20112022

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Biography

I spent my formative years in the seaside town of Clevedon, the 'Gem of Sunny Somerset'. Growing up in a house decorated with Art Deco travel posters, I developed a love for all things 1920/30s which still motivates much of my work (and my own decor) today. I was educated at Cardiff University, where I studied English Literature and Cultural Criticism, before doing an MA and an AHRC-funded PhD in Critical and Cultural Theory. In 2017, I was awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Birmingham for my project Revolutionary Red Tape. The project finished in September 2022: I am currently writing up my findings in my first monograph, Art for the People: Everyday Encounters with the Arts in Modern Britain

Over the past decade I have worked across lots of different disciplines, including art and design history, critical theory and cultural studies, literary and periodical studies, fashion, and cultural history. As someone whose work doesn't fit into just one discipline, I love to collaborate with colleagues from across the arts and humanities. I've worked with colleagues in art history, design history, creative writing, literary studies, cultural history, critical theory, modern languages, drama and performance, both across the UK and during a fellowship at KU Leuven, Belgium. I've also collaborated with colleagues in the third sector as well as heritage and arts organisations. I'm always keen to hear from people who would like to work together on interesting projects. 

I have a particular passion for archival research. I fell in love with the feeling of being a detective rooting around in boxes during a AHRC Fellowship at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, where I spent three glorious months working with their British travel posters collection. Since then, I've spent hundreds of hours digging around in archives for Revolutionary Red Tape, uncovering forgotten schemes which aimed to emancipate the arts from behind gallery walls and into everyday life. I'm passionate about sharing my work (especially my archival finds) with as wide an audience as possible: I welcome opportunities to speak at public events. I have been invited to give several public talks on the Golden Age of Poster Design and Art for the People at Winterbourne House and the Birmingham & Midland Institute. In 2018, I appeared on BBC1 Wales/BBC4 to discuss my research into Cardiff’s Art Deco Temple of Peace, where I was recently appointed a Trustee. In 2022, I was announced as a finalist in the AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinkers scheme. Since, then I have appeared on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking to discuss my research into John Maynard Keynes's work for the Arts Council and the Arts League of Service Travelling Theatre

Research interests

Research areas

  • Art, design, literature and culture in modern Britain (1910s-1950s)
  • Modernism, popular culture and the middlebrow 
  • Arts funding and cultural policy 
  • Modern periodical studies
  • Interactions between literature and the visual arts 

Research projects

To date, my research has been guided by a single question: How did modernism reach the British public? For my AHRC-funded PhD thesis, I examined how magazines, fashion and travel posters translated modernist ideas and aesthetics for a popular audience. This project explored debates around ‘what the public wants’, the new field of commercial art, and links between taste and class in the interwar Battle of the Brows.

My British Academy-funded postdoctoral project, Revolutionary Red Tape, continued my interest in encounters between art and the public, exploring independent and state-funded schemes to introduce modern British art, design, literature and performance to a broad audience. Case studies from this project will appear in my first monograph: Art for the People: Everyday encounters with the arts in modern Britain, which examines efforts to bring the arts into everyday life in schools, hospitals, factories, high streets, village halls, restaurants and even pubs. It draws on examples from across the arts, including murals, exhibitions, print schemes, public sculptures, posters, theatre and ballet, concerts, books, magazines and wireless programmes. Across a series of case studies, the book interrogates the cultural politics at stake in these schemes, considering ideas around class and cultural paternalism, the use of modern art and culture to ‘civilise’ the public, and the social impact of the arts. 

The book has two aims. Firstly, to provide a passionate defence of the arts, and of the need for sufficient state support. This aim has taken on new urgency in the wake of COVID-19, as the arts are facing an unprecedented crisis. Secondly, to spark debate about the place of the arts in contemporary life. Are the arts accessible to all in twenty-first-century Britain? What lessons can we learn from these attempts to democratise the arts?

I am a truly interdisciplinary researcher: my research ranges across literary studies, cultural history, art history, design history, performance studies and critical theory. I am fascinated by almost all aspects of British culture from the 1910s through to the 1950s: aside from the case studies explored in Art for the People, I am also interested in ballet costume and set design, the visual and print culture of British fascism, and popular periodicals. With Brittany Moster Bergonzi, I have recently co-edited a special issue of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, 'Word and Image on the Printed Page', published in summer 2022. 

Given my background in Critical and Cultural Theory, I am interested in developing new ways of reading a range of literary and non-literary texts. To this end, I co-organised of a series of Centre for Modernist Cultures workshops, ‘Ways of Reading: An Interactive Magazines Workshop for PGs and ECRs’, and a workshop on reading bureaucratic documents for the Centre for Literary Editing and Materiality of the Text in March 2019.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Cardiff University

Award Date: 1 Apr 2017

Master of Arts, Cardiff University

Award Date: 1 Oct 2011

Bachelor of Arts, Cardiff University

Award Date: 1 Jun 2009

Keywords

  • PR English literature
  • modernism
  • modern literature
  • middlebrow
  • periodicals
  • N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
  • public art
  • arts organisations
  • murals
  • sculpture
  • posters
  • state patronage
  • D204 Modern History
  • cultural history
  • bureaucracy
  • Britain
  • cultural policy

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