School of English and Languages

Welcome to the School of English and Languages at the University of Surrey. The School brings together the academic disciplines of English literature, creative writing, modern languages, linguistics, intercultural communication and translation studies.



6th in The Guardian League Table 2017 - Modern Languages & Linguistics
Top 20 in The Guardian League Table 2017 - English Literature & Creative Writing
100% Employment rate for School graduates

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Distinguished Writer in Residence Masterclasses and Writing Surgery

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Global Graduate Award

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English Language Programmes

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Evening Language Classes

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Read Lucy Bell's Blog on The Huffington Post

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School of English and Languages Blog

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    Dr. Donna McCormack (Lecturer in English Literature) speaks about organising an interdisciplinary workshop and doctoral course on the medical humanities and its global, postcolonial and gender contexts. This event was supported by seed funding from the University of Bergen, Norway, and was organised in collaboration universities across the UK, South Africa, Norway and Sweden. It was hosted by the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at the University of Bergen.


    I recently organised an event that focused on the postcolonial and gender aspects of the medical humanities and that had the specific aim of bringing together partners from the Global South and the Global North. The goal was to discuss the medical humanities in its global context, addressing issues such as justice in health, the role of historical and contemporary inequalities in health and illness, the dominant role of narrative in health care, and the role of the arts in care. The event was divided into two parts: a closed workshop, consisting only of invited speakers, with a very specific aim of sharing research interests and spending considerable time thinking through and planning future projects and events; the second part was a doctoral course where specialists in the field led sessions and engaged with the diverse research of doctoral participants.


    This four-day event included partners from South Africa (University of Witswaterand and University of Cape Town), the UK (University of Surrey, University of Glasgow and University of Leeds), Norway (University of Bergen) and Sweden (University of Linköping). The doctoral participants came from a diverse range of institutions, including South Africa, the UK, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Georgia, Iceland and Spain.


    The topics all focused on embodiment, taking multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. There was a significant focus on organ transplants with the nephrologist June Fabian, from the University of Witswaterand, engaging us in the ethical decisions transplant teams must make, while reminding us of the class and race assumptions in decision making; Margrit Shildrick, professor of gender and knowledge production at Linköping University, took us into the philosophical arena of micro-chimerism asking if we are all already more than self and other and therefore challenging biomedical practitioners to rethink the machine model of organ transplantation; and I spoke on fictional representations of transplantation, addressing the consequences of not knowing the origin of the donated organ and exploring what it means to have no or little history in postcolonial contexts of transplantation. Multiple participants addressed the role of music in health care and as a methodology of study with Steve Reid, the head of general practice at the University of Cape Town, taking us through a personal history of rural health care in the north east of South Africa, grappling with the race politics of medicine and the centrality of music to resistance; and Jill Halstead, ethno-musicologist at Grieg Academy at the University of Bergen, asking how we may use our bodies to produce, communicate and understand knowledge and how feminism can remain at the fore of this pursuit. Indeed, many challenged us to think through our methodologies with attention to embodiment and the politics and ethics of queer and feminism, including Ingrid Young, a sociologist from the University of Glasgow, who addressed treatment as prevention and imperative to manage bodies, risk and responsibility.


    Even as I try to capture what was discussed, it is impossible to account for the diversity of the themes and conversations, or for the emerging intersections of research interests and methodologies. Indeed this summary does not capture the plethora of doctoral presentations from across medicine, social sciences and the arts and humanities, which focused on an extremely wide range of methodologies and subjects. Some themes included: abortion in Ethiopia; psychoanalysis and the medical humanities; gendered representations of women in anatomical books; disability and trauma in postcolonial fiction; the importance of non-coherence in representations of mental health; the role of the doctor and patient relationship in general medicine; intersex in South Africa; addiction in Iceland; and more. All these doctoral projects were addressing how it is possible to work across medicine and the humanities, while still being firmly situated in one of these disciplines; and asking what is that is gained when engaging in such dialogues. Indeed, what many showed is that this conversation is essential in trying to grapple with the experience of health and illness in the contemporary context.


    Often we are told that speaking across the disciplines is difficult and hard work, and that in particular talking across the humanities and medicine is practically impossible because of distinct methodologies, questions and immediate aims. However, not only could we speak to each other when our themes were similar (e.g. HIV or transplantation), but also we realised very early on that we were interested in similar questions, such as:

    • Does a body need to be objectified and distanced to be operated on and what would it mean to always see the body as human and intimate?
    • What is social justice in the context of medical care?
    • What does it mean to be a self and an other? And what if we are intimately tied to others, even on the cellular level?
    • Is narrative central to medicine? And how can literary innovation help understand the experience of health and illness?
    • How can medicine and the arts work together without the arts being subsumed into a tool of empathy?


    Researchers across the humanities, arts, medicine and social sciences; medical practitioners; artists; and many whose work crosses the boundaries of the so-called researcher/artist/practitioner divide came together to explore the potential for a project that addresses the global, postcolonial and gender contexts of the medical humanities. The generosity of time and a willingness to listen and engage even when we could not always understand each other or our work helped make this an exciting event. What I witnessed was a group of people committed to and enacting interdisciplinarity through and across national boundaries, trying to think through justice across disciplinary differences, and looking towards the potentiality of how we might take forward the difficult but exciting intersections of the medical humanities and its global, gender and postcolonial contexts.


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  • Dr Allan Johnson (Lecturer in English Literature) writes about working with London playwright Jessica Burgess and director Tom Crowley on the development of a new play supported by the University of Surrey Impact and Engagement Fund. 

    Awake and Asleep

    Although many scholars continue to see the rise of esoteric societies such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as a distinctive feature of the late-nineteenth century, my current research examines the wide-spread role played by magic and mysticism in some of the most significant developments of modernist writing. Modernism is often described as a period of newness and originality, objectives seemingly at odds with everything standing behind the Golden Dawn and its various offshoots, the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophical Society, and the ornate mystical views of Carl Jung and his followers. However, in addition to canonical modernists such as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, and W.B. Yeats whose connections to the esoteric and occult are widely known and yet infrequently discussed, there are a number of lesser-known writers of the period including Arthur Machen, Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley, Algernon Blackwood, and Mary Butts whose literary engagements with magic and mysticism portray a fuller picture of the hopes and anxieties facing Britain between the wars.

    As part of this research project, the University of Surrey has funded the development of a new one-act site-specific play to be staged at London’s iconic Treadwell’s Books this summer. Set in 1929 at a party in a Bloomsbury esoteric bookshop, Awake and Asleep explores how a group of interwar intellectuals, writers, and Bright Young Things are influenced by the occult.  Playwright Jessica Burgess is an up-and-coming voice in the London theatre world, and has written an intelligent and extremely witty exploration of the very human side of the esoteric world in the 1920s.  At the centre of her play is the fictional Arcadia Books, which offers respite from the speed and technological advancement of the world outside. ‘There’s a lot of wisdom in amongst these shelves’, the shop’s owner Gloria explains, and, indeed, Awake and Asleep explores not simply the historical influences of esoteric thought but, more broadly, the role of independent bookshops as gathering places for like-minded writers and intellectuals.

    Playwright Jessica Burgess and director Tom Crowley holding auditions for Awake and Asleep at the Soho Theatre.Playwright Jessica Burgess and director Tom Crowley holding auditions for Awake and Asleep at the Soho Theatre.

    The recent move in academia toward making academic research both accessible and interesting to wider audiences can only have positive outcomes. Collaborating with Treadwell’s Books, Jessica Burgess, and director Tom Crowley has been an exhilarating experience, which has not only inspired new lines of reasoning in my research but has led to the development of a new collaborative research and public engagement network called Magic, Language, and Society.  Two future events are already planned in connection with the Magic, Language, and Society network.

    Tickets for Awake and Asleep are selling swiftly.  The opening night performance is fully booked, but a small number of tickets for Thursday 21 June and Friday 22 June are still available.

  • The 2016 Surrey New Writers Festival (held May 14th, at GLive), was a success not only in terms of sold-out audience numbers, but more importantly because of the amazing atmosphere of creative discussion among the audience, authors, and performers.

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    I designed the Festival to be a boutique event, with the specific intention of building opportunities for interaction among like-minded people; the panel discussions and performances showcased the ideas and work of some of the best artists and industry professionals working today, but the event also put a major emphasis on space for the audience – largely comprised of budding writers and creative professionals themselves – to meet and discuss ideas with the featured speakers.

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    So, basically, the Festival not only showcases great readings and performances, but it’s an opportunity to do some valuable networking. Often, people get a bit awkward around the idea of ‘networking’, as if it’s something calculated, or opportunistic. During one of my recent MA Creative Writing classes, we focused on networking and how to do it; many students said they’d feel awkward going up to someone at a reading or social event with the express purpose of ‘networking’. But, networking isn’t an inherently unpleasant thing. Sure, if you scour the room and try to find the most ‘important’ person and try to force him or her to take the manuscript of your 500 page robot fantasy novel that you just happen to have in your bag, that’s going to be awkward and unproductive for everyone involved. (p.s. it’s entirely possible that your robot fantasy novel is brilliant, but that’s not the way to let people know about it!) Networking can be a really exciting and inspiring thing to do, and at the Festival, I try to set a tone where people feel comfortable chatting, asking questions, getting to meet not only the speakers, but each other. Also, I try to feature a range of authors and professionals who may work in areas some of the audience may not be previously familiar with, with the aim that people may find a new interest or passion, as well.

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    Work in creative fields never has one set pattern of progression in terms of how a career unfolds. There’s no blueprint, no set series of steps to ‘advance’. That’s both the challenge and beauty of creating art. An event like the Festival allows people to engage in a multitude of discussions and form links that contribute to their creative communities. Artists and creative professionals draw on their communities throughout their careers, in ways that mostly can’t be predicted. At the New Writers Festival, there’s a focus on sharing and discussion that contributes to fostering these communities. If you attended the Festival this year – thank you for being a part of an inspiring day! We’ll announce dates for the 2017 Festival in the coming months.


    Director of the Festival, Holly Luhning

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Latest news


Excellent Complete University Guide results for SEL

We are pleased to announce that SEL has done very well in this year's Complete University Guide's league tables. This table takes account of research quality as well as entry standards, NSS and graduate prospects.We have seen rises across all our subjects, with a new entry for Creative Writing, and we are now in the top 10 for 4 areas!

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Professor Diane Watt elected to be a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales

Professor Diane Watt has been elected to be a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales during the Society’s Election in 2015/16.

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PhD student granted Travel Award to attend 2016 Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society

Amy Louise Morgan, a PhD English Literature student at the University of Surrey, has been granted a travel award to attend and participate in the New Chaucer Society Congress in July 2016.

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Upcoming events

  • Conference

Temporal Discombobulations: Time and the Experience of the Gothic

  • Monday 22 Aug. 2016

  • Wednesday 24 Aug. 2016

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Symposium: Best Practices, Challenges and New Horizons in the Teaching of Translation and Translation Technology

  • Friday 23 Sep. 2016

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