Neil Cocks is running barefoot.

This would make an excellent title for an academic novel, but in this case we mean it literally.

Neil Cocks is running the Oxfordshire Three Spires Challenge half-marathon in his bare feet to raise money for the Ollie Young foundation, a charity that we feel a strong connection to because of  Jean Call’s work.

If you would like to support Neil in his fundraising, you can donate through his Justgiving page.

(I’m sure donations of blister cream and plasters will be welcome too.)

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Dr. John Scholar, our new colleague, introduces himself.

I’m delighted to be joining the Department of English Literature as a Lecturer, my first permanent academic job. I’m only coming 25 miles down the road as I’ve recently been at Oxford University, as PhD student, postdoc, and then lecturer. I’ve also studied in London University (at Birkbeck College and the LSE). My last permanent job was in my twenties when I spent three years working as an economist in The Treasury, under Gordon Brown. My first week in this job has been political in a different way: I was on strike before setting foot in my new office, which was a strange way to start, but since then I’ve really enjoyed meeting new colleagues and students, and finding my way around this green campus.  

My research bridges Victorian and modern literature, looking at how intellectual history can help us understand the changing form of the novel. I am currently finishing my first book Henry James and the Art of the Impression which places fiction and non-fiction of Henry James in dialogue with an interdisciplinary history of the ‘impression’, drawing in philosophy, psychology, the visual arts and modern critical theory. My interest in the relationship between literature and philosophy has also prompted work exploring how continental philosophy (Heidegger, Bergson) can historicize modernist form in James Joyce’s Ulysses, especially its representation of the material world and the ‘stream of consciousness’. I am a convenor of the Oxford Phenomenology Network, which promotes interdisciplinary discussions relating to phenomenological theory and practice. I am also interested more broadly in the fin-de-siècle, modernism, and narrative theory.  

I’m really looking forward to teaching a variety of modules: with Year 1, ‘Poetry in English’ and ‘Genre and Context’, with Year 2, ‘Restoration to Revolution: 1660-1789’, and, with Year 3, ‘Decadence and Degeneration: Literature of the 1880s and 1890s’. I convene a Year 3 module called ‘Modern “isms”: From Realism to Modernism’. And I am supervising Year 3 dissertations on science fiction, slavery literature in South Africa, contemporary black British female subjectivities, Orwell, and Woolf. 

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Dr Anna Maerker (KCL), Interpreting the preserved body: Making intelligible specimens in nineteenth-century anatomy


The representation of the body in three dimensions is crucial for artistic practice as well as for medical education, and anatomists and artists have long resorted to a wide range of practices and materials to represent the visual and haptic qualities of flesh. But how can we keep flesh looking (and feeling) like itself? How should we preserve flesh for the purposes of medical education? The paper will investigate the practices and publications of nineteenth-century anatomists such as Frederick and Robert Knox to highlight practical and conceptual issues of anatomical preservation. Medical researchers generally agreed on the central role of anatomical and pathological collections for teaching and research. However, preservation techniques posed significant challenges: chemicals caused discolouration, and they distorted the shapes and textures of body parts; dry specimens attracted dust and pests. How could the risk of misinterpretation of such faulty representations be minimised? The paper will highlight how anatomists responded to problems of intelligibility with a range of responses, from technological fixes to user education.

Dr Maerker’s talk will be giving at 5pm on 10th May, in Edith Morley G44.

All welcome

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Reminder: Tony Watkins Annual lecture

This annual lecture commemorating the academic work of Tony Watkins will take place on Thursday May 3rd at 6 pm in Edith Morley (formerly HUMSS Building) room  44.

The eminent critical psychologist Dr Jan De Vos will speak on ‘Digitalizing childhood: leading the child via its synapses to a psychologized virtuality’

Dr De Vos explains that the lecture will consider the following:

There is a substantial overlap between the discourses and the practices of neuro-education (attempting to ground education/parenting in neuroscience) and the digitalisation of education (schooling or parenting). An illustrative example is IBM’s “learning analytics” and its, mainly, metaphoric, recourse to neuro-terms, speaking of “neuromorphic hardware”, “brain-inspired algorithms”, “neurosynaptic chip”. One can furthermore observe that “learning platforms” most centrally address psycho-social issues such as empathy and social skills: this is at play on the discernible and visible level (of for example the virtual architecture of the platform) but also on the more hidden level of the algorithms and codes that give form to and direct the interactions. Education and schooling, seemingly, are psychologized via digitalization. Also in the field of the so-called “parenting apps” one can discern how digitalization connects to the (neuro)psychological: the app “Vroom”, for example, advertises with the claim “Vroom turns shared moments into brain building moments”. Or, digital technology turns human interactions into an issue of brain-regions and brain chemistry: the digital app neurologizes childhood and parenting.

In this lecture I will explore how the child (and its parents and educators), is led to the digital via a rationale which understands childhood from the (psycho)neurological paradigm. Digitalization, thus, as the heir of (neuro)psychologization?

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Debate and doughnuts: Why are some wages more equal than others?

No matter your political agenda, staff and students alike are
invited to a two-hour drop-in session to discuss the gender pay
gap and issues of equal pay.

Find out what your university has to say on:
Tuesday 8th May at 12-2 p.m. in Miller G05.
Doughnuts and drinks included!
Please contact Dr Maddi Davies for more information.

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Our current M(Res) in Children’s Literature student Kristy Keller has won second prize in the category ‘First Pages’ at the Swedish ‘Stockholm Writer’s Festival’ with her children’s detective novel Harper Holloway and the Disappearance of Arabella Sent Many congratulations, Kristy!

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Our alumna, Bea Fitzgerald, on moving from a degree in English literature to a career in publishing

Are you wondering which careers might follow a degree in English literature? Bea Fitzgerald graduated from the University of Reading with a first-class degree in English literature in 2017, and has recently embarked on a career in publishing. Here, she talks here about her time at Reading and on how she chose her career path…

What’s your current role, and what do you enjoy most about it?
I’m a Marketing Assistant at the publishing company, Scholastic. I work on lots of different business areas but mainly education and that includes the thing we’re best known for – Scholastic Book Fairs. My favourite part is probably book fair social media because I get to see schools sharing pictures and stories of their Book Fairs and aside from being really cute, I love seeing kids that would never get taken to a book shop get books from their school. The constant free books floating around the office are also a big plus.

In what ways did your degree in English help to prepare you for the career you have now?
I loved my English degree and if I could do it again (though preferably without the assessment) I definitely would. The best part was going to seminars and study groups and just talking about books. Most of my best essay ideas came from just talking to my course friends about books and my favourite parts of them. In a nutshell, marketing in publishing is getting paid to talk about books – just in various forms like social media, emails, posters, events and hundred of other ways. My degree encouraged to embrace my passion for books and let me ramble on excitedly about the topics that interested me which was the perfect lead into my job. Between second and third year I got an internship at Mills & Boon – a placement I got because I’d worked on the archives down at the London Road campus.

What advice would you give someone thinking about studying English at university?
I was the first in my family to go to uni and my parents were really not keen on me doing English. Law had a direct career path in a way English didn’t but doing any subject you love keeps your options open. I was always going to study law at uni until my school started talking us through personal statements and I found myself planning it for English. All their “talk about what you love!” just didn’t apply to law the same way. If you have a subject, like English, that excites you then go for it – you’ll never get as a high a grade in something you aren’t passionate about and as stressful as uni sometimes was I never lost interest in my subject. I even still enjoy the books I studied for my dissertation! Study the subject you enjoy and figure the rest out later – especially with all the help available at the uni.

Do you have any tips on how to get into a career in publishing?
Publishing is one of the most competitive industries out there. It can be quite demoralising job hunting in it because each entry level role has so many applicants. The good thing is that the industry is awakening to this problem and encouraging applicants from different backgrounds with transferable skills. My back up plan was always to get any marketing job and then to move across. It’s hard to get in but once you are it is so, so worth it. It’s also full of some of the nicest people I’ve ever met! I’d recommend joining the Society of Young Publishers if you want to get into publishing and going to some of the events (everything from lectures to pub quizzes). The website is

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We wish Jean Call a long and happy retirement

We all know that a friendly, professional support team is as vital to a department as dedicated teachers and lively, questioning students. The Department of English Literature at Reading is very fortunate in our support team, and so we are a little sad in wishing one of our longest-serving members a long and happy retirement.

In her twenty-seven years with us, Jean Call has adjusted to endless changes in what we do and how we do it, and at every point she has been a tremendous asset. Generations of nervous first-years have received authoritative advice on how to change a module or submit an essay; generations of forgetful academics have also been reminded of how our systems work. Many thousands of marks and scripts have been processed with great care and accuracy. In many of our most vital tasks, Jeans has enabled the Department to function.

Behind the scenes, Jean has held things together in ways that were never in the job description. On open days and visit days, many of them on Saturday, Jean set things up in advance and was the last to leave at the end of the day. And we now know that the reason our department tea-towels and dishcloths are so fiercely white is because Jean took them home for a proper boil-wash. When students turned up to the department in distress, Jean would not let them wander off until a plan of care was put in place. She looked after ‘my Part 1s’ (as she always called them) as people that she cared about on a human level.

We have also caught glimpses of her creative side: the knitted nativity scene, the prize-winning ‘Pudsey’ cake, and (combining two talents!) the knitted birthday cake. She has built-in spirit-level vision that is invaluable to anyone putting up posters. Jean also allowed us to know of a family tragedy in an inspiring way, by inviting us to become involved in the Ollie Young foundation, whether by buying cakes or by running marathons barefoot.

In many important ways, and in all sorts of less visible but lovely ways, Jean has been an essential part of us. All of us, staff and students, will miss her.

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Modernist Periodicals Reading Group

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Sarah MacDougall, ‘Rediscovering the Whitechapel Girl’

A free public lecture as part of the exhibition, ‘Colours more than sentences’: Illustrated editions of The Ballad of Reading Gaol. 

Clare Winsten (1894-1989) was the sole female member of the ‘Whitechapel Boys’, a group of artists and poets who emerged from the Anglo-Jewish communities of East London in the early 20th century. In 1968 she drew a series of illustrations for an unpublished edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Three of these are currently on display at the Berkshire Record Office as part of an exhibition of illustrated Ballads.
Art historian Sarah MacDougall (Eva Frankfurther Research Fellow and Curator of the Ben Uri Gallery), will be sharing her new research on Clare Winsten.

Thursday 19 April at 6pm

Admission is free, but please book by email to

Berkshire Record Office, 9 Coley Avenue, Reading RG1 6AF

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