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News and Events

Find out about the Special Collections' latest acquisitions of manuscripts and archives, recent finds and new staff publications.


WW2 soldier-poet's letters revealed after decades hidden in bureau

A cache of 150 letters from World War II soldier-poet John Jarmain has been discovered decades later by his daughter, Janet, who had been unaware of any surviving correspondence between her mother and father. Following her mother’s death, Janet found the letters locked away in a drawer of the family bureau.

They include his most famous poems ‘El Alamein’ and ‘Sand’, which Jarmain had sent home along with accounts of desert warfare in North Africa and enquiries about family news from the home front.

An artillery captain who served in the 51st Highland Division and lived in Somerset and Dorset, Jarmain was killed in Normandy in June 1944, several weeks after D-Day, having met his daughter only once. His war poems were published to critical acclaim the year after his death.

Like many grieving widows in the years after the war, Janet’s mother spoke only rarely of her loss, even to her daughter. Thanks to her discovery of the letters, Janet has been able to understand much more about her parents’ relationship, about her mother’s worries and loneliness during wartime, and about her father’s personality. The letters and poems have been given to the University of Exeter by Janet and are now archived to form part of the University’s Heritage Collection, enabling academics, students and the wider public to have access to this unique resource.

Professor Tim Kendall, Director of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Literature and Archives, said: “The poets of the Second World War are less well-known than their First World War predecessors, but at their best, they were just as powerful. In John Jarmain’s work, the mud of the Somme is replaced by desert landscape. Jarmain becomes a connoisseur of sand as he studies its shapes and shifting colours under different climatic conditions. He is a landscape poet inspired by some of the most hostile and forbidding landscapes ever endured.”

Find out more about this story in the University news article. You can also listen to a radio interview on BBC Radio Somerset with James Crowden, author of a book about John Jarmain entitled Flowers In The Minefields – El Alamein to St Honorine, and watch the BBC news video.

Centre members publish literary archives collection

Centre members Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead have published their edited collection entitled The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation. The book includes essays from both academics and archivists to address the full complexity of the study of modern literary archives. Read a review of the collection on the Sylvia Plath Info Blog, or find out more about the book from the publisher's website.

Unpublished WW1 novel shares secrets of the past with a new generation

A heroic World War One soldier’s previously unknown semi-autobiographical novel has come to light following the completion of a project to archive and make public the manuscripts, poems and correspondence of Frederick William Harvey. Find out more about this story in the College news article.

Past Events

Famine and Dearth in India and Britain: Texts, Images, Archives

Research Seminar based on the findings of the AHRC project Famine and Dearth in India and Britain, 6 December 2017 3.00-4.30pm, Queens Building LT 6.1

A Research Seminar based on the findings of the AHRC project Famine and Dearth in India and Britain led by Dr Ayesha Mukherjee, Department of English, University of Exeter and Professor Amlan Das Gupta, Department of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta.

Join a roundtable discussion focused on the project database as a searchable digital archive and pedagogical tool, and on the overall project as an example of multilingual, interdisciplinary research that links insights of cultural history and comparative literature with current issues of global food security.

View full details about this event

A department of English symposium, 15 June 2017, Seminar Room A/B, Old Library

This one day symposium will focus on the rich resources of the Powys Society archives held at Heritage Collections at Exeter University.

Speakers include: 

  • Michael Kowalweski, Powys Society Collection Liaison Officer
  • Dr Christine Faunch, Head of Heritage Collections, University of Exeter
  • Dr Chris Campbell, Lecturer
  • Dr Luke Thompson, writer, publisher and editor who has recently published a biography of Cornish poet, Jack Clemo entitled Clay Phoenix.

If you are intending to come along please contact: Dr Chris Campbell: or Dr Christine Faunch:

A department of English symposium, 3 June 2016, Streatham Court 0.28

Considering the history of literary networks and broadcast culture from 1940s to present day.

Focusing on the BBC as a dynamic contact zone for writers and intellectuals,it will address the role which broadcasting played in telegraphing the end of empire and the ways in which it shaped a sense of identity in the imperial metropolis. The symposium is designed to bring scholars, students, curators and archivists together to debate new critical paradigms of World Literature and will foreground a consideration of the challenges and opportunities when curating and researching broadcast archives in the digital age.

Keynote Speakers: Susheila Nasta (Open University), James Procter (Newcastle) and Bill Schwarz (Queen Mary)
The event is free and open to all, but registration is essential. Please visit our Eventbrite page.
Organized by the Centre for Literature and Archives and the World Literature and Postcolonial Research Group, and funded by the Department of English, University of Exeter.

For further details, contact Chris Campbell: or Florian Stadtler: