Centre for Modernist Studies

Welcome to the Centre for Modernist Studies

The Centre for Modernist Studies at the University of Sussex has, since its inception, been dedicated to exploring the histories and legacies of the most challenging social, political and aesthetic questions raised by the explosion of literary and artistic activity at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is an interdisciplinary Centre, and it seeks to encourage conversations between researchers working on a wide range of modern art forms and discourses: literature, psychoanalysis, the visual arts, music, film and architecture. 

There are many versions of ‘modernism’, some narrow, some more inclusive, some avant-garde, some more conservative. Over the past few years researchers at the Centre for Modernist Studies have sought to provide a space for exploring the cultural politics of these ‘modernisms’. In particular, we are interested in modernist attempts to think about how the arts might reshape society, and seek both to historicise and to critique the often grandiose aims of modernism, while at the same time exploring how far modernist thinking offers an alternative to neo-liberal versions of reality. Our aim is to understand better how the study of modernism might respond to global crises: climate emergency, racism, populism, enduring patriarchal systems, and the widening gap between the rich and poor. We also want to attend to the acute anxieties modernists often articulated about their own practices, their engagement with failure and loss, and their willingness to self-reflect and start again. 

Through talks, seminars, reading groups, conferences, and other events, we invite participants to trace together the different ways that modernist writers and artists imagined the role of artistic practice in shaping political change, and consider how far their often utopian thinking might or might not resonate in the context of contemporary concerns and demands. In January 2019, for example, in collaboration with the De La Warr Pavilion, we ran a symposium titled ‘“Virus of Hate”: Responses to Fascism in Psychoanalysis, Surrealism and Modernism’. This conference examined the ways that modernist writers, artists and psychoanalysts responded to the rise of fascism, not only by diagnosing it, but also by promoting creative practices that they hoped might cure the spread of mass hatred.

In Spring 2020 we had planned a symposium on, 'Rebuilding: Modernist Pedgagogic Spaces', taking inspiration from our location at the University of Sussex, an institution with a distinctly modernist history set in an area of cultural significance for the history of modernism. This symposium invited both researchers and members of the public to think seriously, but also critically, about the claims made by modernist artworks to reshape the world. Although the event was cancelled owing to the Covid 19 pandemic, we hope to reschedule in 2021.

If you would like to come to events run by the Centre for Modernist Studies, or if you’d like to suggest a speaker, a conference theme, set up a reading group, or communicate with us about any of the Centre’s activities, please write to one or both of the Centre Directors.




Centre Directors:

Dr Hope Wolf

Dr Helen Tyson


Previous Directors:

Professor Sara Crangle

Dr Pamela Thurschwell

Professor Peter Nicholls

Professor Laura Marcus