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Martin Willis

Professor Martin Willis

Head of School

School of English, Communication and Philosophy

+44 29208 75595
John Percival Building, Room 2.72, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU
Available for postgraduate supervision


I am presently Head of the School of English, Communication and Philosophy. I took up this post in January 2019.

I joined the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University in September 2015 as Professor of English Literature. Before that I held a Personal Chair in Science, Literature and Communication in the Department of English at the University of Westminster.

My research focuses on literature, science and medicine, 1800 to the present.

Of my eight books in this area, the most recent are Staging Science: Scientific Performance on Street, Stage and Screen (Palgrave, 2016), Literature and Science (Palgrave, 2015) andVision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920: Ocular Horizons (Pickering & Chatto, 2011). My present research has two strands: first, the representations of trance states, and especially the nature and condition of sleep, in literature, art and the sciences from the early nineteenth century to the present, and second, the analysis of methods of collaboration between the humanities and the sciences both now and historically.

The latter is one of the primary activities of the ScienceHumanities Intiative, a major research project which I lead with Professor Keir Waddington (History) and Dr James Castell (English Literature). More information on the ScienceHumanities Initiative can be found on its website (

My contribution to literature and science scholarship is also recognised in my position as Editor of the Journal of Literature and Science  and in my former role as Chair of the British Society for Literature and Science (2015-18).

In addition, I am the Academic Lead for the Welsh Crucible Research Leadership Programme, an award-winning and all-Wales interdisciplinary research training initiative dedicated to enhancing the skills of the next generation of research leaders.

My teaching expertise is in Literature and Science, Literature and Medicine, and more broadly in Nineteenth-century Literature. My central teaching focus, however, emerges from my research on the relationships between literature, science and medicine. I have taught this widely, to both undergraduate and postgraduate students and have supervised MA and PhD research in this area.

In addition I have had the opportunity to influence the research and teaching of literature, science and medicine internationally through cross-University initiatives, external examining, and a range of international lectures, seminars and public activities.

I would welcome enquiries from potential research students interested in studying literature, science and medicine; and queries from public groups or media outlets interested in my research and scholarship.

For further information on my present research projects and publications please click the relevant tab above.



  • Waddington, K. and Willis, M. 2023. Treatment. In: Altschuler, S., Metzl, J. and Wald, P. eds. Keywords for Health Humanities. Keywords New York: New York University Press, pp. 209-211.





















Book sections





My research focuses on the study of the inter-relationships between literature, science and medicine. My first monograph, Mesmerists, Monsters and Machines: Science Fiction and the Cultures of Science in the Nineteenth Century (2006) reconsidered canonical nineteenth-century science fictions in the context of the history of science.

My second monograph, Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920: Ocular Horizons (2011) investigated Victorian and modern ways of seeing in the visual sciences, literature and dramatic performance. In 2012, this book was awarded both the British Society for Literature and Science Book Prize and the European Society for the Study of English Cultural Studies Book Prize.

I have also published two books aimed at undergraduates and postgraduates interested in the Victorian period and in literature and science. The Victorian Literature Handbook, which I edited with my long-time collaborator, Alex Warwick, was published in 2010 and Literature and Science: A Readers’ Guide to Essential Criticism was published in 2015.

My present research has two directions. First, I am working on a series of articles on the representations and conditions of sleep across nineteenth-century literature, art, culture and the sciences. I published on this in my 2019 article on sleep and science fiction (see Publications). My interest in sleep began with a curiosity about trance states. Outputs from that work include a gallery of seizure images, funded by the AHRC and hosted on their website from November 2015 and an article on George Eliot and medical catalepsy for the Journal of Victorian Culture, which can be accessed via my ORCA profile.

Second, I am working on joint publications and projects on methods of collaboration between the humanities and the sciences, conceived theoretically, politically and practically. This is undertaken as part of the ScienceHumanities Initiative which I co-lead with Professor Keir Waddington, historian of medicine at Cardiff University, and Dr James Castell, romanticist and animal studies expert, also at Cardiff. Together we lead a number of projects aimed at understanding and reinvigorating current methodologies of collaboration. As part of this we work in partnership with Duke University's Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Science and Cultural Theory, led by Professor Robert Mitchell, and we host a ScienceHumanities Summer School for international participants (each May). Our most recent publication is a special issue of the Journal of Literature and Science.

I have led research projects related to all of my areas of interest with the support of funding awards from the AHRC, British Academy, The Wellcome Trust, HEFCW, Strategic Insight Programme, and from Cardiff University.


In the academic year 2020/21 I am teaching (partly online and partly in person) on the first year English Literature module, Critical Reading and Critical Writing, and on the Research Methods foundation for the MA in English Literature.

I will also be supervising BA and MA dissertations.

I continue to supervise three PhD students: Jim Scown, Cerys Knighton and Rebecca Spear.


I joined the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University in September 2015 as Professor of English Literature. I became Head of School in January 2019.

Before this I held a Personal Chair in Science, Literature and Communication in the Department of English at the University of Westminster. I have also worked previously at the Universities of Edinburgh, Worcester and Glamorgan (now South Wales). I undertook my doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh. At Westminster and at Glamorgan I was also the Director of the Centre for the Study of Science and Imagination and the Research Centre for Literature, Arts and Science, the latter funded by HEFCW.

Presently, I am the Academic Lead for the NESTA-funded Welsh Crucible research leadership programme. I have held a position as Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Cardiff School of Medicine, where I continue to advise on medical education and the history of medicine.

On a personal level, I was born and brought up in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, in whose University I was privileged to read English Literature and Language as an undergraduate at the end of the 1980s.


I supervise students on a range of topics related to literature and science, literature and medicine, and Victorian literature and culture.

Among my present supervisees, topics under investigation include:

The role of science in the work of Jane Austen

Scientific studies of soil and literary realism in the Victorian period

Creative praxis in narratives of bereavement

Critical and creative interrogations of the histories of female anatomy