I was born and grew up in Manchester, where I went to a state comprehensive. I studied at the University of York for my BA and MA and worked as a journalist, before taking my AHRC-funded PhD at King’s College London. My thesis, titled ‘The Contemplators: Poetry and the Churchyard in the Long Eighteenth Century’, was supervised by Professor Clare Brant and Dr Rowan Boyson and awarded in 2020. I have taught at King’s since 2017 and I was appointed Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature in 2021. I am currently adapting my thesis as a monograph for Oxford University Press.
Research interests and PhD supervision
- Eighteenth-century and Romantic poetry; especially the mid-eighteenth century, Charlotte Smith, and William Wordsworth
- Poetry, poetics, and form; particularly the body, the senses, and place/environment in the history and theory of poetics
- Cultural and intellectual history of the long eighteenth century; especially philosophy, antiquarianism, and earth sciences
- Environmental humanities, New Materialisms, ecocriticism and queer ecology, posthumanism
- Space, place, landscape, and material culture
My current project is provisionally titled Unearthly Objects: Subterranean Discovery and Fossil Poetics, 1700–1830. Focusing on fossils, bones, fragments of rock strata, and the made artefacts with which they were mingled underground, Unearthly Objects examines how the materials that inaugurated the modern science of geology were central to eighteenth-century poetry. Dynamic in their ability to generate curiosity yet defy total comprehension, fossils, bones, rocks, and artefacts challenged the limits of biblical chronology and Enlightenment systems of ‘natural’ order. They were both literally unearthed and somehow unearthly, seeming to possess sublime, celestial, or supernatural qualities. As small objects with the capacity to evoke large ideas, including new concepts of deep time and extinction, these materials engendered dramatic shifts in scale that disrupted established interpretive models in eighteenth-century science and religion.
Related debates about resource extraction and about geologic timescales are currently pressing preoccupations in the environmental humanities. My project contributes a fresh historical perspective to those debates by reconstructing how eighteenth-century poetry confronted new and interlinked extractive processes at the dawn of the Anthropocene epoch. I will bring to light the lasting significance of that poetry for thinking about modern entanglements with the subterranean world. I will reveal how fossil finds and archaeological discoveries compelled new ways of thinking and writing about the nonhuman in this period, examining the formal and rhetorical techniques with which poets negotiated the material and cognitive challenges posed by fossils, bones, rocks, and artefacts.
Many eighteenth-century poets, including Philips, Thomas Warton, Erasmus Darwin, Charlotte Smith, William Wordsworth, and Felicia Hemans, wrote about these objects and the geological, archaeological, and industrial processes that brought them to the surface. In what I call a ‘fossil poetics’, these writers imaginatively exhume objects that elicit novel poetic practices informed by, and in their turn pushing further, emerging systems of knowledge about the earth.
Unearthly Objects builds on my book project, in which I revise the notion of the ‘graveyard school’ of poetry by uncovering the persistent presence of the churchyard as material place and cultural imaginary in poems by Elizabeth Carter, Robert Blair, Thomas Gray, Mary Leapor, Ann Yearsley, Charlotte Smith, William Wordsworth, and John Clare.
Find out more on my full research profile.
- Written in the Country Churchyard: Place and Poetics, 1720–1820. In preparation for Oxford University Press
- ‘Un-earthing the Eighteenth-Century Churchyard: Charlotte Smith’s Life Writing Among the Dead’, European Journal of Life Writing 9, ‘Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead’, eds. Clare Brant, James Metcalf, and Jane Wildgoose (July 2020), 56–80
- With Clare Brant and Jane Wildgoose, eds., ‘Introduction: Life Writing and Death: Dialogues of the Dead’, European Journal of Life Writing 9, ‘Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead’ (July 2020), 1–18
- ‘Organic Supplements: Bodies and Things of the Natural World, 1580–1790 ed. by Miriam Jacobson and Julie Park (review)’, Eighteenth-Century Studies 55.2 (2022), 255–58
I contribute to eighteenth-century and Romantic-period teaching at King’s, including level 6 and 7 modules on eco-critical and Anthropocene approaches to this period’s literature, the senses and lyric poetry, and Enlightenment natural history. I also teach courses on poetry, classical and biblical contexts of English literature, and the Wollstonecraft-Godwin-Shelley family.
Expertise and public engagement
I am a member of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the British Association of Romantic Studies, the British Society for Literature and Science, and the Arts of Place Research Network at the University of Birmingham. I have written reviews for Eighteenth-Century Studies and Journal of Literature and Science. And I have presented conference papers at the University of Sheffield, the School of Advanced Study, King’s College London, Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, the University of Birmingham, and the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of Oxford. In 2018 I was a Research Fellow at the Huntington Library, California.
Metcalf, J., 10 Jan 2022, In: Eighteenth-Century Studies. 55, 2, p. 255–58 Research output: Contribution to journal › Book/Film/Article review. DOIs: https://doi.org/10.1353/ecs.2022.0011
Metcalf, J., Jul 2020, In: The European Journal of Life Writing. 9, p. 56–80 Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review. DOIs: https://doi.org/10.21827/ejlw.9.36900
Brant, C., Metcalf, J. & Wildgoose, J., Jul 2020, In: The European Journal of Life Writing. 9, p. 1–18 Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review. DOIs: https://doi.org/10.21827/ejlw.9.36938
Metcalf, J., Jul 2020, In: The European Journal of Life Writing. 9, p. 60–69 Research output: Contribution to journal › Article. DOIs: https://doi.org/10.21827/ejlw.9.36919