Matthew Ward

Colleges, School and Institutes

Biography

I joined the University of Birmingham in 2016, after teaching at the University of St Andrews, where I also obtained my PhD. I took my MA at Oxford, and my M.Phil at Cambridge. Prior to my postgraduate studies, I worked as a nursing auxiliary in a medical assessment unit in a busy hospital in South Wales.

Research interests

My primary interests lie in British Romanticism, especially the poetry of Byron, William Wordsworth, Keats, and Percy Shelley, and Romantic thought, particularly as it develops out of eighteenth-century moral philosophy and influences post-Romantic literature. Much of my work in recent years has revolved around the history of emotions, senses of humour, and poetry, and I have a growing interest in the environmental humanities.

Currently I am revising a monograph about laughter and the laughable in the Romantic period. Through close reading and historical insights, it will provide the first in-depth account of the significance of laughter to the lives and lines of verse of the Romantics. Laughter has generally gone unheard by critics of the period. When acknowledged at all, it tends to be shorthand to denote the humorous. I read it as an affect that tells us much about Romantic emotions, but also sheds new light on how poets conceived of and fashioned their verse - drawing relations between outbursts of laughter and, say, the 'spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings' registered through poetry. The book details the strange and inexplicable nature of laughable experiences (funny feelings), but also illustrates how laughter came to be identified with sympathy, which suggests a sea-change to how people felt about, perceived, and described laughter and the laughable in the Romantic period.

Developing out of my interest in literary tradition and inheritance, I’m also working on projects about Byron and poetic legacies and influence. Even in the solitude of writing, Byron was of a sociable bent. He constantly thought about himself in comparison with other poets. Yet there’s a pervasive tendency in both the popular and academic imagination to think about Byron’s influence in terms of his personal character rather than his art. I’m keen to push at these issues, and the first result of this was a symposium in January 2018, co-organised with Dr Clare Bucknell (University of Oxford). The symposium brought together contributors to exchange ideas about the many ways Byron might be thought to be – perhaps more than most – ‘among’ the poets: alluding and alluded to; collaborative; competitive; parodied; worked and reworked in canons, pantheons, anthologies and miscellanies. A second result of this research is an edited collection, Byron Among the English Poets: Literary Tradition and Poetic Legacy (Cambridge University Press, 2021). A longer-term aim is to develop work on Byron's poetic afterlives, reconsidering poetic practice and criticism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in light of Byron's influence. 

My third area of research emerges out of my background in affect and the emotions in literature and an interest in environmental matters. I’m beginning to think about a project focused on our relationship with the world around us, and how our emotional lives are crucial to our sense of place and appreciation of  various environments which often manifest themselves in complicated and politically charged ways.

Willingness to take PhD students

Yes

PhD projects

I welcome enquiries in the following areas: Romantic-period writing – especially the Wordsworths, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, John Keats and the cockney-school; post-Romantic poetry; literary influence and tradition; emotions and affect; humour and comedy in literature; environmental studies and nature writing.