Ordinarily September arrives like a high-speed gear change with the clutch still half engaged. The teeth-shearing rasp ratchets across British academe as we shift from August’s intensely imagined worlds of more-or-less cloistered research and writing into the induction circus of Welcome Week.
Most of us brush off last year’s complaints about teaching for threadbare repartee in student-filled hallways, while concealing the thrill of it all. Teaching is the lifeblood of most academics, after all; in reality it’s harder to stop us doing it, shut us up.
This year is a little different for me (re the gear-change, not the shutting up). The nature of my role in directing the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies means I was chipping away at College business throughout summer. That kept me in the habit of coming into King’s rather than going to the library or writing at home.
But more to the point, teaching itself came to occupy the place of a research-project ‘question’ during this summer’s ‘research period’: intensely scrutinised, carried about with me in myriad different places (half way around the world, as it turned out), looked at from many sides, held up as a lens and a foil for whatever print matter fell before my eyes.
by Ralitsa Chorbadzhiyska. Ralitsa is an undergraduate student in the English Department in her third year, with research interests in Modernism and Contemporary culture. Ralitsa worked as an editorial and marketing intern at Bahati Books this summer as part of King’s Internship Summer Scheme. She also has a personal blog where she writes about books, music and art.
Ever since applying for university I knew I wanted to study English literature and use my degree to become involved with publishing. But I never knew which role would suit me best – an editor, an agent, a person in marketing or sales. I applied for my internship with Bahati Books before going into my third year as I figured that the best way to find what part of publishing intrigues me the most was to learn from experience.
Faten Hussein (FH) is a LAHP-funded doctoral researcher in Comparative Literature and the Medical Humanities at King’s College London. Her research investigates representations of illness in Arabic literature. She is specifically interested in what literature reveals about cultural and social attitudes towards illness, and the political, social, and economic determinants in access to health. She is about to take up a fellowship with the House of Common’s International Development Committee, through the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST).
Dr Neil Vickers (NV) is Reader in English Literature and the Medical Humanities at the Department of English, and co-director of the Centre for the Humanities and Health. He is associate editor of the journal Medical Humanities, published by the British Medical Journal group.
NV: Hello Faten. It’s a real privilege to be able to discuss your work with you, and to bring it to wider public notice through this blog interview. Why don’t you begin by telling our readers what you work on?
FH: I work on written accounts of illness from the Arab world. These can be fictional or autobiographical and in any form, so long as illness has a central place in them.
by Diya Gupta, PhD researcher, Department of English
Two-and-a-half million men from undivided India served the British during the Second World War. Their experiences are little remembered today, neither in the UK where a Eurocentric memory of the war dominates, nor in South Asia, which privileges nationalist histories of independence from the British Empire. And yet military censorship reports from the Second World War, archived at the British Library’s India Office Records and containing extracts from Indian soldiers’ letters home, bear witness to this counter-narrative. What was it like fighting for the British at a time when the struggle for India’s freedom from British rule was at its most incendiary?
Paul Gilroy, Professor of American and English Literature, was the guest expert on the second episode of Russell Brand’s new series ‘Under the Skin’.
Professor Gilroy discusses the re-emergence of open racism within political rhetoric, the relationship between race and religion, and why we still divide humanity into different identity groups based on skin colour.
by Sejal Sutaria, Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow, English Department, King’s College London, and Pragya Dhital, PhD (2016), Religions and Philosophies Department, SOAS
My journey into radio research began when a series of happy accidents led me to discover the ‘British in India Oral Archive’ at the British Library, SOAS, and Imperial War Museums. The interviews here were conducted by history writer Charles Allen, best known for his books on Indian colonial history, Rudyard Kipling, and Tibet. As someone working on a project about how the global circulation of migrants, capital and ideas shaped Indian resistance to colonialism and fascism, my access to these first-hand accounts of life in India during the forties led me to link ideas of literary life-writing with oral history. When the World Service Project at King’s invited proposals from researchers working on radio, Elaine Morley and I decided to organise the ‘BBC and the World Service: Debts and Legacies’ conference.
By Diya Gupta, PhD researcher, Department of English – find her here.
“Choti yeh hai teri saanp ki hi lehar Dogana
Khati hun tere vaste main zahar Dogana
(This plait of yours is the wave of a serpent, Dogana
I take poison because of you, Dogana)”
– Lines from nineteenth-century Urdu Rekhti poet Insha Allah Khan
What do we know about the representation of same-sex romantic and sexual relations in early nineteenth-century north India? And how does this relate to the transnational realm of early twentieth-century democratic thought? A postcolonial conversation on recent publications by two outstanding postcolonial scholars revealed how love and desire, revolutionary ethics and aesthetics, connect these two worlds in the final King’s in Conversation with series for 2015/16.
by Dr Natasha Awais-Dean, Project and Communications Manager of ‘Cultural Exchange in a Time of Global Conflict: Colonials, Neutrals and Belligerents during the First World War’ (HERA)
Despite there being over 1 million South Asian soldiers fighting in the war alongside two million Africans as well as troops from New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, there has traditionally been a rather narrow and Anglo-centric view of how the history of the First World War has been communicated within Britain. Yet, the true story is far more complex and wide-ranging than this suggests.
Over the last two years, there has been greater visibility of the South Asian contribution to the First World War but we still have a long way to go. Now that we have reached the midpoint of the centennial commemoration, how do we keep up the momentum while at the same time find a way, as Dr Santanu Das notes, to go ‘beyond simple recovery and commemoration’ and address the complexity of the history? How do we find creative ways of engaging with the South Asian contribution to draw in fresh generations?
What seems to have been driving this greater visibility of the South Asian war story in Britain is its relation to a broader British Asian identity today – can the contribution of the South Asian soldiers, who served alongside English Tommies, be used to achieve greater racial harmony? Indeed, could this be the key to healing the current racial and ethnic divides in our society (something that we are perhaps feeling now more than ever), but without sanitising any of the horrors of the war or ignoring the racial hierarchies and inequalities that marked the colonial war experience? The need for authenticity is paramount, to maintain integrity in dealing with this often messy history in both an ethical and, crucially, productive manner. Continue reading South Asians and the First World War: Reflections→
By Dr Alvin Eng Hui Lim, department alumnus and postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore.
I’m on a British Airways flight from Changi airport, Singapore to Heathrow, London. The cabin crew, a mix of ethnicities, leaves me alone after the initial smiles and courtesies with the inflight entertainment, only punctuating my viewing experience a couple of times to serve me microwaved food – mostly chicken, or vaguely tasting like it.
I’m at Heathrow. A Chinese custom officer chides me in impeccable English for not completing the landing card before I join the queue. I do as told, and my voice struggles to complete a sentence when another custom officer addresses me and stamps my passport.
“What are you here for? What are you studying?”
“PhD. Theatre. At King’s College London.”
Maybe it is my face and how I sound. An inner joke seems to flash across his face as it changes. I am free to go.
By Prof. Josephine McDonagh, Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature and Dr Rowan Boyson, Lecturer in English Literature
How might the humanities contribute to an understanding of the current refugee ‘crisis’? That was the general question that generated the informal session of staff and researchers in the English Department held on 10th February, 2016.