Leverhulme success for Moving Bodies Lab researcher

April 5, 2024
Dr Megan Girdwood, smiling, wearing a dark blue shirt photographed against a white background.

Leverhulme Research Fellowship awarded to Dr Megan Girdwood, a researcher with the Moving Bodies Lab.

Dr Megan Girdwood has been awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for her project ‘Kinaesthetic Modernism: Writing the Sense of Movement, 1880-1940.’ Dr Girdwood is a member of the Moving Bodies Lab and an Assistant Professor in the English Studies Department.

Her Leverhulme project examines how understandings of kinaesthesia, the sense of movement, shaped modernist literary cultures in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1880, the English neurologist Henry Charlton Bastian coined the term ‘kinaesthesis’ to describe the sense of movement, proposing an addition to the five existing sense modalities. Kinaesthetic concepts, widely disseminated across science and the arts, infiltrated studies in physiology, experimental psychology, dance practices, and literary representations of the body and the senses. Focusing on examples of women’s writing and performance from the fin de siècle onwards, this project asks how modernism responded to discourses around this new ‘sixth sense,’ which has been comparatively neglected in cultural histories of the sensorium. Figures covered in this project include Vernon Lee, Clementina Anstruther-Thomson, May Sinclair, Emily Holmes Coleman, June Downey, Isadora Duncan, Katherine Mansfield, and Virginia Woolf, among others.

The project has three key aims:

  • To develop a transnational account of kinaesthesia as a cluster of ideas and techniques that emphasised the transformational potential of the moving body, shaping modernist aesthetic concerns and cross-cultural links.
  • To reveal the connections between aesthetic and scientific understandings of kinaesthesia, showing how writers and performers drew on the language of psychology and physiology, while scientists turned to aesthetics as an area of investigation.
  • To expose new corporeal dimensions of modernism through an engagement with under-explored theories of reader and spectator response, formed around the notion of kinaesthetic empathy.

Dr Girdwood will begin this 12-month Fellowship in September 2024, when she will also take up a new position as Lecturer in English Literature, 1880-1940 at the University of Edinburgh. She will remain a member of the Moving Bodies Lab and is looking forward to establishing cross-institutional connections between Edinburgh and Durham in her new role.

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