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Who am I and how do I relate to you?

Human beings make sense of their place in the world and the actions they take by telling stories about themselves or others. Sometimes these stories justify the status quo and sometimes they challenge it..

In the humanities, we are interested in how these narratives are constructed and the deeper meanings they carry. What do familiar and unfamiliar narratives tell us about past and present hierarchies of class, gender, race or ethnicity, or about how human beings have turned their gaze onto the Earth’s natural resources or other species?

Some stories leave strong traces, others can be carefully reconstructed, but some can be barely perceived at all. What significance should we attach to this? Join the debate.


Humanities: Enriching our understanding of human experiences, past and present.

As our place in the world shifts and evolves, our research explores the many facets of human experience, past and present. We look at what drives us in terms of culture, creativity, impulses and the many expressions that make human beings what we are.

Northumbria University is engaged in exciting research into many facets of human experience across time and space. We are especially alert to the interaction between the past and the present, which we explore from British, European and Global perspectives, be they national, imperial or diasporic, Anglophone or non-Anglophone. Across the disciplines of Art History, American Studies, Creative Writing, English Language and Linguistics, English Literature, History and Media Studies, we are interested in political formation and identity; cultures of memory, commemoration and heritage; impulses towards settlement and diaspora; forms of artistic and creative expression; and responses to natural and built environments.

Ours is an expansive and outward-looking notion of the humanist endeavour. It is interdisciplinary, embracing emerging fields like the environmental and the medical humanities, and recognises no fundamental distinction between the University and the wider community.

Existing and emerging research agendas will help enhance our reputation for world-leading research, helping in particular to maintain Northumbria University’s ranking in the top quartile of UK universities for Research Excellence in English and History. Our researchers have attracted major funding from Research Councils UK as well as the British Academy, Leverhulme Trust and Nuffield Foundation.


Storytelling is how human beings make sense of the world around them.

Shared across time and space by every culture, storytelling entertains, educates and instils and preserves moral values.

But storytelling can also help us answer the most fundamental questions of all. Who am I? How do I relate to you? What does it mean to be human?

Exploring story narratives from the past and present and looking at the deeper meanings they carry can help us begin to understand what makes us what we are. 

Researchers within the humanities department at Northumbria University are interested in examining familiar and unfamiliar narratives to see what they can tell us about past and present hierarchies of class, gender, race or ethnicity. Our cutting edge research also looks at why human beings have turned their current gaze onto the Earth’s natural resources and other species.

Studying critical questions around our existence couldn’t be more relevant. After all, by learning how humans live in the world, how this makes us into the kind of people we are and ultimately questioning conventions around what makes us who we are, surely we can learn how to create a better world for everyone to live in today.

What do you think? Share your views using #ChangingChallengingWorld

Matthew Kelly

Professor of Modern History and Director of the Institute of the Humanities

I work in the broad area of environmental history, focusing in particular on how the environment became a subject of politics and the state in the modern period. At the heart of this work is a set of key historical questions about how the growth of environmental awareness generated particular notions of the public good that challenged conventional ideas about the rights of private property. Having written a history of modern Dartmoor and the history of the Nature State, I am now working on a history of women preservationists and conservationists in twentieth-century Britain.

I also have significant interests in the history of Irish nationalism, the subject of my doctoral work, and I have written and published extensively on the history of Irish nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I have also written about modern Poland and my Finding Poland was published in 2010. This book traces the experiences of the Poles deported by the Soviet Union from occupied eastern Poland in 1940, taking the reader to Kazakhstan, Iran, India and, finally, the UK.

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