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Dr Emily Senior

  • Overview



    I am Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century and Romantic literature. I work on colonial and global literature and culture, and on interactions between literature, medicine and science. My current project is 'Anecdotal Evidence: Science and Storytelling in the Global Eighteenth-Century', and will be funded by an AHRC Research, Development, and Engagement fellowship between 2022 and 2024.

    My monograph, The Caribbean and the Medical Imagination, 1764-1834: Slavery, Disease and Colonial Modernity (paperback Cambridge University Press 2020) examines the apex of British colonialism in the Caribbean, when the rapid spread of disease amongst colonist, enslaved and indigenous populations made the Caribbean notorious as one of the deadliest places on earth. The book reveals, and historically situates, the conceptual and linguistic frameworks—aesthetic, psychological, religious and scientific—of textual encounters with colonial disease in poetry, fiction, travel writing, theatre and medical treatises. Focusing on new fields of knowledge such as dermatology and medical geography, I show how literature was crucial to the development and circulation of new medical ideas, and that the Caribbean as the hub of empire played a significant role in the changing literary forms and disciplinary structures associated with the transition to modernity.

    My other projects include Colonial Ways of Seeing: Caribbean Visual Cultures, 1750-1900. This forthcoming special issue of Atlantic Studies: Global Currents is co-edited with Sarah Thomas and examines the ways of seeing emerged under the conditions of slavery and its immediate aftermath. How were images and objects produced, circulated and viewed in colonial contexts? What forms of resistance are revealed by a focus on visual cultures? What traces of Black lives can yet be mined in the fragments and biases of the colonial archive?


    Administrative responsibilities

    • Director of Postgraduate Research in English, Theatre and Creative Writing
    • Co-convenor, Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Research Group

    Honours and awards

  • Research


    Research interests

    • My research interests are in eighteenth-century and Romantic writing and colonial cultures, with a focus on Anglophone Atlantic literature and the life sciences.

    Research overview

    My monograph The Caribbean and the Medical Imagination came out in paperback with Cambridge University Press in 2020. The book is a study of how the medical ideas that underpinned discourses of race, landscape, and aesthetics were produced and circulated by colonial literary texts. The project speaks to current concerns in literary and cultural studies, the history of Atlantic knowledge, medical humanities, and postcolonial studies, focusing on the conceptual structures of imperial discourses and cultural practices, and on the relationship between literary form and medical and scientific ideas.

    I am also working on a project on Colonial Caribbean Visual Cultures with Dr Sarah Thomas (History of Art, Birkbeck). We recently co-organized a conference with Tate Britain which marked the opening of Tate’s major exhibition on art created under the conditions of the British Empire and its aftermath. We are now working on a special issue for Atlantic Studies: Global Currents.

    Previous projects include ‘Aesthetic Enlightenments: Cultures of Natural Knowledge’, with Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith (University of St Andrews), which examines the relationship between the aesthetic production and social circulation of knowledge about the natural world in the long eighteenth century, focusing on the hybrid and plural forms through which knowledge was made, practiced, textualized, and viewed. We held a conference at the Huntington Library, California, in January 2014, and published a special issue of the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

    Research Centres and Institutes

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    I welcome PhD applications in medical and scientific humanities; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature and culture; literatures of slavery and empire, and global and postcolonial literary studies. 

    Please feel free to get in touch if you would like an informal discussion about your research ideas for an MPhil or PhD.

    Current doctoral researchers


    Doctoral alumni



    I teach on Birkbeck’s BA English, BA Liberal Arts, MA Medical Humanities: Bodies, Cultures and Ideas, and MA Victorian Studies.

    Modules include:

    Transcultural Encounters: Literature, Empire, Ethnicity

    Literature and the Politics of Feeling

    The Global Eighteenth Century 

    Colonialism and Modernity

    Critical Entanglements in the Medical Humanities

  • Publications