Dr James Underwood

Dr James Underwood receives a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award to build a bridge between the reading public and academics

A PROJECT spearheaded by a University of Huddersfield researcher will help academics in the field of literary studies share their insights and ideas with members of the public who have a passion for literature.

Dr James Underwood – whose areas of expertise include the poetry of Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin – is Research Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University, and has been identified by the British Academy as a potential leader in his subject area.  It has bestowed on him a Rising Star Engagement Award.

This includes a £9,000 grant to fund a project named Literature and the Reading Public: Challenges and Opportunities.  Dr Underwood will train and mentor a network of early career researchers and when the scheme was advertised he received dozens of applications, from which he selected a group of ten.

“They are all from the field of literary studies, but have a very wide range of intellectual backgrounds, from medieval to contemporary literature and culture,” said Dr Underwood.

The successful applicants will attend workshops taking place at the University of Huddersfield in January and February.  At the first session, they will hear talks from some major academic figures in literary studies who have impressive records in public engagement.

At the second workshop, members of Dr Underwood’s newly-formed network will devise their own public engagement project.

The goal is to build a bridge between the reading public and academics.

“The challenge is not getting people to read – a highly popular activity – but how do we as researchers engage the public with the very complex, highly theoretical work that we are doing,” said Dr Underwood, who believes that readers could have their literary experiences enriched.

His roles include the development of the Ted Hughes Network based at at the University of Huddersfield and Dr Underwood believes that universities are increasingly aware of the importance of public engagement.

“But the idea behind the British Academy project came from my feeling that whilst there are a lot of courses for academics who want to engage with the public, they tend to be very general.  I believe is that individual disciplines face specific challenges in doing public engagement and that’s what I wanted to address.”