Dr Melissa Dickson

Dr Melissa Dickson

Department of English Literature
Lecturer in Victorian literature

Contact details

Arts Building, Room 246
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

My research focuses on the relationships between Victorian literature, science, medicine, and material culture. I am particularly interested in the study and depiction of the senses and in particular on new ways of listening and thinking about sound in the nineteenth century. My current work is on explorations of the body’s physiological and psychological responses to sound and music in the nineteenth century. I teach across the long nineteenth century.


  • PhD (King’s College, London)
  • BA (Hons), MPhil (University of Queensland, Australia)


I joined the department in January 2018, having worked for nearly 4 years as a Postdoctoral Researcher on ‘The Diseases of Modern Life’, an ERC funded project based at St Anne’s College, Oxford, investigating nineteenth-century cultural, literary, and medical understandings of stress, overwork, and other disorders associated in the period with the problems of modernity. I have a PhD in English from King's College, London, and an MPhil, BA, and University Medal from the University of Queensland, Australia.


I convene the second year module ‘Victorian Literature’ and the specialist third year module ‘Nineteenth-Century Detective Fiction’.  I lecture and lead seminars on these courses. I also convene and lead workshops on the MA module ‘Nineteenth-Century Senses’, and contribute workshops to the MA module ‘Nineteenth-Century Voices’.

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome research projects and postgraduate supervision in any of (and any combination of) the following areas within nineteenth-century studies:

  • Literature and Science
  • Literature and Medicine
  • Literature and Music
  • Representations of the Senses
  • Empire and the Orient
  • Material Culture 

Find out more - our PhD English Literature  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


My doctoral thesis, entitled Under Its Spell: The Arabian Nights in Early Nineteenth-Century Culture, investigated the proliferation and reception of the Arabian Nights in the print and material culture of early nineteenth-century Britain. Tracing the presence and use of the Arabian Nights in British theatre, travel writing, children's literature, fiction, and poetry, I argued that this protean story collection, one that was known since childhood and intimately associated with the childhood consciousness, was not simply a fantastic other against which to measure and define the imperial self; it was an integral component of that self, its imagination, its memories, and its dreams. This research will be published as a monograph entitled Cultural Encounters with the Arabian Nights in the Nineteenth Century by Edinburgh University Press in August 2019.

As a Postdoctoral Researcher on ‘Diseases of Modern Life’, an ERC funded project based at St Anne’s College, Oxford, I was part of a team investigating nineteenth-century cultural, literary, and medical understandings of stress, overwork, and other disorders associated in the period with the problems of modernity. My own work within the project focussed on education and overpressure, and nervous disorders and phobias, and I am currently completing a monograph on explorations of the body’s physiological and psychological responses to sound and music in the nineteenth century, tentatively entitled Listening at the Threshold.

Other activities

I am a member of the British Association of Victorian Studies, the British Society of Literature and Science, the Australian Federation of University Women, and the North American Victorian Studies Association. I am also a Fellow of Goodenough College, London.

With colleagues at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and UCD Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, I am also working to build a network of researchers, service users, and medical practitioners who meet around a series of seminars and conference, and seek to explore the patient experience through the prism of literature and personal narrative to inform patient-centred care and practice. A successful pilot conference took place in Dublin in March 2017 (programme details here). 



Dickson, Melissa. The Arabian Nights in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain. Forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press, August 2019.

Dickson, Melissa. Listening at the Threshold: Soundscapes of Nineteenth-Century Literature, Science, and Medicine, forthcoming.

Co-Authored Book:

Bonea, Amelia, Melissa Dickson, Sally Shuttleworth, and Jennifer Wallis. Anxious Times: Medicine and Modernity in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Forthcoming with Pittsburgh University Press, April 2019.

Journal Articles:

Dickson, Melissa. ‘Something in the Air: Dr Carter Moffat’s Ammoniaphone and the Victorian Science of Singing’. Science Museum Group Journal (Spring 2017), doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170702

Dickson, Melissa. ‘Confessions of an English Green Tea Drinker: Sheridan Le Fanu and the Medical and Metaphysical Dangers of Green Tea’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 45.1 (2017), 77-94.

Dickson, Melissa. ‘Jane Eyre’s “Arabian Tales”: Reading and Remembering the Arabian Nights’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 18:2 (2013), 198-212.

Book Chapters:

Shuttleworth, Sally, and Melissa Dickson, ‘Disorders of the Age: Nervous Climates’, Literature and Medicine in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Andrew Mangham. Forthcoming with Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Dickson, Melissa. ‘Charles Wheatstone’s Enchanted Lyre and the Spectacle of Sound.’ Sound Knowledge: Music and Science in London, 1789-1851, ed. Ellen Lockhart and James Q. Davies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), pp. 125-144.

Dickson, Melissa. ‘Hats, Cloaks, and Stethoscopes: The Symbolic Fashions of the Nineteenth-Century Medical Practitioner.’ Fashion and Material Culture in Victorian Fiction and Periodicals, ed. Nickianne Moody and Janine Hatter. Forthcoming with Edward Everett Root, 2019.

Dickson, Melissa, ‘Stethoscopic Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, Sound and Sense in Britain, 1770-1840, ed. by James Grande and Carmel Raz. Forthcoming with University of Chicago Press.

Edited Volumes:

Dickson, Melissa, Emilie Taylor-Brown, and Sally Shuttleworth, Sally, eds, Progress and Pressure: Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century. Forthcoming with Manchester University Press, 2019.

Shuttleworth, Sally, Melissa Dickson, and Emilie Taylor-Brown, eds., Brains Under Pressure: Pathologising the Male Mind, Special Issue of Journal of Victorian Culture, forthcoming 2019.


Dickson, Melissa. Review of Roger Hansard, Figures of the Imagination: Fiction and Song in Britain, 1790-1850 (London: Routledge, 2017), Modern Language Review, 114.1 (Jan 2019).

Dickson, Melissa. Review of Allen MacDuffie, Victorian Literature, Energy, and the Ecological Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). BSLS, March 2016. Doi: www.bsls.ac.uk/reviews/romantic-and-victorian/allen-macduffie-victorian-literature-energy-and-the-ecological-imagination/

Dickson, Melissa. Review of Tina Young Choi, Anonymous Connections: The Body and Narratives of the Social in Victorian Britain (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016). BSLS, October 2016. Doi:http://www.bsls.ac.uk/reviews/romantic-and-victorian/tina-young-choi-anonymous-connections-the-body-and-narratives-of-the-social-in-victorian-britain/

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