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Dr Emily Senior

  • Overview



    I work on colonial and global literature and culture, and on interactions between literature, medicine and science. I am currently working on two projects: an AHRC-funded Fellowship on 'Anecdotal Evidence: Science and Storytelling in the Global Eighteenth-Century' (2022-24) and a project on Caribbean Digital Archives.

    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 (August 2021). This 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
    • Director, Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies
    • Co-convenor, Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Research Group

    Professional memberships

    • AHRC Peer Review College

    Honours and awards

    • University English Book Prize, University English, July 2019
    • Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship, AHRC, January 2022
  • 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.

    My project 'Colonial Ways of Seeing: Caribbean Visual Cultures' with Dr Sarah Thomas (History of Art, Birkbeck) started when we co-organized conference with Tate Britain to mark the opening of Tate’s major exhibition on art created under the conditions of the British Empire and its aftermath. We recently published a special issue of 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 literature and cultural history from the seventeenth century to today in: medical and scientific humanities;  literatures of slavery and the afterlives of 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 since 2013-14



    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