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Dr Alex Tankard

The Heroes We Need: Reimagining Popular Culture and Fanworks. This research focuses on queer and disability representation in popular culture texts, and in creative, critical fanfiction.

This is a very new project that builds upon my previous work on disability, masculinity, and queer history, but focuses on more recent texts with enormous public impact. Superhero movies emphasise representation of extraordinary, dysfunctional, or modified bodies, and highlight the conflicts between pressure to represent diversity and reluctance to depict queer superheroes on screen. My particular focus is the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its associated fanfiction in Archive of Our Own (AO3).

So far, I have researched the phenomenon of ‘queerbaiting’ (where popular media texts imply but fail to deliver queer representation), and presented conference papers on queerness and disability in Captain America and X-Men movies. As my main interest is the representation of historically-specific queer and/ or disabled identities, I focus on films and fanworks with historical settings, or with characters who evolve over several decades: AO3 allows readers to search for fanworks with tags like ‘period-typical homophobia’ and ‘period-typical ableism’.

I have drafted a journal article on ableism and 1940s eugenics in Captain America movies, and I have organised a series of informal lunchtime lectures on pop-culture research across the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, in which students and staff participate together.

As the May 2019 screen adaptation has stimulated an outpouring of queer/ disabled fan engagement, I have just started two essays on Good Omens, with one focusing on the way the adaptation engages with Romantic Satanism and visualises the novel’s queer potential, and another on representations of queer history, including fanfiction that uses Polari. Like the superhero movies, Good Omens depicts fantastical, era-spanning characters whose bodies challenge contemporary assumptions about ability, sexuality, and gender, but the relationship between the 1990 novel and its 2019 screen adaptation (for which one of the original novelists acted as screenwriter) differs drastically from the fragmented, opaque relationship between ‘comic-book movies’ and their (presumed) source material. Researching both sets of texts should illuminate how and why queer and disability representation changes in different ways across time and in specific media.

I am planning a monograph and related journal articles/ book chapters on queer and disability representation in specific films and books, and in their fanfiction.

The lunchtime lecture series will, I hope, eventually become a larger series open to the public (as audience and potentially as speakers). I think one of the best ways to get people thinking about queer and disability critical theory is by discussing texts they already know well – and about which they may already have strong opinions, or even be producing their own fanworks.

As all my previous research was nineteenth-century culture, I have never worked with living authors or audiences, so this new project will be my first opportunity to ask living fans why they write what they write, or why they cross-dress as a particular character at comic-con. For example, why are specific male-presenting characters so often represented by female cosplayers? Why do so many LGBTQIA+ fans love Good Omens? While I have never succeeded in writing fanfiction myself, I have dressed up for comicon plenty of times, so this project could also be an opportunity for autoethnography – a chance to reflect on my fan interests in relation to my own identity.

Perhaps my most important research aim is to analyse fanfiction not only as an expression of fan subcultures, but also as a dynamic, critical, sophisticated literary form in its own right.

English current research

English current research


Dr Harry Parkin’s Surname and place-name study

What are you working on at the moment?

My research focuses on the study of names, especially surnames and place-names. This field, known as onomastics, is interdisciplinary, drawing on linguistic, historical, and geographical knowledge. I have published a dictionary of the place-names of Leeds and was involved in a major research project (Family Names of the United Kingdom) which sought to explain the origins of most of the surnames found in the UK. I also have interests in historical dialectology, using onomastic data to draw new conclusions on Middle English dialect distribution, and in developing and promoting new methodological approaches to surname research. I have a number of recent publications on these topics, including:

Parkin, H. (2018). The value of recent records, historical context, and genealogy in surname research. Nomina 39, 1–20.

Hanks, P., and Parkin, H. (2016). Family names. In C. Hough (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming (pp. 214–236). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parkin, H. (2015). The fourteenth-century poll tax returns and the study of English surname distribution. Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History 48(1), 1–12.

Parkin, H. (2014). The onomastic data of the fourteenth-century poll tax returns: a case for further dialectological study of late medieval English. Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 49(2), 33–61.

Leeds city book cover image

What will you be doing next?

I plan to write a dictionary of the place-names of Chester as part of the English Place-Name Society’s Your City’s Place-Names series. This research will be of onomastic interest due to Chester’s geographical position and linguistic history, with a number of different languages and dialects likely to be reflected in the etymologies and historical forms of the city’s names. In compiling a dictionary of the place-names of Chester, new information on the extent of the linguistic diversity of the area may well come to light.

I will also look further at Middle English dialect distribution by analysing certain features of the names recorded in the fourteenth-century poll tax returns. This research will look to provide a greater level of detail on the distribution of dialect features than other comparable studies. My initial research suggests that the names of the poll tax returns hold different patterns of dialect distribution to those found in other datasets from a similar time.

My research will aim to investigate why this might be the case, and add to the methodological discussion around the use of onomastic data in dialect studies. It is also hoped that by creating a suitable framework for the study of dialect features in lists of historical surnames for forms it will be possible to suggest likely places of origin for documents of unknown provenance.

Dr Ian Seed, Prose Poetry and Literary Translation

What are you working on at the moment?

My fascination with the prose poem as an ‘outsider’ form has led me to write a number of collections of prose poetry and flash fiction, including Makers of Empty Dreams (2014), Identity Papers (2016) and New York Hotel (2018) (TLS Book of the Year). They were all published by Shearsman Books, a leading publisher of contemporary poetry.

I have also published a limited-edition chapbook of prose poetry, Distances (Red Ceilings, 2018) and a limited-edition chapbook of abstract lyrical poetry, Fidelities (Red Ceilings, 2015).

As well as being a creative-writing practitioner of the prose poem, I have written critical articles, for example:

  • On Being Translated’. PN Review, 245 (January-February 2019).
  • ‘Discovery and Rediscovery: A Personal Reflection on Writing the Prose Poem’. The Fortnightly Review (online) (November 2018).
  • ‘Nonsense and Wonder: An Exploration of the Prose Poetry of Jeremy Over’. Without Lines: Essays on the Prose Poem in the UK (ed. Jane Monson) (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018) [5000 words, peer-reviewed].

I gave a paper at the Prose Poetry Forum, Leeds Trinity University, 13 July 2019, on ‘Prose Poetry: An Insider on an Outsider Form’. This was a collaborative project with Dr Jane Monson from the University of Cambridge, and Professors Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton from the University of Canberra, Australia.

I am fascinated by innovative forms of poetry in other languages. It is my hope to bring some of this work to an English-speaking audience. Thus, I undertook the first translation into English of Pierre Reverdy’s 1917 innovative ‘novel in verse’, Le Voleur de Talan. It was published as The Thief of Talant by Wakefield  2016). My introduction to the book provided important framing material by setting  the biographical and cultural context for the translation. The choice of the word ‘Talant’  is intended to convey the dual echo in French of ‘talent’ and the small town of ‘Talant’ near Dijon, thereby evoking the idea of a potential plagiariser from the provinces trying to navigate Paris in the years 1910-17.

In addition I have translated a number of prose poems by Reverdy’s contemporary Max Jacob for the online magazine The Fortnightly Review.

Hotel book cover image

What will you be doing next?

Following on from the critical success of my Shearsman trilogy of prose poetry and flash fiction, I am working on a fourth collection, The Underground Cabaret to turn the trilogy into a quartet.

After a favourable reception to The Thief of Talant  (Wakefield, 2016), the first translation into English of Pierre Reverdy’s 1917 innovative ‘novel in verse’, I am translating Erbamara (Bitter Grass), a collection of poems by prize-winning Italian-Albanian poet, Gëzim Hajdari with the aim of bringing his work to a wider English-speaking audience.

I am also working on a translation of the linguistically‑innovative poems of Italian poet, Ivano Fermini (1948-2004). Fermini’s work is little known either inside or outside Italy. I am hoping to bring his important work to the attention of both Italian and English-speaking audiences.

I am completing a new book of poetry, Operations of Water, based on Dadaist collage techniques.

After my presentation at the Prose Poetry Forum, Leeds Trinity University, on ‘Prose Poetry: An Insider on an Outsider Form’, a collaborative project with Dr Jane Monson from the University of Cambridge, and Professors Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton from the University of Canberra, Australia, I have been invited by Professor Oz Hardwick of Leeds Trinity University, to develop my paper into an article for a planned critical anthology on the prose poem.

Professor Emma Rees, Talking Bodies – an interdisciplinary project with a biennial international conference

What have you done so far?

I’ve hosted four conferences (2013, 2015, 2017 & 2019). Frome this has emerged one book so far, Emma Rees (ed.), Talking Bodies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Embodiment, Gender, and Identity (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and another is imminent. Around 150 people attend each Talking Bodies conference from all over the world.

2017: Emma Dunn’s blogpost and Emma Hutson’s blog

What will you be doing next?

I’m editing The Routledge Companion to Sexuality and Culture.  This book, comprising 40 new essays, will quickly gain a reputation for being the ‘go to’ reference work for Gender Studies activists, scholars, and enthusiasts around the world. The work is truly international – contributors (from a range of levels in terms of their academic careers) are based in no fewer than thirteen countries (Australia, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Dubai, England, Iceland, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Scotland, South Africa, and the USA). It is a radically interdisciplinary work with a polyphony that centres hitherto marginalised topics – and, in some cases, voices, too. The Routledge Companion to Sexuality and Culture promises not only to reflect on dominant theories by drawing from a range of disciplines, but it anticipates, in a world where concepts evolve and gain intellectual traction with astonishing rapidity, how those theories might next develop.

Talking Bodies book cover image

I’m also series editor of Palgrave Studies in (Re)presenting Gender. This is an interdisciplinary series that provides a publication hub for leading researchers in the fields of gender and cultural studies, and related disciplines. What these writers have in common is a desire to explore how ‘gender’ is inhabited, reproduced, and received globally. The series builds to some extent on the first Talking Bodies essay collection (published by Palgrave in December 2017), and anticipates the second (currently in production, edited by Ashton, Bonsall, and Hay). That first collection asked, and found a range of very different answers to, the question: am I my body, or do I have a body? In (Re)presenting Gender, that deceptively simple question is developed: am I my gender, or do I perform my gender? In answering it, special attention will be paid to interdisciplinary and intersectional approaches so that diverse voices can contribute to the debate. The focus in Palgrave Studies in (Re)presenting Gender is on gender and representation, then. The ‘arts’ in their broadest sense – TV, music, film, dance, and performance – and media re-present (where ‘to represent’ is taken in its literal sense of ‘to present again’, or ‘to give back’) gender globally. How this re-presentation might be understood is core to the series. In re-presenting gendered bodies, the contributing authors can shift the spotlight to focus on marginalised individuals’ negotiations of gender and identity. In this way, minority genders, subcultural genders, and gender inscribed on, in, and by queer bodies, take centre stage. When the ‘self’ must participate in and interact with the world through the body, how that body’s gender is talked about – and side-lined or embraced by hegemonic forces – becomes paramount. These processes of representation – how cultures ‘give back’ gender to the individual – are at the heart of this series.

Professor Deborah Wynne, Rediscovering the Brontës

What are you working on at the moment?

My fascination with the work of Charlotte Brontë has led me to look beyond her most popular novel Jane Eyre to discover her less well-known writings, such as her juvenilia, unfinished novels and sketches, fragments of stories and letters. This has resulted in some of my recent and forthcoming publications:

‘Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic Fragment: “The Story of Willie Ellin” 1853’ Victoriographies (forthcoming 2021)

‘Charlotte Brontë and the Politics of Cloth: The “vile rumbling mills” of Yorkshire’, Brontë Studies 43: 1 (January 2018): 89-99

‘Approaching Charlotte Brontë in the Twenty-First Century’, Literature Compass Special Issue: Charlotte Brontë at the Bicentennial, 14:12 (December 2017): 1-8

Charlotte Brontë’s Frocks and Shirley’s Queer Textiles’ in Literary Bric-a-Brac and the Victorians: From Commodities to Oddities (eds) Jonathon Shears and Jan Harrison (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013): 147-163

Approaching Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary in 2016 prompted me to explore her rich legacy and the afterlives of her works since her death. This led to a collaboration with Dr Amber Regis of the University of Sheffield, and we co-edited a book of original essays, Charlotte Brontë: Legacies and Afterlives published by Manchester University Press in 2017 (with the paperback version in 2018).

Legacies and afterlives book cover image

What will you be doing next?

There is still more to say about the literary and cultural worlds of the Brontë family and Dr Regis and I are now co-editing a major volume of essays, The Edinburgh Companion to the Brontës and the Arts, which is contracted with Edinburgh University Press. My chapter will focus on the domestic arts, exploring the ways the sisters’ recorded their writing lives in their diary papers and letters, as well as examining their complex and conflicting representations of domestic life in their novels.

A related project is my monograph, which looks at how Charlotte Brontë and her friend and fellow author Elizabeth Gaskell engaged with the textile industries of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Both writers were fascinated by the ‘politics of cloth’, whether the manufacture of cotton and woollen textiles, or the sewing done by women professionally or for leisure. This research links with my ‘Textiles Stories Project’ and its public engagement activities (for more information about this see my blog: ).