- Art, design, literature and culture in modern Britain (1910s-1950s)
- Modernism, popular culture and the middlebrow
- Arts funding and cultural policy
- Modern periodical studies
- Interactions between literature and the visual arts
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, continued 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. Across a series of case studies, the book interrogates the cultural politics at stake in these schemes, considering ideas around class and cultural paternalism, the use of modern art and culture to ‘civilise’ the public, and the social impact of the arts.
The book has two aims. Firstly, to provide a passionate defence of the arts, and of the need for sufficient state support. This aim has taken on new urgency in the wake of COVID-19, as the arts are facing an unprecedented crisis. Secondly, to spark debate about the place of the arts in contemporary life. Are the arts accessible to all in twenty-first-century Britain? What lessons can we learn from these attempts to democratise the arts?
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. With Brittany Moster Bergonzi, I have recently co-edited a special issue of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, 'Word and Image on the Printed Page', published in summer 2022.
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 co-organised of a series of Centre for Modernist Cultures workshops, ‘Ways of Reading: An Interactive Magazines Workshop for PGs and ECRs’, and a workshop on reading bureaucratic documents for the Centre for Literary Editing and Materiality of the Text in March 2019.