James Whitehead

James Whitehead


Personal profile

Research interests (short)

  • Reception and influence of Romanticism
  • Medicine and illness, especially mental illness, in literature from 1800 to the present, including modernism and post-modernism
  • The history of psychiatry and psychology in relation to literature
  • Autobiography and other forms of life-writing

Research interests

I have two major projects in progress.  The first is the expansion and publication of my PhD thesis (Poetic Madness and the Reception of British Romanticism, 1800-1870, 2011) as a monograph. The thesis examined nineteenth century writing (including poetry, journalism, criticism, biography, and medical literature) that linked poetry to madness.  Its purpose was to offer an account of the growth and dissemination of a popular idea of the ‘mad poet’, and how this idea influenced the varying fortunes in reception and reputation of some British Romantic poets (specifically Blake, Shelley, and Clare), their works, and conceptions of Romanticism generally.

The second project, relating to the Wellcome fellowship, moves from the mythologies surrounding mental illness to its realities, and examines the history of autobiographical writing about mental illness and breakdown.  My concern here is to show in particular how changing genres and forms of autobiographical writing have shaped the ways in which the experience of mental illness, and illness more generally, can be conceptualised and communicated, from the late eighteenth century to the present. 

Biographical details

I joined the English department at King's in 2006 as a PhD student from UCL, where I took an MA in English (Issues in Modern Culture).  My BA was in English Language and Literature from Magdalen College, University of Oxford.  I have also previously worked as a lexicographer and researcher on the ongoing third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press).  Since completing my PhD, I have been attached to the Centre for Humanities and Health as one of the six postdoctoral fellows on a project funded by the Wellcome Trust, entitled The Boundaries of Illness, in a strand relating to illness and narrative.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Poetic madness and the reception of British Romanticism 1800-1870, King's College London

Award Date: 1 Jan 2011

Master of Arts, UCL University College London

Award Date: 1 Jan 2006


  • PR English literature
  • Romanticism
  • Modernism
  • Nineteenth Century
  • Literature and Medicine
  • Literature and Psychiatry
  • Life-writing


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