Thursday, April 18, 2019

How global is your alpha

The following is a list of sources I cited in a talk at the Popular Culture Association conference in Washington D.C in April 2019. The talk is titled 'Mr Worldwide: How global is your alpha?' and is part of a bigger project I've been working on (see here and here) on romance masculinity and race.


A “strong assertive hero who is in charge and oozes power” (Caldwell 2015); the romance alpha hero is as familiar as he is monolithic. This model of hegemonic, alpha masculinity is generally applied to romance across the world, yet how ubiquitous is such a dominant, western model of masculinity? As Connell and Messerschmidt theorize, “masculinities are dynamic social constructs which are sensitive to space, place and time, and derived from complex relational and intersectional identities” (Datta and McIlwane, 2005, 94). Thus, drawn from narrow and specific cultural, national, and racial contexts, the romance alpha hero is far from universal. So, how global is the alpha hero?

This paper presents the results of a case study of the heroes of all ten titles published to date by Ankara Press, “a new imprint bringing African romance fiction into the bedrooms, offices and hearts of women the world over” (“About Us”, Scholars and readers alike are increasingly interested in romance as a global genre, including romances published outside the west, and this study contributes to this growing area of scholarship. Ankara Press provides an ideal source base as an imprint rooted in an established tradition of non-western publishing (Nigerian romance) which is also explicitly global-facing and thus aware of and engaged with western ideas of alpha masculinity.

Drawing on scholarship on the alpha romance hero, masculinity studies, and intersectional feminist scholarship, the paper interrogates the idea of a global alpha hero, offering detailed analysis of romantic masculinity in a different cultural, commercial, and national context. Ankara Press promises ‘A new kind of romance’ – this paper asks: does it also provide a new kind of hero? And could viewing romance from this new vantage point offer a more nuanced, less western-centric, more fully global way to consider the alpha hero?

I've grouped the sources below by theme for ease of reference.

Scholarship on the alpha hero

Jennifer McKnight-Trontz, Look of Love: The Art of the Romance Novel (Princeton Architectural Press, 2001).

Janice Radway, Reading the Romance (University of North Carolina Press, 1984).

Pam Regis, A Natural History of the Romance Novel (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003).

Catherine M. Roach, Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture (Indiana University Press, 2016).

Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance (Fireside, 2009).

Masculinities scholarship

Connell, R. W., "Globalization, Imperialism, and Masculinities," in Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities, ed. by Michael S. Kimmel, Jeff Hearn & R. W. Connell (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2005), pp. 71-89.

Connell, R. W., "Masculinities and globalization," Men and Masculinities 1.1 (1998), 3–23.

Connell, R. W. and James W. Messerschmidt, "Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept", Gender and Society 19.6 (2005), 829-859.

Scholarship on African romance literature

Lee Erwin, "Genre and Authority in Some Popular Nigerian Women's Novels," Research in African Literatures 33.2 (2002): 81-99.

Susanne Gehrmann, "Remediating Romance: Forms and Functions of New Media in Contemporary Love Stories from Togo and South Africa," Africa Today 65.1 (2018): 65-84.

Wendy Griswold and Misty Bastian, "Continuities and reconstructions in cross-cultural literary transmission: The case of the Nigerian romance novel", Poetics 16:3-4 (1987): 327-351.

Lydie Moudileno "The Troubling Popularity of West African Romance Novels," Research in African Literatures 39.4 ((2008): 120-132.

Catherine Muhomah, "What do women want?: Versions of masculinity in Kenyan romantic fiction," English Studies in Africa 45.2 (2002): 77-90.

Novian Whitsitt, "Islamic-Hausa Feminism Meets Northern Nigerian Romance: The Cautious Rebellion of Bilkisu Funtuwa," African Studies Review 46.1 (2003): 137-53.

Ankara Press publications

All ten titles are available on the Ankara Press website.

Nathaniel Bivan, "Ankara Press is going against romance stereotypes –Shercliff", Daily Trust, 12 Feb 2016.

Emma Shercliff, Ankara Press: Q&A with Publisher Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Africa in Words, 16 January 2015.

Emma Shercliff, Ankara Press: A New Kind of Romance, Africa is a Country.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Racism, Exclusion, and the Problems of Toxic Masculinity in Middle English Romance

My last post was a list of works I consulted and cited in a talk I gave at Durham University in January 2019. It seemed to be a helpful way to organise my citations, and so I'm doing the same for a talk I'm giving this evening at Cardiff University.

Here's the abstract for my talk, which is sharing some very early research from my wider project on the alpha hero of romance and race.

Racism, Exclusion, and the Problems of Toxic Masculinity in Middle English Romance

A “strong assertive hero who is in charge and oozes power” (Caldwell 2015); “[a] brave, handsome knight […] in search of adventure” (Colwell 2002, 137) – thus is defined the alpha hero of modern romance and his precursor, the knightly hero of medieval romance. In both periods, male heroes display behaviour that we would now often call ‘toxic’.

As part of a literary history of the alpha hero of romance, I am interested in how different historical periods construct this ‘toxic’ alpha masculinity and in who gets to be a romance alpha hero (my focus is on racial and religious identity). My central question is: what can premodern literature tell us about toxic masculinities today?

While I’m focusing on late medieval romances, I hope that this talk will be relevant and accessible for those interested in gender and romance in all literary periods.

Bibliography of scholarship and works cited

Primary texts

"Athelston" in Four Romances of England, ed. by Graham Drake, Eve Salisbury and Ronald B. Herzman (Medieval Institute Publications: Kalamazoo, MI, 1997). Available at:

"Bevis of Hampton" in Four Romances of England, ed. by Graham Drake, Eve Salisbury and Ronald B. Herzman (Medieval Institute Publications: Kalamazoo, MI, 1997). Available at:

Larkin, Peter, ed. Richard Coer de Lion (Medieval Institute Publications: Kalamazoo, MI, 2015). Available at:

"Sir Gowther", in The Middle English Breton Lays, ed. by Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Medieval Institute Publications: Kalamazoo, MI, 1995). Available at:

"Sir Isumbras", in Four Middle English Romances, ed. by Harriet Hudson (Medieval Institute Publications: Kalamazoo, MI, 2006). Available at:

"The Sultan of Babylon" in Three Middle English Charlemagne Romances, ed. by Alan Lupack (Medieval Institute Publications: Kalamazoo, MI, 1990). Available at:

Scholarship on medieval race, gender and religion

Heng, Geraldine, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Hostetter, Aaron. “Sir Gowther: Table Manners and Aristocratic IdentityStudies in Philology 114.3 (2017): 497-516.

Mitchell-Smith, Ilan, “Defining violence in Middle English romances: Sir Gowther and Libeaus Desconus.” Fifteenth-Century Studies 34 (2009): 148-161.

Rouse, Robert, 'For King and Country? The Tension between National and Regional Identity in Sir Bevis of Hampton', in Sir Bevis of Hampton in Literary Tradition, ed. by Jennifer Fellows and Ivana Djordjevic (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2008), pp. 114-126.

Uebel, Michael, “The foreigner within: the subject of abjection in Sir Gowther.” In Meeting the Foreign in the Middle Ages, ed. by Albrecht Classen (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 96-118.

Scholarship and resources on masculinities and toxic masculinities

Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990).

Connell, R. W., 'Masculinities and globalization', Men and Masculinities 1.1 (1998), 3–23.

Connell, R. W. and James W. Messerschmidt, 'Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept', Gender and Society 19.6 (2005), 829-859.

Datta, Kavita and Cathy McIlwaine, 'Negotiating Masculinised Migrant Rights and Everyday Citizenship in a Global City: Brazilian Men in London', in Masculinities and Place, ed. by Andrew Gorman-Murray and Peter Hopkins (Farnham, Kent: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 93-108.

Ging, Debbie. “Alphas, Betas, and Incels: Theorizing the Masculinities of the Manosphere.” Men and Masculinities, May 2017.

Hess, Aaron and Carlos Flores. “Simply more than swiping left: A critical analysis of toxic masculine performances on Tinder Nightmares.” new media & society 20.3 (2018): 1085–1102.

Lusher, Dean and Garry Robins, “Hegemonic and Other Masculinities in Local Social ContextsMen and Masculinities 11.4 (2009): 387-423.

Sarti, Raffaella and Francesca Scrinzi, 'Introduction to the Special Issue: Men in a Woman’s Job, Male Domestic Workers, International Migration and the Globalization of Care', Men and Masculinities 13.1 (2010), 4-15.

We Believe: The Best Men Can Be, dir. Kim Gehrig (2019)

Wray, Helena. “‘‘A Thing Apart’’: Controlling Male Family Migration to the United Kingdom” Men and Masculinities 18.4 (2015), 424-447.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Displacement, gender, and precarity in medieval romance and in the modern academy - a bibliography

This week, I'm giving the ECR keynote at the 2019 Gender and Medieval Studies conference at Durham University. The theme of the conference is 'Gender and Aliens' and I'm going to be talking about some of my current and very new research on masculinity, migration, and Middle English romance. I refer to quite a bit of scholarship during the talk and so I've listed the bibliography here as a more accessible way to access resources for those attending the conference and for anyone else who might be interested. I'll be sharing a link to this post in my slides.

Abstract for my talk

The intersection of gender, religious, and racial identity is heavily implicated in material and cultural practices of inclusion and exclusion. In medieval terms, this can be seen in the way medieval popular romances present the forced migration, exile, and return of their characters. This keynote explores the gendered stakes of belonging in medieval romance, in particular the Middle English Bevis of Hampton, and considers the legacy of its discourses of alienation. Starting with the hegemonic alpha hero of medieval popular romance, moving through its imagined geographies both digital and literary, and considering the realities of the modern neoliberal university, I trace the various iterations of these narratives of displacement, gender, and precarity and their implications for scholarship and scholars in gender and medieval studies today.

Bibliography of scholarship and works cited

Scholarship on medieval race, gender and religion

  • Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome and Bonnie Wheeler, eds., Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (New York: Garland, 1997).

  • Dressler, Rachel, 'Steel Corpse: Imagining the Knight in Death', in Conflicted Identities and Multiple Masculinities: Men in the Medieval West, ed. by Jacqueline Murray (London: Garland, 1999), pp. 135-167.

  • Heng, Geraldine, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

  • Kim, Dorothy, 'Medieval Studies Since Charlottesville', Inside Higher Ed, 30 August 2018:

  • Metlitzki, Dorothee, The Matter of Araby in Medieval England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).

  • Pearsall, Derek, 'Strangers in Late-Fourteenth-Century London', in The Stranger in Medieval Society, ed. by F. R. P. Akehurst and Stephanie Cain Van D’Elden (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 46-62.

The incredibly useful and comprehensive Race and medieval studies: a partial bibliography, initally published in the journal postmedieval in December 2017, has many more resources on these topics.

Resources and scholarship on Bevis of Hampton 

  • Available at:

  • Bevis of Hampton, in Four Romances of England: King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, Athelston, ed. by Ronald B. Herzman, Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997). Available at:

  • Campbell, Kofi, 'Nation-Building Colonialist-Style in Bevis of Hampton', Exemplaria 18.1 (2006), 205-232.

  • Cooper, Helen, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

  • Rouse, Robert, 'Walking (Between) the Lines: Romance as Itinerary/Map', in Medieval Romance, Medieval Contexts, ed. by Rhiannon Purdie and Michael Cichon (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2011), pp. 135-47.

  • Rouse, Robert, 'For King and Country? The Tension between National and Regional Identity in Sir Bevis of Hampton', in Sir Bevis of Hampton in Literary Tradition, ed. by Jennifer Fellows and Ivana Djordjevic (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2008), pp. 114-126.

  • Weiss, Judith, Boeve De Haumtone and Gui De Warewic: Two Anglo-Norman Romances (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2008).

  • Weiss, Judith, 'The Major Interpolations in Sir Beues of Hamtoun', Medium Aevum 48 (1979), 71-76.

Scholarship on masculinities, migration and globalisation

Resources on contemporary migration

Scholarship on precarity in higher education

There are a host of resources on early career academia which have been gathered at ECA Survival: Survival Strategies for Humanities ECAs. Available at:

Additional scholarship cited

  • Ward, Antonia, '"My Love For Chaucer": F. J. Furnivall and Homosociality in the Chaucer Society', in Medievalism and the Academy, ed. by Leslie, J. Workman, Kathleen Verduin, and David D. Metzger (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1999), pp. 44-57.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Popular Fiction blog at University of Birmingham

I've recently started a new job as a Lecturer in Popular Fiction at the University of Birmingham which is great, but it's also a lot of work. Starting a new job always seems to mean that non-essential tasks, like this blog, seem to get pushed to one side. It's been a really heavy teaching semester, so while more research and reflection is coming, it's really been a struggle to set it down.

However, I have been working on another blog; the University of Birmingham's English Department hosts a Popular Literature blog that was set up last year by two academics in the School. I've been continuing in their excellent footsteps with commissioned posts on horror, genre worlds, and fantasy (forthcoming). The posts, written by experts in their fields, are a really good way to get a quick insight into a theme in popular literature studies, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the blog develops over the next few years.

So this is an invitation to read some of the posts on the Popular Literature blog, and a promise of more writing here in the New Year!



Image: from Unsplash, illustration for blog post by Dr Charlie Oughton on Stephen King.

Monday, November 19, 2018

CFP: 100 Years of The Sheik

I've been incredibly busy since starting my new post at Birmingham so have had less time to blog (it's the brain space to think that's lacking!). However, I have been collaborating on a special issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies to mark 100 years since The Sheik was published. Any and all research articles, reflections, and teaching case studies are welcomed! The full CFP follows.

Special Issue Call for Papers

100 Years of The Sheik
Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres in The Sheik (1921)
from Wikimedia Commons

Since its publication in 1919, E. M. Hull’s The Sheik has been a sensation. Beloved by its contemporary readers, the novel’s cultural impact in Britain and North America has been significant and enduring. Considered “the ur-romance novel of the twentieth century” (Regis, 2003, p. 115), The Sheik has been extensively studied by academics and students alike, who have written on the novel’s treatment of gender, sexuality, and race as well as its position in literary modernism.
This special issue and connected symposium will mark the centenary of the original publication of The Sheik. We are seeking submissions for original research articles and short reflective pieces on a number of topics relating to The Sheik and its legacy. The symposium will take place in Birmingham, UK in September 2019 with the publication of the special issue also happening that month. A CFP for the symposium will be circulated separately.
For the special issue, we welcome proposals for original research articles (5000-10,000 words) on any aspect of The Sheik including, but not limited to:
  • The Sheik and masculinity (post-war crisis of masculinity, masculinity and race, hegemonic masculinities)
  • Adaptations of The Sheik (including the 1921 film)
  • Audience and reception studies (of the book and its adaptations)
  • The legacy of The Sheik (including its sequel)
  • The Sheik and gender and sexuality
  • The Sheik and literary modernism
We also invite proposals for short pieces (1000-2000 words) on teaching and learning The Sheik from teachers and students.
The deadline for 250-word abstracts is 1 December 2018 with full drafts due by 1 March 2019. Please send abstracts and direct any enquiries to Dr Amy Burge at

Friday, July 27, 2018

CFP: Critical Approaches to Medieval Men and Masculinities (Kalamazoo 2019)

For those interested in attending the International Congress on Medieval Studies in May 2019 and who are also interested in men and masculinities this call for papers may be of interest!

I'm co-organising a panel sponsored by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship on critical approaches to men and masculinities. The full CFP is below - direct any queries to me at

Critical Approaches to Medieval Men and Masculinities

The cultural turn in the critical study of men and masculinities has, in recent decades, encouraged increasing engagement in medieval studies with questions of gender, space and identity as they relate to medieval men and masculinities. From the hypermasculine heroes of romance to Abelard’s eunuch body, performative medieval masculinities both uphold and challenge the structural frameworks that define medieval culture and society. As such, an understanding of medieval masculinities and their role in shaping culture and society is vital to a full reading of masculinities in the twenty-first century. This panel invites papers which contribute to and extend scholarship on medieval men and masculinities, particularly those which explore queer and intersectional masculinities. We aim to build upon critical work in this area, in particular developing scholarly knowledge of marginalised men and masculinities.

Potential topics include (but are not limited to):
  • Historical approaches to medieval men and masculinities
  • Representations of men and masculinities in medieval literature
  • Intersectional masculinities e.g. religion, sexuality, (dis)ability, age, class
  • Queer men and masculinities
  • Masculinities and space
  • Cultural masculinities
  • Medievalism and masculinities
  • Genre and masculinities
Please send abstracts (max 300 words) to Amy Burge at by 7 September 2018.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Forays into the digital: mapping Bevis in London

What makes a man a hero? Specifically, what makes a man an English hero?

Southampton's Bargate, by Michael Coppins
from Wikimedia Commons
On the main High Street in Southampton stands the medieval Bargate, once the northern gateway to the city. Approaching the north entrance, passing a tattoo parlour on the left and a Burger King on the right, you pass two lion statues, which date from 1743. Most people walk straight past these lions without paying them much attention. However, these statues signify Southampton’s mythical founder, the English knight Sir Bevis or Bevois of Hampton. Celebrated as the city’s founder, Bevis and his story are marked locally in statuary, district and street names, and art work. All of this serves to construct Bevis as the ultimate English hero.

Yet, of course, Bevis is not a straightforward English hero. According to the medieval romances that outline Bevis' story, Bevis was exiled from England aged 7, raised by a Muslim king, married a Muslim woman and, on his return to England, was attacked as a foreign invader.

So what, therefore, makes Bevis an English hero? How is his identity tied to place?

This is the question I'm considering in a paper I'm giving at the Medieval Insular Romance conference in Cardiff next week. I'll be talking, in that paper, about Bevis and another English place that he visits in the earliest Middle English version of the romance - London.

I've been interested in Bevis' experiences in London for some time - my very first post on this blog was about Bevis and London - and I've recently made progress with a mapping project that overlays Bevis' travels in medieval London onto the modern-day City.

Eleven places associated with London geography are named in the Auchinleck version of Bevis, more than any of the other six Middle English versions of the romance that survive. Bevis of Hampton is highly unusual in its level of geographical accuracy and detail. This means that we can map, with some accuracy, Bevis’ movements in London.

To share Bevis' movements with modern audiences, I've developed a website that maps the London locations mentioned in Bevis of Hampton. I've also developed a walking tour, which can be enacted virtually and in person, that guides you around Bevis' London with recorded commentary that connects the history of London with literary analysis of the romance. You can find the tour and more at

The way Bevis interacts with London is revealing, I think, of medieval ways of thinking about Englishness, masculinity, and belonging. This tour, following in Bevis’ footsteps, encourages us to consider what it means to be English and what it means to be a hero in history and today.

Please do visit if it's of interest and feel free to share it with any other Bevis fans out there!