Research Cluster

American Literatures and Cultures

Globe of Central America

This research cluster reflects the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies longstanding strengths in teaching and research in the literatures, film, and cultures of the Americas, particularly the US South, the Caribbean, and issues of US expansionism both within and beyond 'continental' geographies.

Moving away from the study of the United States as an exceptional, territorially bound space, our research approaches ‘America’ in the context of a hemispheric and global nexus of power relations and cultural production, paying particular attention to the phenomena of transculturation and diaspora.

Our approach also actively promotes the study of the Anglophone Caribbean in relation to the Francophone and Hispanophone literary, film, and artistic tradition, reframes American borders and boundaries by interrogating imperialist legacies both at home and abroad, and broadens the study of American literatures through comparison to other arts and media.

American literatures and cultures are studied in their pan-Caribbean, transatlantic and hemispheric dimension, and from an interdisciplinary perspective which includes multiple genres including novels, biographical narratives, memoirs, plays, poems, travel writing, journalism and geo-political-historical accounts. Our research branches into the visual arts, film, theatre, performance and ekphrasis.

Members of this research cluster have produced ground-breaking works in dialogue with recent developments in cultural geography, the productive mobilization of literature/culture in human rights advocacy, and the study of gender and ethnicity.

We have strong ties with the British Association for American Studies and the Society for Caribbean Studies and members of this cluster are also members of Caribbean Studies Associations, Dominican Studies Association, the Pacific History Association, and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.

Research themes

There are a number of strands to our research within this cluster. 

  • Transculturation and diaspora
  • New Negro and Black Modernism 1910-1940
  • Trans American networks in the United States and Caribbean in early twentieth-century print culture
  • Avant-garde US poetry
  • Alternative knowledges and feminist reading and writing practices
  • Environment criticism
  • Modern American place-poetics
  • Literatures and cultures of New Orleans and its connection with the extended Caribbean
  • Interdisciplinary critical and cultural analysis of the Western in film and literature, gender and subjectivity
  • The work of Derek Walcott
  • Literatures, arts, and cinemas in the extended Caribbean
  • Human rights, the arts, and literature, particularly in relation to border relations, migration, and citizenship on Hispaniola
  • Documentary and postcolonial cinema
  • Gender and ethnicity is US literature and film
  • Film and human geography, Oceania and the Pacific

Research in these areas is central to many major externally funded international research projects.

Research supervision

We offer research supervision in a broad geographical range of literatures and cinemas, and related arts and media. Recently completed and ongoing projects by our doctoral students include:

  • Mapping the Dominican-American Experience: Narratives
  • Genuine Mess: Extratextuality in the Work of four American Women Poets
  • Zombie Fictions: Possession, Consumption and Zombification in Recent Caribbean and U.S. literature

Please contact our academics directly to discuss research supervision opportunities, or explore our research degrees and what to expect from a degree in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies. You can also find out how to apply for postgraduate research at Essex, or use research finder if you are interested in searching for further research opportunities at Essex.

Houses in Haiti
Breaking through cultural barriers in hispaniola

Can defending and celebrating cultural links help bridge the divide between Haiti and the Dominican Republic? In the first book to explore the literary and cultural history of the two nations, Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli identifies strong links between the nations, which has led her to challenge the notion that hostilities are so deeply embedded, they can’t be overcome.

Read more

Highlights of our research

Research projects

Recent research projects funded by the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and ESRC/University of Essex Impact Acceleration Fund include:

  • 2021-2022 - Kodachrome Travels: Colour Film, Realism, and the American Pacific Imagination (Jeffrey Geiger) (also funded through a British Association for American Studies Founders’ Research Award)
  • 2016-2019 - Derek Walcott’s Painters: an interdisciplinary project which fills a substantial gap in the scholarship on the Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, namely the lack of a serious study of his ongoing engagement with the visual arts. (Maria Cristina Fumagalli)
  • 2016-2018 - Reconceptualizing troubled border relations: promoting cross-border collaboration, cooperation and solidarity between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the wake of the denationalization crisis in Hispaniola (Maria Cristina Fumagalli)
  • 2014-2015 - Caribbean Contacts: New York Networks, 1900-1945 (Jak Peake) awarded by Elon University and Fulbright 2014-15, $20,000. 

Publications

  • On the Edge: Writing the Border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Maria Cristina Fumagalli’s book On the Edge: Writing the Border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic (2015) was reissued as a paperback by Liverpool University Press in 2018.

  • Morning, Paramin Derek Walcott, Peter Doig, and an Ekphrasis of Relation

Maria Cristina Fumagalli’s article entitled Morning, Paramin Derek Walcott, Peter Doig, and an Ekphrasis of Relation was published in the New West Indian Guide in 2018.

  • ‘Exquisite Wonder’: Colour Film, Realism, and the Yankee Voyage, 1936-38

Jeffrey Geiger’s article “‘Exquisite Wonder’: Colour Film, Realism, and the Yankee Voyage, 1936-38” is out now in Journal of New Zealand and Pacific Studies 8.1 (2020).

  • Intimate Media: New Queer Documentary and the Sensory Turn

Jeffrey Geiger’s article ‘Intimate Media: New Queer Documentary and the Sensory Turn’ has appeared online in Studies in Documentary Film.

  • Between the Bocas: A Literary Geography of Western Trinidad

Jak Peake's book Between the Bocas: A Literary Geography of Western Trinidad (Liverpool University Press, 2017) was part of the “American Tropics” research project based at Essex and funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

  • ‘Watching the Waters’: Tropic flows in the Harlem Renaissance, Black Internationalism and other currents

Jak Peake’s articleWatching the Waters’: Tropic flows in the Harlem Renaissance, Black Internationalism and other currents’ has appeared in Radical Americas in 2018

  • Nonlinear Temporality in Joyce and Walcott: History Repeating Itself with a Difference

Sean Seeger's book Nonlinear Temporality in Joyce and Walcott: History Repeating Itself with a Difference, published by Routledge in 2017, is the first dedicated comparative study of James Joyce and Derek Walcott.

  • ‘Don't anyone tell me that New Orleans is a filthy swamp-hole’: Fate, Fever, and the City as Nexus in Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein's The Mysteries of New Orleans

Owen Robinson’s book chapter ‘Don't anyone tell me that New Orleans is a filthy swamp-hole": Fate, Fever, and the City as Nexus in Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein's The Mysteries of New Orleans was published in: New Orleans and the Global South: Caribbean, Creolization, Carnival in 2017.

  • Proffered for Your Perusal in Ring by Concentric Ring

Owen Robinson’s book chapter “Proffered for Your Perusal in Ring by Concentric Ring” was published in The Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U. S. South in 2016.

  • True Grit: Dirt, Subjectivity and the Female Body in Contemporary Westerns

Jordan Savage’s article “True Grit: Dirt, Subjectivity and the Female Body in Contemporary Westerns” was published in 2020 in Zeitschrift fur Anglistik und Americanistik.

  • ‘There Was a Veil Upon You, Pocahontas’: The Pocahontas Story as a Myth of American Heterogeneity in the Liberal Western

Jordan Savage’s article 'There Was a Veil Upon You, Pocahontas": The Pocahontas Story as a Myth of American Heterogeneity in the Liberal Western’ was published in 2018 in Papers on Language and Literature.

Conferences and events

  • Jak Peake hosted an international conference ‘American Networks: Radicals Under the Radar (1868-1968), 11-13 July 2016, University of Notre Dame, London, keynotes from Professors Winston James and Rhonda Y. Williams, resulting in special issue of Comparative American Studies (2019; co-ed. Peake).
  • In response to the University of Essex Art Exchange exhibition, ‘Open Your Eyes’ 21 Nov 2019, Jak Peake gave a ‘Colonialism Contested’ talk with Professor Jeremy Krikler from the Department of History on the issues of race, representation and the legacies of colonialism and slavery notably the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago involving Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells.
  • Essex PhD students Maria-Irina Popescu and Jessica Houlihan organised the BAAS/CHASE Postgraduate Conference, ‘We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evidence’: Post Truth & American Myths’ at the University of Essex, 25-26 November 2017.
 

Cluster members

Professor, Department of Literature Film and Theatre Studies (LiFTS)
Research interests: Caribbean literatures, art and cinema; literature and place; border studies (especially concerning the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic); literature and the environment; migration and literature; human rights and literature; literature and the visual arts; contemporary poetry; literary and filmic rewritings, adaptations, translation and comparative studies; contemporary Caribbean and US relations (especially regarding the Dominican and Haitian Diasporas); the work of Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Junot Diaz, and Edwidge Danticat; postcolonial studies; women writing; Italian cinema and literature
Professor, Department of Literature Film and Theatre Studies (LiFTS)
Research interests: documentary; media practice and theory (creative practice / PaR); amateur cinema; gender and ethnicity in US literature, film, television; island representations; Oceania and the Pacific in film and photography; postcolonial cinema studies
Senior Lecturer, Department of Literature Film and Theatre Studies (LiFTS)
Senior Lecturer, Department of Literature Film and Theatre Studies (LiFTS)
Research interests: Literature and culture of the US South; William Faulkner; New Orleans; Post-war US fiction; African-American literature; Theory Bakhtin, reader-response, literary geography
Lecturer, Department of Literature Film and Theatre Studies (LiFTS)
Research interests: avant-garde U.S. poetry; literatures of the American South-West; alternative knowledges; feminist reading and writing practices; environmental criticism;
Senior Lecturer, Department of Literature Film and Theatre Studies (LiFTS)
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Karin Littau