Research Strategy: Oxford English Faculty 2023-27

The English Faculty at Oxford identifies its research as falling within the scope of the British Academy’s acronym, SHAPE (‘Social Sciences And Humanities for People and the Economy/Environment’) which captures both the unique and vital shaping power of our discipline and its necessary interdependence with other Social Sciences and Humanities.

The Faculty’s overall strategic research aims for 2023-27 are:

  • to enable our academic staff at all levels, from Early Career Researchers to Emeritus Professors, to realise their research goals, whether through writing and publication, interdisciplinary collaboration, engagement with public-facing institutions and platforms, or any combination of these.
  • to support our academic staff in funding applications, internal and external, as well as international collaboration through the Research Director, Professor Lorna Hutson, and our Research Facilitators, Rachel ByrneAndrea Thomson, and Dr Anbara Khalidi.
  • to offer a stimulating and supportive research environment for doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers, and our research community at large through the events, conversations and collaboration opportunities afforded by our research seminars and research centres.
  • to connect teaching and research in an integrated continuum of interpretation, analysis and creativity that reaches beyond the academy into all kinds of mediated cultural experience through publication, performance, public and private sector collaboration, and Knowledge Exchange.
  • to preserve the historical scope of English Literature as discipline (from Old English in the 7th century to contemporary ‘Global English’) within which to foster a wide variety of interpretive, scholarly and creative research projects. These we group provisionally within four strategic research priorities
  1. Core Strengths
  2. Interdisciplinarity
  3. Global Inclusivity
  4. Reading and Performative Futures
  1. We identify as core strengths essential to research in our discipline the historical study of languages and literatures of the British Isles from the 7th century to the present; textual interpretation; literary analysis (close reading; translation, etc.); linguistic history and analysis; creative writing and criticism; life writing; scholarly editing; archival and material explorations; theoretical reflection; the study of drama and performance.
  2. Through our core strengths we foster interdisciplinarity in the sense of the generation of rich, interrogative, interdisciplinary framings of literary interpretation as contributions to broader questions, analyses and creative practices.
  3. By global inclusivity we understand the commitment of our research in every area and period to understanding the historically formative power of English literature as an imperial and postcolonial literature, while encouraging the widest possible response to, use of and recreation of its imaginative resources.
  4. We are increasingly engaged in developing reading and performative futures. This is our term for outward-facing work which engages with different material forms of reading, writing, viewing and performance, whether historically or through new technologies.  

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Research in the English Faculty at Oxford builds on a tradition of commitment to broad and deep historical understanding, from the early languages and literatures of the British Isles to the global English of the present. Our Research Strategy therefore involves the development, dissemination and application of the core research skills enabling historical textual interpretation such as literary criticism; history of the language; linguistic analysis; translation; scholarly editing; palaeography and manuscript transcription; creative writing and criticism; life writing; archival and material explorations; theoretical reflection; the study of drama and performance. 


English literature is situated at a particularly felicitous crossroads of potential interdisciplinary encounter, given the reliance of so many other disciplines and institutional discourses, whether pre-modern, modern or post-modern, on the expressivity of tropes and figures. Across the Faculty, interdisciplinary engagement is very widespread, involving aesthetics and philosophy; environmental humanities; anthropology; law; histories of sexuality and gender; social and material histories; book history; emotion theory; cognitive science; war and memory studies; medical humanities; histories of cross-cultural exchange, travel, trade, and racecraft; translation and transculturality; sociologies of ageing; histories of natural philosophy (alchemy, astronomy); histories of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. The analysis of literature is by definition interdisciplinary and outward-facing. Depth of disciplinary expertise as identified in (1) is what enables (2): the generation of rich, outward-facing, interdisciplinary framings of literary analysis as contributions to broader questions, analyses and practices. 


The historical emergence of English as a world language and English literature as a literature of the imperial and postcolonial centre means that for many other Anglophone or English-dominated countries English has been formative of colonial subjectivities from the early modern period to the twentieth century and exists now as a literary heritage and resource for writers from a wide range of nations and cultures. The Faculty is growing and diversifying its strengths in world literature, with particular concentrations of expertise in South Asian, Caribbean and Black British Literature. Individual researchers in the Oxford English Faculty engage with postcolonial interrogations of canonicity; postcolonial experiences of war; postcoloniality in environmental humanities; the Global South; indigeneity; issues of migration and belonging; concepts and representations of racialisation and modern life. Recognising the world language status of English within research priorities is not limited to the distinguished work of the Faculty in postcolonial studies. It registers the formative power of English literature in (for example) the racial and gender hierarchies of our contemporary world and the commitment of our research in every area and period to understanding that formative power, while facilitating the widest possible access to its imaginative resources.  


The technologies of reading, writing and print are studied in their varied material forms and historical contingency in the Oxford English Faculty, alongside histories of oral and embodied performance practices. Research in imaginative literature inevitably engages with the material and technological form of its own production and transmission. As well as work on the histories of material and theatrical forms – scribal creativity; marginal annotations; revisions in manuscripts; writing processes, the social lives of books; theatrical companies; dance; celebrity and spectacle – researchers in the English Faculty are responding to contemporary changes in technologies of reading, film, communication, and multi-media performance via short-form reading apps, AI games, interactive augmented reality technology and machine learning. This aspect of our research strategy is outward-looking, interacting with creative industries, theatre companies, artists, schools and other parts of the public and private sector.