting. Current Department projects include the first book-length study of Western Christian mysticism in Australian poetry and unabridged editions of poetry by Francis Webb and Bruce Beaver. Literary publications by practicing creative writers in the Department include recent books of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. Other areas of research strength include feminist interpretations of Australian children's texts and postcolonial, transnational and diasporic perspectives whose frames continue to reassess textual representations of Australian histories and identities. Critical publications in the field extend to international and national journals (and the inception of new ones like New Scholar: An International Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences), webpages, monographs, conference proceedings, book chapters, anthologies and databases. The English Department actively pursues Australian literary conversations beyond faculty walls through local and international events including the Sydney Writers' Festival and Australian Poetry Festival.
Medieval and Early Modern Literature
This established area of research in the Department focuses on medieval and early modern English literature and culture, particularly on the history of ideas, on gender and genre, on poetics and poetic language and on the uses of the medieval in later contexts. Publications have treated both canonical texts - in Old and Middle English, and by Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Donne, and Thomas More - as well as texts by writers once marginalised because of their gender or religion. Research in this field enacts a huge range of critical perspectives, from the archival, editorial, analytical, and historical/contextual, to emerging fusions with psychology and philosophy. The Australian Research Council (ARC) has funded a Discovery Project in this research area that has produced major new study of cognitive approaches to medieval literature. Other major research projects include major studies of medievalism, the production of a four-volume critical edition of continuations of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia; and projects on the ideas of home and homeland in in Great Britain between the English and the French revolutions, and the history of the sonnet.
Romantic and Victorian Literature
The Department has a long-standing research commitment to the revision of established terms such as 'Romantic' and 'Victorian', and to interrogation of the kinds of critical and cultural assumptions invested in prior historical, gendered and class-inflected conceptualisations of nineteenth-century literary production. Such research reflects and adds to international work in the field, and constitutes an ongoing redefinition of previously settled categories, such as the nature of the nineteenth-century lyric, the cultural significance of domestic space, and theorising the construction of authorial identity. The research activities of the Department have contributed, in particular, to the endeavour of recovering the work of nineteenth-century women poets, overlooked because of their gender. Such projects participate in expanding the range of textual production nineteenth-century studies now routinely addresses. This diversity reflects a commitment to expanding the primary corpus of nineteenth-century texts - into, for example, previously neglected fields, such as crime and detective fiction, juvenilia, the Gothic. A project of inclusion and reassessment invigorates research, publication, and pedagogical practice in the Department.
Modernism and Contemporary Literature
This research area covers literary works produced during the modernist period (c.1900-1940), and engages with current debates that see the boundaries of the field as porous and expansive rather than fixed and static. It also examines the long-ranging legacy of literary modernism, through such figures as Samuel Beckett and Ralph Ellison, as well as more recent inheritors of that legacy (J.M. Coetzee, Cormac McCarthy, and W.G. Sebald). Another aspect of this inheritance is explored through postwar literary and cultural theory. The Australian Research Council (ARC) currently funds a Discovery Project that reconsiders the history of continental theory through writings on poetry and poetic form, in the wake of the cognitive turn in literary studies. This field of research also examines theories of writing and, in the context of contemporary American literature, theoretical revisionings of masculinity.
Research within the Department focuses on the political and social impacts of literary theories, particularly in relation to class, race, and gender. Work that is firmly grounded in historical context also analyses ways to think about the world now that 'grand narratives' are seen as inadequate. Working with arguments within recent debates about multiculturalism, globalism, postcolonialism, marxism and feminism, staff and higher degree research students aim to integrate literary analysis into broader debates on cultural change and its implications.
Children's Literature, Television, Film
Within this broad area, the Department focuses on children's literature, television and film for young readers from infancy to young adulthood. We offer specialised children's literature subjects at undergraduate level, as well as specific children's literature programs for both Masters and Higher Degree Research candidates. These subjects and programs cover a wide range of areas, spanning the historical development of a literature for children from the early nineteenth century to the present. Topics of particular interest, which are reflected in the numerous publications by staff and graduate students as books, journal articles, or contributions to collections, include: ideology; subjectivity; the representation of gender; posthumanism and ecocriticism; visual media, including film and picture books; Australian children's texts and culture. Critical approaches of particular interest include: semiotics, narrative theory and textual analysis; posthumanism and ecocriticism; adaptation theory; feminism, gender theory and queer-theory; and theories of subjectivity and culture. Current research projects include: Representations of Subjectivity in Asian Children's Literature and Film: Global Theories and Local Implications; Film adaptations of Children's texts and the Impact of Global shifts in Politics and Culture on Adaptations of Children's texts; and Representations of Technology in Children's Literature, Television and Film and the impact of Posthumanism.
Research in the fields of both modernism and children's literature also has a strong visual emphasis, with published articles examining animals on film, adaptations, and the ways in which literary aesthetics and film aesthetics can pursue similar thematic ends. Other research work explores graphic novels, postmodern and posthuman themes in science fiction and fantasy films, as well as the politics and aesthetics of book illustration in children's literature, both within Australia and in cultures such as China, Japan, Korea and Indonesia. A current research project supported by the Australia Research Council is concerned with changing representations of technology in both film and television for child and adolescent audiences.
Staff whose research falls within this area: Associate Professor Paul Sheehan
This is an emerging area of research in the department. It contributes to the developing academic discipline of Creative Writing nationally and internationally through published articles that theorise creative writing as practice-led research and through creative writing publications. This research brings together literary theory and writing practice, creative writing in academia and teaching pedagogy, as research in the field of Creative Arts. Additionally, our research has a focus on the social impact of creative writing in the public domain. The research area is actively affiliated at the level of leadership with the national and international Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP). Since 2001 and the introduction of the postgraduate and higher degree programs, the area has developed a significant record of creative writing publications of short fiction, novel, poetry, radio works, creative non-fiction, children's fiction, and drama by staff, graduate and postgraduate students, as well as Creative Writing discipline-based research publications by staff and postgraduate students.