Another Heritage of Letters: British literature, publishing, and memory reexamined

Chelsea HaithSeminar Room 2

This panel will present the researchers’ experience and findings from public engagement projects that speak to the legacies of imperialism, inequality and other marginalised narratives within the study and teaching of English in Britain today. Writers Make Worlds, Uncomfortable Oxford, and After Empire? are each projects that seek to center displaced narratives, raising questions about the legacies of empire in modern Britain, the continuing role of migration and migrant voices in contemporary literature and the politics of memory in our institutions and built environment alike. In this panel we will discuss our experiences ranging from practice-as-research based approaches to rethinking pedagogy in literature teaching and learning environments.

The Writers Make Worlds project which ran from 2016-2018 as a series of workshops, reading groups and other events, and continues as a dynamic podcast, asked how Black and Asian writing in Britain works as a dynamic cultural and imaginative medium through which new ways of thinking about Britain, and Britain in the world can be developed. Our reading groups explored participants’ responses to texts, gauging these for their empathy and identification with characters. Beginning with the question of why Ian McEwan’s novels are more often set on A-level syllabuses than Aminatta Forna’s or Bernardine Evaristo’s, we were particularly interested to find how and for what reasons readers related to books often found outside the British literary mainstream, both in respect of publishing catalogues and of curricula.

Uncomfortable Oxford ran a series of literary-themed walking tours around Oxford aimed at facilitating critical discussions of Oxford, empire, and narratives from and about Oxford. The tour most especially excludes canonical figures such as Tolkien, CS Lewis and Inspector Morse and concentrates on writers and thinkers such as Dambudzo Marechera, Thomas Hardy, VS Naipaul, the Huxley family and also considers the question of repatriating manuscripts. The script-writer for this tour will discuss the tour’s contents as well as the responses received from participants during the tours.

After Empire? The Contested Histories of Migration, Race and Decolonisation in Modern Britain began life as a series of events hosted in the city of Leeds, including a two-day conference and additional public talks and panel discussions. Organised entirely by PhD students from various universities across Yorkshire, After Empire? sought to question the continuing and often unseen legacies of Britain’s imperial past, from hidden histories of slavery in National Trust properties to the co-option of colonial imagery in contemporary British drinking culture. In this presentation one member of the organising committee will reflect on the role literary texts played within these ongoing conversations on post-imperial Britain and the importance of situating literary analysis within these wider, cross-disciplinary talks.

Professor Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford
Emma Parker, PhD candidate at the University of Leeds
Chelsea Haith, DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford

Fri 2:00 pm - 3:15 pm