Professor Clare Pettitt

Photo of Professor Clare Pettitt

BA, MSt (Cantab); DPhil (Oxon)

Official Fellow; Assistant Postgraduate Tutor


It gives me huge satisfaction and pleasure to return to Emmanuel College as a Fellow nearly forty years after I matriculated here as an undergraduate. In the meantime, I have taught at Oxford, where I did my D.Phil., at Leeds University and at Newnham College, Cambridge. I spent seventeen years at King’s College London before returning to Emmanuel, with a sense, in T.S. Eliot’s words, that it is “to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”


My research is broadly on nineteenth-century literature and culture, across British, European and American contexts. I am currently writing the third book of a trilogy on the importance of seriality in the nineteenth century. The first book in this trilogy, Serial Forms: The Unfinished Project of Modernity, 1815-1848 came out in 2020 with Oxford University Press, and won the North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) Book Prize; the European Society for Periodicals Research (ESPRit) Book Prize; and the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Book Prize. The second volume came out last year, also with OUP, and is called Serial Revolutions 1848: Writing, Politics, Form. It argues that this series of revolutions, and indeed the very seriality of their transmission, makes 1848 a more pivotal and important moment in European and American culture and politics than has previously been understood. I argue that new media forms created a newly ‘joined up’ Europe and put ideas of citizenship permanently on the agenda in both Europe and America. The third volume will argue that the series and serial transmission became increasingly dominant methods for formatting and communicating information across ever longer distances from the mid-century onwards. I am investigating the intertwined international histories of literature and art; digital coding; and investigations into genetic and racial coding starting in the 1850s and 1860s. The mobilisation of information, both electronically and biologically, is crucial to the development of the globalised biopolitics which underpinned colonial growth, but which was also open to disruption and resistance.

My first book, Patent Inventions: Intellectual Property and the Victorian Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) was about concepts of authorship and mechanical invention in the nineteenth century, and my second, ‘Dr Livingstone, I Presume?’: Missionaries, Journalists, Explorers and Empire (London: Profile Books and Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007) examined a fraught moment in Anglo-American relations through an iconic meeting between two explorers in Africa. In the words of Biodun Jeyifo, Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, it exposed the ways in which “old and new racisms and fundamentalisms are co-implicated as much with high-minded liberalism as with conservatism and militarism.”