Professor Simon Rennie
Associate Professor of Victorian Poetry
I am an Associate Professor of Victorian Poetry. I have a specific interest in working-class and politically engaged poetry of the mid-nineteenth century. My previous research has culminated in the monograph The Poetry of Ernest Jones: Myth, Song, and the 'Mighty Mind' (Routledge, 2016). I have published three volumes of original poetry, Little Machines (Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2009), Unless Otherwise Stated (KFSP, 2011), and Adverse Camber (2019). I also have an interest in the works of Anthony Burgess and I have broadcast on that subject.
Between 2107 and 2019 I was Principal Investigator on a large-scale AHRC-funded project collecting and studying Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry published between 1861 and 1865. The project involved several public events and has created a publically accessible database housing hundreds of poems written about the global social effects of the American Civil War. My subsequent research is in the area of Victorian local newspaper poetry and the opportunity it afforded ordinary people to comment on contemporary political events.
I am currently supervising PhD projects on subjects including Cotton Famine poetry, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (1886-1962), twentieth-century working-class fiction, and Arab-American spoken word poetry. I welcome interest from students considering postgraduate projects on related subjects or general poetic subjects.
Between July 2020 and June 2023 I was Director of Online Learning for the College of Humanities, leading efforts to adapt teaching during the Covid pandemic's restrictions.
My first AHRC-funded research project from 2011-2015 examined the poetry of the writer and Chartist, Ernest Charles Jones (1819-69), with attention paid to its historical, cultural, and political contexts. Jones’s privileged social background, German upbringing, and eventual imprisonment alongside working-class Chartists, provide ample opportunity to illuminate the cross-cultural implications of his political career and thought through his poetry. The project culminated in a monograph - The Poetry of Ernest Jones: Myth, Song, and the 'Mighty Mind' (Routledge, 2015).
Between 2017 and 2019 I was Principal Investigator in a large-scale AHRC-funded project examining Cotton Famine poetry published between 1861 and 1865 in standard English and Lancashie dialect. In conjunction with the Exeter Digital Humanites team I developed a publicly-accessible database of Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry. This research and its outputs has had a considerable effect on the study of working-class Victorian poetry and is internationally recognised breaking new ground in topic and methodological approach. A monograph on the subject is currently under development.
Whilst still writing and delivering academic papers on the many aspects of Cotton Famine poetry which have been uncovered by my previous research, I am developing a substantial project examining the wider topic of Victorian local newspaper poetry and its commentary on contemporary political events.
The Cotton Famine poetry database has been used as a teaching tool in schools and HE institutions including York University and Boston College. The database itself has been accessed by over 10,000 users in 59 countries. In 2019 the highly regarded traditional music group Faustus produced a CD (Cotton Lords, Westpark Music) featuring songs adapted from newly-discovered Victorian poems from the database and an explanatory booklet written by me. These songs have been played in concerts in Australia and across Europe and thousands of people have heard of the Lancashire Cotton Famine for the first time and have access to its cultural production directly due to my collaboration with Faustus. The education company, Futurum, produced a teaching pack entitled ‘A Working-Class Hero is Something To Be’ based on my research in 2019, and this was distributed to schools in Lancashire when the project ran events for pupils.
I am currently collaborating with film-makers, musicians, and colleagues from the History Department and Digital Humanities Lab developing a project on the topic of Victorian local newspaper poetry.
I am open to discussing supervision of research projects realted to my academic expertise. I would be particularly interested in propsals related to the following subjects:
External impact and engagement
My approach to research is deeply rooted in principles of impact and external engagement. Through the publicly accessible Cotton Famine Poetry database resources, and events for schools and local communities in Lancashire and elsewhere, I have greatly extended knowledge of the Cotton Famine and its cultural productions. For example, I organised a concert and talk featuring the traditional music group Faustus, the singer Jennifer Reid, and myself at Helmshore Cotton Mill in Rossendale in January 2019 which was attended by eighty children from two primary schools. This tied into subsequent classes taught on the subject of local history using fine print ballad sheets we donated. In line with the University’s themes of Place. People, and Partnerships, I have worked with external organisations including the National Trust, Manchester Libraries, Lancashire Heritage and Museums, Halsway Manor Centre for Folk Arts and many others to organise live events which disseminate my research outputs in ways which maximise public engagement. We filmed one event at the National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire in August 2019 to produce a documentary filmed by BBC professionals which has had 1700 views on YouTube. This series of public engagements has given Lancashire people a deeper understanding of their history, and has revealed a depth of labouring-class Victorian literary creativity which was previously unknown. Our Faustus concert with a talk by me at the October 2019 Manchester Literature Festival at Manchester Central Library was a sell-out. The University of the Third Age event we ran at the Library earlier that day enabled members of that organisation to conduct primary research into Lancashire newspapers which found original poetry to be included in the database. In 2020 the same process of engaging the public in primary research resulted in Y5 pupils from Accrington’s St Anne’s and St Joseph’s Primary School identifying Cotton Famine poetry from their local library microfilm holdings and submitting it for inclusion on the database. In August 2019 Faustus and I ran a series of workshops for the public at Halsway Manor Centre for Folk Arts which taught the principles of musical adaptation from labouring-class Victorian poetry. Also in 2019 Faustus produced a well-reviewed CD (Cotton Lords, Westpark Music) featuring songs adapted from the database poems and an explanatory booklet written by me. These songs have been played in concerts in Australia and across Europe and thousands of people have heard of the Lancashire Cotton Famine for the first time and have access to its cultural production directly due to my collaboration with Faustus. Several other folk groups and musicians have used the database to produce musical adaptations. In 2022 the highly-regarded folk group Bird in the Belly incorporated two songs adapted from the database poems into their concept album After the City after consulting with me.
Contribution to discipline
I have made significant contributions to my field of Victorian labouring-class poetics through the consistent publication of journal articles, digital material and field-defining monographs. My 2016 monograph, The Poetry of Ernest Jones: Myth, Song, and the ‘Mighty Mind’ is often cited, and my current monograph, Cotton Famine Poetry: Affective Discourse from a Global Crisis, described as ‘ground-breaking’ by one reviewer, is predicted to ‘refresh, enliven and challenge the way we all treat such material, across the literary criticism’ according to the other reviewer. This monograph is substantially written and currently under review with Oxford University Press, with an expected publication date of 2024. My database of 400 Cotton Famine poems (1861-65) contains newspaper poetry from the UK, Ireland, Australia, France and both sides of the American Civil War. This resource has transformed the field of nineteenth-century labouring-class poetics, enabling access to hundreds of previously neglected texts, and educating thousands of people around the world about a global crisis which has profound similarities to the current global economic climate. The database was fully launched in 2020, and to date it has attracted more than 10,000 individual users from 59 countries. The database has also been internationally recognised as a significant advance in the principles of Digital Humanities, with a paper using the database as an example of best practice delivered to the International Digital Humanities Conference in Mexico City in 2018. In addition, the international success of the database led to my being asked to provide a technical review for a new Chartist Fiction Online project hosted by New York University. Of the last six journal articles I have published since 2020, all but one have been by invitation. The one that was submitted in the conventional manner, ‘This ’Merikay War’: Poetic Responses in Lancashire to the American Civil War’ in Journal of Victorian Culture 25:1 (Spring 2020), represented the first critical intervention on the subject of Cotton Famine poetry. Since then, two separate articles have appeared on the subject by different academics, both using my database as the primary source (‘Writing for Relief: Poetry, Labor, and the Lancashire Cotton Famine [1861–1865]’ by Eva Dema, Victorian Poetry Volume 60, Number 1, Spring 2022, and ‘Literary responses to the Cotton Famine in Lancashire’ by Jessica White Journal of Victorian Culture Online February 12th 2022).
I am a Fellow of the HEA and my teaching practice is informed by my research interests. I am currently convening the final year English dissertations EAS3003, the MA module Empire decadence and Modernity EASM150, and I have designed and convene a successful third-year option module, Poetry & Politics EAS3408.
- EAS2029 - Revolutions and Evolutions 19C Writings
- EAS3003 - Dissertation
- EAS3408 - Poetry and Politics
- EASM099 - Making Progress? Literature in a Changing Environment
- EASM123 - Creative Writing Dissertation
- EASM150 - Empire, Decadence and Modernity: Literature 1870-1910
- EASM168 - Victorian Things: Nineteenth-Century Material Culture