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Narrative in the humanities


CModS Narrative Research banner image

The origins of the ICNS can be traced to the convergence of the Fictionality theme and the Narrative in the Humanities theme, which respectively foreground the historical and the trans-media dimensions of the Centre's research domain. The Narrative in the Humanities theme began as one of the inaugural research strands of the Centre for Modern Studies, and was instrumental in drawing together the interrelated research interests of a large number of researchers across the humanities at York.

The topical focus of the Narrative in the Humanities theme is the salience of narrative, as both a representational resource and an ideologically freighted rhetoric, across the range of disciplines encompassed by the Humanities Research Centre. Closely related to this interdisciplinary scope is the theme's particular concern with narratives across media. The primary focus of activities within the theme is upon case studies of narratives in different contexts, but it also seeks to facilitate a reciprocal exchange between narrative studies in this sense and narrative theory - the latter extrapolated well beyond its literary origins in both cultural and cognitive terms.


York members

  • Mildrid Bjerke
    English and Related Literature
  • William Brooks
  • Catherine Laws
  • Emilie Morin
    English and Related Literature
  • Geoff Wall
    English and Related Literature
  • Claire Westall
    English and Related Literature

Associated members

Porter Abbott
UC Santa Barbara

Sarah Collins
University of Manchester

Maria Tamboukou
University of East London

Mari Hatavara
University of Tampere

Brian Richardson
University of Maryland

Robyn Warhol
Ohio State University 


Narrative Research symposium poster (Brian Richardson, Peter Goldie, Maria Tamboukou, Porter Abbott)


The Narrative in the Humanities research theme was inaugurated under the banner of the Centre for Modern Studies in 2009, with a one-day symposium entitled "Narrative Research." The speakers were Brian Richardson (University of Maryland), Peter Goldie (University of Manchester), Maria Tamboukou (Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London) and Porter Abbott (University of California, Santa Barbara).

The event was a wide-ranging exploration of narrative issues touching many disciplines (English, drama, philosophy, psychology, history, social science, biography, theology), and broached a number of the topics that continue to animate this research theme. Notable among these are the relations between fictional, historical and autobiographical narratives, the continuities and discontinuities between the narrative affordances of different media, the role of narrative in selfhood and identity, the ideological investments of narratives, the significant impositions of narrative form, and the historicity of narrative's cultural manifestations.

For the abstracts of the papers given by the four speakers, click on the poster image for a larger view.


The main business of the Narrative in the Humanities theme is to provide for an open series of occasional workshops in which narrative-related research in disciplines across the humanities can find an interdisciplinary audience and benefit from the dialogue enable by such a forum. These workshops may be focussed upon a single presentation, but more often they are designed to bring together two or three papers or reports on work in progress, in order to identify common research questions across disciplines and stage a productive encounter between distinct methodologies and perspectives.

The first Narrative in the Humanities workshop was an open discussion, introduced and chaired by Richard Walsh, eliciting promising topics of interest to participants in the Humanities Research Centre and beyond. Subsequent workshops have addressed the following topics:

Brian Richardson talk/workshop poster


Narrative in the humanities has featured occasional lectures by visiting speakers, usually accompanied by a workshop or masterclass on a related topic. While the workshops are aimed primarily at postgraduate students across the humanities, the lectures address a broad audience and examine narrative questions of general interest to humanities students and scholars.

The first lectures in the series were:

The Office and the Really Real: Structures of Address in Mockumentary and Reality TV
Robyn Warhol (Ohio State University)

A discussion of aspects of narrative rhetoric and their function in reality tv and associated genres, by the director of Project Narrative at Ohio State.

What is Unnatural Narratology?
Brian Richardson (University of Maryland)

An explanation and defence of the recent development in narrative theory called unnatural narratology, by the originator of the term and approach.


There is extensive work under way in the scholarly community at large on narratives across media and disciplines; among other projects under development, the ICNS is a participant in "Mediating Experience: Voices, Images, and Narrative Self," a network led by Mari Hatavara at the University of Tampere.




The rhetorical relation between narrative form and ideological thematics is a recurrent issue in the Narrative in the Humanities theme, and has been taken up directly in a volume of essays entitled Narratology and Ideology: Encounters between Narrative Theory and Postcolonial Criticism. The volume, which aims to stimulate dialogue between narrative theorists and postcolonialist critics in the specific area of Indian subcontinental studies, is to be published by Ohio State University Press in partnership with Orient Blackswan. York ICNS contributors are Richard Walsh and Claire Westall; the volume is edited by Divya Dwivedi, Henrik Skov Nielsen and Richard Walsh.

For details of the contributors and their essay titles, see the Narratology and Ideology table of contents. For the full book proposal, including essay abstracts, see Narratology & Ideology (PDF , 207kb).

Current research themes