Matthew Ward

Colleges, School and Institutes


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

Current work involves developing a monograph about the place of laughter in the Romantic period. This will be a much revised and expanded version of my PhD thesis on the sound of laughter in Romantic poetry, and will have a particular focus on how male poets react to and creatively employ laughter and the laughable. 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 Romantic period. When acknowledged at all, it tends to be shorthand to denote the humorous; I read it as a significant category in its own right that tells us much about Romantic emotions, and sheds light on how poets conceived of and produced their poetry. Part of my research focuses on laughter in relation to sympathy and identifies a cultural sea-change to how people felt about, perceived, and described laughter and the laughable between, roughly, 1760-1840.

Developing out of my interest in literary periodization and inheritance I’m also focused 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). This 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 (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 from 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 (often in problematic ways) various environments.

Willingness to take PhD students


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.