Skip to content

Professor Tom SperlingerB.A.(Liv.), M.St.(Oxon.), PGCHE (Bristol)

Professor of Literature and Engaged Pedagogy

Tom Sperlinger

Professor Tom SperlingerB.A.(Liv.), M.St.(Oxon.), PGCHE (Bristol)

Professor of Literature and Engaged Pedagogy

Member of

Research interests

In all of my work, I am interested in who is involved in the conversation (or classroom), and how this changes the questions that are asked. My interests include radical models of access to education, new curricula, community engagement with research, the role of universities in society and how literary works are read in different contexts.

I am academic lead for engagement for the new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus in Bristol, where I am working with colleagues to put some of these ideas into practice.

Books

I have recently published Who are universities for?, with Josie McLellan and Richard Pettigrew. It argues for a radical shake-up in how we organise higher education, with the whole population studying at university but in different modes and at different times of their lives.

My first book, Romeo and Juliet in Palestine, was published by Zero Books in June 2015. It is a memoir about a semester I spent teaching at Al-Quds University in 2013. The book shows students and teachers facing ordinary dilemmas - sitting an exam, falling in love, skipping class - in extraordinary circumstances in the occupied West Bank. It thus shows how the work of reading canonical literary works changes under occupation. The book was reviewed in The Observer, the Electronic IntifadaThe Times Literary Supplement and SCTIW Review.

I am completing a book based on a year I spent running reading groups and skills sessions with IDEAL Community Action, a charity that provides education and training to individuals and communities affected by addiction, offending and long-term poverty.

I've also published as a journalist, including for The Guardian, The Times Higher and the Independent on Sunday; see my personal website for more information.

Other research projects

I've written about George Eliot, Ghassan Kanafani and Doris Lessing. I was a Visiting Fellow at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin in April 2014, working on Lessing's typescripts. I have published an article on correspondence held in the archive about The Grass is Singing, which shows that Lessing refused publication by Knopf in part because she was asked to add a rape scene to the novel. An early poem of Lessing's, which I found in the archive, has been published in PN Review. I've published two pieces on Lessing which draw on her typescripts: a chapter on 'interruptions' in Doris Lessing and the Forming of History, which I co-edited with Kevin Brazil and David Sergeant; and an article on radical pedagogy in Mara and Dann (open access), drawing on the work of Paulo Freire and Idries Shah. 

I was Bristol's academic lead in 2016/17 on a project led by the Open University, and funded by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), looking at outreach for adult learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. I was academic lead for literature and pedagogy for Productive Margins, a research project in the School of Law (2012-18).

Curriculum design

Most of my experience designing curricula involves working with people who do not have conventional prior qualifications and who may have spent a long time out of education. I also have experience of building community engagement into curricula.

I designed the part-time BA in English Literature and Community Engagement (ELCE), which has been running since 2008 and, with Richard Pettigrew, the Foundation in Arts and Humanities (CertHE), which launched in 2013. This film, made by students on the Foundation programme, gives a great introduction to the course.

I have a particular interest in developing short courses with community groups that facilitate progression to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level, including with organisations such as Bristol Refugee Rights, Bristol Best Tuition and the Single Parent Action Network (SPAN).

I work on secondment 1.5 days per week with the Widening Participation and Student Recruitment team on the recruitment and participation of adult learners across the university. I have recently collaborated with colleagues in Policy Studies and Educaton on two new short courses, Understanding Society and Changing Education.

Teaching interests

I have taught a unit on 19th Century Prose Writing (for the BA ELCE) and I teach a unit on Dangerous Books (for the BA English). I have also contributed to all units on the Foundation programme and give lectures on the BA English on topics including: Shakespeare's sonnets, Hamlet and Hannah Arendt, passion and curiosity in Jane Austen, revisions in poetry, Paulo Freire and decolonising literature, and Virginia Woolf and the responsibilities of the 'non-academic' reader. I was course director for the part-time Diploma in Creative Writing from 2004 to 2010, for which I taught seminars on creative non-fiction, and I remain very interested in creative writing and pedagogy.

In 2014, I was awarded a University Award for Education and a Vice Chancellor's Award for my contributions to teaching.

Contact details

Office: G.3, 36 Tyndalls Park Road (entrance through 3/5 Woodland Road)
Email: tom.sperlinger@bristol.ac.uk
Phone: +44 (0)117 954 6969

Other interests

I am academic lead at Bristol for the British Council HESPAL scheme, which offers PhD scholarships at Bristol to future Palestinian academics to 2021. I've worked as a mentor for the We Are Not Numbers project with young writers in Gaza, including Nada Hammad who wrote this love letter to Gaza. I am a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts. I was co-editor of The Brodie Press from 2002 to 2015; our books included two poetry collections by Julie-ann Rowell, recognised by the Poetry Book Society and shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Prize respectively. I am a member of the advisory board for the Bristol Palestine Film Festival.