Professor Julia Thomas
BA (Wales), MA and PhD (Wales)
I am a Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University, with specific interests and expertise in Victorian visual and material culture, word and image studies, and digital humanities. These areas have come together in my work to develop the growing field of Illustration Studies.
I have published widely, including several monographs, I sit on editorial boards for journals, am a member of several academic networks, and I have acted as an advisor for illustration and digital initiatives. I have been involved in numerous externally-funded projects as Principal Investigator and Co-investigator and am Director of the AHRC-funded Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration and The Illustration Archive.
I am currently the Director of Impact and Engagement for the School of English Communication and Philosophy.
I studied at Cardiff University, gaining a BA in English Literature, an MA in Critical and Cultural Theory and a PhD in English Literature (under the supervision of Catherine Belsey) in which I focused on visual and textual representations of adultery in the nineteenth century. My interest in the interaction between word and image developed primarily during my time as a Leverhulme Special Research Fellow when I wrote my first book, Victorian Narrative Painting (Tate, 2000). Since then, I have worked to establish Illustration Studies as an academic field in its own right.
As the developer of two pioneering digital illustration archives, the AHRC-funded Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (2007, 2011) and The Illustration Archive (2015), I am drawn towards the dynamic between illustration and the digital. I have shaped ideas of how illustrated material is remediated in digital contexts, and my latest monograph, Nineteenth-Century Illustration and the Digital (to be published by Palgrave in 2017), offers a conceptual model for understanding the relation between historic illustrations and the digital.
I have written a range of books that engage with different aspects of Victorian visual and material culture, including Nineteenth-Century Illustration and the Digital (Palgrave, 2017), Pictorial Victorians: The Inscription of Values in Word and Image (Ohio University Press, 2004) and Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). I am the editor of Reading Images (Palgrave, 2000) and co-editor of The Routledge Critical and Cultural Theory Reader (Routledge, 2008).
I regularly speak and give keynote addresses at conferences and events, and have acted as Principal and Co-Investigator on numerous projects. I have also had the privilege of supervising some brilliant postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers and always welcome queries from prospective students.
Honours and awards
- Elected Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales
- 2017: 'The World in Illustrations', Data Innovation Research Institute Fund, Cardiff University (Principal Investigator) (£8,297)
- 2015-17: Cardiff University AHSS Network: Digital Humanities Initiator Bid (co-applicant) (£10,000)
- 2015-16: Cardiff University Research Leave Fellowship (£15,000)
- 2014-15: ‘Lost Visions: retrieving the visual element of printed books from the nineteenth century’, AHRC (Principal Investigator) (£439,975)
- 2011: ‘Crowd Sourcing for the Humanities: a DMVI Case Study’, Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (co-applicant) (£1,530)
- 2010-11: ‘Enhancing the Database of Mid-Victorian Wood-Engraved Illustration’, Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact award, AHRC (Principal Investigator) (£121,171)
- 2008: ‘Verbal context to images in an illustration database’, Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (co-applicant) (£1,546)
- 2007-2008: 'Literary Illustration: Conservation, Access, Use', workshops run in partnership by Cardiff University and the Victoria and Albert Museum, AHRC (co-applicant) (£16,000)
- 2007: AHRC ICT Methods Network (co-applicant) (£5,000)
- 2006: ‘Undergraduates as researchers: using original archival and historical sources’, Interdisciplinary/Interprofessional Collaboration in Teaching and Learning Scheme, Cardiff University (co-applicant) (£7,700)
- 2004-7: ‘A Web-Mounted Database of Mid-Victorian Wood-Engraved Illustration’, AHRC Resource Enhancement Award (Principal Investigator) (£198,132)
- 2003: Young Researcher Travel Scholarship, Cardiff University. To study in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (£3,427)
- 1997-1999: Leverhulme Special Research Fellowship
- 1993-1997: British Academy Studentship, PhD
- 1993: British Academy Studentship, MA
2009-2012 Reader, School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University
2005-2009 Senior Lecturer, School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University
1999-2005 Lecturer, School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University
1997-1999 Leverhulme Special Research Fellow, School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University
Since 1997, I have given over 60 papers (keynotes, invited lectures, demonstrations and conference papers) at institutions around the world, including:
- British Museum
- National University of Ireland, Galway
- Institute of Historical Research, University of London
- Université de Haute Alsace, Mulhouse
- University of Leuven
- University of Sheffield
- Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa
- University of Agder, Kristiansand
- École Normale Supérieure, Paris
- University of Dundee
- University of Glasgow
- University of Bristol
- Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich
- Wellcome Institute, London
- University of Minnesota, USA
- Institute for English Studies, London
- Oxford University
- Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-Upon-Avon
- University of Liverpool
- University of Coimbra, Portugal
- Bibliotecha Alexandrina, Egypt
- Leeds Trinity University
- University of Exeter
- University of Gloucestershire
- University of Virginia, USA
- University of Oporto, Portugal
- University of Zaragoza, Spain
- Keele University
- Yale University, USA
- Globe Theatre
- Tate Britain
- The Artworkers’ Guild, London
- University of Warwick
In addition, I have organised 12 workshops at Cardiff University for schoolchildren, teachers, academics, and librarians.
I have taught a wide range of modules at all university levels (BA, MA, PhD) and have been nominated twice for the Enriching Student Life Award. Much of my teaching involves innovative learning and assessment methods. As well as working hands-on with scholarly materials, I regularly integrate digital resources and methods into my teaching.
On the BA programme, I currently teach modules on The Illustrated Book and Visual Victorians
On the MA programme, I currently co-teach a module on Project Management and Research
On the PhD programme, I am supervising or have supervised the following PhD theses:
- The Illustrations of Sidney Paget
- Domestic Iconography: a Cultural Study of Photography, 1840-1880
- Illustrating Shakespeare: Practice, Theory, and the Digital Humanities
- The Representation of the Workhouse in Nineteenth-Century Culture
- A Lost Legacy: a critical assessment and catalogue of the illustrated work of Alfred Ernest Walter George Aris
- “Graceful Expression and Useful Purpose”: mid-Victorian fashionable femininity (co-supervision with David Skilton)
- “Tell me what you eat”: representations of food in nineteenth-century culture
- Childhood and Visuality in Victorian Culture
I am Director of Postgraduate Research Studies in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy.
I specialise in Victorian visual and material culture and digital humanities, and am a leading figure in the growing field of Illustration Studies.
Much of my research has involved raising academic and public awareness of historic illustrations, which are often marginalised in conventional narratives and modern print editions. With this aim in mind, I created the AHRC-funded Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (2007; updated 2011), a pioneering digital project, the methodologies of which have since been adopted on other digital archives. Images from this database have been used by publishers, graphic designers, television and film producers, and the heritage sector. The database was submitted as an impact case study for REF 2014. For more information about the impact of DMVI, click here.
My research on the intersection between historic illustrations and the digital continued on the AHRC-funded 'Lost Visions' project, a Big Data initiative that led to the creation of The Illustration Archive. At over a million images taken from books of literature, history, geography and philosophy in the British Library's Collection, this is the world's largest searchable online resource dedicated to book illustration. Quentin Blake has called it ‘amazing’. For more information about the significance of The Illustration Archive, click here.
My published monographs focus on nineteenth-century illustrations in various contexts and guises, from their digital remediation to their significance for literary tourism:
- Nineteenth-Century Illustration and the Digital: Studies in Word and Image (Palgrave, 2017) offers a conceptual and critical model for understanding the interaction between historic illustrations and the digital. Individual chapters focus on digital visibility, making the content of images searchable online, and the politics of crowdsourcing.
- Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) discusses the construction of the myth of Shakespeare's birthplace in the Victorian period, focusing on visual and textual representations.
- Pictorial Victorians: The Inscription of Values in Word and Image (Ohio University Press, 2004) analyses the relation between text and image in illustrations and narrative paintings as one that is bound up in cultural values about gender, race and class.
- Victorian Narrative Painting (Tate, 2000) offers an introduction to pictures that tell stories and their often ambiguous meanings.