The City

The City


London is a literary hub, home to thousands of writers, editors, agents, publishers, and printing presses. The Department, situated at the pulsing heart of Bloomsbury – just minutes away from the British Library, the British Museum, and the offices of many national newspapers and specialist cultural reviews – is fully alive to the buzz of so much proximate literary activity. The advantages and excitement of such a central location are reflected in both our teaching and our research.

Teaching in the Department’s courses takes advantage of UCL’s exceptional metropolitan position. A year-long undergraduate course is devoted specifically to the study of London in Literature. Ranging widely in time, from medieval London to contemporary theories of psychogeography, the course explores the many imaginative opportunities the city has afforded, evaluating its representation in literature and other arts, and encouraging students to think about the city both historically and theoretically. Taught MA programmes also capitalize in the Department’s position at pulsing heart of London by covering topics such as medieval and Renaissance urban writing, Shakespeare’s London, and the city and modernity.

Much of the Department’s research attends to literary portrayals of to city life.

 2010 saw the publication of Restless Cities (Verso), a collection of essays edited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart. Bringing together essays by contemporary writers and scholars, it interweaves analytical and experiential voices in its attempt to explore the everyday life of the modern metropolitan city and to understand its histories. It includes contributions by Marshall Berman, Geoff Dyer, Patrick Keiller, Esther Leslie, Chris Petit, and Iain Sinclair, as well as by the Department’s own Matthew Beaumont, Rachel Bowlby, Gregory Dart, and Michael Sayeau. Restless Cities
   
GK Chesterton Matthew Beaumont’s Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London from Chaucer to Dickens, the research for which was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will be published by Verso in April 2015. It explores the night side of London from the Middle Ages to the mid-nineteenth century, reconstructing its peculiar social ecology through the figure of the aimless or homeless nightwalker. He has also, with Matthew Ingleby, edited, G.K.Chesterton, London and Modernity (Bloomsbury, 2013), the first volume to explore the importance of the city in Chesterton’s writing.
Gregory Dart’s recently published Cockney Adventures: Metropolitan Art and Literature 1810-1830 (Cambridge, 2012) is a study of the development of new kinds of metropolitan art and literature in the years 1815-40.
Greg Metropolitan Book Cover

Mark Ford London book cover
Mark Ford has also brought out a capacious anthology of poetry inspired by London entitled London: A History in Verse (Harvard, 2012).


Rachel Bowlby has written extensively about one particular aspect of the modern urban experience: shopping. The activity’s history is studied and analysed in such tomes as Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing and Zola (2009), Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping (2001), and Shopping With Freud (1993).

The Department has been and continues to be involved in a number of large, collaborative, city-themed projects.

The Leverhulme-funded Bloomsbury Project, which ran from 2007 to 2011 under the direction of Rosemary Ashton, made a study of the nineteenth-century history of UCL’s famous literary neighbourhood. The Project’s numerous findings are available on its website, and Ashton brings the place, its history, and its personalities vividly to life in Victorian Bloomsbury (Yale).

In 2010 Matthew Beaumont set up the City Centre with the aim of coordinating research projects relating to varied aspects of the cultural and literary history of the metropolis from the Middle Ages to the present. Professor Michael Sheringham, Marshall Foch Professor of French Literature at Oxford University, delivered the Centre’s inaugural lecture. Since then it has run a number of seminar series. The Centre’s advisory board includes Geoff Dyer, Esther Leslie, Patrick Keiller, China Miéville, Will Self and David Trotter. In 2014, the Centre will become part of UCL’s Urban Laboratory, where it will continue to function as an academic hub and as a platform for wider cultural events on aspects of city life.

In every other year, the Department organises One Day in the City, a celebration of Literature which is open and free to the general public thanks to sponsorship by Man Booker Prizes and UCL’s Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities. The inaugural event took place on June 15, 2012 and was a resounding success, with more than 600 people coming along to engage with such contributors as Dame A.S. Byatt, Alan Hollinghurst, Daljit Nagra, Alan Jenkins, Will Self, Iain Sinclair, and Adam Thirlwell. 

This year’s celebration, organised in partnership with Harper’s Bazaar, will take place on 13 June. The event will include talks by Kazuo Ishiguro, John Agard, Patience Agbabi, Jonathan Coe, Will Self, D.J. Taylor, India Knight, and John Sutherland, as well as readings, conversation panels, interactive theatre, and guided walks.

One Day in the City logo