Defending, Advocating, Promoting: The Value and Importance of Literary Study

Chair Dr Ben Davies, University of Portsmouth

Dr James Paz, University of Manchester – Speaking for the Past

Dr Naomi Krüger, University of Central Lancaster – Critical, Technical and Creative: Teaching Creative Writing at the interface between Language and Literature

Dr Rose Harris-Birtill, University of St Andrews – Literature as “alternative facts”: the importance of English Studies in the “post-truth” era

Dr Asha Rogers, University of Birmingham – ‘Shared Futures/Shared Pasts: State Supported Literature in Britain

Questions concerning the value, use and importance of the study of literature, language and creative writing are not new; indeed, such pursuits have long been on the defensive. However, with the passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill over the past eighteen months in particular, such questions have been posed once more with added weight and political force. Correlatively, subject bodies such as University English and the English Association have had to remake the cases for, and defence of, the study of English Literature, Language and Creative Writing. Crucially, such bodies have had to make their case against the backdrop of ‘post-truth’ politics and attacks – implicit and explicit – on ‘experts’ more generally. In the US, the Trump administration directly called into questioning the value of the Arts and Humanities through its attempt to defund the NEA and the NEH.

In light of such recent developments, this panel seeks to explore the value of literary studies broadly defined, whilst questioning and problematizing terms such as ‘value’ and ‘importance’. Consequently, the panel will consider how best to advocate for the subject and indeed whether arguing and defending it is even advisable – is this, for example, a rhetorical trap from which we cannot escape? As part of the ECR strand of Shared Futures, the speakers on this panel will specifically address the role ECRs may play in defending and advocating the study of literature and language in the contemporary university and beyond, with contributions spanning Medieval, Postcolonial and Contemporary Literature and Creative Writing.

A taster sized excerpt from recent Continuing Professional Development workshops for teachers of English Language AS/A level at the University of York: we use case studies from new peer-reviewed research to illustrate: i) key concepts in linguistics, and ii) methods for collection and analysis of language data which both teachers and students can use and adapt.

We’ll get you analysing language data for yourself, in an interactive workshop treating topics in LANGUAGE CHANGE such as: is the meaning of quotative ‘be like’ changing, was there a ‘North-South divide’ in Middle English, and does anyone say anybody anymore (and if not, why not)?

The key concept in all of these instances is that language change frequently involves competition between the new and the old way of saying something: we can track the rise of the new form, and the fall of the old, through time, and in the middle of the change both forms will be used by the same speakers. As for methods, we show how you can use the freely available Google Books ngram corpus to investigate these questions and others of your own (Bring Your Own Device to join in), with some reflection on how to design searches that overcome the limitations of the corpus.

We end with a ‘challenge the linguists’ open Q&A: tell us the topics that you want to teach, and we’ll do a live search for relevant research you can ‘reverse-engineer’ for its data, concepts and methods.

Wednesday 5th July, 12.30