Karen Smyth

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

I welcome proposals on medieval East Anglian authors, contemporary creative writing and cultural responses to the premodern, critical heritage studies, autoethnography and Applied Arts health interventions.

Personal profile


I work at the intersection of critical and creative studies in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing. Prior to UEA, I was Lecturer in Old and Middle English Language and Literature at the University of Nottingham, was the Bloomfield Visiting Fellow at the University of Harvard, USA, and held a Medieval Academy of America grant at SUNY, Binghamton, USA. The Queen's University of Belfast is where I completed my BA(hons), PhD and PGCHET, and had my first experience of teaching Medieval and Early Modern literature.

Areas of Expertise

Medieval texts, especially East Anglian; critical heritage studies, Medievalism focusing on contemporary creative and cultural adaptations of the premodern; Applied Arts in Health Humanities.

Key Research Interests

I enjoy textual studies of medieval and early modern literature, paying attention to questions of identity and place. The 15th to 17th century Paston Letters are my primary focus at present, specifically a study of Paston women's epistolarly styles and an edited interdisciplinary collection on this globally renowned Norfolk family.

Through Applied Arts research, I also invesitgate how the field of critical heritage studies is being reshaped by creative, digital and health agendas. My current focus is how people with disabilities interpret heritage stories through their embodied, sensory and cognitive perceptions. See CreativeUEA- Exploring Health through the Humanities: Paston Footprints 

Previously, I studied the relationship between community heritage storytelling and intangible health benefits in the AHRC funded 'Preserving Place' project (with CI Prof. Power, social geographer, University of Southampton). My first critical study of heritage storytelling was in my work on the AHRC ‘All Our Stories’ project, with UEA’s landscape historians, Drs Spooner and Gregory.

My career began with a monograph linking socio-historical research with close readings of Lydgate and Hoccleve’s poems, which showed how constructions of time connect in important ways to issues of authorship, cultural literacy and perceptions of history. (This was supported by a British Academy grant and was an ESSE first book finalist.) A book on medieval life-cycles followed (co-edited with Prof. Cochelin, University of Toronto), as well as articles on medieval constructions of time in the works of Chaucer and other poets. 

Research Impact

'Paston Footprints', a CivicUEA project, pioneers creative, digital and health interventions that are reshaping heritage storytelling and participation in East Anglia. As Co-Director with Dr Knee, the first ever multi-sector partnership programme for Paston heritage has been created. Co-productions have resulted in innovative experiential Heritage Walks | Paston Footprints. There is an interactive Paston portal at: This Is Paston: Welcome to the World of the Pastons. This work has been kindly supported by grants from the NHLF, ESRC, RHS, NNDC and UEA. Winner of the RHS Jinty Nelson 2023 fellowship, Bishop of Norwich's First Nature 2023 Prize and UEA's Innovation and Cultural Impact 2022 award: Dr Karen Smyth: Paston Footprints - YouTube. 

This project built on a decade's experience of co-production with Norfolk's heritage, creative and faith groups on Medieval East Anglian authors, which was profiled in RCUK's Concordat for Public Engagement with Research.

Teaching Interests

The creative-critical interface in my research informs my teaching practices, which are interdisciplinary. I teach on a year one literature module slowly reading classical literature and its adaptations, a final year medieval literature module, a digital storytelling module, and supervise dissertations. At MA level, I teach Applied Arts and methodologies on the MA in Medical and Health Humanities

Postgraduate Research Opportunities

I welcome enquiries about MRes or PhD studies. To date, I have supervised PhDs on Late Medieval literature (Pastons, Lydgate, Margery Kempe), Medievalism (Arthurian), creative-critical projects (poetry and historical fiction), Literary-Art History (St Edmund) and East Anglian critical heritage studies.

Key Responsibilities

I am LDC's Study Abroad Co-ordinator (2023-), the Library Liaison (2019-) and an Academic Advisor (2007-).

Management roles have included UEA's Eastern Arc Digital Humanities lead (2015-18), serving on the HUM Research Ethics Committee (2016-17), and on UEA's Data Management Committee LDC rep (2014-16). I have been the School's Public Engagement Director (2014-15), CHASE Medieval & Early Modern UEA lead (2012-14), Q300 Course Director (2008-12), Erasmus Co-ordinator (2011); Q200 Course Director (2009), and the LDC Disability Officer (2008-12).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities