Fellowship explores inclusion and diversity in English Studies
In 2020, the Convocation Trust generously funded the appointment of a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University's Institute of English Studies (IES), to develop a Toolkit for Inclusion and Diversity in English Studies (TIDE).
Dr Sarah Pyke, who led this research as TIDE Fellow and is now Associate Research Fellow at IES, talks about her work in this area, the impact of the funding, and future plans.
What were the aims of the TIDE Fellowship and why was this research important in the wider context of diversity and inclusion?
The TIDE – or, Toolkit for Inclusion and Diversity in English Studies – Fellowship was established to research histories of the overlooked or marginalised within the Institute of English Studies’ own past; to promote good practice in teaching and research; and to participate in decolonising activities in the field of English Studies on behalf of the IES. It seems to me that while there is a general acknowledgement that the discipline – and academia as a whole – needs to tackle its exclusionary practices, past and present, this work is often being carried out on some pretty unstable foundations.
In 2021, I spent some time in the Senate House Library Special Collections, finding out more about the instituting of the IES - how and why it began, its aims, its early courses and events, who has historically been included or left out. I’ve attempted to use this as a case study for thinking about the relationship between English as an institution and discipline and the individuals that constitute it.
Can you tell us a little more about the work you did as TIDE Fellow?
My work progressed on several fronts, and while sometimes I felt that I hadn’t been moving ahead fast enough on any of them, as I neared the end of my time at the IES, I started to see where I’d been able to make a difference. One of the things I quickly realised coming into the Fellowship was that there is much excellent inclusion and diversity work already being carried out across the School, and part of my role could be to facilitate the sharing of such projects with wider audiences.
In 2021, I ran a seminar for the IES 'Unfinished Business' series, in conversation with Richard Espley and Leila Kassir from Senate House Library, and in early 2022 we expanded that in another School-wide seminar, ‘Social justice and Senate House Library’. A version of our first conversation, 'It's too easy to say that institutions are decolonizing: An interview with Senate House Library's Richard Espley and Leila Kassir' – transcribed, edited and introduced by me – appeared in English: Journal of the English Association, in December 2021.
I also collaborated with Joseph Ford, a colleague from the University’s Institute of Modern Languages Research. Together, we convened a funded seminar series entitled ‘Doing the Work? Questions and Conversations about Inclusion and Diversity at the School of Advanced Study’. We began with an open forum session, which aimed to be a safe, open space for staff and students to discuss the intersections of their professional and personal lives. Our aim over six sessions was to come up with a series of recommendations for management at the School of Advanced Study (SAS), co-created by all interested staff and students – professional services, academic staff and postgraduate students at any stage of their careers. It went well, with colleagues commenting that holding space to discuss issues they may not usually put into words at work was of real value.
How did the pandemic have an effect on your work?
COVID, unfortunately, did prove very disruptive. I’d planned an oral history element to my research, and the biggest impact was that, for much of 2021, in-person interviewing was simply not possible.
Joseph and I had planned our seminar series, 'Doing the Work?', to take place in person. However, we were glad to have been able to use the funding we were awarded to offer honoraria to external speakers, who may well have been unable to participate if we hadn’t moved the series online. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and had profound consequences for women, people of colour and people with disabilities, who continue to be disproportionately impacted. COVID and the societal fall-out have made meaningful equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism work – within and beyond academia – more important than ever.
The Fellowship was made possible thanks in part to funding by the University of London Convocation Trust and a legacy gift bequeathed by alumnus John Lucas. What will be the long-term impact of this philanthropic support?
From the start of my postdoctoral fellowship I tried to think beyond the fixed term of the contract – initially 12 months, extended by three – so I’m really pleased that School senior management have taken forward the recommendations that came out of the 'Doing the Work?' seminar series and I’m keen to see how that develops. The School has also created a number of early career fellowships which prioritise participation, inclusion and engagement. EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) work can’t be carried out by only one person in a short-term role, but requires ongoing collaboration and a cultural shift.
But the other way of looking at the question of long-term impact is, perhaps obviously, its impact on my own professional development as an early career scholar. This fellowship enabled me to develop my skills and experience in several areas. I published blogs and book reviews, chaired and convened events, collaborated with colleagues, presented my own research both internally and at international conferences, and gave my first invited talks. I am enormously grateful for the time and space the fellowship has afforded me, and while my position has come to an end, I’m delighted to be continuing my relationship with the IES as an Associate Research Fellow in 2022-23.
Now that the TIDE Fellowship has come to an end, what are the Institute’s continued plans for this area of work?
Continued work in this area is non-negotiable, that much is clear. I see enormous potential for it, whether that’s using the library collections to examine marginalised literatures and histories, developing more accessible and inclusive pedagogy, or building on the School-wide conversations we’ve been able to start about our personal and professional identities. I look forward to seeing what comes next, and to staying involved with the IES community.
Can you tell us a little about your work now as Associate Research Fellow?
I’m very excited to be co-organising a two-day hybrid symposium, 'Queer Bibliography: Tools, Methods, Practices, Approaches', with my colleague Malcolm Noble, on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 February 2023, hosted by the IES. It will include a handling session of materials from the Cutbill Collection, held at Senate House Library, and will be followed by a hands-on making workshop on Sunday 5 February at London Centre for Book Arts facilitated by Brooke Palmieri, who is also a friend of the IES. It’s been generously funded by the Bibliographical Society and the Bibliographical Society of America, and we’re so grateful for the interest and support. I’m also convening and teaching on a new London Rare Books School course in summer 2023 – so there’s a lot to look forward to.
As part of your ongoing work, you also participate in the Decolonising the Discipline initiative with the Institute’s partners: the English Association, the Postcolonial Studies Association, the University of East Anglia and University English. What are the aims of this project?
Decolonising the Discipline is a collaboration which aims to develop platforms for discipline-wide conversations that can foster and support collaborative action across English literature, language and creative writing. The network has been holding online events since 2020, featuring a range of speakers, from undergraduate and postgraduate students, to early career academics, to more senior colleagues with several years commitment to and experience of the slow process of decolonising work, from New Zealand, South Africa, Australia – among other places – as well as the UK. Every event I’ve attended has been hugely energising, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the network goes next.
Read more about diversity and inclusion initiatives at the Institute of English Studies