School of English and Drama

Dr Rachael Gilmour, BA MA PhD (Manchester)


Reader in Postcolonial and World Literature



I grew up in Bristol, and completed my PhD at the University of Manchester before joining the Department of English at Queen Mary in 2002 to teach postcolonial literature and theory. I have a background in linguistics and cultural history as well as literary study, and my research continues to draw these fields into conversation with one another. I am particularly interested in how questions of language, translation, and linguistic encounter are mediated by literary and other texts, in colonial, postcolonial, and global contexts – from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century South Africa, to contemporary multilingual Britain.

As well as my own scholarship and collaborative editing projects, I am the co-editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, and serve on the editorial board of Wasafiri: Journal of International Contemporary Writing.  I also run a project, Reading/Writing Multilingualism, working with local secondary school pupils in Queen Mary’s home borough, Tower Hamlets. I’ve published on the relationship between multilingualism and literature teaching, and developed a range of online resources for English teachers to use in the classroom.


Research Interests:

  • Colonial and postcolonial literature and theory
  • African literary and cultural studies
  • Colonialism, postcolonialism, and linguistic thought
  • Black British and British Asian writing
  • Language politics and literary multilingualism

Recent and On-Going Research:

My research spans the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, and focuses in particular on the relationship between language politics, cultural history, and literary form in colonial and postcolonial contexts. My first book, Grammars of Colonialism (2006), was a study of the complex relation between colonialism and linguistic thought in South Africa – and, by extension, across the former colonial world – focused upon nineteenth-century European representations of the Bantu languages Xhosa and Zulu. There, among other things, I trace the relationship between linguistic texts as models for the exercise of various kinds of power (colonial, scientific, theological) and as records of and frameworks for interpersonal communication between a learner and speakers of the language in question. A significant aspect of my work continues to address the role of language in colonial and postcolonial encounter, explored in materials ranging from linguistic texts like dictionaries and grammars, to literary forms such as novels and poetry, to popular media like radio. 

As time has gone on, I have also come to focus more closely on the literature and cultural politics of postwar and contemporary Britain. With Bill Schwarz, I co-edited End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945 (2011, paperback 2015), which explores the afterlives of empire in English literature and culture. For that book, I wrote a chapter about imperialism’s presence/absence in the novels of William Golding; and I continue to be interested in literature in Britain in what we might call the high period of decolonization, from the 1950s to the 1980s, including the intersections between black British literature and other kinds of radical writing.

My current book project, Bad English, contracted with Manchester University Press, draws together several of these strands of research. It examines the denaturalization of “English” in contemporary literature in Britain, and traces the emergence of a field of writing concerned at its core with the representation of the sounds, properties, histories, and experiences of linguistic difference, in a period in which Britain’s linguistic terrain has been radically reshaped by immigration, devolution, rapid social change, globalised culture and transnational connection. Exploring the work of such writers as Daljit Nagra, Xiaolu Guo, Brian Chikwava, Leila Aboulela, Suhayl Saadi and Raman Mundair, among others, I consider how their writing raises and confronts ideas about language, at scales from the intimate, subjective, and local, to the national, transnational, and global. I have already published a number of journal articles and book chapters which begin to examine these questions, and (with Tamar Steinitz, Goldsmith’s) I also recently edited Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation and Culture (Routledge, 2017), which explores analogous terrain in a global context, addressing the relationship between language diversity and conceptions of literary language, form, and markets. This interdisciplinary book, with contributors from around the world, draws together various strands of literary scholarship with translation theory and applied linguistics; aiming to establish literary paradigms which equip us to understand the complex forces that shape language in the present as they impact upon the production and circulation of literature.



  • Bad English: Literature and Language Diversity in Contemporary Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, forthcoming 2018).
  • with Tamar Steinitz (eds), Multilingual Currents in Literature, Translation and Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2017).
  • with Bill Schwarz (eds), End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011; paperback 2015).
  • Grammars of Colonialism: Representing Languages in Colonial South Africa(Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006)

Articles and book chapters

  • ‘“Sight, sound and meaning”: voice/print transitions in black British poetry’, in Kate McLoughlin (ed.) Flower/Power: British Literature in Transition, volume 2, 1960-1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
  • The University of Brixton: postcolonial linguistics on the radio’, in Nadia Atia and Kate Houlden (eds), Popular Postcolonialisms (London and New York: Routledge, 2018).
  • ‘Reading/writing multilingualism: language, literature and creativity in the multilingual classroom’, English in Education, forthcoming.
  • With Tamar Steinitz, ‘Introduction: Multilingual currents’, in Rachael Gilmour and Tamar Steinitz (eds) Multilingual Currents in Literature, Language and Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2017).
  • ‘“Ah’m the man ae a thoosand tongues”: Multilingual Scottishness and its limits’, in Rachael Gilmour and Tamar Steinitz (eds) Multilingual Currents in Literature, Language and Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 2017).
  • Learning Zulu and bearing witness’, part of a round-table on Mark Sanders’ Learning Zulu (Columbia University Press, 2016), Safundi: Journal of South African and American Studies 18:1 (March 2017), 12-15.
  • 'Punning in Punglish, sounding 'poreign': Daljit Nagra and the politics of language', Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies17:5 (2015), 686-705.
  • 'Doing voices: Reading language as craft in black British poetry', Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 49:3 (2014), 343-57.
  • ‘British colonial rule in Natal: The growth of missionary activity, and the development of language study’, in Christopher Mosley (ed) Writing Systems, vol. II: Orthography (London and New York: Routledge, 2014).
  • ‘Living between languages: The politics of translation in Leila Aboulela’s Minaretand Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’Journal of Commonwealth Literature47:2 (2012), 207-227
  • ‘The entropy of Englishness: Reading empire’s absence in the novels of William Golding’, in Rachael Gilmour and Bill Schwarz (eds), End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011). Editorial, ‘Colonialism and linguistic thought’, Bulletin of the Henry Sweet Society, 46/7 (2006).
  • 'Missionaries, colonialism and language in nineteenth-century South Africa', History Compass5:6 (November 2007), 1761-77.
  • '“A nice derangement of epitaphs": Missionary language-Learning in mid-nineteenth century Natal', Journal of Southern African Studies33:3 (September 2007), 521-538.
  • 'Colonization and linguistic representation: British Methodist grammarians' approaches to Xhosa, 1834-1850', in Missionary Linguistics/ Lingüística Misionera: Selected Papers from the First International Conference in Missionary Linguistics, Oslo, 13-16 March 2003, ed. by Otto Zwartjes and Even Hovdhaugen (Amsterdam/ Philadephia: John Benjamins, 2004), pp 113-140.
  • 'Heteroglossia in Lewis Grout's The Isizulu: Critical theory and missionary linguistics', Bulletin of the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas41 (2003), 3-10.

See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile

PhD Supervision

I would welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of the areas of my research.​ At present I am supervising PhD projects on:

  • representations of southern African 'Bushmen' in early nineteenth century popular culture
  • childhood in southern African literature
  • multilingual modernism from Joseph Conrad to Junot Diaz
  • masculinity in contemporary South African fiction
  • code-switching and translation in contemporary anglophone/hispanophone literature