Professor John Holmes BA, MA, DPhil

Photograph of Professor John Holmes

Department of English Literature
Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

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.


  • 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


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.


I teach nineteenth-century literature across the BA and MA degrees. I currently teach on second-year modules on Victorian and Decadent Literature; a third-year module on Literature in the Age of Evolution, running from the early 1800s to the present day; and the core nineteenth-century MA modules.

Postgraduate supervision

Literature and science from 1800 to the present; literature and the visual arts; the Pre-Raphaelites; Victorian and modern poetry; poetic form, particularly the sonnet and the epic.

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


I work mainly on the interface between science and the arts in the period from 1800 to the present. I have written books on Darwinism and poetry and on the Pre-Raphaelites and science, and edited or co-edited collections of essays on nineteenth-century literature and science and on science in modern poetry. My current research has two main strands, looking respectively at the role of the arts and architecture within natural history museums and at the cross-fertilisation between mythic literature and evolutionary science over the last two hundred years. In the course of my research and public engagement work, I have collaborated extensively with scientists and scientific institutions, including the Royal Society and the natural history museums in Oxford, London, Berlin and Vienna.

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 currently Secretary 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 boards of the Journal of Literature and Science and Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, and am external examiner on King’s College London’s MSc in Medical Humanities. I am an honorary associate of the Oxford University Museum and was a co-curator of the Visions of Nature year at the museum in 2016. 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.


Recent publications


Holmes, J 2024, Tennyson's Ancient Sages. Tennyson Society Monographs, no. 19, Tennyson Society.

Holmes, J 2020, Temple of Science: The Pre-Raphaelites and Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Holmes, J 2018, The Pre-Raphaelites and Science. Yale University Press. <>


Holmes, J 2024, 'Evolution, Ideology and Emergence in The Cantos', Essays in Criticism.

Holmes, J 2023, 'The Poetics of Enquiry in Ronald Duncan’s Man', Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 511-523.

Holmes, J & Smith, P 2020, 'Visions of nature: reviving Ruskin's legacy at the Oxford University Museum', Journal of Art Historiography, vol. 22, JH1. <>

Holmes, J & Rogers, J 2019, 'Monkey business: the Victorian natural history museum, evolution, and the medieval manuscript', Romanticism on the Net, vol. 70, 3357. <>

Holmes, J 2019, 'Science and the language of Natural History Museum architecture: problems of interpretation', Museum & Society, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 342-361.

Holmes, J 2017, 'Consilience Rebalanced: Edward O. Wilson on Science, the Humanities and the Meaning of Human Existence', Journal of Literature and Science, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 5-10.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Holmes, J 2021, Myths of the Future: Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men. in S Kemp & J Andersson (eds), Futures. Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature, Oxford University Press, pp. 349–363.

Holmes, J 2020, Investigating Intersexuality: Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and the Hermaphrodite Self. in H Bozant Witcher & A Kahrmann Huseby (eds), Defining Pre-Raphaelite Poetics. Palgrave, pp. 55-81.


Holmes, J 2018, From Eve to the Red Lady: John Barnie at the Oxford Museum. in M Jarvis (ed.), Wired to the Dynamo: Poetry & Prose in Honour of John Barnie. Cinnamon Press, pp. 61-70.


Holmes, J & Ruston, S (ed.) 2017, Routledge research companion to nineteenth-century British literature and science. Routledge.

Commissioned report

Acton, J, Anderson, P, Andres, L, Angus, M, Amor, P, Arrowsmith, J (ed.), Asmelash, H, Bartington, S (ed.), Bengtsson, F, Bhullar, L, Bloss, W, Bonet, B, Börner, S, O Bonsu, N, Bryson, JR, Burns, V, Burrows, A, Calvert, C, Cassidy, N, Cavoski, A, Chadyiwa, M, Chapman, H, Chapman, L, Cockram, M, Degendardt, L, Dickinson, D, Ding, Y, Dobrzynski, D, Dolo, M, Dora, J, Ercolani, M, Ersoy, A, Farag, H, Ferranti, E, Fisher, R, Freer, M, Goldmann, N, Goode, CE, Greenham, S, Gulati, S, Hadfield-Hill, S, Harper, G, Hegerl, G, Hillmansen, S, Holmes, J, Huang, JJ, Huser, C, Jackson, R, Jaroszweski, D, Jefferson, I, Johnson, J, Kaewunruen, S, Kelly-Akinnuoye, F, Kettles, G, Kraftl, P, Krause, S, Leckebusch, GC, Lee, R, Lockwood, B (ed.), Lohse, J, Luna Diez, E, Lynch, I (ed.), MacKenzie, R, Maddison, D, Makepeace, J, Mann, V, Marino, R, Mavronicola, N, McDonald, M, McGowan, K (ed.), Metje, N, Ng, K, Nicol, J, O'Sullivan, C, Phalkey, N, Prestwood, E, Pyatt, N, Quinn, A, Radcliffe, J (ed.), Ravi, M, Reardon, L, Reeder, T, O’Regan, P, Remedios, L, Roberts, J, Rogers, C, Rungskunroch, P, van Schaik, W, Swan, J (ed.), Thomson, I, Toft, H (ed.), Tong, J, Botello Villagrana, F, Walton, A, Wason, C (ed.), Weir, C, Wood, R & Zhong, J 2021, Addressing the climate challenge. University of Birmingham.

Other contribution

Holmes, J 2018, Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Oxford Museum. Guild of St George. <>

View all publications in research portal


environmental humanities; relationship between literature and science in education and research