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MA in Modernism and Contemporary Literature

‘La Maison en papier’, drawing and gouache by Mina Loy, 1906Tristan Tzara, Calligramme (1916)Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Zang Tumb Tumb (1914)Detail from cover, Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (1956)




On this programme, you will explore a range of twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature from Britain, North America, and elsewhere. The MA has been revised to reflect our particular research strengths in Modernism and in contemporary literature. You will be able to study the classical period of Modernism, engaging with some of its major authors (like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf) and reflecting on the historical, intellectual, cultural and technological changes of the period. You will also be able to study the legacy of modernism in contemporary British, North American and African writing as well as other forms of contemporary literature. You will have the opportunity to study with scholars who have international reputations in their fields and to develop advanced skills in literary studies and research.

You will take two core courses in the first term: one in Modernism, the other exploring Contemporary Literature. As well as involving advanced study of Modernism and the contemporary, these courses will give you the opportunity to explore the complex linkages which exist between the two.

Special topics might include, for example, the relations between literature and the technologies of communication, including the ways in which ideas about modern technology influence conceptualisations of the mind; the (re)appropriation of European modernist aesthetic strategies by contemporary African writers to address the crises of the post-colonial state and post-colonial subjectivity; innovative poetics and contemporary women poets; the city in contemporary fiction; and fictions of globalization.

In addition, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a subject of your choice when writing your dissertation. This could grow directly out of the core courses, but there is also scope to work on individual authors or on topics in literary and cultural theory not studied in the core courses.

This MA is ideal if you intend to progress to advanced research or simply wish to develop your knowledge of modern and contemporary literature and your critical skills beyond first-degree level.

Length of Course: 50 weeks, full-time; 102 weeks, part-time

Full-time students will take the two core course units in Term 1 and the two Special Topics in term 2; and write a dissertation in Term 3 and across the summer vacation. Part-time students normally take one core course unit and the matching Special Topic in each term of their first year, the other in each term of their second year, and write their dissertation during the second year. 

Course units

The programme consists of two streams: Modernism, and Contemporary literature, each comprised of a Term 1 core and Term 2 Special Topics (the latter will vary from year to year depending on staffing patterns and research interests).  Students take both streams. Course documents are available on the clickable links below.


Term 1: Modernism, Modernity and History

This course is designed to introduce students to a range of issues within the study of modernism - in particular, its historical relation and the relationship between literary modernism and social modernity.

The term begins with an examination of some of the foundational modernist movements, manifestos and crucial moments and then looks at more general issues relating to modernism’s cultural and historical context.


The core text is Kolocotroni, Goldman and Taxidou (eds), Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents (Edinburgh UP). You will use this throughout the course and will need to own copies. Other literary texts will be supplied as pdfs.

In addition, you will need to buy copies of the following:
Nella Larsen, Passing
Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts
Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

You should also read: Tim Armstrong, Modernism and Peter Nicholls, Modernisms

Term 2: Modernist Special Topics

The course for 2014-15 contains two five-week components. The first deals with Experimental Prose Fiction of the 1930s, including Woolf's The Waves; Djuna Barnes's Nightwood; Stevie Smith's Novel on Yellow Paper; part of Joyce's Finnegans Wake; and Henry Green's Party Going.

The second 5-week block will explore African Modernism, looking at 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 Literature

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 2014-15 contains two five-week components on contemporary fiction and contemporary poetry respectively. The first provides an advanced introduction to literatures of migration under the heading Flight Paths: Fictions of Globalization.  Issues considered include the impact of media technologies and 'connectivity', multi-national corporatism and the formation of migrant, national and local identities.

The second five-week block 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.

Other Opportunities

Students on the course make use of the facilities of the College Library, Senate House Library and the British Library.  They are encouraged to attend seminars at HARC, and central London seminars run by staff and postgraduate students at the College's Bedford Square building and the School of Advanced Study at Senate House, including among others

The London Modernism seminar
The London Beckett seminar
The London James Joyce Seminar
The Ezra Pound's Cantos Reading Group
The London Finnegans Wake Seminar
The Literature and Visual Culture Seminar
Contemporary Innovative Poetry Research Seminar

See here and the Institute for English Studies website for links and a list of others.

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All courses are taught by a series of two-hour seminars over the first two terms. Preparation is assigned by the tutor and includes regular class presentations by students. Students have individual tutorials on draft essays and can consult staff at all times.

Dr Finn Fordham

The Programme Director is Professor Finn Fordham, who has an international reutation in the study of James Joyce, modernism and genetic criticism. He is author of I do I undo I redo: the Textual Genesis of Modernist Selves in Hopkins, Yeats, Conrad, Forster, Joyce and Woolf (2010) and Lots of Fun at ‘Finnegans Wake’: Unravelling Universals (2007) and editor of the Oxford Critical Edition of Finnegans Wake.

Other teachers involved with the course are:

Professor Tim Armstrong, author of Modernism, Technology, and the Body (1998), Modernism: A Cultural History (2005), and The Logic of Slavery: Debt, Technology and Pain in American Literature (2014), as well as other books.

Professor Robert Eaglestone, author of The Future of Trauma Theory: Contemporary Literary and Cultural  Criticism (2013) and The Very Short Introduction to Contemporary Fiction (2013) among many other books.

Professor Andrew Gibson, author of many books including  Joyce's Revenge: History, Politics and Aesthetics in 'Ulysses' (2002), The Strong Spirit: History, Politics and Aesthetics in the Writings of James Joyce 1898-1915 (2013) and Intermittency: The Concept of Historical Reason in Recent French Philosophy (2011).

Dr Betty Jay, author of Introduction to Virginia Woolf: Selected Novels (2016) and Weird Lullabies: Mothers and Daughters in Contemporary Film (2008).

 Dr Mark Mathuray, author of On the Sacred in African Literature: Old Gods and New Worlds (2009) and editor of Sex and Sensibility: Essays on the Novels of Alan Hollinghurst (2016).

Dr Will Montgomery, author of The Poetry of Susan Howe (2010) and editor of the essay collection Frank O'Hara Now (2010).

 Dr Redell Olsen, poet and author of Film Poems (2014), Punk Faun: a bar rock pastel (2012), Book of the Fur (2000) and other books.

Dr Agnes Woolley, author of Contemporary Asylum Narratives: Representing Refugees in the Twenty-First Century (2014)

Assessment is carried out by essays and a dissertation.Term 1 essays are submitted in draft and receive individual tutorial feedback before revisions; Term 2 essays are planned with staff input.  Dissertations are supervised by staff over summer.

Normally at least a good second-class BA in Single or Joint Honours English or a related discipline is required of UK applicants, and a degree of equivalent standard of overseas applicants, who must have a high level of competence in spoken and written English.

For students whose first language or language of instruction was not English, we normally ask for:

IELTS 7.0 overall, with writing 7.0 and no other subscore lower than 5.5; or TOEFL iBT 97 overall, with the following minimum subscores: Reading 18, Listening 17, Speaking 20, Writing 26; or Pearson Test or English 69 overall, with writing 69 and no other subscore lower than 51. These requirements may be adjusted in individual cases. For more information, see the College's English Language Requirements pages.

To apply, do so via Embark.

Course Director  

Professor Finn Fordham

Contact for more information  

Postgraduate Administrator

Lisa Dacunha
Tel: +44 (0)1784 443215 





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