Dr Lesel Dawson
My research focuses on Renaissance drama and the history of emotion. I have written on love, revenge, trauma, shame and desire in relation to early modern literature and psychology and am an organizer of 'Good Grief, Bristol'.
Associate Professor in Literature and CultureDepartment of English
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My main research interests include:
- the relationship between grief and creativity
- the history of the emotions, including shame, disgust, lovesickness and desire
- grief, loss and mourning in contemporary literature and over time
- sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature (particularly drama)
- early modern psychology
- early modern ideas about gender
- revenge tragedy from the classical period to the present day
- early modern intellectual and medical history
- trauma and its relationship to visual distortions / hallucinations
I am interested in the relationship between grief and creativity, and the role of the imagination in loss and adaptive grieving. I enjoy collaborative research and relish working across disciplines and with people outside the university. In our Brigstow project, Jimmy Hay and I partnered with bereavement charities and artists to develop a fiction film, Lost Property. Engaging in a practice-as-research methodology, we acted as both researchers and research subjects, simultaneously working to create the film and analysing how the creative process impacted the collaborators’ memories and emotions. I have co-created two short films about children and grief, working with psychotherapist and bestselling author Julia Samuel MBE and animator and widower Gary Andrews on Children Grief and Creativity, and with Art Therapist Victoria Tolchard on Children, Grief and Art Therapy. I am writing a case study book, Creative Grieving, which offers a snapshot of five bereaved artists’ experiences, artworks and creative processes.
I am Arts and Culture Lead for the Good Grief Festival (led by founder Lucy Selman), which aims to engage the wider community in inclusive dialogue about grief. Our YouTube channel, The Grief Channel, offers free and unlimited access to 100+ event clips and recordings, allowing viewers to access information, support and solidarity whenever they need it. I have interviewed a wide range of writers, artists and psychotherapists, including Robert Macfarlane, Julia Samuel MBE, Robert Neimeyer, Nikesh Shukla and David Kessler. I am also CI on Good Grief Connects (funded by the National Lottery Community Fund) and the Weston-super-Mare Consortium (funded as part as part of the second phase of the £26 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Mobilising Community Assets to Tackle Health Inequalities investment).
I love collaborating with artists working on grief-related projects. Funded by Brigstow in Spring 2022, I worked with artist Helen Acklam and cultural geographer Julian Brigstocke on an ideas exchange inspired by Acklam’s project ‘what it is to be there’, a personal exploration of the grief she felt after the death of her baby in the early seventies, using soil taken from the gravesite.
I advised on She Said Jump’s The Guy in the Luggage Rack, an aerial comedy that explores the intense and volatile experience of grief through circus, clowning, puppetry, and storytelling. As part of a project funded by Arts Council National Lottery Grants, Rachel Hare and I worked with artistic director Maisie Whitehead and artist Anna Millais to create two zines to accompany the performance. Also in 2022, I collaborated with Crowded Room Theatre Company on two workshops which invited groups of bereaved people to co-create a fictional story inspired by the death of a beloved tree. These workshops were recorded and then edited together to form a new audio story, The Colours of Loss. The participants reflected on their experience of the workshops in focus groups which explored whether collaborative creative activities might be beneficial for bereaved people.
I have run several projects on baby loss and grief. In our initial EBI-funded project, Lucy Selman, Cleo Hanaway-Oakley and I collaborated with bereaved parents, heath care researchers, and bereavement midwives to make a short film on stillbirth for the Good Grief Festival. We then worked with Sands (the UK’s largest stillbirth and neonatal death charity) and the artist Jayde Perkin on the illustrated booklet Stillbirth, Neonatal Death and the Grief Journey, which is now available as a free resource. Funded by two participatory research grants, Selman, Danya Bakhbakhi, Alison Rivett, Rachel Hare and I are currently evaluating and developing the booklet in collaboration with bereaved parents, medical professionals and charities.
I am involved in a project researching and campaigning for grief education in UK schools, working with Tracey Boseley (Head of Education Sector Support for Child Bereavement UK) and Alison Penny MBE (Director of Childhood Bereavement Network and Coordinator for National Bereavement Alliance), as well as Rachel Hare and Lucy Selman. We have co-authored an academic journal article which was published open-access in Bereavement journal, accompanied by a supplementary file which lists 50+ teaching plans, teacher training programmes and other school bereavement resources which could support mandatory grief education, and overviews the curriculum of each UK country. We also produced a four-page policy report, working also with John Adams, the current president of the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD). We held a Good Grief Festival panel on grief education, which featured bestselling author Michael Rosen, alongside bereaved journalist Jess Bacon and Tracey Boseley, and over 1000 people registered to attend.
My OUP monograph, Lovesickness and Gender in Early Modern Literature (2008), changed the scholarly understanding of lovesickness as a gendered malady, analysing literary representations of lovesickness in relation to medical ideas about desire and early modern ideas about gender, Neoplatonism and female maladies (such as hysteria and green sickness). I co-edited Revenge and Gender from Classical to Renaissance Literature (EUP, 2018) with Fiona McHardy, and have written on a range of other topics, including: hallucinations, trauma, shame, misogyny, menstruation, and cruentation.
From 2010-2021, I was on the Board of Directors for Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and was part of the creative team that developed the theatre piece The Place at the Bridge which re-imagined Shakespeare’s sonnets as a broken love song to Bristol. I have led on several public engagement activities and enjoy public speaking. Highlights include organizing the Lewis Fry Memorial Event ‘Remember Me: Shakespeare’s Cultural and Artistic Legacy’, being interviewed on the BBC Radio 3 Sunday Feature ‘Still Bill’, discussing 17th century ideas about death and mourning in the podcast ‘Performing Death’, and the wide range of interviews I have conducted with artists, psychotherapists, activists and writers for The Good Grief Festival.
I have experience of teaching literature written from 1500 to the present day. I teach on the MA in English Literature, on the units Renaissance Literature: Text and Context and Intertextual Shakespeare.
I would welcome PhD proposals on any aspect of early modern drama, grief and creativity and the history of the emotions, especially those which engage with my own research in some way.
DescriptionHow do we open up conversations about the climate crisis, inspiring intergenerational audiences to make positive changes, both big and small? This Brigstow Ideas Exchange will bring together academics from…
19/02/2024 to 31/07/2024
01/02/2024 to 31/01/2027
DescriptionAll of us will experience grief in our lifetimes. With counselling services increasingly over-subscribed, there is a turn towards social prescribing initiatives and growing pressure to find new ways to…
01/11/2023 to 31/07/2024
DescriptionFunded by an ESRC Impact Acceleration Grant, we will record a panel discussion on ‘Grief Education in Schools’ for the Good Grief Festival, featuring Michael Rosen, a high-profile children’s author,…
01/03/2023 to 31/03/2023
DescriptionFunded by the Participatory Research Fund (Research England), we will work with charities, bereaved parents and medical professionals to finalise our baby loss and grief booklet. Focus-group feedback demonstrated that…
01/02/2023 to 31/07/2023
- Other contribution
Palliative Care and Social Practice
Let’s talk about death: All children in England should receive grief education at school
- Other report
- Other contribution