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Heather Tilley

BA (Cambridge), MA, PhD (Birkbeck)
British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

Contact details

tel: 020 3073 8409


Following completion of my PhD here in 2009, I joined Birkbeck’s English and Humanities department as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in 2013-15 after working in curatorial roles in the gallery sector. From November 2015, I have been a Career Development Fellow in the Medical Humanities at Birkbeck, funded by the Wellcome Trust. My research interests are in the relationship between literature, art, the body and the senses in the Victorian period. I am particularly interested in the complex ways in which subjectivity is constructed through sensorial and embodied apprehension of literary and artistic texts.

My research has focused extensively on the history of visual disability. I have published several articles on the cultural and literary history of blindness and my book Blindness and Writing: From Wordsworth to Gissing was published by Cambridge University Press in 2017. I have also curated two exhibitions at Birkbeck, ‘Touching the Book: Embossed Literature for Blind People in the Nineteenth Century’, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and ‘How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People’, as part of ‘Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities’, as well as a display at the National Portrait Gallery, ‘Facing Blindness: Visual Impairment in the Nineteenth Century’.

In July 2013 I organised an international, interdisciplinary conference on the theme of the Victorian Tactile Imagination. In November 2014 I edited a special issue based on this for 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century.

My new research project explores the changing ways in which paralysis was experienced by people in the nineteenth century, and represented in medical, scientific and psychological texts, literature and art in the nineteenth century. As part of this role I have also been involved in a collaborative project with Dr Carolyn Burdett re-examining Victorian Psychology. I have also co-curated an exhibition on the relationship between arts and mental health, Mr A Moves in Mysterious Ways: Selected Artists from the Adamson Collection and organised a workshop on curating the medical humanities.

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