Emma West

Colleges, School and Institutes


I am a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow based in the Department of English Literature at the University of Birmingham. Before joining the University in 2017, I completed my BA, MA and PhD at Cardiff University; during that time, I undertook fellowships at the Library of Congress, Washington DC and KU Leuven, Belgium. I am passionate about sharing my research with as wide an audience as possible: I welcome opportunities to speak at public events.

Research interests

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, continues 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.

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. I am currently developing two editorial projects which explore the relationship between word and image in literary and artistic modernism.

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 am the organiser of a series of Centre for Modernist Cultures workshops, ‘Ways of Reading: An Interactive Magazines Workshop for PGs and ECRs’ (June 2018/2019), and a workshop on reading bureaucratic documents for the Centre for Literary Editing and Materiality of the Text in March 2019.

Education/Academic qualification

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Cardiff University

    PhD Critical and Cultural Theory

  • Master of Arts, Cardiff University

    MA Critical and Cultural Theory

  • Bachelor of Arts, Cardiff University

    English Literature and Cultural Criticism

Professional Qualifications

  • Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, AFHEA