Until recently Lizzie Swann was a Research Associate on the ERC-funded project Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern England: The Place of Literature. Her research focuses on the literature and culture of early modern England, with a particular emphasis on sensory history, historical phenomenology, and early modern epistemologies.

Q. Lizzie, you were a Research Associate on the Crossroads of Knowledge project for four years. What do you consider the highlight of your time here at CRASSH? 

It’s hard to identify a single highlight – it’s been a very stimulating and enjoyable four years in lots of ways. The weekly CRASSH work-in-progress seminars have been wonderful – I’ve found it fascinating and instructive to see the breadth of topics people are working on at CRASSH, and the varying ways that people from different disciplinary backgrounds respond to the papers. And the uninterrupted research time for my own work has, of course, been amazing.

Q. During your research, did you stumble across something unexpected that you’d like to share with us?

I can’t think of a single, specific thing – it sometimes seems to me that research is nothing but a process of stumbling, sometimes painfully, over the unexpected. I never cease to be astonished and delighted by the idiosyncrasies of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers and thinkers that I work with – their ingenuity, subtlety, capaciousness, weirdness, wit, bombast, grandeur, rigor, passion, prudence, guile, generosity…

One unexpected direction my work has taken in the past couple of years has been a new interest in the growing field of Critical University Studies, partly through my participation in a network hosted by CRASSH and led by Alison Wood. Much of my historical research focuses on ideas about the value and purpose of knowledge in the past – why was it considered important and valuable to be educated? What forms of power and pleasure does learning bring with it? Historical ideas about the ends of knowledge, I’ve come to realise, continue to exert an enormous influence on how we think about the role of higher education in society today. I’m very keen to continue to develop this aspect of my work in the future, and to think more rigorously about how we can trace historical continuities without slipping into Whiggish teleologies.

Q. Where to next?

I’m delighted to be taking up the post of Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Literary Studies in the Department of English Studies at Durham University. I’m really excited to be in a role where I can continue the kind of interdisciplinary work I love, and which CRASSH fosters so effectively. I’m also looking forward to exploring the glories of the north of England!

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