My work focuses on a single complex question: what are Universities really for?

I’m particularly interested in how and under what conditions the purposes of Universities are reimagined and re-articulated; and how that work can be done most persuasively and effectively.

Currently I’m exploring this question via three projects, mostly oriented towards cultural and intellectual history and the emerging field of Critical University Studies:

• attentiveness to the language of and about universities: concept histories and keywords analysis

• a history of British scholarly labour C19th onwards, taking in scholarly habits, networks, the formation of disciplines, and related university governance

• the intersection of relationships and politics within contemporary universities, especially in terms of academic citizenship

I’ve also written on genre, authorial collaboration, nineteenth century natural history, classification practices, life-writing, secularism, pleasures and anxieties in scholarly work, and the history of academic disciplines; all with a view to better understanding the structures, cultures and many purposes of Universities and intellectual labour.

I currently lead a British Academy Early Career Network on Critical University Studies (supported by a Rising Stars Engagement Award) and with colleagues at CRASSH am co-convening a symposium on Academic Citizenship. I’ve also recently joined a group hosted by the University of California Humanities Research Institute, interested in methods for thinking about the ‘Future University’. 


Before joining CRASSH Alison was Research Associate in English for the 'Religion and the Idea of a Research University' Project  at the Faculty of Divinity, also at Cambridge. She read English and History at the University of Adelaide and worked as a musician for several years before undertaking graduate work in English at King's College London (KCL). Her PhD examined the changing culture of British natural history – its institutions, objects, attractions and people – through the first sustained study of the influential taxonomist, priest and Darwinist TRR Stebbing (1835-1926).

Alison has held visiting scholarships to the Australian National University and the Yale Centre for British Art; worked as a facilitator for cross-sector, interdisciplinary research initiatives – including a research cluster on Healthy Ageing (Adelaide, 2004-7), the Centre for Life Writing Research (KCL 2008-10) and the Commodities and Culture Leverhulme Network (KCL 2010-11) – and co-directed a British Academy funded project ‘Negotiating Religion in the Contemporary University' (Cambridge & UCL, 2012-13), experiences which have fostered her enduring interest in both interdisciplinary work and the pragmatics of research leadership.

At Cambridge she’s served as a member of the University's Researcher Development Committee, the Pro-Vice Chancellor’s Working Group on Post-Doctoral Affairs, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Research Careers and Training Advisory Group; co-convened the CRASSH Post-doctoral Forum (2014-17); and supervised undergraduate papers in Divinity and English. She currently convenes the CRASSH ‘Becoming a Research Leader’ Programme and contributes regularly to doctoral and post-doctoral development programmes offered by the School of Arts and Humanities, the Careers Service, and the Researcher Development Programme.


In Preparation

Essays on Scholarly Labour

University Keywords, a lexicon co-edited with John Regan and Richard Oosterhoff

Special Issue: Editor, a/b: Auto/Biography Studies ‘The Work of Life-Writing’ 25.2 (Winter 2010) (with Clare Brant), with introduction.

Essays: ‘Secularism and the Uses of Literature: English at Cambridge, 1890-1920’. Modern Language Quarterly 75.2 (2014): 259-277.

‘Darwinism, Biology, and Mythology in the ‘Today and Tomorrow’ series, 1923-1929’. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 34.1 March (2009): 22-31.

‘Operatic Narratives: Textual Transformations in Gwen Harwood and Larry Sitsky’s Golem and Lenz.’ Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. 5 (2006): 179-191.

Selected Papers & Presentations

‘“Critical University Studies” and “Academic Citizenship”’: methods for building a more generous interplay between scholarship, leadership and action in Universities’. The Peaceful University: Aspirations for Academic Futures. Hiroshima University, 19-21 September 2018.

‘Status and Pace: early career academics, precarity, and the (potentially) restorative qualities of academic citizenship’. Academic Timescapes: Perspectives, Reflections, Responsibilities. ‘Accelerated Academy’ Prague, Czech Academy of Sciences, 24-25 May 2018.

‘Critical University Studies and Science Policy’. Invited panellist, Global Sustainability Initiative, and Centre for Science and Policy, CRASSH, University of Cambridge 21 February 2018.

Respondent. Intermediaries, Symposium. Religious Diversity and the Secular University. CRASSH, University of Cambridge 14-15 December 2017.

‘Writing, Publishing, and the Future University’. The Academic Book of the Future: Evolution or Revolution? Cambridge University Press, Centre for Material Texts Cambridge, and the AHRC/British Library Academic Book of the Future Project. CUP, 11 Nov 2015.

Conversions to Evolution’. Invited paper, ‘The Darwins Reconsidered’, University of Roehampton, 4 September 2015.

The Professionalisation Workshop, North American Victorian Studies Association 2015 (Honolulu) and 2013 (Venice). Keynote speaker and workshop leader for sessions on ‘Proposals and Grant Writing’, ‘Paths Post-PhD in Arts and Humanities’ and ‘Alt-Ac Careers’.

 ‘The Afterlives of Newman’s Idea of the University’. NAVSA, Honolulu, Hawaii 9-12 July 2015.

Fictions of the Past: The Biblical and Classical Past of the Nineteenth-Century Novel, Symposium. Respondent. CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 6 November 2014.

‘Sustainable Paths Post-PhD’. Keynote, Professionalisation Workshop, British Association for Victorian Studies Conference, University of Kent, 5-7 September 2014.

'The Language of Excellence and Post-Doctoral Researcher Development'. Invited paper, Association of Commonwealth Universities Conference: Steering Institutional Strategy, the critical roles of HR and PR, University of Glasgow, 13-16 July 2014.

‘Have Universities Lost Control of their Own Destiny?’. Keynote, Association of Commonwealth Universities Centenary Conference: Future Forward: Taking Charge of Change, London, 16-18 October 2013.

‘Local Amateurs, Global Professionals: late nineteenth-century taxonomy and the idea of intellectual labour in the age of profusion’. NAVSA/BAVS/AVSA Conference, Venice, 3-6 June 2013.

‘TRR Stebbing and His Natural History Societies’. Invited lecture, Torquay Museum Society, 23 April 2013.

‘From Faith to Reason: Conversion Narratives and the Value of Doubt’. British Association for Victorian Studies conference, University of Sheffield, 30 August-1 September 2012.

‘Religion, Reform and the Context of ‘English’ at Cambridge’. Invited paper. Lessons from the Past: a Seminar on the Emergence of University English, University of Wollongong, 27 April 2012.

‘Zoological Things, Global Traffic and the Idea of a Secular Clerisy’. Invited paper. Commodities and Culture Leverhulme Network Workshop, New York University, 8-10 December 2011.

‘Image and Wonder: Stebbing, Gosse and the Miraculous Lens’. Invited paper, Shows of London Symposium, King’s College London. 7 November 2010: and to the London Nineteenth Century Seminar, Institute of English Studies, London, 19 Feb 2011.

‘Small Wonders: Zoological Microscopy and the Writing of Nature in Late Nineteenth Century Britain’. North American Victorian Studies Association conference, Montréal, 11-13 November 2010.

‘How Nature ‘Up Close’ became Lovely: the Aesthetics of Late Victorian Taxonomic Zoology’. Natural Dialogues, Yale Centre for British Art, Yale University, 21-22 Feb 2009.

‘Darwin, Stebbing and the Pacific’. Biannual PhD workshop in Environmental History, Australian National University, 27-31 Oct 2008.


Tel: +44 1223 766886