Dr Erin Sullivan


Dr Erin Sullivan

Shakespeare Institute
Senior Lecturer

Contact details

The Shakespeare Institute
Mason Croft
Church Street
CV37 6HP

I am a cultural historian and literary scholar interested in the emotional textures of Shakespeare’s writing and the way they help shape our experience of identity and community, both now and in the past. My research splits into two distinct but nonetheless related strands: the cultural history of the emotions, particularly sadness, and the performance and celebration of Shakespeare today.


  • PhD (UCL)
  • PGCert in Academic Practice (Open University)
  • MA (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham)
  • BA (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)


I studied for a BA in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, after which I moved to England on a Fulbright postgraduate scholarship to study for a MA in Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute. I completed my PhD at University College London, where I held the Roy Porter Memorial Studentship and was jointly affiliated with the English department and the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine. I took up my post at Birmingham in 2010 and became a Senior Lecturer in 2015.


Both my teaching and my research interests are broadly interdisciplinary, weaving together historical, cultural, and aesthetic concerns. I regularly convene modules on Shakespeare’s cultural legacy and theatre historiography, and I also teach on the University's undergraduate Shakespeare course.

As Tutor for Distance Learning at the Shakespeare Institute I oversee the distance learning (DL) options we offer through our MA Shakespeare and Theatre and MA Shakespeare and Education programmes, and I also help develop digital teaching opportunities across our institution. My work in this area has influenced my own research interests and has led me to write about the pedagogy of distance learning and, more recently, Shakespeare and digital culture.

Postgraduate supervision

 I currently supervise students working on poisoning in Jacobean drama, dreams and genre in Shakespeare, Catholic theology and Renaissance literature, magic and natural philosophy in Shakespeare, Korean adaptations of Shakespeare, female pathology in Shakespearean performance, Shakespeare and love, and conceptions of time in the Renaissance. 

I would be happy to hear from prospective research students working in any of the areas outlined below.


I am interested in the intersection of culture, identity, and the arts, chiefly in the Renaissance and early modern periods, but increasingly in more modern contexts too. Most of my research to date has dealt with this broad field of interest through the lens of the history of emotion and psychology. My first monograph, Beyond Melancholy: Sadness and Selfhood in Renaissance England (OUP, 2016), explores the understanding and experience of sadness in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, giving particular attention to the way literature and drama offers access to the emotional life of the past, and my edited collection with Richard Meek, The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (MUP, 2015), considers the central role feeling played in early modern religious, political, and cultural life. In 2013 I held a six-week Universitas21 Fellowship at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of the Emotions, where I pursued research on both of these book projects, gave a public lecture at the UQ Art Gallery, and talked about my work on Australian national radio.

In recent years I have also become interested in Shakespeare's performance and celebration today, especially in relation to the experience of identity and community. In 2012 I led an AHRC-funded project with Paul Prescott and Paul Edmondson that investigated Shakespeare's role in the London Olympic Celebrations, resulting in an open access festival archive www.yearofshakespeare.com and two edited collections for Bloomsbury's Arden Shakespeare series: A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival (2013) and Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year (2015). My next book project is a study of Shakespeare and digital performance that looks at how technological innovations such as live theatre broadcasting, the staging of digital media, and audience participation through social media are reshaping how we encounter and experience Shakespeare as performance. I am particularly interested in how we respond to such work emotionally, and I blog about these issues at digitalshakespeares.wordpress.com.

Other activities

Outreach and public engagement

I am a trustee of the British Shakespeare Association, which seeks to establish connections across academia, the performing arts, and education, and I am involved in a variety of projects relating to public engagement with the history of medicine and medical humanities. To that end I have spoken at the Cheltenham and Hay Festivals on Shakespeare and on representations of madness in literature, have been featured on Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ talking about Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy and Shakespeare's The Tempest, have worked with theatre companies including Stan's Cafe and Elastic Theatre on productions exploring Renaissance psychology, and have discussed child mortality and parental grief with Michael Wood for his BBC documentary on the life of Shakespeare's mother. My research on Shakespeare and the 2012 Olympics, which involved working with theatres, museums, and their audiences and patrons, was the subject of a REF 2014 Impact Case Study for the School of English, Drama, and American and Canadian Studies.

I also act as a historical advisor for Wellcome Trust-funded arts groups dealing with the medical culture of Renaissance Europe and I have written on several occasions for the medical journal The Lancet, contributing pieces on the history of madness, the mind, grief, and literature’s engagement with medicine. I am happy to hear from media organizations and arts groups interested in pursuing projects related to my research interests. 

Professional service

 I am co-editor for reviews for the journal Cultural History, and from 2010-2013 I was membership secretary for the British Shakespeare Association. At the Shakespeare Institute I am Tutor for Distance Learning, Staff Welfare Liaison, Staff Library Representative, and Staff Liaison for the Student-Staff Consultative Committee. I represent the College of Arts and Law on the University’s Collaborative Provision Committee.

I have also acted as a peer reviewer for several journals, publishing houses, and funding bodies, including ShakespeareMedical History, Routledge, Bloomsbury, and the Wellcome Trust. 



Journal articles and book chapters:

Shorter pieces:

  • digitalshakespeares.wordpress.com, research blog on Shakespeare and digital culture
  • ‘Melancholy’, in Early Modern Emotions: An Introduction, ed. Susan Broomhall (Routledge, forthcoming 2016)
  • Revising editor and author of several entries for the Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, 3rd ed., ed. Michael Dobson, Stanley Wells, Will Sharpe, and Erin Sullivan (Oxford University Press 2015)