Professor John Holmes BA, MA, DPhil

Photograph of Professor John Holmes

Department of English Literature
Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture

Contact details

Address
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston
Birmingham
B15 2TT
UK

I joined the department in 2015 as Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture. My research focuses on the relationship between scientific ideas and cultural forms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including poetry, architecture and the visual arts. More widely, I work on and teach a wide range of nineteenth-century literature, with interests in poetry and poetic form, especially the sonnet and the epic; religious belief and doubt; and the history of sexuality.

Qualifications

  • D. Phil. In English Literature, Oxford, 2001
  • M.A. in Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, 1997
  • B.A. in English Language and Literature, Oxford, 1994

Biography

I was born and grew up in London, before moving to Oxford to do my undergraduate degree, back to London for my MA, and back to Oxford, where I completed a doctorate on ‘The Victorian Sonnet Sequence and the Crisis of Belief’ in 2001. After teaching briefly for the Open University, I got a job as lecturer in English literature at the University of Reading. I taught at Reading from 2001 to 2015 before joining Birmingham as Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture.

Teaching

I teach nineteenth-century literature across the BA and MA degrees. I currently teach second-year modules on Victorian and Decadent Literature, a third-year module on the Napoleonic wars in English literature from Byron to Hardy, and the MA module on Cultures and Literatures of the Long Nineteenth Century.

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised a number of PhDs on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature, including current projects on the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Constance Naden and Thomas Hardy, the fiction of Elizabeth Gaskell, and the comparative anatomist Francis Cole. I would welcome applications for postgraduate projects on Victorian poetry; on literature and science from 1800 to the present day; on literature and the visual arts; and on poetic form, particularly the sonnet and the epic.

Research

My research concentrates mainly on the relationship between science and literature and other cultural forms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From 2006 to 2008 I held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship on Darwinism, Poetry and Poetics. The research I did for this project came out as Darwin’s Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution (2009), in which I examined how poetry can inform and shape our responses to and understanding of the Darwinian condition. I followed this up with a number of articles on Victorian poetry and science, an edited collection of essays on twentieth-century poetry and science, and a collaboration with the Royal Society supervising a PhD on the role of the Royal Society within Victorian literary culture. I am currently co-editing The Ashgate Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Science with Professor Sharon Ruston at Lancaster University. I have also written a book on the sonnet sequence in the nineteenth century, and a number of articles on the sonnet and the epic in this period. I have recently been working on a number of discrete studies of epic and evolution in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, from Erasmus Darwin to Ezra Pound, which I intend to bring together as a monograph.

The other major strand of my research on science and culture stems from an AHRC Fellowship I held from 2012 to 2013 to work on the Pre-Raphaelites and science. For this project, I examined their paintings, sculpture and poetry in the light of their art criticism, which repeatedly invokes science as a model for the arts. I also researched the shaping influence of Pre-Raphaelitism on Victorian science itself, particularly through natural history museum architecture and periodical culture. I have written a monograph based on this research which is currently under consideration with Yale University Press. This project involved collaboration with the Natural History Museum, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Manchester Museum and the Manchester Art Gallery. I am now pursuing further collaborative research projects on nineteenth-century natural history museums involving these partners and others. These include a project on British, Irish and Canadian museums funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) entitled ‘Building the Book of Nature: The Poetics of the Natural History Museum’ in collaboration with Professor Janine Rogers at Mount Allison University.

Both in my research on poetry and in my work on museums, I aim to engage scientists and those interested in science as well as literary scholars. Through these kinds of cross-disciplinary engagements it is possible to build up a much richer understanding of the significance of scientific practices and discoveries, and a fuller sense too of how the arts can engage constructively with science.

Other activities

I have been actively involved in the British Society for Literature and Science (BSLS) since its inaugural conference in 2006. I was Treasurer from 2006 to 2009, Book Reviews Editor from 2008 to 2012, and Chair from 2012 to 2015. While I was Chair I helped to establish links between the BSLS and other related academic societies, including the international Commission on Science and Literature (CoSciLit), the European branch of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSAeu) and the British Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE-UK). I am on the committee of CoSciLit and am a member of SLSAeu, SLSA, the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS) and the North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA).

I am on the editorial board of the Journal of Literature and Science and am external examiner on King’s College London’s MSc in Medical Humanities. I am also an advisor on the current landscaping and architectural work at the Natural History Museum in London. I have been invited to speak about literature and science at conferences and research seminars in a number of countries across continental Europe and North America, as well as the UK.

Publications

Books

  • John Holmes and Sharon Ruston (eds), The Ashgate Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Science (forthcoming)
  • John Holmes (ed.), Science in Modern Poetry: New Directions (Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2012)
  • John Holmes and Natasha Distiller (eds), Horae Amoris: The Collected Poems of Rosa Newmarch (High Wycombe: Rivendale Press, 2010)
  • John Holmes, Darwin’s Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2009; paperback 2013)
  • John Holmes, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Late Victorian Sonnet Sequence: Sexuality, Belief and the Self (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005)

Report

  • Nick Battey, Rachel Crossland, John Holmes, Françoise Le Saux, Karín Lesnik-Oberstein and David Stack, The Value of the Literary and Historical Study of Biology to Biologists: A Scoping Study (Reading: University of Reading, 2012)

Journal articles

  • ‘Pre-Raphaelitism, Science and the Arts in The Germ’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 43 (2015), 689-703
  • ‘Poetry on Pre-Raphaelite Principles: Science, Nature and Knowledge in William Michael Rossetti’s “Fancies at Leisure” and “Mrs. Holmes Grey”’, Victorian Poetry, 53.1 (2015), 15-39.
  • ‘Building a Vision of Nature: Owen, Waterhouse and the Design of the Museum’, Evolve, 17 (Autumn 2013), 36-41
  • ‘Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Science’, Review of the Pre-Raphaelite Society, 21.3 (2013), 54-64
  • ‘Ruskin’s Windows at the Oxford Museum’, Ruskin Review and Bulletin, 9.2 (2013), 23-32
  • ‘“The Poet of Science”: How Scientists Read Their Tennyson’, Victorian Studies, 54 (2012), 655-78
  • ‘Literature and Science vs History of Science’, Journal of Literature and Science, 5.2 (2012), 67-70
  • ‘Poetry and the Darwinian Condition’, The Systematist, 33 (2011), 3-8
  • ‘Darwinism, Feminism, and the Sonnet Sequence: Meredith’s Modern Love’, Victorian Poetry, 48 (2010), 523-38
  • ‘“The Ionian Father”: Tennyson and Homer’, Tennyson Research Bulletin, 9 (2010), 330-47
  • ‘“The Lay of the Trilobite”: Rereading May Kendall’, 19, 11 (2010): Science, Literature and the Darwin Legacy (http://19.bbk.ac.uk/), 15 pp.
  • ‘Lucretius at the Fin de Siècle: Science, Religion and Poetry’, English Literature in Transition, 51 (2008), 266-80
  • ‘Thomas Lodge’s Amours: The Copy-Text for Imitations of Ronsard in Phillis’, Notes and Queries, 251 (2006), 55-57
  • ‘The Guiana Projects: Imperial and Colonial Ideology in Ralegh and Purchas’, Literature and History, 14/2 (2005), 1-13
  • ‘The New Day: Dr. Hake and the Poetry of Science’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 9 (2004), 68-89
  • ‘The Growth of The Growth of Love: Texts and Poems in Robert Bridges’s Sonnet-Sequence’, Review of English Studies, 55 (2004), 583-97
  • ‘The Victorian Genetics of Astrophel and Stella’, Sidney Journal, 17:2 (1999), 41-51

Book chapters

  • ‘The Challenge of Evolution in Victorian Poetry’ in Evolution and Victorian Culture, ed. by Bernard Lightman and Bennett Zon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 39-63
  • ‘Pagan Epic in Contemporary British Poetry: Hughes and Logue, Ovid and Homer’ in The Epic Expands: Rereading & Widening the Epic Corpus, ed. by Vincent Dussol (Brussels: P.I.E. Peter Lang, 2012), 343-58
  •  ‘From Bergson to Darwin: Evolutionary Biology in the Poetry of Judith Wright’ in Science and Modern Poetry: New Directions, ed. by John Holmes (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012), 194-209
  • ‘Victorian Evolutionary Criticism and the Pitfalls of Consilience’ in The Evolution of Literature: Legacies of Darwin in European Cultures, ed. by Nicholas Saul and Simon J. James (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011), 101-112
  • ‘Prometheus Rebound: The Romantic Titan in a Post-Romantic Age’ in Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era, ed. by Andrew Radford and Mark Sandy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 209-224
  • ‘The X Club: Romanticism and Victorian Science’ in (Re)creating Science in Nineteenth-Century Britain, ed. by Amanda Mordavsky Caleb (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 12-31
  • ‘Pursuing the Well-Beloved: Thomas Hardy, Jocelyn Pearston and the School of Rossetti’ in The Rossettis: Cosmopolitans in Victorian London, ed. by David Clifford and Laurence Roussillon (London: Anthem, 2004), 237-51