I’ve recently accepted a new job at the University of Leeds. From September I will be Associate Professor in Victorian Literature. This means that after six years I will be leaving the University of Birmingham. Here is not the place to go into my reasons for leaving (buy me a drink and maybe I’ll tell), but I wanted to reflect on some of the things that I’ve done while at Birmingham and what I’m looking forward to in my new role at Leeds.
I don’t think you ever really know what a department will be like before you join it. Before I came to Birmingham I taught in a number of universities in and around London while working as a postdoctoral research assistant on the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (ncse) at Birkbeck. I didn’t really know Birmingham as either a city or a university, and had had no contact with the English department before my interview. I count myself very lucky to have found such a welcoming group of people in my first full-time academic post. Birmingham has been a great place to work, and it has been my colleagues – administrators, students, and academics – that made it so.
The department shaped the various things I was able to do in many ways, always for the better. The idea that one should have a research day, something that has come under sustained assault recently, allowed me to continue to work on ncse, seeing it through to the successful project launch in May 2008. The book that came out of the project, The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age (Palgrave, 2012) was inflected by the department’s interest in textual scholarship and the history of the book. It also led directly to my colleague Oliver Mason’s challenge to put my money where my mouth was and incorporate digital humanities teaching into the undergraduate curriculum. I will be speaking about the course that resulted, Hacking the Book, at (Re)Presenting the Archive on 28 May at the University of Sheffield and will blog my paper here. This course, which ran 2011-2012 for final-year students and then again in a new form in 2012-2013 for second-year students, reaffirmed my belief in the importance of digital skills for students in the humanities, but also allowed me to keep thinking and learning about digital culture too.
There have been many highlights. The cluster of scholars working in and around the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made it a rich environment in which to situate my own work. Together, we set up and ran the seminar series The Making of Modernity (previously Late Victorianism and Modernism: the Making of Modernity), ran the 2011 BAVS conference, established the MA Literature, Culture and Modernity, and, most recently, the Centre for the Study of Cultural Modernity. All this activity also meant that my work on W.T. Stead – the book W.T. Stead Newspaper Revolutionary, conference, and special issue of 19 – all had a departmental home.
At Leeds, I’m looking forward to pursuing my interests in print culture and the history of science. I hope to be involved with the Centre for the Comparative History of Print, and hope that ‘comparative’ might incorporate what Kate Hayles calls ‘Comparative Media Studies’. The Centre (and Museum) for the History and Philosophy of Science will ensure that there will be some interesting conversations as I continue to work on Oliver Lodge and my next book on secrecy and science. And I’m looking forward to getting to know a whole new set of colleagues and learning from a whole new set of students.