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Modernism and Contemporary Literature (MA)

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Course overview

This programme has been withdrawn for 2017 entry.


Key facts

Key facts about the course
Qualification Master of Arts
Duration 1 year full-time; 2 years part-time
Department and Faculty English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Partner institution(s) --
Course director

Dr Finn Fordham

Contact for more information

Dr Finn Fordham


Lisa Dacunha
Postgraduate Faculty Administrator 
+44 (0)1784 443215

Fees / funding

Please visit our Fees and Funding pages for the latest information about tuition fees and the different sources of funding which may be available to you.

How to apply

Applications for entry to all our full-time postgraduate degrees can be made online.

Further information on making an application, including the documentation that you will need to submit with the application is available in the How to apply section of this site.

If you are interested in applying to Royal Holloway, why not arrange a visit to our campus to see for yourself what academic and student life is like here. More information on arranging visits is available on our Open days pages.


Entry requirements

Entry criteria:

A minimum of a 2:1 UK honours degree in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Candidates with professional qualifications and work experience in an associated area will be considered.

English language requirements:

IELTS 6.5 with 7.0 in writing or TOEFL 570 (TWE 5.5) / 230 (TWE 5.5) / 88 (26)

Applicants come from a diverse range of backgrounds and we accept a broad range of qualifications (including first degrees in subjects other than English).

Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.

Additional requirements:

  • You will be required to supply a sample of written work (two short essays or one longer essay of around 5,000 words).

A successful applicant will usually have the following qualities:

  • competence in writing and argument in English
  • some familiarity with twentieth-century and twenty-first-century literature and with the practices of literary study
  • an interest in the cultures of modernism and the contemporary.

Why choose this course?

  • All members of staff are actively engaged in major research projects: the Department was awarded a 4* rating in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). This commitment to scholarly research means all our postgraduate courses are informed by the latest developments in literary studies.
  • The Department has major research strengths in twentieth-century and twenty-first-century literature and in contemporary critical theory.
  • The College provides all the IT facilities and training that students need in order to access the burgeoning resources for study on the Internet.
  • Our excellent library resources span the full range of English studies and you will also have access to the University of London Library at Senate House as well as the British Library and the many specialist libraries located in central London.

Department research and industry highlights

  • Our graduates have recently organized two-day conferences on Genre and on the work of J. M. Coetzee.
  • Members of staff are involved in running the long-running London Modernism Seminar and London Ulysses Seminar at Senate House as well as the more recent Finnegans Wake Seminar and the Contemporary Innovative Poetry Research Seminar .
  • HARC (the Humanities Research Centre) provides a variety of speakers on twentieth-century topics.
  • Recent books by modern literature staff include Professor Tim Armstrong’s The Logic of Slavery: Debt, Technology and Pain in American Literature (CUP, 2012), Professor Robert Hampson’s Conrad’s Secrets (Palgrave, 2012), Dr Finn Fordham’s I do I undo I redo: the Textual Genesis of Modernist Selves (OUP, 2010); Dr Will Montgomery’s The Poetry of Susan Howe (Palgrave, 2010); and Professor Andrew Gibson’s Samuel Beckett: A Critical Life (Reaktion, 2010). 
  • Professor Tim Armstrong is the author of American Bodies (Sheffield UP, 1996), Modernism, Technology and the Body (CUP, 1998), Haunted Hardy: Poetry, History, Memory (Palgrave, 2000), Modernism: A Cultural History (Polity, 2005) and The Logic of Slavery: Debt, Technology and Pain in American Literature (CUP, 2012). He is co-editor of the Edinburgh University Press series ‘Topics in Modernism’ and one of the organisers of the London Modernism Seminar.
  • Professor Robert Eaglestone is the author of four books including Ethical Criticism (1997), and The Holocaust and the Postmodern (2004) and the editor or co-editor of four books including Derrida’s Legacies (2007) and J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory (2009). He works on contemporary fiction and philosophy and is Series Editor of Routledge Critical Thinkers.
  • Professor Andrew Gibson is the author of, among other works, Joyce’s Revenge: History, Politics and Aesthetics (OUP, 2002), Joyce: A Critical Life (Reaktion, 2006), Beckett and Badiou: The Pathos of Intermittency (OUP, 2006), Samuel Beckett: A Critical Life (Reaktion, 2010), Intermittency: The Concept of Historical Reason in Recent French Philosophy (Edinburgh, 2011). He co-edited London from Punk to Blair (Reaktion, 2003) with Joe Kerr and Joyce Ireland and Britain (Florida UP, 2006) with Len Platt. He is a permanent advisory editor of the James Joyce Quarterly and a member of various editorial boards including Textuel, Critical Zone, Symbolism: An International Annual of Critical Aesthetics and Limit(e) Beckett. He is an Associate Member of the Beckett International Foundation (University of Reading) and was recently elected to the Conseil Scientifique of the College International de Philosophie at the University of Paris. .
  • Professor Robert Hampson FEA, FRSA is the author of Joseph Conrad: Betrayal and Identity, Cross-Cultural Encounters in Joseph Conrad's Malay Fiction and Conrad's Secrets. He was co-editor of Conrad and Theory (with Andrew Gibson) and has edited various works by Conrad, Kipling and Haggard for Penguin. He was formerly editor of The Conradian and is currently on the editorial board of Conradiana, The Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry and The Journal of Postcolonial Writing. He also co-edited Ford Madox Ford: A Re-Appraisal (with Tony Davenport), Ford Madox Ford and Modernity (with Max Saunders), New British poetries: The scope of the possible (with Peter Barry), and Frank O'Hara Now (with Will Montgomery). He was a Research Associate at the Centre Vortex, Paris III, and is currently one of the International Consultants for the Modern Literature and Economic Theory Research Network, University of Suceava, Roumania.
  • Dr Betty Jay works on feminist and psychoanalytic theory in relation to twentieth-century and contemporary literature and film. Her most recent book was Weird Lullabies: Mothers and Daughters in Contemporary Film.
  • Dr. Kristen Kreider, a practicing poet and artist, collaborates with artist and architect James O’Leary to make performance, installation and multi-media work in relation to sites of architectural and cultural interest. Kreider and O’Leary have performed and exhibited in the UK, as well as internationally in Europe, the US, Australia, and Japan. 
  • Dr. Will Montgomery works on contemporary poetry and poetics. He is the author of The Poetry of Susan Howe: History, Theology, Authority (Palgrave, 2010) and co-edited (with Robert Hampson) Frank O’Hara Now: New Essays on the New York Poet (Liverpool UP, 2010). He has published many articles on contemporary poetry and is a member of the Poetics Research Group at Royal Holloway. He is also involved, as both critic and practitioner, in contemporary experimental music, field recording and sound art.
  • Redell Olsen works on avant-garde modernist and contemporary poetics, visual arts and poetry, feminist theory and writing practice, Language Writing and contemporary fiction. Her publications include Book of the Fur (2000), secure portable space (2004) and punk faun (2012), and she co-edited here are my instructions (2004) with the book artist Susan Johanknecht. From 2006 to 2010, she was the editor of How2, the online journal for modernist and contemporary poetry, poetics and criticism by women. Recent critical work includes essays on Frank O’Hara, Susan Howe and the film-maker and poet Abigail Childs. Her recent projects have involved texts for performance, film and site-specific collaboration and her poetry was the subject of a recent conference in Paris.
  • Dr. Agnes Woolley's research interests are in postcolonial literature and film, migration, diaspora, postcolonial ecocriticism.  Her publications include Contemporary Asylum Narratives: Representing Refugees in the Twenty-First Century (2013).  

Course content and structure

Full-time students will take 2 courses in each Terms 1 and 2; and write a dissertation in Term 3 and across the summer vacation. Part-time students normally take the 2 course units in terms 1 and 2 of their first year, 2 more in the second and also write their dissertation during the second year.

Course units:

Modernism Strand

Term 1: Modernism, Modernity and History

This unit comprises a series of seminars on such topics as Modernism and the avant-garde; modernity, mass culture and technology; race, gender and primitivism; modernism and politics. You will be introduced to various modernist movements (Futurism, Imagism, Surrealism) and to the ways in which Modernism has been conceptualized in relation to modernity.


Term 2: Modernist Special Topics

The course for 2014 contains two five-week components. The first provides an advanced introduction to the relationship between avant-garde prose and politics in the 1930s.  The second will explore the re-appropriation and re-tooling of modernist aesthetic strategies by a range of contemporary African writers to address the crises of the post-colonial state and of post-colonial subjectivity. You will engage with the work of a number of post-colonial theorists and investigate a range of key texts by African writers.

Contemporary Strand

Term 1: Contemporary Literature

The course will address a range of literary works which engage with such topics as globalisation, transnationalism, and global terror as well as magic realism, postmodernism and Conceptual Writing. You will consider contemporary fiction, poetry, post-colonial writing and writing across media as part of an exploration of the contemporary.

Term 2: Contemporary Special Topics

The course for 2014 contains two five-week components on contemporary fiction and contemporary poetry respectively. The first provides an advanced introduction to the fictional writings about globalisation and mobility.  

The second provides an advanced introduction to the work of selected contemporary women poets. You will read these texts in the context of current debates in innovative poetics and in relation to modernist strategies of avant-garde practice by previous women writers. You will explore how these contemporary poets have utilised, adapted and/or transformed modernist strategies of practice and to what ends.


You will write a dissertation of 12-15,000 words on an approved topic, during the summer term and summer vacation, with support from a tutor.  

On completion of the course graduates will have:

  • achieved an understanding of the intertwined issues of modernity, modernism and the contemporary as they are reflected in literary and theoretical writings in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries
  • improved their literary, analytic and research skills at an advanced level
  • shown themselves able to work independently on an extended research project
  • provided the platform for further postgraduate work, should they wish to undertake it.

View the full course specification for Modernism and Contemporary Literature (MA) in the Programme Specification Repository


Assessment is carried out by essays and a dissertation.

Employability & career opportunities

The Department has an impressive record for placing graduates in academic jobs and in prominent positions outside academia. In the field of twentieth-century literature our postgraduates have recently secured positions at Queen Mary, University of London, the Universities of Wales, Nottingham, Lancaster, Newbold College and elsewhere; and have published academic books with Cambridge University Press, Palgrave, Berg and other publishers; as well as popular books on gay studies, music and other topics.  

The English Department also prepares postgraduates for successful careers in a variety of other areas, such as teaching, writing and journalism, curating, administration and marketing.


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