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 literary research analyses the way contemporary novelists in English have responded to ethical questions around human-animal relations. After my PhD, The Literary Representation of Pro-animal Thought: Readings in Contemporary Fiction, I published essays on J.M. Coetzee, Justin Cartwright, Angela Carter, Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood and on animal ethics in literary criticism and theory. In 2006 my co-written book (with the Animal Studies Group) Killing Animals was published by University of Illinois Press. In my current research project I am looking at how the literature, film and culture of the post war period, complicates and exceeds public and political humanitarianism. I am studying figures such as James Agee, Arthur Miller, John Huston, Romain Gary, Peter Viertel, Hubert H. Humphrey, 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 2000 I organised Millennial Animals: Theorising and Understanding the Importance of Animals, a conference here at Sheffield with Sue Vice that was cited in PMLA as groundbreaking in the field. I have also co-curated exhibitions of contemporary art addressing animal issues and I set up the interdisciplinary White Rose Animals Seminar. I am the Associate Editor (Literature) for Society and Animals (Brill). I have contributed reviews to Society and Animals and Safundi and acted as an editorial reviewer for Humanimalia, Parallax, Mosaic, PMLA, Society and Animals, Anthem Press and Columbia University Press.
I won the University of Sheffield Senate Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009. My main teaching interests are in the Modern and Contemporary periods, in Critical Theory and film. I have convened level 3 modules based on my research: Theory, Animals and the Environment; Animals Writes: Beasts and Humans in 20th Century Literature; and No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Module and my MA module: Interpret the Brutes: The Animal in Postcolonial Fiction and the Writings of Race.
I am committed to researching into and developing my own teaching practice and have undertaken a number of projects in this area, including a two year study of essay feedback in the School of English that led to a number of changes of practice.
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 current graduate research supervision includes a project on human-animal relations in mid-20th century culture, one on myth and animality in contemporary Native American fiction and another on grieving and animal bodies in contemporary American writing. 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]
- ‘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