Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Jessica Sage, who recently finished her PhD in the department, has responded to the recent debate about Penguin’s new cover for Charlie and Chocolate Factory, which received widespread news coverage this week.
Cover from Jess
Drawing on her research into children’s literature and photographs of children taken by Charles Dodgson she wrote a comment piece questioning the assumptions made by the disagreement over whether the cover was appropriate or not, which was picked up by the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association and published on their blog.
The blog piece came about with a helping hand from Twitter, with tweets from fellow academics suggesting and contacting groups that could host the piece whilst it was still being written.  Jessica said ‘It was the first time I’ve written in this way, getting comments on my ideas even as they’re being drafted.  The response since it was published has also been great, with suggestions for further thinking and alternative reading.  An academic paper has also been mooted, which if nothing else is a great confidence-builder for an Early Career Researcher  knee deep in job applications.’
You can read the whole piece here.
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An academic placement in our university archives

Lucy Nicholson, one of this year’s academic placement students, writes:

During the spring term of this year, I became interested in completing an academic placement for one of my English modules: ‘Women’s writing and feminist theory’ and thus after more research and discussion with Dr Cindy Becker I decided it would be a thoroughly interesting and exciting project to undertake as an undergraduate student.

My academic placement was specifically an archival research project, which researched the ideology behind feminist theory in relation to the representation of women in the children’s classics Ladybird books.  This meant I was basing my research around my module requirements in an area of my choice.  This was a perfect topic of research for me since being fascinated with ladybird books from an early age, the nostalgia I felt when being reunited from a favourite pastime was highly rewarding. This was complimented by the knowledge that the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL, on the London road campus) has one of the largest Ladybird book collections in the UK, so I was rather spoilt with a choice of vintage to modern Ladybird publications.

Shopping with mother

I spent a lot of my time researching in MERL in between lectures and seminars; however, this wasn’t a problem since the museum is a short 15-minute walk from the University campus. From here I was able to read through different Ladybird books and write down my findings, which then allowed me to narrow my topic to ‘The Ladybird Woman: At home and at work: 1950s-1970s.’ After my research was complete I was able to divide my information into different topics, for example the representation of race in Ladybird books. This was particularly interesting since little associations to other races were shown in the earlier publications except through politically incorrect images such as a ‘black doll in a maids outfit’.  My excitement to research the Ladybird publications was ever growing, even leading me to visit a local exhibition on the subject. My excitement arguably was even verging on obsessive, where I have rather humorously been known as the ‘Ladybird Lady’ on several accounts; I have enjoyed this association however since I am a proud fan!

My final piece was in a report format and professionally bounded which would be my assessed piece for my module. This was another benefit of the placement since sometimes feeling ‘left in the dark’ with English essays, a report gave me more freedom and the confidence to achieve a good grade in overall. I would highly recommend an academic placement whether it is in archival research or in a real working environment since it is a great addition to your CV and I believe is a valuable skill to obtain for future job prospects and researching for projects ie dissertations. I definitely will think about completing an academic placement again.

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Animated about learning

Cindy Becker writes:

Over the summer we are creating a series of module outline screencasts, ready to welcome our new students in the autumn. This has led to some interesting discussions amongst colleagues about the best format for these screencasts; as a result I am exploring animated screencasts for our students. Although a more formal approach, with plenty of information, seems appropriate for core areas of the curriculum, advice on other matters might, I think, usefully be offered in a less formal way.

So far I have produced two of these screencasts:

Screenshot academic placement screencast


Screenshot careers learning screencast


If you would like to offer suggestions of any other areas about which we could produce similar screencasts, do get in touch on

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Nicola is still with us!!

Nicola Abram 0068
To anyone who read my post last week, I’m delighted to report that I survived my first skydive! Falling through the skies above Salisbury was a brilliant experience, and one I’ll be raving about in the corridors of HumSS this week.
Nicola Abram 0076
Some of us get to do extreme things as ‘sport’; others live risky lives without having the luxury of choice. So I used my skydive to raise funds for people exploited in the Reading sex industry – and I’m thrilled that the team has already raised over £1,000 thanks to the generosity of colleagues, friends and family. If anyone would still like to donate to the wonderful Rahab Project, you can at 
Nicola Abram 0146
Huge thanks to all for your sponsorship and support. Feel free to join me next time!
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If you happen to be strolling around our department…

If you are thinking of coming along to meet us and get to know our department at one of our open days, you might like to wander down to our ground floor corridor. Opposite room G16 we have a new noticeboard with notices giving information about our academic placement scheme, which is available to any undergraduate taking our modules.

placement notices

We have included on the board (in the bright pink notes you can see in the picture) plenty of examples of recent academic placements, so that you can get a good idea of what students get up to once they join us in the Department of English Literature!





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The secret life of lecturers

Lecturers live many lives. We are teachers, researchers, administrators, event organisers, project managers, PR officers, and sometimes even journalists or broadcasters. You might be surprised by what we get up to outside work, too. Next weekend, I’ll be jumping out of a small plane 10,000ft about the earth’s surface, to raise money for a charity I believe in very strongly: the Rahab Project.

Rahab offers support to anyone involved in the sex industry in Reading. I’ve been volunteering on its night outreach team for more than 3 years, during which I’ve met many interesting and engaging people living in very complex circumstances. No two stories are ever the same, but often these women fall through the cracks between other voluntary and statutory services – that’s where Rahab is invaluable, by offering simply to walk alongside someone as they take steps towards a different life. I can trace my involvement with Rahab to my undergraduate and postgraduate studies in feminism and postcolonialism, when I developed a commitment to social justice. So I’m delighted that one of our 2014 graduates, Anja Nielsen (BA English Literature and International Relations), is now undertaking a Santander internship at Rahab. You can find more info on Rahab’s work here:


The prospect of skydiving is fairly terrifying, but it’s worth it for a cause I’m so committed to. If any of you would like to show your support for Rahab by giving financially, now’s your chance! You can donate by visiting my fundraising page, here: Any amount you can give really does help; even a few pounds contributes towards an evening’s outreach, buying drinks and chocolate bars to show people we care. And you can rest assured that all funds go directly to Rahab – I’m paying for the pleasure (?!) of free fall myself!

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New Commission on Science and Literature

John Holmes writes:

Earlier this month I went to the conference of the new Commission on Science and Literature at the National Hellenic Research Foundation in Athens. The Commission – or CoSciLit – is part of the Division of the History of Science and Technology (DHST) of the International Union for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IUHPST). As Chair of the British Society for Literature and Science (BSLS), I had been asked to support the foundation of CoSciLit. Its aim is to provide an international forum for research into literature and science, and to demonstrate to scientists and historians of science how important literature is to thinking about what science means, now and over time. Literature is a key source for the history of science. At the same time, it is and has always been the perfect device for refracting the apparently clear light of science into a multitude of different colours, shades and wavelengths.

I was looking forward to the conference very much. It lived up to my expectations. The range of papers was tremendous. I listened to talks by literary scholars from Britain, America and France, scientists and historians of science from Greece, Germany and Austria, and the poet and physicist Iggy McGovern from Ireland. Topics included dinosaurs in American frontier fiction, eighteenth-century satires on the Royal Society, Emily Dickinson’s response to Charles Darwin, mesmerism in nineteenth-century Greece, sexology in civil war Spain, and contradictions in the physics of Jules Verne’s Around the Moon. My own talk was on evolution in modernist epic poems by Ezra Pound, David Jones and Ronald Duncan. It was fascinating to hear so many different examples of literature engaging with science, and of literary analysis shedding light on the science itself. I was especially glad to have the chance to see this from the perspectives of scientists themselves, and from so many different countries. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learnt from the conference as a whole was that science maybe international, but it is conducted in different national contexts, which shape what science is done, what discoveries are made, and how they are seen.

On the last day of the conference I was appointed along with the organizers, George Vlahakis and Kostas Tampakis, to a small committee charged with putting in place a constitution for the Commission and holding the first elections to its official executive committee next year. We’ve also been asked to start planning CoSciLit’s future, including another conference in a couple of years, and its involvement in the next of the DHST’s huge fourth-yearly congresses in Rio de Janeiro in 2017. (The last one was last year in – less excitingly, but very appropriately – Manchester.) I am looking forward very much to working with George and Kostas to help build on the foundations they have laid, and to get more literary scholars, scientists and historians from around the world involved in the rich discussions they have begun with their excellent conference.

If you’d like to find out more about the plans for CoSciLit as they develop, and more widely about work being done and conferences being held on literature and science, take a look at the websites for CoSciLit and the BSLS.

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Matthew Sperling: a publication and review update

Matthew writes:
I’ve had a couple of pieces published online in recent days: my review of new poetry books by Paul Batchelor, Oli Hazzard and Toby Martinez de las Rivas, which was published in last week’s New Statesman, has now gone online, and my short piece for Apollo magazine about Paul Pfeiffer’s Jerusalem, a work of online art about the 1966 World Cup final, was published today, just in time for the 2014 final.
I was also delighted to find the distinguished poet Ian Duhig speaking kindly of my monograph, Visionary Philology, in two recent pieces online: first in Poetry magazine’s ‘Reading List’ feature (‘Sperling demonstrates how the etymologies of Hill’s rich vocabulary shimmer in harmonics around his chosen words’) and next in an interview with the webjournal Compose, in answer to a question about advice he would give to emerging poets:

I’ve just read, and can recommend, Matthew Sperling’s Visionary Philology on Geoffrey Hill’s poetry. It is very good at uncovering the larger etymological patterns behind Hill’s vocabulary, mined over the decades of his career. That would be what I’d emphasize for the poets starting out you mention, to develop the kind of focus that lets you see the true depth of what is beneath you…

Visionary Philology

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Early Modern Research Centre conference

Earlier this week, 85 academics from around the world gathered at the University of Reading for the three-day Reading Early Modern Studies Conference. This annual conference – first held 25 years ago — brings together scholars working on history, literature and the arts from 1500-1750.

Michelle EM drama(Early Modern Drama panel: Helen Good, Adrian Blamires, Morwena Carr)

The line up this year was more international than ever: delegates attended from India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, Australia, Serbia, Croatia, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands as well as the UK. We heard papers on an astonishingly wide array of subjects, including experiments with gunpowder, the use of beards in stage plays, proper names scrawled in Bibles, drinking and fighting in ale-houses, Henry VIII’s love letters, and religious ideas about bad weather.

Early Modern Letter image

(Early Modern Letter panel: Tesa Whitehouse, Kara Northway, Thomas Charlton)

Professor Randall McLeod (University of Toronto) and Professor Tony Claydon (Bangor University) gave plenary lectures that made us consider ordinary things – books and time — in extraordinary ways.

Plenary speaker Professor Tony Claydon

(Plenary Speaker: Professor Tony Claydon)

The three days of the conference were sociable as they were  intellectually stimulating and we’re looking forward to next year’s event already (date for your diary: 6-8 July, 2015). For more details about the EMRC and its work, take a look at our webpage.

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‘What is with Alice?’ Jess Sage’s paper in detail.

Following a very successful research seminar run by CIRCL (Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media), Jess Sage’s paper, entitled ‘What is with Alice?’ has raised interest more widely. As a result of this we are delighted to be able to offer the full text version of the talk here.

What is With Alice – Jess Sage


Our congratulations to Jess on such a well received piece of research.

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