Postcolonial and World Literatures

The study of postcolonial or international literatures in English has been carried out within the Faculty of English at Oxford since the early 1990s. World literature and postcolonial literary studies now forms a leading research area in the Faculty, which was consolidated in 2013 with the establishment of the MSt in World literature in English. We have a distinguished record in particular in postcolonial theory, global history at the time of empire, postcolonial book history, and in South Asian and southern African literatures in English. At any one time around 18 doctoral students on average research in the area, on topics ranging from South East Asian literature through to Caribbean aesthetics.

Started by Professor Robert J. C. Young in the 1990s, the renamed "Postcolonial Writing and Theory Seminars" take place at Wadham College. Convened by Professors Boehmer and Mukherjee, the seminar is a hub for postcolonial scholars and researchers across the Humanities, extending from MSt students through to senior researchers. The seminars have long fostered some of the objectives that faculties and divisions are now setting as targets, namely: the increased visibility of postcolonial and critical race studies scholarship; the increased visibility of Black and POC scholars, authors, teachers; ongoing critical inquiry on the role of the Western university (and our own humanities and social sciences subjects) in perpetuating or combating Eurocentrism, white supremacy and privilege; ongoing interrogation of historical and structural inequalities and the importance of literary and historical study in this inquiry; and the colonial centre-periphery divide that structures compulsory and elective work in a given discipline.

In recent years the seminar has featured papers by Emily Apter, Pheng Cheah, Anna Bernard, Ato Quayson, Abdulrazak Gurnah, David Palumbo-Liu, Tayeb Salih and Joseph Slaughter, and has also hosted a range of lectures and readings by eminent postcolonial and international writers, including J.M. Coetzee (in 2009 and 2014), Tsitsi Dangarembga, Kamila Shamsie and Hisham Matar.

The Faculty has hosted several successful research projects in the world literature area, including the Leverhulme-funded Planned Violence: Postcolonial Cities and Literature international network project (2014-16), and Postcolonial Text, World Form (Fell-funded), a research project led by Professor Elleke Boehmer which launched in December 2016, and now forms the hub of the flagship Writers Make Worlds website exploring questions of reading Black and Asian British writing today. Supported by an AHRC Leadership Fellows grant, Professor Ankhi Mukherjee's research project, The Psychic Life of the Poor (2017-2018), hosted graduate workshops titled "Humanitarian Fictions" and an international conference, "Global Hungers," keynoted by Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Professor Leela Gandhi. Professor Elleke Boehmer convenes the Southern Lives research project (2020-21), funded by a British Academy Small Grant, which explores life-writing as a tool for understanding Global South experience. 

World map

Oxford offers exceptional resources for anyone interested in doing substantial research into the history of colonialism and its postcolonial and global aftermaths. It is home to the second largest living archive in the United Kingdom, the Bodleian Library and its many affiliates, including the Centre for the Study of the Book. With Oxford University Press, Pearson Education, Macmillan, Wiley-Blackwell, the African Books Collective and Oneworld all based in the city, Oxford is also one of the major centres of the contemporary Anglophone publishing world.

The MSt strand World Literatures in English offers students the opportunity to investigate leading questions and debates in colonial, postcolonial, transnational and global literary studies through the medium of taught courses and a dissertation.

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