Dr Robert McKay
Senior Lecturer in English Literature
My research focuses on the representation of animals and the ethics of human-animal relations in literature, film and culture since 1945. My first degree was in English Language and Literature at the University of Glasgow. I then came to Sheffield to study for an MA in Narrative and completed a PhD here in 2004. I have taught in the School of English since then.
My research analyses the way novelists and film-makers have responded to the unjust relations between the species as aesthetic problems as well as political ones. I am currently working on two books. The first of these is called Animal Form: Contemporary Fiction and the Politics of Species. It focuses on the period from 1970 to the present and especially on the work of Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, Michel Faber, Deborah Levy and Alice Walker. In the other project I look at how the literature, film and culture of the post-war period, complicates and exceeds the understanding of animals’ value in public animal welfare humanitarianism. I am studying figures such as James Agee, Arthur Miller, John Huston, Romain Gary, Peter Viertel, Patricia Highsmith, Brigid Brophy, Walker Hamilton and others.
More broadly, I am interested in the representations of animals in culture and am active in the research field of animal studies. In 2006 my co-written book (with the Animal Studies Group) Killing Animals was published by University of Illinois Press. In 2000 I co-organised Millennial Animals: Theorising and Understanding the Importance of Animals, a conference here at Sheffield that was cited (by Cary Wolfe in PMLA) as groundbreaking in the field. I have co-curated exhibitions of contemporary art addressing animal issues and I also co-organised the Reading Animals conference at Sheffield in 2014.
I am the series co-editor of Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature, Associate Editor (Literature) for Society and Animals (Brill). I have contributed review essays to Society and Animals, Modern Fiction Studies, and Safundi and acted as an editorial reviewer for Humanimalia, Parallax, Mosaic, PMLA, Society and Animals, Anthem Press and Columbia University Press.
My main teaching interests are in the Modern and Contemporary periods, in film, and in introducing students to literature and theory. I have convened level four modules based on my research: Theory, Animals and the Environment; Animals Writes: Beasts and Humans in 20th Century Literature; my MA module: Interpret the Brutes: The Animal in Postcolonial Fiction and the Writings of Race; and No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Module. Students on the latter have collaborated with others from several other universities to produce ZooScope: The Animals in Film Archive.
In 2013 with Matthew Holman I won the inaugural Higher Education Academy Staff-Student Partnership Award and in 2008 I won a University of Sheffield Senate Award for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. I was also the Arts Faculty adviser on and co-writer of The Academic Skills Hub, an internet encyclopaedia and teaching resource for generic academic skills.
My recent graduate research supervision includes a projects on human-animal relations in mid-20th century culture, on myth and animality in contemporary Native American fiction, on grieving and animal bodies in contemporary writing and on meat and the idea of animals as resources 1800-2000. I would especially welcome enquiries about projects to study the representation of animals and/or the environment more broadly in any literary form or period or in critical theory. I am generally interested in projects focusing on any area of post-1945 fiction in English, or on critical theory.
- The Animal Studies Group, Killing Animals (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2006)
'An important new book', Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2007)
'The most compelling way to read this book is as a model for collaboration in the study of animal life—and here more specifically death—across the humanities and social sciences. This is not to downplay the extraordinary earlier efforts of this group’s members in having demonstrated the relevance of studying animals within each of their respective disciplines (anthropology, art history, geography, history, literary studies, and philosophy), but rather to affirm how their work together in this project makes a compelling case for the development of animal studies “as an autonomous and substantive field” in its own right'. Susan McHugh, Configurations, 14.1-2 (2006)
Journal Special Issues
- Literary Animals Look, Antennae 24 (2013), co-edited with Susan McHugh
- Society and Animals, 20.2 (2012) co-edited with four others
Articles, Essays, Chapters etc.
- ‘James Agee’s ‘A Mother’s Tale’ and the Biopolitics of Animal Life and Death in Post-war America’ in Against Life, ed. Alastair Hunt and Stephanie Youngbood (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2014) [6000 words].
- ‘Animals, Celebrity and Moral Agency in Postwar Cinema: Marilyn Monroe, Velma Johnston, Arthur Miller and John Huston’s The Misfits’, in Animals and the Moving Image, ed. by Michael Lawrence and Laura McMahon (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming 2014) [6000 words]
- ‘What Kind of Literary Animal Studies do We Want, or Need?’, MFS. 60.2 (2014), 636-44
- ‘Guest Editors’ Introduction: Being and Seeing Literary Animals’, Antennae, 24 (2013), 4-6. (co-written Susan McHugh)
- ‘An Illustrated Theriography’, Antennae, 24 (2013), 8-28
- ‘Justin Cartwright’, in British Writers XIX, ed. by Jay Parini (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2012), pp. 37-54
- ‘Guest Editors’ Introduction: The Animals and Society Fellowship: Catalyzing Work in Human-Animal Studies’, Society and Animals, 20 (2012), 117-122. (co-written with 4 others)
- 'Metafiction, Vegetarianism and the Literary Performance of Animal Ethics in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals', Safundi, 11.1 (2010), 67-86
- ‘Animal Ethics and Literary Criticism’, Minnesota Review, 73-74 (2010), 263-68
- ‘A Dangerous Border’, Antennae, 8.2 (2008), 60-64
- ‘BSE, Hysteria and the Representation of Animal Death: Deborah Levy’s Diary of a Steak’ in Killing Animals by The Animal Studies Group (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2006) 145-69
- 'Identifying with the Animals: Language, Subjectivity and Animal Politics in Atwood’s Surfacing’ in Figuring Animals, ed. by Catherine Rainwater and Mary Pollock (New York: Palgrave, 2005)
- ‘Getting Close to Animals with Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar’, Society and Animals, 9:3 (2001), 253-72