Dr Emma West BA, MA, PhD, AFHEA

Dr Emma West

Department of English Literature
British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

Contact details

Room 114
31 Pritchatts Road
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

My research examines the relationship between modernism and popular culture in early- and mid-twentieth century Britain. My current project, Revolutionary Red Tape, examines how public servants and official committees helped to commission, disseminate and popularise modern British art, design, literature and culture.


  • BA, Cardiff University (2009)
  • MA, Cardiff University (2011)
  • PhD, Cardiff University (2017)


I am a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow based in the Department of English Literature at the University of Birmingham. Before joining the University in 2017, I completed my BA, MA and PhD at Cardiff University; during that time, I undertook fellowships at the Library of Congress, Washington DC and KU Leuven, Belgium. I am passionate about sharing my research with as wide an audience as possible: I welcome opportunities to speak at public events.


In 2019/20 I will be teaching on the core Modernism module on the MA Literature and Culture and the second-year course Aspects of Modernism.


To date, my research has been guided by a single question: How did modernism reach the British public? For my AHRC-funded PhD thesis, I examined how magazines, fashion and travel posters translated modernist ideas and aesthetics for a popular audience. This project explored debates around ‘what the public wants’, the new field of commercial art, and links between taste and class in the interwar Battle of the Brows.

My British Academy-funded postdoctoral project, Revolutionary Red Tape, continues my interest in encounters between art and the public, exploring independent and state-funded schemes to introduce modern British art, design, literature and performance to a broad audience. Case studies from this project will appear in my first monograph: Art for the People: Everyday encounters with the arts in modern Britain, which examines efforts to bring the arts into everyday life in schools, hospitals, factories, high streets, village halls, restaurants and even pubs. It draws on examples from across the arts, including murals, exhibitions, print schemes, public sculptures, posters, theatre and ballet, concerts, books, magazines and wireless programmes.

I am a truly interdisciplinary researcher: my research ranges across literary studies, cultural history, art history, design history, performance studies and critical theory. I am fascinated by almost all aspects of British culture from the 1910s through to the 1950s: aside from the case studies explored in Art for the People, I am also interested in ballet costume and set design, the visual and print culture of British fascism, and popular periodicals. I am currently developing two editorial projects which explore the relationship between word and image in literary and artistic modernism.

Given my background in Critical and Cultural Theory, I am interested in developing new ways of reading a range of literary and non-literary texts. To this end, I am the organiser of a series of Centre for Modernist Cultures workshops, ‘Ways of Reading: An Interactive Magazines Workshop for PGs and ECRs’ (June 2018/2019), and a workshop on reading bureaucratic documents for the Centre for Literary Editing and Materiality of the Text in March 2019.

Other activities

I am the Founder of Modernist Network Cymru (MONC); from 2012-2018 I served as MONC’s inaugural Chair.

I have organised or co-organised many conferences, including Alternative Modernisms (Cardiff University, 2013), A Century On: Modernist Studies in Wales (Swansea University, 2015), Twentieth-Century British Periodicals (University of Reading, 2017) Word and Image (National Library of Wales, 2017), and Modernist Art Writing/Writing Modernist Art (University of Nottingham, 2019).

In partnership with Wales for Peace and Mari Lowe, I devised a new tour of the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health based on my research into the building and its 1938 opening. This research inspired a Being Human Festival event, ‘A New Mecca’, co-organised with Wales for Peace and the arts organisation Gentle/Radical, which took place in November 2018. To find out more about my research into the Temple of Peace, see my interview with Huw Edwards on the BBC4/BBC1 Wales documentary, We Will Remember Them, or read my research blogs here and here. In 2018, I was nominated as a Trustee for the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA). As part of my role, I work to protect the Temple of Peace’s heritage and make its history and archives more accessible.

I was a postgraduate representative for the British Association for Modernist Studies (BAMS) in 2013; I am currently a member of the Centre for Printing History and Culture’s Steering Group.


Recent publications


West, E 2020, 'Modern Institutions and the Civilizing Mission', Modernism/Modernity, vol. 5, no. 2. <https://modernismmodernity.org/forums/posts/west-civilizing-mission>

West, E 2020, '‘within the reach of all’: bringing art to the people in interwar Britain', Modernist Cultures, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 225-252. https://doi.org/10.3366/mod.2020.0290

West, E 2013, ''Betwixt and Between': Towards a (N)ontology of the Mediocre', Word and Text, pp. 12-24.

West, E 2011, 'A Modern(ist) Mode: Fashion, 1910 and the Limits of Modernism', Word and Text, vol. 2011, no. 2, pp. 65-78.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

West, E 2021, For love or money: popular 1920s artists stories in The Royal and The Strand. in E D'hoker & C Mourant (eds), The Modern Short Story and Magazine Culture, 1880-1950. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 130-149. https://doi.org/10.3366/j.ctv1hm8j01.10

West, E 2018, Cover Stars and Covert Addresses: Strategies for Reading Magazines Across the 'Great Divide'. in B Lambrecht & M Somers (eds), Writing Literary History. Peeters, pp. 85-102.

West, E 2016, Surrealist? Modernist? Artist? - The Vicissitudes of Elsa Schiaparelli. in P Allmer (ed.), Intersections - Women Artists/Surrealism/Modernism. Rethinking art's histories, Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 275-295.

West, E 2013, 'hap-hap-hap-hap-happy clothes': Avant-Garde Experiments in/with Material(s). in S Posman, A Reverseau, D Ayers, S Bru & B Hjartarson (eds), The Aesthetics of Matter: Modernism, the Avant-garde and Material Exchang. European Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies, vol. 3, De Gruyter, Berlin, pp. 67-81. <https://www.degruyter.com/view/books/9783110317534/9783110317534.67/9783110317534.67.xml>

Book/Film/Article review

West, E 2019, 'Review: fifty works by fifty British women artists 1900-1950', Decorating Dissidence, vol. 1, no. 4. <https://decoratingdissidence.com/2019/09/29/review-fifty-works-by-fifty-british-women-artists-1900-1950/>

West, E 2018, 'Twentieth-Century British Periodicals: Words and Art on the Printed Page, 1900-1999: 4 July 2017, University of Reading, UK', Journal of Modern Periodical Studies.

West, E 2015, 'Modernism, Middlebrow and the Literary Canon: The Modern Library Series, 1917-1955 by Lise Jaillant (review)', Modernism/Modernity, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 415-416. https://doi.org/10.1353/mod.2015.0045


West, E 2019, 'Me, Modernism and I', The Modernist Review. <https://modernistreviewcouk.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/responses/>

View all publications in research portal