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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A huge thank you to our alumni…

Since 2006, the Department of English Literature has maintained a growing database of the contact details of those of our alumni who are happy to be contacted by current students to talk about their careers. This has led to very fruitful email conversations about how to break into the career market, how to target a particular career and how to make the most of your time at university.

Careers 1


This year, we decided to ask our alumni if they would be prepared to help us even further; we asked them to send us their snippets of advice to pass on to our current undergraduates. We were, not unexpectedly, showered with goodwill and good advice for our students and so we decided to make the most of such generous support.

Careers 2


We made posters. HUGE posters – and pinned them up along our main departmental corridor. They have certainly created plenty of interest at our recent open days, but, more than that, they let our students know that we care about their future success and we are able to offer them not only practical help now, but also a helping hand reaching out to them from our alumni. It really is a pleasure to know that our graduates turn into such nice professionals.

Careers 3


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Congratulations to our students!

The Department of English Literature is celebrating some of our best results in finals this year. Many congratulations to all our students, who will be graduating next week. Well over 90% of them are leaving the University of Reading with a 2.1 or higher, with 18% awarded First Class degrees. Our external examiners were especially complimentary this year too, drawing attention to our wide range of innovative modules, and saying how much they enjoyed reading dissertations on everything from Dracula to deconstruction.


This is the first year when students are graduating on the English Literature with Creative Writing pathway too. The students on this degree write a piece of creative work for their dissertation.  Of the 15 students who took this option this year, 7 got first-class marks for their dissertation. This is a great acknowledgement of the standard of fiction and poetry written by the students at Reading. With two new appointments from September, we’re looking forward to giving even more students the chance to develop their creative writing.

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Successful bid for a new Teaching and Learning project

We are delighted to announce that Cindy Becker is one in a team of three which has been successful in bidding for a Teaching and Learning Development Fund maxi project (£30K over two years). She will be working alongside Emma Mayhew (Politics and Economics) and David Nutt (Chemistry) in a project entitled GRASS (Generating Resources and Access to Screen capture Software).


The project’s central aim is to enable, enhance and support access to screen capture technology across the University. Drawing on a range of successful pilot projects run by the Departments of Politics, Economics, English Literature and Chemistry the GRASS project will support the use of screen capture technology in order to enable further adoption of innovative approaches including ‘the flipped classroom’ and study support screencasts but also video feedback and the use of screencasts for assessment.

Our department already runs a YouTube channel with a selection of screencasts on it.


If you would like to talk about how screencasts could be useful in your own teaching, or you are interested in working with Cindy on screencasts as teaching/assessment aids, please contact her on

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Academic placements in 2013-14

As always, we were pleased to welcome a group of keen students to our part two Communications at Work module, and they undertook a range of placements across marketing, commerce, charities and journalism.

In addition, all students can undertake academic placements linked to any English Literature module they are taking. This is a selection of those placements for this year:

  • Two students went to Reading Repertory Theatre Company for the second-year ‘Modern Drama’ module, one looking at marketing and the other at the way the fourth wall works in modern drama.
  • A student wrote articles for Today magazine for the third-year ‘Black British Fiction’ module.
  • Exploring the Berkshire Record Office helped a third-year student on the ‘Decadence and Degeneration’ module write a placement report on insanity, poverty, class and the female criminal.
  • The ‘three-minute novel’ broadcasts on the Junction 11 radio station were a great success for a student on our second-year module ‘Nineteenth Century Novel’.
  • ‘How does Waterstones package literature?’ was the title of the placement report by one of our third-year students on the ‘Packaging Literature’ module.
  •  The ‘Jane Austen and the Courtship Novel’ module lent itself well to a placement at Chawton House, Jane Austen’s former home.
  • Two of our Creative Writing Pathway students undertook to design and edit this year’s creative writing anthology and produced placement reports focusing on this creative process.
  • Our second-year ‘Modernism’ module allowed three students to undertake academic placements in the archives and special collections here at the university.
  • One student who had successfully completed an academic placement last year chose to do another one this year: this time as part of the module ‘Sex and Sensibility’
  • Reading Repertory Theatre Company also took an academic placement student from our ‘Shakespeare on Film’ third-year module, giving her the chance to compare portrayals of madness on film and on stage.
  • We saw two students on our second-year ‘Women’s Writing’ module undertake placements in the library archives. One looked at depictions of femininity in Mills and Boon publications over several decades, whilst the other considered images of motherhood offered by Ladybird books.
  • This year, for the first time, students were given the chance to carry out independent research and produce screencasts as placement outcomes. Four students rose to the challenge and they produced screencasts on Shakespeare on Film, Victorian Women’s poetry and the connections that might be made between poetry and science in the Victorian Age.
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Samuel Beckett’s Murphy notebooks on display today

We are proud to announce that for the first time in their history, Samuel Beckett’s six unpublished Murphy notebooks will be on public display within the Special Collections Service at the Museum of English Rural Life on Redlands Road today, 11th June 2014,  from 12.30pm-7pm.

As such, we would like to invite all students and members of staff within the Department of English Literature to take the time to visit this wonderful new resource, which will become available for public consultation from 1st October 2014.


Two scholars in the department, John Pilling and Andrew Nash, have been working painstakingly on the notebooks for many months, transcribing the work and converting it into electronic form. The emergence of the notebooks into the public eye, and the scholarship leading to it, has been noted, with articles in both the Guardian and BBC online.


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The challenge of evolution in Victorian poetry

John Holmes’s essay ‘The challenge of evolution in Victorian poetry’ has just been published in Evolution and Victorian Culture, edited by Bernard Lightman and Bennett Zon. This is the first book to take a look at the  significance of evolutionary thinking across the arts in the Victorian period, from fiction to dance, cinema to architecture. To take a look inside, and get a flavour of the book and its coverage, visit the CUP page for the book by clicking here.

Evolution and victorian culture

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Swapping children

A piece by Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein commenting on the case in South Africa on two babies swapped at birth has been published in the Guardian’s ‘Comment for Free’ online publication. Professor Lesnik-Oberstein was invited to write the piece as a result of her expertise in this area, demonstrated in her publication On Having an Own Child: Reproductive Technologies and the Cultural Construction of Childhood (London: Karnac Books, 2008), where she considers more widely why people use reproductive technologies and how and why they define a child as their ‘own’.

On having an own child - Karin Lesnik-Oberstein


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