Skip navigation

Dr Kit Heyam


Department: Humanities

I joined Northumbria in July 2020 as a temporary Lecturer in English. Prior to this, I was a Lecturer in Early Modern English Literature at King's College London; I have also taught at Newcastle University and the University of Leeds, and been a postdoctoral research fellow on the international collaborative project 'Gendering Interpretations of the Collections of the V&A and Vasa Museums'. I specialise in early modern literature, with a focus on transgressive gendered and sexual behaviour, but teach literature of all periods: please see below for more detail on my research interests. 

Kit Heyam

Research Themes and Scholarly Interests

I am an interdisciplinary scholar whose work focuses on developing new methodological approaches to transgressive gender and sexuality in historical literature and culture, both in academic research and in curatorial practice. I have taken this interest in two key directions: exploring how academic and curatorial practice might creatively respond to contemporary political arguments which seek to delegitimise trans experience by denying its historicity, and thinking about the construction of sexuality and sexual knowledge as a literary process rooted in genre and the literary marketplace.

My first monograph, The Reputation of Edward II, 1305-1695: A Literary Transformation of History, is out now with Amsterdam University Press. Click here to download the table of contents and introduction. This book is the first project to analyse the development of Edward II’s sexual and political reputation in the four centuries after his death – including the origins of the consensus that his relationships with his favourites were sexual and romantic and that he was murdered by anal penetration with a red-hot spit, but also his significance as a paradigmatic exemplum of favouritism and deposition in early modern England and France. My work demonstrates that the formation of Edward's queer historiographical reputation was a literary process. The demands of the early modern literary marketplace meant that texts of all genres increasingly foregrounded his sexual transgressions as sensational, engaging content, but also created space for readers’ emotional engagement with this transgressive figure from their national past, framing his relationships with his favourites through tropes of the romance genre and constructing the account of his deposition and death as a de casibus narrative. These literary concerns exerted a substantial influence on the development of Edward’s queer reputation, as did literary texts, foremost among them Marlowe’s Edward II

My subsequent work has continued this investigation of the relationship between gender, sexuality and genre. My forthcoming article ‘Performing Historical Monarchs: Beyond the History Play’ (Royal Studies Journal, 2021) discusses the use of performative techniques in prose accounts of the past written in early modern England, showing that prose texts should be seen alongside history plays as forms which provided access to performance of historical characters, and using the case of Edward II to show that these performative techniques facilitated emotional and political engagement with this sexually transgressive monarch. I am also working on an article titled ‘“The witch that wrought on me was in my breast”: figurative bewitchment and politico-sexual transgression in early modern English culture’, which presents a reassessment of the place of witchcraft accusations in the history of early modern sexual transgression, figuring them as a rhetorical strategy of exoneration for authority figures (particularly monarchs) who experienced queer attraction, and shedding new light on the mechanisms by which people negotiated transgressive attraction and their anxieties around it.

My current major research project, Sexual Knowledge and Print Culture in Early Modern England, 1557-1695, takes a cross-genre approach to my insights about the relationship between beliefs about transgressive sexuality and print culture. The book aims to foreground the ways in which sexual knowledge was shaped by two aspects of early modern print and literary culture: the developing conventions of specific popular genres (medical books, travel writing, chronicles, religious texts and romances), and the process of book production, including the considerable agency of the publisher as both a collaborative and an autonomous actor. My article 'Paratexts and Pornographic Potential in Seventeenth-Century Anatomy Books' (The Seventeenth Century, 2018) represents the first output of this work.

Alongside this, I work on approaches to historical gender nonconformity and trans experience. My article ‘Gender Nonconformity and Military Internment: Curating the Knockaloe Slides’ (Critical Military Studies, 2019), discusses academic and curatorial approaches to a collection of glass plate slides which show onstage and offstage gender nonconformity in a First World War internment camp. I argue for the need to open up the multiple simultaneous motivations, and facets of the gendered subjectivity, behind the gender nonconformity seen in the Knockaloe slides, through polyvocal approaches to both research and curation. I am working on a book project which develops this research into a history of gender nonconformity in its broadest sense, which takes seriously both its historical and cultural specificity and the political importance of recuperating the historicity of trans experience. Following successful discussions at Approaching Gender Nonconformity: an online unconference, which I co-organised, I am exploring options for developing a network focused on these issues: I would be keen to hear from anyone who is interested in being involved in this.

In this and all my work, I am committed to impact and public engagement. My role on the AHRC-funded project 'Gendering Interpretations of the Collections of the V&A and Vasa Museums' involved developing the public impact of a new methodology for creating gendered biographies of material objects: for more details, see the article Gendering Objects at the V&A and Vasa Museums’ (Museum International, 2020), which I co-authored with James Daybell, Svante Norrhem and Emma Severinsson. I also coordinate the Rainbow Plaques project, which uses ephemeral, DIY cardboard plaques to experiment with speculative and personal memorialisation of queer history. 

Key Publications


  • Literature PhD October 27 2017
  • Fellow, Higher Education Academy FHEA 2020

a sign in front of a crowd

Northumbria Open Days

Open Days are a great way for you to get a feel of the University, the city of Newcastle upon Tyne and the course(s) you are interested in.

Research at Northumbria

Research at Northumbria

Research is the life blood of a University and at Northumbria University we pride ourselves on research that makes a difference; research that has application and affects people's lives.

a person sitting at a table

Order your prospectus

If you would like to know more about our courses, or life in general as a student at Northumbria, then we can help you.

Latest News and Features

More news

Back to top