English Literature conferences

The English Literature group has an outstanding record of hosting international academic conferences, attracting scholars from around the world, and reflecting the exciting diversity of our research. We make a point of including our students and the local community in our conferences, to encourage the creation and development of wider intellectual networks.

Upcoming conferences

‘Some curious disquiet’: Polidori, the Byronic vampire, and its progeny. A symposium for the bicentenary of The Vampyre (6–7 April 2019)

John Polidori published his tale The Vampyre in 1819. It is well known that his vampire emerged out of the same storytelling contest at the Villa Diodati in 1816 that gave birth to that other archetype of the Gothic heritage, Frankenstein’s monster. Present at this gathering were Polidori (who was Byron’s physician), Mary Godwin, Frankenstein’s author; Claire Clairmont, Percy Shelley, and (crucially) Lord Byron.

This symposium will trace Polidori’s bloodsucking progeny and his heritage of ‘curious disquiet’ in literature and other media. It is a return to the beginnings of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project, which began with a very successful conference on vampires in 2010 followed by an edited collection, Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day, ed. by Sam George and Bill Hughes (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013) and the first special issue of Gothic Studies devoted to vampires (May 2013).

The Symposium is being held at the beautiful Keats House, Hampstead (where OGOM held a symposium for Bram Stoker’s centenary in 2012). Keats House is where the poet John Keats lived from 1818 to 1820, and is the setting that inspired some of Keats’s most memorable poetry. The event will include a tour of Keats House (who hold a first edition of The Vampyre) and a trip to Highgate Cemetery, home of the Highgate Vampire (a sensation of the 1970s), and where Karl Marx (who made good use of the vampire metaphor) and Lizzie Siddal lie.

Guest speakers have been invited to share their research into the many variations on monstrosity and deadly allure spawned by Polidori’s seminal textual reincarnation of Byronic glamour. The delegates have been selected for their expertise in the Byronic, the Gothic, and the vampiric. The speakers are: Sir Christopher Frayling, Prof. Catherine Spooner, Prof. William Hughes, Dr Stacey Abbott, Dr Sue Chaplin, Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn, Prof. Nick Groom, Prof. Gina Wisker, Dr Sam George, Dr Bill Hughes, Dr Ivan Phillips, writer Marcus Sedgwick, and OGOM ECRs and doctoral students Dr Kaja Franck, Daisy Butcher, and Dr Jillian Wingfield.

Full details about the Conference can be found at the Open Graves, Open Minds website

Past conferences

The Urban Weird (6–7 April 2018)

This exciting international conference, part of the Open Graves, Open Minds project was on the theme of the urban weird. The event included keynote speakers Professor Owen Davies and Dr Sam George from the University of Hertfordshire, and Dr Karl Bell (University of Portsmouth) and Dr Mikel Koven (University of Worcester). The conference also featured special events such as the Urban Weird Screening of Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922) and a Magical Cities Spectral St Albans Tour. Dr Ceri Houlbrook (University of Hertfordshire) led an Urban Weird Folklore Workshop. This workshop used a wide range of material – from the pens of antiquarians to local ballads and oral histories. It traced the history and folklore of Boggart Hole Clough, where today, still, ‘there lurks that strange elf’.

Full details about the Conference can be found at the Open Graves, Open Minds website

The Company of Wolves: Sociality, Animality and Subjectivity in Literary and Cultural Narratives - Werewolves, Shapeshifters and Feral Humans (3–5 September 2015)

This conference, part of the Open Graves, Open Minds project, turned its attention to werewolves and shapeshifters. Such beings have served in narrative fiction to question what humanity is; weres tend to reveal the complex affinities and differences between our existence as linguistic, social subjects and our physiological continuity with other animals. They also draw our attention to questions of hierarchy and sexuality, to the instinctive, and to what extent our conceptions of these are ideological. This interdisciplinary conference explored human social existence and its animal substrate, and the intersection between the human and the wolfishly bestial as expressed in narrative media from a variety of epochs and cultures. Speakers examined the cultural significance of these themes in all their various manifestations. A highlight was a visit to a wolf sanctuary!

Find out more about The Company of Wolves.

Victorian and Edwardian Lives and Letters (10–11 July 2014)

This two-day conference took place at the University of Hertfordshire and Knebworth House, home of the Victorian writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It brought together an international group of scholars working on life-writing, in its different manifestations, and the challenges posed by the study of Victorian and Edwardian figures from across the literary, theatrical, political and social scenes.

The Locations of Austen (11–13 July 2013)

To celebrate the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which is set in Hertfordshire, we hosted a three-day interdisciplinary conference to consider the ‘locations of Austen’. Jane Austen’s fiction is situated in a landscape both familiar and unknowable. It manages to evoke a strikingly detailed portrait of contemporary English geography and culture even while it remains, under closer scrutiny, fabricated. Participants at the conference considered how Austen’s work is located in its historical moment, and the implications of mapping Austen’s fictional settings onto real topographies of the English landscape.

Bram Stoker Centenary (20–21 April 2012)

Delegates at this symposium, hosted at the Keats House in Hampstead, London, investigated the most famous vampire narrative of all — Dracula. They interrogated its relationship to new developments in interdisciplinary research, drawing on nineteenth-century vampire archetypes. Dracula, of course, is the seminal vampire novel (though it has its antecedents); a gripping narrative that dramatises anxieties over sexuality, new technologies, foreignness, and modernity. Invited speakers will debate the evolution of Dracula from novel to theatre, film to comic book. The symposium boasts an innovative and exclusive programme of talks and discussions in the period setting of the house of Keats, who explored forbidden vampiric pleasures in his Lamia. Respects were paid to Stoker directly, with a trip to Golders Green Crematorium on the centenary of his death.

Find out more about the Stoker Centenary.

Worlds Apart Science Fiction Conference (2–3 April 2012)

This inter-disciplinary conference explored science fiction in all its forms, both in popular culture and in the academy. Contributions from international scholars covered a diverse array of topics, ranging from classic exponents of the genre such as H.G. Wells, to more recent and lesser-known work in comics and graphic novels, science fiction film and television.

Open Graves, Open Minds: Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture (16–18 April 2010)

This conference launched the enormously successful, and ongoing, Open Graves, Open Minds project, co-led by Dr Sam George, Senior Lecturer in Literature. The aim of the conference was to relate the undead in literature, art, and other media to questions concerning gender, technology, consumption, and social change. It provided an interdisciplinary forum for the development of innovative and creative research and examined the undead in all their various manifestations and cultural meanings.

Find out more about the Open Graves, Open Minds conference.