Research Seminars and Workshops

Pro Vice Chancellor - Research and Scholarship: Professor Peter Childs
Director of Graduate School: 
Professor Máirtín Mac an Ghaill

Research seminars and workshops begin at 4.30pm or 5.00pm (unless stated otherwise) and are intended to last for approximately one hour.

All members of staff and postgraduate research students are welcome to attend.



Thursday 27 April 2017 at 5.00pm Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Room DW112
Literature, the Human and the Non-human
Dr Helen Cousins & Dr Kerry Myler
Helen and Kerry will lead a discussion on representations of the human and the non-human in contemporary women’s literature, bringing together the relatively new critical field of Animal Studies with more established theoretical approaches such as Postcolonialism, Feminism and Psychoanalysis. Each will offer a short paper introducing their current research on this topic.

Kerry’s paper, "Gender, Madness and Bestiality in Contemporary Women’s Writing" examines the ways in which the boundaries between the human, animal and vegetal are linked to contemporary issues around gender and madness in women’s experimental writing. Drawing on Jean Baudrillard’s chapter ‘The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses’ in Simulacra and Simulation (1981; trans. 1994), she argues that the connections between women’s madness and the bestial in contemporary women’s writing might offer an alternative reading of madness, one less concerned with the notion of the unruly (female) unconscious and more concerned with notions of territory.

Helen’s paper, "‘Some foxes’: Exploring the human/animal borderland through metamorphosis" explores three recent short stories which describe metamorphoses between human and fox. Literary foxes are most understood via the story, The History of Reynard the Fox (as translated into English by William Caxton in 1481) which places foxes at the edges of domestication; wild but adaptable enough to take advantage of their proximity to human activity. This paper will explore how the stories stage an encounter between nature and civilization and will argue that metamorphosis offers a challenge to the apparently impermeable boundary between humans and nonhuman animals.

Helen Cousins is Reader in Postcolonial Literature at Newman University. Kerry Myler is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature at Newman University.


Thursday 4 May 2017 at 5.00pm Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Room DW112
Communicating Research: MRes project presentations
Humanities scholars often take the act of presenting their findings at a conference for granted. In this session, a handful of our current MRes students will present the findings arising from their work. Ranging from classical cultures, bible scholarship and early-modern preaching, the topics are varied and show the scale of Newman’s growing postgraduate student community.


Wednesday 10 May 2017 at 4.30pm
Room CH116
Researching youth work relationships through a psychosocial lens: Uneasy bedfellows?
Pete Harris
My doctoral study set out to understand the desistance promoting potential of youth work relationships, with a specific focus on violent behaviour. As such, it was faced with a series of theoretical, methodological and ethical challenges. This seminar will set out how I approached these challenges and specifically my attempt to fuse a psychosocial ontological and epistemological standpoint with the youth work profession’s stated commitment to democratic, dialogical practice and participatory research.

Psychosocial theory is a body of empirical and theoretical work that seeks to blend psychoanalytic and post-structuralist insights in order to capture how subjects position themselves within a number of competing discourses and the psychological function this serves for them. Whilst retaining an interest in themes of politics, power, and social identity in the form of class, gender, race, etc. a psychosocial frame employs branches of psychodynamic thought (notably Kleinian object relations and relational psychoanalysis) to anticipate that the individual psyches of research subjects alter how these themes impact on them individually. Proponents of psychosocial research methodology posit that the psychodynamic concept of defence mechanisms has significant analytical purchase when seeking to understand subjectivity and the life worlds of research subjects. In the context of my thesis this meant questioning how much young people and youth workers really knew about their lives or relationships and an approach to data interpretation that involved the making of conceptual connections that the participants might not recognise or accept. Not providing some participants with the opportunity to contribute or challenge such interpretations sat uneasily with my personal and professional values and triggered some idiosyncratic, taxing ethical dilemmas which may be of interest to colleagues.

This seminar will illustrate how I sought to resolve these tensions, showing how the professional context in which the study was conducted afforded me the opportunity to work more in partnership with (rather than on) participants and how this might augment some orthodoxies in the fields of psychosocial studies and participatory research alike.

Pete Harris is a Senior Lecturer in Youth and Community Studies at Newman University.


Thursday 25 May 2017 at 5.00pm Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Room DW112
Sex and the Neo-Victorian Freak Show: The Case of Chang and Eng Bunker 
Dr Helen Davies
This paper focuses on the politics of neo-Victorian representations of two freak show performers: Chang and Eng Bunker, the original ‘Siamese Twins’. As commentators such as Leslie Fielder and Elizabeth Grosz have argued, the sexual possibilities of extraordinary bodies have played a central role in their cultural reception (Fielder, 1978, p.335; Grosz, 1996, p.64). Such prurient speculation becomes heightened in the case of Chang and Eng, for their conjoinment – and fathering of 21 children – offers multiple sites of sexual anxiety: voyeurism, group sex, queer sex. In short, conjoined sexuality tends to be imagined as ‘abnormal’, predicated by the unusual bodies involved. Discussing two fictionalised accounts of the brothers, Darin Strauss’s Chang and Eng (2000) and Mark Slouka’s God’s Fool (2002), Helen Davies explores the ways in which neo-Victorian versions of Chang and Eng both invoke and challenge freak show discourses with regards to disability and sexuality.

She argues that examples of neo-Victorian freakery give space for developing further M.L. Kohlke’s understanding of neo-Victorianism’s reimagining of nineteenth-century sexualities as the exotic other (Kohlke, 2008, p.352). Put another way, does neo-Victorian fiction run the risk of delineating nineteenth-century sexuality as ‘freakish’? How are such risks negotiated when the sexualised bodies under scrutiny were marked as abnormal, ‘freakish’ or ‘other’ in their own historical moment? Strauss’s text, though seeking to individuate the twins, struggles to transcend the framing devices of the freak show; ultimately, the brothers’ sex lives are represented in a voyeuristic, othering, and disabling light. God’s Fool offers a more complex vision of conjoined sexuality. Her analysis of Slouka’s novel will suggest that it offers routes for metatextual reflection on the role of the reader in neo-Victorian fiction which depicts extraordinary bodies. The readers are made aware of their own voyeuristic role in conjoined sexuality, positioned as both spectators and participants. In this sense, the neo-Victorian freak show can encourage both self-scrutiny and identification. 

Helen Davies is Head of English at Newman University.





28 September 2016
Ethics in Research
Dr Lorayne Woodfield
This workshop explained Newman practice, including if and when students need to seek research ethics approval for their work.


6 October 2016 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Coloniality, Otherness and the Writing of History during the Algerian War
Dr Tom Hunt
H.-I. Marrou was an important historian in post-war France. During the Algerian War of independence (1954-62) he wrote a series of newspaper articles discussing colonialism and attacking the conduct of the French state in Algeria. Although these articles were written for a popular audience they articulate ideas that Marrou had already put forward in his 1954 book De la connaissance historique (On the Meaning of History). Situating Marrou alongside other francophone responses to colonialism and alterity (e.g. Césaire; Fanon; Massignon; Sartre), this seminar explored how the Algerian War shaped the way French (and British) historians imagined the past, the present and the future.


20 October 2016 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Where are they now? Signing the afterlife in Attic funerary epigram
Dr Niall Livingstone (University of Birmingham)
This paper explored ancient Greek funerary epigram: epitaphs for the dead in ancient Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, composed in verse and inscribed on stone monuments. Literacy in the form of alphabetic writing had reached Greece in the 8th century BC, but spread gradually and was thus still a relatively new and experimental technology.

Simple name-labels for individual deceased were followed by ambitious public war memorials and then by private monuments which drew both on literary models and on a developing repertoire of epitaphic formulae to commemorate the dead and console the living - a poignant intersection of the personal and the conventional. Perhaps surprisingly in view of the vivid pictures of the underworld offered by Greek myth, these Athenian epitaphs are notably reticent about what may await the individual after death, and often seem mainly concerned to make a claim on the memory and pity of the living and to assert the tenuous continuing semi-presence of the dead in the world above. A small subset of them do, however, tell their readers that the dead are now in a particular place: the 'bedroom of Persephone'. The myth of the earth-goddess Demeter's daughter Persephone being abducted to the underworld by its ruler, her uncle Hades, is an originary moment for thinking about both death and gender-roles in ancient Greek patriarchal society. Dr Livingstone asked (and sought suggestions about) how private epitaphs make use of this 'chambers of Persephone' motif as a way of providing a cultural, personal and religious context for the experience of loss and bereavement.


26 October 2016
Using strength-based approaches from sport to improve outcomes for homeless young people: A feasibility study
Dr Mark Holland
Youth homelessness is a major public health problem in the UK that comes with a high social and economic cost. An estimated 130,000 young people aged 16 to 25 years in England seek help each year because they are homeless or at risk for homelessness.

This presentation discussed the design and results of an early-stage feasibility study of the MST4Life programme, a psychologically-informed strength-based intervention to promote the development of mental skills in hard-to-reach homeless young people living in supported accommodation. 


3 November 2016 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
A Last Hurrah? Oh! Calcutta and Joe Orton’s Until She Screams
Professor Graham Saunders (University of Birmingham)
1967 saw the increasing likelihood that Harold Wilson’s Labour Government would finally do away with Britain’s anachronistic system of theatre censorship, run from the office of the Lord Chamberlain. This emboldened the theatre critic and impresario Kenneth Tynan in advancing plans to mount an erotic review. Tynan, initially in partnership with Harold Pinter had first discussed the feasibility of staging such a show in 1966, and by the following year Tynan had begun to contact writers with a view to providing erotic sketches. One of first, not only to respond, but to send a completed sketch was Joe Orton. However, the playwright would not live to see the work, entitled Until She Screams, performed in his lifetime: before the year was out Orton had been murdered by his companion Kenneth Halliwell. Tynan’s review, eventually titled Oh! Calcutta also had to wait until 1969 before it could be performed, in off-Broadway New York. Orton’s sketch was also deemed not suitable for American tastes and had to wait until the London premiere in 1970 before audiences would finally get the opportunity to see this piece performed.

To date, Until She Screams has been much overlooked in any assessment of Orton’s oeuvre. Not only was it omitted from the Grove Press edition of selected sketches from Oh! Calcutta, but unlike the rejected novels in Orton’s lifetime that have subsequently undergone a posthumous afterlife through publication, Until She Screams to date has only appeared in the avant-garde American literary journal The Evergreen Review in 1971.

Drawing extensively on sources from the Kenneth Tynan and Joe Orton archives, this paper examined Until She Screams in relation to the enterprise of Tynan’s London production of Oh! Calcutta and its wider place as a theatrical reaction in changing attitudes towards censorship and permissiveness in the 1960s.


10 November 2016 Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society
Framing the Sky: The (re)birth of weather forecasting on British television, 1954
Dr Alex Hall
In January 1954, in close collaboration with the Meteorological Office (MO), the BBC launched a new format for their televised weather forecasts. The new format introduced a MO forecaster as the face of the weather for the first time on British television. Accompanied by an easel, weather charts, and a piece of charcoal, forecasters in the four and half minute segment in a new time slot after the evening news bulletin were a stark departure from the previous static, announcer-read weather bulletins. The revised format was a huge success, raising the profile of the MO, and making household names of the presenting meteorologists.

Yet the launch of the new format was to bring unexpected repercussions; almost immediately the public began to blame the meteorologist presenters for inaccuracies in their forecasts. Criticism of inaccurate forecasts was nothing new for the MO, but the manner, swiftness, and volume of blame directed personally toward the presenters was unprecedented.

In developing the revised format, the BBC had pressed the MO to use engaging, everyday language to connect with the viewer, sidelining a more probabilistic style, and restricting the use of dull, scientific terminology. In converting detailed synoptic maps into TV friendly imagery, the MO and BBC spent considerable time developing visual aspects of the forecast prior to its launch.

This paper explored the BBC’s decision to use MO meteorologists and this new accessible format to show how televised weather impacted and influenced the British public’s understanding of meteorology and forecasting. The hugely popular new weather forecasts helped elevate the MO’s status as scientific experts in British public life, but with this increased profile came issues concerning the communication of risk, probability, and complex scientific information to the public.

Alex Hall won the 2016 Marc August Pictet Prize, awarded by the Société de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève (SPHN), for work by an early career scholar in the history of science. This lecture will also be given at the award ceremony in Geneva.


16 November 2016
Thinking spatially about retention and belonging
Dr Kate Thomas (Birmingham City University)
It is argued that a sense of belonging in higher education (HE) is ‘closely aligned with the concepts of academic and social engagement’ (Thomas, 2012:12) and ‘critical to retention and success’ (ibid:10). This discourse is frequently invoked, but rarely critically interrogated, with implications for undergraduate students other than those that are young, full-time and UK-domiciled. Drawing on findings from a multiple case study investigating dimensions of belonging in HE for part-time, mature undergraduates, this paper considered how ‘thinking spatially’, can contribute to an enriched understanding of ‘belonging’ in HE as dimensional, complex and negotiated.


23 November 2016
Transformations in NHS ethics and research governance: a review and relevance for a growing research culture at Newman
Dr Paul McDonald
Just over 25 years ago a number of high profile research scandals triggered a momentous revolution in research ethics and governance in the NHS. This session described and appraised the impact of these events, contextualising them across a changing society and within significant transformations in health policy and law. Current NHS governance systems and processes were briefly described, and their relevance to a growing research culture within Newman University was discussed.


8 December 2016 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Personality and disorder: Historical approaches to the psychology of leadership during England’s ‘Anarchy’
Dr Charlotte Lewandowski
The period known as the Anarchy in English history, which took place intermittently between 1135 and 1154, was a civil war noted by contemporaries for its unprecedented violence and lawlessness. This was, and continues to be, blamed on the personalities of two rival claimants to the English throne: Matilda and Stephen. However, reconstructing the personalities of dead women and men is a tricky business and historians have rarely admitted the methodological challenges involved in such analysis. During this paper Charlotte Lewandowski explored some of those challenges with a particular emphasis on the psychology of leadership and how this intersected with one of the metanarratives of European historiography, most notably the formation of the individual during the twelfth-century renaissance.


23 January 2017
Ethics in Research
Dr Lorayne Woodfield
A second opportunity to attend this workshop, which explained Newman practice, including if and when students need to seek research ethics approval for their work.


26 January 2017 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Theatre for Children in Hospital: The Gift of Compassion
Dr Persephone Sextou
Recent decades have seen a new appreciation develop for applied theatre and the role of arts-based activities in healthcare. This seminar looked specifically at the place of theatre for children who are hospitalized, showing how powerfully it can enhance their social and mental well-being. Child-led performances, for example, can be used as a technique to distract young patients from hospitalization, prepare them for painful procedures, and teach them calming techniques to control their own pre- or post-operative stress.

Persephone Sextou detailed the key theoretical contexts and practical features of theatre for children, in the process offering motivation, guidance, and inspiration for practitioners who want to incorporate performance into their treatment regimen. In this presentation she ran through the content of her recent book and read a story that she currently uses for the needs of ‘Bird Island’, a new CADLab and BBC CiN project for children in paediatrics. 


9 February 2017 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
England’s World Cup: Wembley 1966 and Modern British History
Professor Dilwyn Porter
‘They think it's all over’ ... but it never is, quite. A historian of British sport reflected on England’s FIFA World Cup victory in 1966; how it was then, and how we have looked at it in the so-called ‘50 years of hurt’ that followed. Football is always more than a game; it’s part of our cultural history and it can tell us a lot about how we see ourselves.


2 March 2017 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Making sense of the industrial town: Birmingham: ‘the city of a thousand trades’
Dr Malcolm Dick (University of Birmingham)
This presentation discussed the different ways in which the industrialisation of Birmingham has been explored since William Hutton wrote the first history of the town in the eighteenth century. His framework is based on the inter-relationship of both demand and supply factors, including the contribution of international trade. The involvement of local industrialists in the slave trade and commerce with the plantation economies of the Americas deserves analysis: features which have been ignored by historians of the town. Malcolm also considered the changing shape of manufacturing in Birmingham until the late nineteenth century and the different types of materials which historians might use to investigate and reinterpret economic life, including archaeological evidence, visual sources, ephemera and artefacts, which they have traditionally neglected.

Comparing Birmingham’s experience with that of other manufacturing towns such as Coventry, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield allows the extent of Birmingham’s uniqueness to be evaluated. Despite Birmingham’s importance as a manufacturing centre, there has been little research into the metallurgical industries, the impact of transport developments, especially the crucially important carrier trade and the role of small and medium-sized businesses in shaping the town. There is more to ‘the city of a thousand trades’ than the histories of well-known businesses such as Boulton and Watt and Cadburys.


8 March 2017
Because the world isn’t flat: the effect of gradient on the mechanics of the golf swing
Russ Peters
Once a ball has been played down a fairway the golf ball must be played where it lies and golfer cannot touch or improve the position of the ball and has to adapt to the conditions of that lie. To add to this challenge the golf swing is one of the most complex movements in sport. The feet are the only source of support for the action and the base they create is crucial to the golfer so that they can generate the correct movements to perform the swing effectively.

However, this task increases in complexity with the varying types of terrain gradient a golfer encounters on a golf course. The problem that has been identified is the golf swing research has been predominantly performed on a level surface. This may mean that recommendations, both scientific and anecdotal, are not appropriate under the specific conditions of the golf course. In this presentation a number of performance parameters were discussed and the effect gradient had on these.


16 March 2017 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
The Great Gatsby and Deep Time
Dr William Blazek (LIverpool Hope University)
In The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays a world in flux, discombobulated by technological and scientific change, unable to chart a clear course into a future that seems both exciting and forbidding. Alongside Gatsby’s absurdly heroic efforts to construct an idealized past within this fractured present, a universal constant infuses the text, an underlying natural rhythm of vitality and sustenance. Although the novel emphasizes both current social disruption and a nostalgic desire to return to the security of an imagined past, it also incorporates a sense of eternal time, suggested by dialogue and imagery that run counter to the prevailing sense of broken time. Besides illustrating a rupture in the time-space continuum of American linear progress, then, The Great Gatsby also consoles us with hints of deep, mythic time and insistent reminders of transcendental nature.


30 March 2017
Academic Judgements
Emeritus Professor John Sullivan
All academics have two things in common. First, they find themselves and their work subject to judgement by a variety of other people, for example the students they teach, their managers, and their disciplinary peers. Second, they are constantly having to make judgements on the work of others, for example students, colleagues, and their scholarly peers in other universities.

This paper put academic judgements under the spotlight. Prof. Sullivan attempted to understand some of the complexity inherent in engaging in acts of judgement and to open up such judgements to broader considerations, relating them not only to the attainment of reliable knowledge but also to the development of personhood.


30 March 2017 Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Does the Matthean Jesus Really Love His Enemies?
Dr Lloyd Pietersen
The Sermon on the Mount has rightly been regarded as a key text for Christians and, in particular, Anabaptists. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus exhorts his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. But does the Matthean Jesus put into practice what he preaches? Does he really love his enemies? In this paper Dr Pietersen examined Jesus’ responses to opponents in Matthew and read them in the light of Matthew 5:44. In particular, he examined Luz’s claim that "there is a fundamental contradiction between Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies and what happens in the woes with the scribes and Pharisees." (Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21-28: A Commentary [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2005], 138.) Dr Pietersen argued that confrontation and condemnation, in particular circumstances, are precisely the ways in which the Matthean Jesus practices enemy love.


6 April 2017 at 5.00pm Humanities Research Group Seminar Series
Respectful and Respected: Catholic single women teachers 1800-1840
Dr Marie Rowlands
Catholic women are noticeably absent from the many studies of women in the early nineteenth century. The unique archive of the Richmond family of Walsall, a middle class family of teachers, offers an opportunity to remedy this.

In this paper, Dr Rowlands concentrated on their education and professionalism. She considered the role of single women and their networks and placed them in the context of the English Catholic community in this period.

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