Throughout history, the changing city has been a source of reflection and inspiration to writers thinking about the conditions and prospects of human life. The city moves. It demands policies and regulation; it offers the pleasures and perils of the massive and the anonymous. As a site of study, the city is inherently multidisciplinary, with natural ties to history, geography, sociology, architectural and art history, and many other fields as well as literature.
The City research theme is built from several strands of interest and activity within UCL English. In the first place, we are physically located right at the heart of a major capital city—and a few minutes’ walk from train stations leading to most of the largest cities in England and Scotland—and (via Eurostar) to two more capital cities. The Bloomsbury Project made a study of the nineteenth-century history of UCL’s famous literary neighbourhood. This project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was based within English under the direction of Rosemary Ashton. Other city projects span different historical periods and engage with contemporary theories and cultural histories of the city. These include Ardis Butterfield’s Chaucer and the City, a collection of essays, and Rachel Bowlby’s books on the history of shopping, as well as two nearly completed books, Gregory Dart’s Cockney Adventures: Metropolitan Art and Literature 1810-1830, and Restless Cities, a collection of essays edited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart. Among future projects is Matthew Beaumont’s book on nightwalking in the city, Midnight Streets.
Plenty of teaching on the Department’s courses takes advantage of its exceptional metropolitan position. There is a year-long undergraduate course on London in Literature, while the taught MA programmes study topics such as medieval urban writing, Shakespeare’s London, and the city and modernity. The City theme also reaches outwards to engage with developments going on elsewhere in UCL via the UCL-wide Sustainable Cities ‘Grand Challenge’.