Research Features

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John Milton's notes identified in an influential book he once owned

John Milton’s handwritten annotations have been identified in a copy of Holinshed's Chronicles, a vital source of inspiration for the Paradise Lost poet.


Reclaim ‘wellness’ from the rich and famous, and restore its political radicalism, new book argues

A new cultural history of the 1970s wellness industry offers urgent lessons for today.


'Bawdy bard' manuscript reveals medieval roots of British comedy

A unique record of medieval live comedy performance has been identified in a 15th-century manuscript


Saving England's chalk streams

River activists gather in Cambridge to share their knowledge, passion and battle plans for chalk streams, one of the world’s rarest and most vulnerable habitats.


Saffron: a Cambridge spice

An investigation into the local histories of saffron in Cambridgeshire.


'It's about finding your own way': Eve's return to education after 10 years

Mature student Eve Hines-Braham secured a place at the University of Cambridge after completing an Access to HE course


The Lost Words: a ‘spell book’ that closes the gap between childhood and nature

'The Lost Words' is a book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris that summons the magic of nature to help children find, love and protect the natural world.


The power of touch

As a major Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition explores human touch through 4,000 years of art, Cambridge researchers explain why this sense is so important in their own work.


Submissions open for BBC National Short Story Award and BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University

Novelist James Runcie and broadcaster Katie Thistleton will chair the judging panels for the 2021 BBC National Short Story Award and BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University, and submissions are now open.


A treasure trove of unseen writing by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney reveals a vital creative friendship

The Barrie Cooke archive, acquired by Pembroke College Cambridge, transforms our understanding of the great poets Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.


Beyond the pandemic: find better ways to talk about death

COVID-19 has forced millions of people to confront the prospect of dying earlier than they expected and under extraordinary circumstances. Now more than ever we need to find ways to talk about death suggests Laura Davies, from the Faculty of English.


Cambridge academics elected to British Academy fellowship

Eight academics, including Professor Clair Wills, from the University of Cambridge have been made Fellows of the prestigious British Academy for the humanities and social sciences.


Did the Sixties dream die in 1969?

The year 1969 is held up as the end of an era, but fifty years on are we still buying into a dangerous myth? Counterculture expert James Riley delves into the darkness of the Sixties to sort fact from psychedelic fiction.


Annotating History: thoughts of an Elizabethan scholar revealed in newly acquired book Centuries-old annotations by Gabriel Harvey added to University Library collections

ith the generous support of the Friends of the National Libraries , Cambridge University Library welcomes a new addition to their collection of books annotated by Gabriel Harvey, far more copiously annotated with extensive and revealing marginalia than those from his collection already held in the Library.


Shakespeare’s mystery annotator identified as John Milton

A Cambridge literary scholar suggests that the handwriting on a Shakespeare First Folio in Philadelphia matches that of the Paradise Lost poet, John Milton.


Shelley’s Peterloo poem took inspiration from the radical press, new research reveals

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, the most celebrated literary response to the Peterloo massacre – which has its bicentenary on 16 August – drew on accounts of the tragedy written by the radical journalist and freethinker, Richard Carlile.


AI: Life in the age of intelligent machines

In a new film, leading Cambridge University researchers discuss the far-reaching advances offered by artificial intelligence – and consider the consequences of developing systems that think far beyond human abilities.


The Lost Words: inspiring children to find, love and protect nature

The Lost Words is a book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris that summons the magic of nature to help children find, love and protect the natural world.


Vice-Chancellor’s awards showcase Cambridge researchers' public engagement and societal impact

The first major repository of legal practices for mediators and conflict parties to draw on when negotiating peace has won the top prize in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards at the University of Cambridge.


Blood and bodies: the messy meanings of a life-giving substance

A collection of essays explores understandings of a vital bodily fluid in the period 1400-1700. Its contributors offer insight into both theory and practice during a period that saw the start of empiricism and an overturning of the folklore that governed early medicine.


Opinion: Charles Manson: death of America's 1960s bogeyman

Charles Manson, one of America's most notorious criminals and cult leaders, has died.


The man who tried to read all the books in the world

One man’s quest to create a library of everything, 500 years before Google Books was conceived, foreshadowed the challenges of ‘big data’ and our reliance on search algorithms to make sense of it all


Into the woods with Shakespeare

The Shakespearean Forest reimagines the real forests that our greatest playwright evoked in his works.


Tennyson and the Victorian Literary Canon: New Manuscript Uncovered by Michael J. Sullivan

A rediscovered revision copy of The Golden Treasury reveals the enduring influence of Alfred, Lord Tennyson on the English literary canon.


Nan Shepherd celebrated: the Scottish writer who knew mountains

The writer Nan Shepherd (1893-1981), who was quietly acclaimed in her lifetime, is the face of a new Royal Bank of Scotland bank note. One of Shepherd's staunchest supporters is Robert Macfarlane (Faculty of English), who wrote the introduction to her book about the Cairngorms.


The adventures of Sir Kenelm Digby: 17th-century pirate, philosopher and foodie

A dark shadow lay over his family name when, aged 24, Sir Kenelm Digby raised a fleet to sail against the enemy French in the multicultural world of the Mediterranean. In his new book, Joe Moshenska (Faculty of English) looks at the intellectual, political and culinary life of a man driven by a thirst for knowledge.


Shakespeare goes to East Africa

On the eve of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Dr Edward Wilson-Lee explores the remarkable ways in which the works of England's greatest poet-playwright are woven into the merging cultures of East Africa. In his debut book, Shakespeare in Swahililand, Wilson-Lee gives a compelling account of an era in which Shakespeare took centre stage.


From Pulp to Fiction: Our Love Affair with Paper

It may seem strange to describe paper as technology, but its arrival in England in about 1300 was a pivotal moment in cultural history. That story is being pieced together for the first time in a new project that also promises to reveal much about why some innovations succeed where others fail.


The Language of Literature and Chastity

In her debut book, Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson (Faculty of English) shows how deeply the Christian virtue of chastity was embedded into the culture of the early Stuart world. In the struggle between the newly established Church of England and Roman Catholicism, chastity was a powerful construct that was both personal and political.


How Artisans Used Colour Printing to Add Another Dimension to Woodcuts

An exhibition of early colour printing in Germany shines a light on the ways in which technology jump-started a revolution in image making. The British Museum show is curated by Dr Elizabeth Savage, whose research makes a radical contribution to an understanding of colour in woodcuts.


Literary Pursuits: The Story Behind the Story of Literature's Great Works

Faculty of English academic Dr Sarah Dillon is to become a literary detective in a new Sunday Feature series on BBC Radio 3 exploring great works of literature and how they came to be written.


Manuscripts under the microscope: Cambridge launches Manuscripts Lab

Students and academics from the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, have launched a new "Manuscripts Lab": an interactive website to explore the significance of hand-written texts.


Too Big to Cry: When War Ended, the Damage Began

A collection of essays edited by Drs Trudi Tate and Kate Kennedy looks at the legacy of the First World War through the lens of the creative arts. As a specialist in the literature of conflict, Tate explores the ways in which writers expressed the impact of trauma on families - and child rearing in particular.


Opinion: How Free Are We Really?

We may have to recognise that the greatest danger to our exercise of freedom is lapsing into habits of thought where we acquiesce - where it becomes easier to think of the way things are as the way things ought to be, or will always be.


The Alchemical Landscape

Contemporary writers, film-makers and musicians are increasingly investing the English landscape with notions of magic and the occult. As part of this year's Festival of Ideas, Yvonne Salmon and James Riley present a field guide to this 'geographic turn'.


... dot, dot, dot: How the Ellipsis Made its Mark

We avoid them in formal writing but they pepper our emails ... In 'Ellipsis in English Literature', Dr Anne Toner explores the history of dots, dashes and asterisks used to mark silence of some kind. The focus of the book - the first to look exclusively at the backstory of these marks - is communication.


On the Eve of the Booker Prize: a Sideways Look at the Literary Puff

A literary puff is the promotional blurb that appears on book jackets and publishers' press releases. Dr Ross Wilson, Faculty of English, discusses the nature of the rave review and asks whether it counts as criticism.


Making a Drama Out of A Crisis

Developed by a Cambridge academic and theatre director, 3rd Ring Out was an immersive drama about our possible climate-changed future. By inviting audiences to rehearse for possible climate change disaster, the work opened up new spaces for conversation - spaces now being used to discuss other key global challenges.


Novel Thoughts #8: Amy Milton on Hubert Selby's Requiem for a Dream

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


Novel Thoughts #6: Guy Pearson on Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


Novel Thoughts #5: Juliet Foster on Susan Fromberg Schaeffer's The Madness of a Seduced Woman

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


Novel Thoughts #4: Simon Redfern on Chinghiz Aitmatov's Jamila

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


Novel Thoughts #7: Carol Brayne on Charles Dickens and George Eliot

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


Novel Thoughts #3: Karen Yu on George Lucas' Star Wars

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


Novel Thoughts #2: Clare Bryant on AS Byatt's Possession

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


Novel Thoughts: What Cambridge Scientists Read

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


Novel Thoughts #1: Paul Coxon on Jan Wahl's SOS Bobomobile

New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.


"Albatross!" The legendary giant seabird

The Cambridge Animal Alphabet series celebrates Cambridge's connections with animals through literature, art, science and society. Here, A is for Albatross - in sketches retrieved from Antarctica, research into migratory patterns, and Coleridge's famous ballad.


The York Mystery Plays in Performance

The York Cycle of Mystery Plays, first performed in the 14th century, has become a hugely popular event in the cultural heritage of York, and a major source of revenue to the local economy, thanks in no small part to the work of Professor Richard Beadle of the Faculty of English.


Cambridge Heads for Hay

More than 20 Cambridge academics will be speaking on subjects ranging from hate speech, torture and the battle of Waterloo to global health innovation and pandemic flu research at this year's Hay Festival.


Words for mud and mountain, wind and wetland: answers on a postcard, please

'Dumberdash' is an old Cheshire term for a short but violent storm. A 'lumpenhole' is a deep trench for fluid farmyard waste. The man who remembers these words is among the scores of people who have written to Dr Robert Macfarlane in response to his latest book, Landmarks.


Stirbitch: Mapping the Unmappable

Dr Michael Hrebeniak describes himself as inveterately curious about people and places. His fascination for a messy patch of Cambridge, best known for its traffic jams and retail park, has led him to create with words and film 'a deep map' of the layers of human experience on the fringes of the city.


Travellers Under Open Skies: Writers, Artists and Gypsies

In her new book Representations of the Gypsy in the Romantic Period, Sarah Houghton-Walker provides a fascinating insight into writers' and artists' portrayals of wanderers. Her study focuses on a period when gypsies' fragile place in the landscape, and on the margins of society, came increasingly under threat.


'Besom ling and teasel burrs': John Clare and Botanising

A symposium taking place on Tuesday (23 September 2014) at Cambridge University Botanic Garden will unite artists, writers, scientists and literary scholars to look at the poet John Clare's close engagement with the natural environment as a botanist as well as poet.


On Not Forgetting Nadine Gordimer

In this article, originally posted on the CRASSH website, Graham Riach - a PhD candidate in the English Faculty working on South African literature - explores the life and legacy of writer Nadine Gordimer, who recently passed away.


Men and Books: Narratives of Desire

Our choice of books says a lot about us - and our relationships with books as objects can be complex. At a conference taking place today (28 June 2014), Dr Victoria Mills (Faculty of English) will discuss how book collecting may have afforded an expression for marginalised male identities in the late Victorian period.


Cambridge Heads for Hay

A host of Cambridge academics, including Nobel Laureate Sir John Gurdon, will be speaking on subjects ranging from stem cell technology and Alzheimer's to the future of North Korea and the history of conspiracy theories at this year's Hay Festival.


Writing is but another form of conversation': Laurence Sterne at 300

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman turned a Yorkshire clergyman into a literary celebrity. Three hundred years after his birth on 24 November 1713, Laurence Sterne's quirky take on the novel continues to inspire. Dr Mary Newbould explores Sterne's lasting impact.


CS Lewis: 50 Years after his Death a New Scholarship Will Honour his Literary Career

CS Lewis, creator of some of the most-loved children's stories and also a scholar of medieval and early modern literature, died half a century ago on 22 November. A scholarship to be set up in his name will support an outstanding graduate to study at Cambridge University.


Forgotten Poems Recovered by American Civil War Research

American Civil War poetry that sheds light on a neglected chapter of the era's literary history has been recovered and made freely available online after 150 years.


An enchantment with Italy: one family and their books

Belton House boasts one of the most extensive libraries among National Trust properties, representing 350 years of book collecting. Dr Abigail Brundin and Dr Dunstan Roberts have curated an exhibition of Italian literature at Belton, showcasing material that has rarely been seen by the public.


The un-Limited Edition

Emerging new digital editions at Cambridge are effecting a sea-change in the nature of the scholarly edition, radicalising access to vital source materials and opening up new possibilities for research.


South African Crime-Fiction Wave Hits Cambridge

Amid high-profile, real-life murder investigations and growing concerns about public safety, a new breed of crime fiction is sweeping South Africa, as one of its leading writers will tell the University of Cambridge this week.


Has the Nation Reached it Sell-By Date?

Dr Malachi McIntosh, Lecturer in Postcolonial and Related Literatures, wonders what Britishness is, as Granta magazine publishes its influential, once-per-decade 'Best of Young British Novelists' list. Today, 9 May, he will chair a related discussion, 'Literature and the Nation', with American academic and cultural commentator Professor Cornel West and novelist Ben Okri.


Two-step, Nerve-tap, Tanglefoot

On 6 November Professor Steven Connor will give a talk at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities on the affinity between tap dance and sound cinema, interspersing his discussion with clips from Hollywood musicals. It's all to do with sound, movement and counting.


Explore the Scary Stories of Early Cultures

Don't miss the chance to learn about the rich cultures of the early British Isles in a series of free talks and readings at the Faculty of English, taking place this Saturday (3 November) as part of Cambridge University's Festival of Ideas.


Margaret Drabble Deposits Archive in University Library

Leading author Dame Margaret Drabble has deposited her literary archive in Cambridge University Library.


Weather-washed, Tide-turned

When Cambridge academic and writer Dr Robert Macfarlane was asked to write a libretto for a performance celebrating the extraordinary landscape of Orford Ness, he turned his back on the world and let the voices of the landscape speak for themselves.


Travelling Slowly

Cambridge academic Dr Robert Macfarlane's new book - The Old Ways - is a remarkable excursion into the many-layered landscape of life and literature with countless stopping points along the route.


Reinventing Tragedy in the Modern Age

Is tragedy the perfect dramatic form for our current predicament? Or has the classic idea of catharsis through viewing the suffering of others become much more problematic in an age of 24/7 news and the internet? An event at this year's Hay Festival will investigate.


Landscape, Literature, Life

Over the past few years, the genre of 'nature writing' has seen a new sense of urgency, fostered by a growing awareness of a natural world under pressure. Dr Robert Macfarlane, from the Faculty of English, believes that writers have played, and continue to play, a central role in conservation by engaging our hearts and our minds.


And the Oscar goes to...

French silent film The Artist won best picture at Sunday night's Academy Awards. Chris O'Rourke from the Faculty of English looks at the resurgence of interest in silent cinema, and discusses his research on the acting styles of early film to which The Artist pays homage.


Ever your Affectionate Father, Charles Dickens

A letter written in 1868 by Charles Dickens, the bicentenary of whose birth falls today, to his son Henry, who had newly arrived at Cambridge, reveals a touching concern for Henry's welfare in matters physical, moral and spiritual.


For Lust of Knowing What Should not be Known

Clare Holtham (1948-2010) had a huge enthusiasm for learning. After a troubled childhood, which led to a spell of homelessness, she became an intrepid traveller and independent-minded student at Newnham College, Cambridge. A book of Clare's poems called The Road from Herat, launched today at Newnham, reflects a life lived to the full.


Final Chance to Catch Record-breaking Festival of Ideas

The University of Cambridge's Festival of Ideas bows out this weekend with a host of family friendly and thought-provoking events.


The Remarkable Story of Alexander Crummell

A talk at the University of Cambridge's Festival of Ideas this evening will focus on the extraordinary life of Alexander Crummell - the son of a slave - who was one of the first black students to study at Cambridge.


Freedom, Revolution and Communication at the Festival of Ideas

Politics, both at home and abroad, has been front page news for most of the year. With the first coalition government since World War II and the uprising in the Arab world, understanding the state of politics is even more important than ever.


Children's Literature an Escape from the Adult World

Literary classics such as Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland have been lovingly cherished and re-published over the centuries. Although shelved as children's literature, these books have remained immensely popular with adults. Why do we still find such comfort in re-reading these children's classics?


"I Must Be Present at Your Conference"

The Cambridge Shakespeare Conference 2011 will bring together eminent scholars, artists, performers and educationists from a wide spectrum of disciplines to engage in a creative dialogue.


Facebook's Precursor

'Commonplace books' were scrapbooks into which people copied their favourite poems and collected together other items - and were used as the basis for an early version of social networking.


Report assesses arts and humanities research

Research in the arts and humanities deserves wider recognition for the broad range of palpable contributions it is making to the life of the nation, a new report suggests.


History's Bitter Pill

The British Empire presided over innumerable atrocities and acts of appalling cruelty, but what use is acknowledging those injustices when they are so distant from our own time? Priyamvada Gopal's research illustrates both the strength of our ties to the past and the implications they have for our present.


A Scriptorium of Commonplace Books

'Scriptorium' is the culmination of a three-year project in the Faculty of English to digitise and preserve a type of manuscript book well known in 15th- to 18th-century Europe: the commonplace book or manuscript miscellany.


Reading Closely

Close scrutiny of text is the bedrock of a research culture that spans practically the whole range of contemporary English studies.


Shakespeare's Medieval World

Medieval culture pervaded Shakespeare's life and work. Professor Helen Cooper examines its influence on the work of the world's greatest playwright.


Unlocking the History of the Book

Books and manuscripts of any period can have unique and complicated personal histories. 'From the moment of inception, a text becomes a material object that can be subjected to a whole host of life events, which might encompass how it is copied, edited, published, disseminated, reviewed, revised or preserved...'


Celebrating Cinema, from 1895 to the Digital Age

Why have writers been so fascinated by cinema? What role might this 19th-century invention play in the digital age?


Going Feral

Are there any wild places left in Britain and Ireland? Robert Macfarlane has travelled in search of them, reflecting on the meaning of 'wildness' and the nature writing tradition.


Opening the Treasure Chest

Cambridge is leading the way in Resource Enhancement projects in the UK, opening up its unique and valuable collections to scholars worldwide, as well as the wider public.