I am an interdisciplinary early modernist scholar with a specialism in gender and sexuality. At present, I am a temporary Lecturer in English at Northumbria University.
I am an interdisciplinary scholar whose work focuses on developing new methodological approaches to transgressive gender and sexuality in historical literature and culture, both in academic research and in curatorial practice. I have taken this interest in two key directions: exploring how academic and curatorial practice might creatively respond to contemporary political arguments which seek to delegitimise trans experience by denying its historicity, and thinking about the construction of sexuality and sexual knowledge as a literary process rooted in genre and the literary marketplace.
My first monograph, The Reputation of Edward II, 1305-1695: A Literary Transformation of History, is out now with Amsterdam University Press. Click here to download the table of contents and introduction. This book is the first project to analyse the development of Edward II’s sexual and political reputation in the four centuries after his death – including the origins of the consensus that his relationships with his favourites were sexual and romantic and that he was murdered by anal penetration with a red-hot spit, but also his significance as a paradigmatic exemplum of favouritism and deposition in early modern England and France. My work demonstrates that the formation of Edward’s queer historiographical reputation was a literary process. The demands of the early modern literary marketplace meant that texts of all genres increasingly foregrounded his sexual transgressions as sensational, engaging content, but also created space for readers’ emotional engagement with this transgressive figure from their national past, framing his relationships with his favourites through tropes of the romance genre and constructing the account of his deposition and death as a de casibus narrative. These literary concerns exerted a substantial influence on the development of Edward’s queer reputation, as did literary texts, foremost among them Marlowe’s Edward II.
My subsequent work has continued this investigation of the relationship between gender, sexuality and genre. My forthcoming article ‘Performing Historical Monarchs: Beyond the History Play’ (Royal Studies Journal, 2021) discusses the use of performative techniques in prose accounts of the past written in early modern England, showing that prose texts should be seen alongside history plays as forms which provided access to performance of historical characters, and using the case of Edward II to show that these performative techniques facilitated emotional and political engagement with this sexually transgressive monarch. I am also working on an article titled ‘“The witch that wrought on me was in my breast”: figurative bewitchment and politico-sexual transgression in early modern English culture’, which presents a reassessment of the place of witchcraft accusations in the history of early modern sexual transgression, figuring them as a rhetorical strategy of exoneration for authority figures (particularly monarchs) who experienced queer attraction, and shedding new light on the mechanisms by which people negotiated transgressive attraction and their anxieties around it.
My current major research project, Sexual Knowledge and Print Culture in Early Modern England, 1557-1695, takes a cross-genre approach to my insights about the relationship between beliefs about transgressive sexuality and print culture. The book aims to foreground the ways in which sexual knowledge was shaped by two aspects of early modern print and literary culture: the developing conventions of specific popular genres (medical books, travel writing, chronicles, religious texts and romances), and the process of book production, including the considerable agency of the publisher as both a collaborative and an autonomous actor. My article ‘Paratexts and Pornographic Potential in Seventeenth-Century Anatomy Books’ (The Seventeenth Century, 2018) represents the first output of this work.
Alongside this, I work on approaches to historical gender nonconformity and trans experience. My article ‘Gender Nonconformity and Military Internment: Curating the Knockaloe Slides’ (Critical Military Studies, 2019), discusses academic and curatorial approaches to a collection of glass plate slides which show onstage and offstage gender nonconformity in a First World War internment camp. I argue for the need to open up the multiple simultaneous motivations, and facets of the gendered subjectivity, behind the gender nonconformity seen in the Knockaloe slides, through polyvocal approaches to both research and curation. I am working on a book project which develops this research into a history of gender nonconformity in its broadest sense, which takes seriously both its historical and cultural specificity and the political importance of recuperating the historicity of trans experience. Following successful discussions at Approaching Gender Nonconformity: an online unconference, which I co-organised, I am exploring options for developing a network focused on these issues: I would be keen to hear from anyone who is interested in being involved in this.
In this and all my work, I am committed to impact and public engagement. My role on the AHRC-funded project ‘Gendering Interpretations of the Collections of the V&A and Vasa Museums’ involved developing the public impact of a new methodology for creating gendered biographies of material objects: for more details, see the article Gendering Objects at the V&A and Vasa Museums’ (Museum International, 2020), which I co-authored with James Daybell, Svante Norrhem and Emma Severinsson. I also coordinate the Rainbow Plaques project, which uses ephemeral, DIY cardboard plaques to experiment with speculative and personal memorialisation of queer history.
The Reputation of Edward II, 1305-1695: A Literary Transformation of History (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020) [table of contents and index]
James Daybell, Kit Heyam, Svante Norrhem and Emma Severinsson, ‘Gendering Objects at the V&A and Vasa Museums’, Museum International: Special Issue, ‘Museums and Gender’ (2020) DOI: 10.1080/13500775.2020.1779465
‘Gender nonconformity and military internment: curating the Knockaloe slides’, Critical Military Studies: Special Issue, ‘Curating Conflict’ (2019) DOI:10.1080/23337486.2019.1651045
‘Paratexts and pornographic potential in seventeenth-century anatomy books’, The Seventeenth Century (2018) DOI:10.1080/0268117X.2018.1506355
‘Creating trans-inclusive libraries: the UX perspective’, in User Experience in Libraries: Yearbook 2018, ed. by Andy Priestner (UX In Libraries, 2018), pp. 36-51.
Book review: ‘Unperfect histories: the Mirror for Magistrates, 1559-1610 by Harriet Archer’, The Seventeenth Century 34:1 (2018) DOI:10.1080/0268117X.2018.1475251
Book review: ‘Barbara Gribling, ‘The image of Edward the Black Prince in Georgian and Victorian England: negotiating the late medieval past’’, Royal Studies Journal 5:1 (2018), pp. 191-193
Book review: ‘John S. Garrison, Friendship and queer theory in the Renaissance: gender and sexuality in early modern England’, The Seventeenth Century 30:4 (2015), pp. 486-488 DOI:DOI:10.1080/0268117X.2015.1082078
‘York Lesbian Arts Festival, 2000-2008: “It was like we took over the city…”’, Queer Beyond London (24/05/2017)
‘Maleficent favourites: seductive bewitchment at the English court’, NOTCHES: remarks on the history of sexuality (29/11/2016)
‘Rainbow plaques: mapping York’s LGBT history’, NOTCHES: remarks on the history of sexuality (23/07/2015)
‘Beyond penetration: rethinking the murder of Edward II’, NOTCHES: remarks on the history of sexuality (24/03/2015)
- “Kit is a really great seminar tutor. I get so much from the seminars – interactive, engaging, well thought through.”
- “Kit’s enthusiasm was on another level.”
- “Kit’s prompts sparked great conversations and encouraged us to think outside of the box, leading to come stimulating debates and fantastic new ideas.”
- “Kit’s feedback was so helpful and constructive.”
- “I thought Kit struck an excellent balance between allowing students to express opinions and engage with each other and also directing debate down relevant and thought-provoking avenues.”
- “Kit’s [lecture delivery] has been extremely clear, engaging and interesting.”
- “Kit has been the absolute best at one-to-one meetings…made the time when needed and really made sure to hear you out and suggests practical steps to help you not just with the content of the module, but also with prepping for assessments.”
Department of English, King’s College London (2019-20)
- Module convenor/lecturer/seminar tutor, ‘Life of the Sonnet’ (Y3); ‘Poetry of Revolution’ (Y2)
- Seminar tutor, ‘Premodern Dialogues’ (MA); ‘Working With Early Modern Literary Texts’ (MA); ‘Comedy and Identity’ (Y2); ‘Language on the Edge’ (Y2); ‘Classical and Biblical Contexts’ (Y1); ‘Reading Poetry’ (Y1)
- Lecturer, ‘Early Modern Literary Culture’ (Y1)
School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University (2018-19)
- Module co-leader, ‘Other Renaissances: Gender, Sexuality and Race in Early Modern Culture’ (Level 3)
- Lecturer and seminar tutor, ‘Writing the Renaissance’ (Level 2)
School of English, University of Leeds (2014-18)
- Seminar tutor, ‘Medieval Literature’ and ‘Renaissance Literature’ (Level 2); ‘The Plays of Shakespeare’ (Level 1)
- Lecturer, ‘Narratives of Witchcraft and Magic’ (Level 1)
- Workshop leader, ‘Study Skills for Final Year Project in Medieval and Early Modern Literature’ (Level 3)
School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds (2018)
- Lecturer/workshop leader, ‘Placement in Context’ (MA)
Lifelong Learning Centre, University of Leeds (2017-18)
- Guest lecturer, ‘The Renaissance’ (Level 0)
School of Humanities, York St John University (2015, 2019)
- Visiting lecturer, ‘Identities’ (Liberal Arts Foundation level)
- Visiting lecturer, ‘Shakespeare and his Contemporaries’ (Level 2)
For past media appearances, please see my media page.
In 2016-17 I was the curatorial team lead for the exhibition York Out of the Closet: 50 Years of LGBT History (York Castle Museum). The exhibition combined oral histories, loaned objects and photographs to tell the story of LGBT life in York – focusing on social life, activism, crime, health and the history of York Pride – from 1967-2017.
In 2015-16, I curated the exhibition For All Time: Shakespeare In Yorkshire at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery. Showcasing the Brotherton’s English Literature collection, the exhibition explored Shakespeare’s engagement with English (particularly Yorkshire) history, and the ways in which directors and actors continue to use his work to ask questions about regional identity.
Activist public history work
I coordinate Rainbow Plaques, a participatory public history project which invites members of the public to make DIY cardboard plaques marking places significant to local, national or personal LGBT history. I have received commissions from Centre for Live Art Yorkshire and West Yorkshire Queer Stories; delivered art workshops with groups of diverse ages in York, Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford; and engaged with York and Leeds Civic Trusts to create semi-permanent and permanent rainbow plaques.
In 2016-17, I was the Lead Coordinator of York LGBT History Month; prior to this, I was the Outreach Coordinator from 2014-16. This involved:
- Managing an activist public history project, chairing charity committee and developing overall project plan
- Developing links and liaising with academic, heritage sector, public sector and third sector partners to coordinate programme of around 50 events during February (LGBT History Month)
- Media liaison, fundraising and budget coordination
- Communicating history to general public, prison inmates and secondary school pupils