Dr David Sergeant
Associate Professor of Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature
School of Society and Culture (Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business)
My work crosses creative and critical fields. Recent research has focused on issues of the future, the Anthropocene, systemic change, planetary scale, and utopian thought. My second monograph, The Near Future in 21st Century Fiction: Climate, Retreat and Revolution will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2022. My doctoral research focused on late nineteenth century literature and my first monograph, Kipling’s Art of Fiction, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. I have also co-edited books on Robert Burns and on Doris Lessing, and my essays have appeared in journals such as Novel, Genre, Twentieth-Century Literature and Victorian Literature and Culture.
I am also the author of three collections and one pamphlet of poetry, and my poems have appeared in numerous journals in the UK and Europe, including the Guardian, Poetry Review, PN Review, Forward Book of the Year and Poetry Ireland. A collaboration for Faber with the composer Martin Suckling was performed at the Royal Opera House in 2014.
My undergraduate and postgraduate teaching ranges from the late eighteenth century to the present day. I have designed undergraduate modules on Apocalyptic Fiction and on Genre Writing, postgraduate modules on Poetry and the Environment and The Utopian Novel and Modernity, and have supervised critical and creative PhD dissertations ranging from poetry collections to novels to studies of ecocriticism.
I’ve led a number of public projects arising out of my research. From 2018 to 2020 I teamed up with Regen, a green energy not-for-profit, and various communities across South Devon, to explore how communal meals might act as one way of bringing elements of a ‘utopian’ future into our shared present. In 2022 I will be leading the project ‘Net-Zero Visions for the Devon Climate Emergency’, which will encourage and support individuals and communities in a reimagining of the places where they live, in support of the Devon Carbon Plan and its goal to transition the county to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Before joining Plymouth I took a BA, MSt and DPhil from the University of Oxford, where I also held a three year postdoctoral research fellowship. My Masters and Doctoral study was funded by the AHRC, and I’ve been PI on grants totalling over £250k.
At Plymouth I’m Research Co-ordinator for English and Creative Writing, a co-supervisor on the Low Carbon Devon Project, and sit on the University’s Research and Innovation Committee. I was also co-founder and co-coordinator of the Research Group ‘Environmental Cultures and am a founding member and Steering Committee member of the UK Future Earth ECR and Practitioner Network (UKFE ECRP) for the UK national academies (the British Academy, Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Academy of Engineering).
I took a BA, MSt and DPhil from the University of Oxford, where I was also the Mary Ewart Junior Research Fellow at Somerville College from 2010–2013. As I grew up and went to school in West Cornwall, moving to Plymouth marked a return to my Westcountry educational roots.
I have taught topics and authors at undergraduate and postgraduate level from the late eighteenth century to the present day. At Plymouth I have designed and lead an undergraduate module on Apocalypse and the Modern Novel, which is informed by my research interest in issues such as global capitalism and environmental crisis, the evolution of the genre novel, and the representation of “unthinkable” change in literature: texts we study range from H. G. Wells to Kurt Vonnegut to Margaret Atwood. I also designed and lead a creative writing module, Genre Fiction, in which students sharpen their awareness of the matrix of genres they’re always working in, whether they’re conscious of it or not, and develop their writing in science fiction, historical fiction, crime/thriller, and ‘contemporary’ or ‘literary’ fiction.
I designed and led a MA module on Poetry and the Environment, which covers some of the major landmarks in recent “eco-critical” thinking through an extended focus on poetry, ranging from the Romantics to postcolonial Australian poetries. I also designed and lead a MA module on The Utopian Novel and Modernity, which is open to students on both the English and the Environmental Humanities MAs.
I have supervised four PhD projects to completion, and am currently a supervisor on six more. Dissertation topics include creative writing projects on Websleuths and Detective Fiction, Transcorporeality and Greek Mythology, and Diagram Poetry, and a critical project on the Anthropocene and Trauma.
I am always keen to hear from prospective doctoral students interested in topics relating to my research and creative interests. Get in touch!
Staff serving as external examiners
External examiner, University of Exeter (Penryn): 2016/17-19/20
My critical research focuses mainly on literature from the late nineteenth century to the present day. My first monograph, Kipling’s Art of Fiction, was published by Oxford UP in 2013, and I have co-edited collections of essays on Robert Burns and Doris Lessing with Edinburgh University Press. From 2018-2020 I held an AHRC ECR Leadership Fellowship, during which I explored contemporary representations of the near future: the resulting monograph, The Near Future in 21st Century Fiction: Climate, Retreat and Revolution is under contract with Cambridge UP. My essays have appeared in journals such as Novel, Genre, Twentieth-Century Literature and Victorian Literature and Culture.
I am also a creative writer – principally, at the moment, in poetry. I have published two collections with presses – Talk Like Galileo (Shearsman, 2013) and The Pronoun Utopia (Green Bottle Press, 2017) – and as an experiment saw a third, Common Sonnets, into print myself in a limited edition (The Lief Press, 2021). A pamphlet, Birth Journey, will be published by Lapwing in 2022. My poems have appeared in numerous publications, including the Guardian, Poetry Review, PN Review, Forward Book of the Year and Poetry Ireland. A collaboration for Faber with the composer Martin Suckling was performed at the Royal Opera House in 2014.
Ideas drawn from my research informed a series of 'utopian feasts', held in partnership with Regen, a green energy not-for-profit, an artist-maker, and various communities across South Devon who were interested in how we might transition to a more sustainable energy system. For the project international contributors from a range of disciplines and backgrounds – from novelists to sociologists to historians to chefs – also contributed their thoughts on what might be involved in turning an everyday meal into something more utopian. You can read their contributions here – https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/feasts-for-the-future – as well as see more about the utopian feasts that have took place.
I am currently PI on an AHRC project ‘Net-Zero Visions for the Devon Climate Emergency’, with Emma Whittaker from Low Carbon Devon as CI, and The Devon Climate Emergency Response Group as project partner. The project will put communities together with creative professionals and net-zero transition experts to produce positive ‘Visions’ of six Devon locations as carbon net-zero in 2050, so as to raise public awareness of the Devon Carbon Plan, and engage people in the process and possibilities of change. Different locations will have their Vision realised in different media: animation, illustration, interactive games, and public murals. A project website will also encourage and host submissions of individual net-zero visions, and at the end of the project a book of the Visions will be produced, with a free copy distributed to public libraries across the county.
- 2018, ‘Forming the Future.’ Plenary Speaker: Amy J Elias (Tennessee, Knoxville; English Literature). Roundtable participants: Bob Brown (Plymouth, Architecture); Mike Phillips (Plymouth, Interdisciplinary Arts); Liane Saunders (Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Strategy Director and Strategic Programmes Coordinator); Iain Stewart (Plymouth; Geoscience and Communication).
- 2021. Co-organiser, series of 3 online workshops for UK Future Earth (UKFE) Early Career Researchers and Practitioners (ECRP).
- 2020. Co-organiser, one-day workshop for UK Future Earth (UKFE) Early Career Researchers and Practitioners (ECRP), Kings College, London (January).
- 2014, Doris Lessing 2014: An International Conference. Two day conference, University of Plymouth. Co-organiser with Kevin Brazil and Tom Sperlinger.
- 2014, Poetry and Happenstance. One day symposium, Cambridge University. Co-organiser with Will May and Vidyan Ravinthiran.
- 2013, Smith School-TORCH (Oxford) Symposium, Mind the Environmental Gap. Co-Convenor (with Professor Daniel Grimley, Music) and Chair of‘ Footprints’ Panel. Interdisciplinary exploration of cultural aspects of societal engagement with environmental challenges.
Articles and Essays
- ‘New Tech, Old Forms,’ invited essay for Special Edition of Novel: A Forum on Fiction,, eds. Penny Fielding and Andrew Taylor (edition under review).
- From Realism to Utopia in Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City.’ Twentieth-Century Literature (July 2021).
- ‘Space and/or Time.’ Modernism/Modernity Print Plus forum, ‘Realism and/or Modernism’, ed. Paul Stasi (Jan. 2021).
- ‘Writing the Planet: Affect, Scale and Utopia.’ Novel: A Forum on Fiction 53: 1 (May, 2020): 1-15.*
- ‘The Genre of the Near Future: Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140.' Genre 52: 1 (2019): 1-23.*
- ‘"The worst dreams that ever I have": Capitalism and the Romance in R. L. Stevenson's Treasure Island'. Victorian Literature and Culture 44: 4 (2016), 907-23.
- ‘Moortown (Diary)’, introductory essay for the Ted Hughes Society website (2012).http://www.thetedhughessociety.org/moortowndiary.htm
- ‘Kipling’s Descriptions’. Essays in Criticism, 59: 4 (October 2009), 324-47.
- ‘Changes in Rudyard Kipling’s Fiction on his Return to Britain’. English Literature in Transition, 52: 2 (2009), 144-59.
- ‘Whispering to the Converted: Narrative Communication in Kipling’s Letters of Marque and Indian Fiction’. Modern Language Review, 104: 1 (January 2009), 26-40.
- ‘Kipling’s Compositional Practice in Two Manuscripts’. Notes and Queries, 55: 4 (December, 2008), 465-7.
- The Near Future in 21st Century Fiction: Climate, Retreat and Revolution. Cambridge UP, 2022.
- Kipling’s Art of Fiction. Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Doris Lessing and the Forming of History (with Kevin Brazil and Tom Sperlinger). Edinburgh University Press, 2016.
- Burns and Other Poets (with Fiona Stafford). Edinburgh University Press, 2012 (paperback 2013).
- Birth Journey. Lapwing Publications, 2022.
- Common Sonnets. The Lief Press, 2021.
- The Pronoun Utopia. Green Bottle Press, 2017.
- Talk Like Galileo. Shearsman Books, 2010.
- ‘Doris Lessing and the Location of Utopia,’ in The Cambridge Companion to British Utopian Literature and Culture, 1945-2020, ed. Caroline Edwards (under contract for 2022).
- 'Doris Lessing and the Scale of Environmental Crisis’ in Doris Lessing and the Forming of History. Kevin Brazil, David Sergeant, Tom Sperlinger (eds). Edinburgh UP, 2016.
- ‘Bodily Encounters with Capitalism on R. L. Stevenson’s Early Coasts’, in Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Matthew Ingleby and Matt Kerr (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, September 2018).
- Ted Hughes’s Inner Music’ in Ted Hughes: From Cambridge to Collected. Terry Gifford, Neil Roberts, Mark Wormald (eds). Palgrave, 2013.
- ‘Burns and the Performance of Form’ in Burns and Other Poets. Sergeant and Stafford (eds). EUP, 2012.
Reviews in: The Oxonian Review of Books, Notes and Queries, Eyewear, Modern Languages Review, Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Review.
Poems in: Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Archipelago, Cake, Envoi, The Forward Book of Poetry, The Guardian, The London Magazine, New Welsh Review, NightTrain, the North, nthposition, Pen Pusher, Poetry Daily, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry Wales, Prac Crit, The Reader, Rialto, Salzburg Review, Stand, Stride, the Warwick Review.
- Songs from a Bright September, poems set to music by Martin Suckling (FaberMusic, 2014). Premiered by the Angell Trio and Matthew Rose at BlackheathHalls, Hartley Whitney and the Royal Opera House.
- Poetry installation inexhibition 'Unnatural Pleasures', Radiant Spring Gallery, Plymouth,27 Feb. - 17 April 2015
- Poem taken out to sea by the Sonic Kayaks project