Prof Debra Kelly

I specialise in French and Francophone Studies and have also published widely in the fields of Text and Image Studies, War and Culture Studies, Cultural Memory, and most recently Franco-British Cultural Relations, notably on various aspects of the history of  French communities in London since the 19th century.

I carried out my undergraduate studies at Queen Mary, University of London receiving a First Class BA Honours degree in European Studies (French and Spanish). As a postgraduate, I studied at Birkbeck, University of London for an MA in French Studies with a dissertation on Michel Leiris's surrealist novel 'Aurora', and received a Distinction. I remained at Birkbeck for my PhD entitled 'Pierre Albert-Birot. A Poetics in Movement, A Poetics of Movement' (1992) which considered the effects of training as a sculptor and painter on the writer's creation of poetic and narrative forms., This became my first published monograph (1997).

I have taught at the University of Westminster since 1992, and became Professor of French and Francophone Literary and Cultural Studies in 2003. I also taught for ten years on the MA in Cultural Memory in the School of Advanced Study, University of London. I directed the international research network the Group for War and Culture Studies, which was founded in 1995 in French Studies at the University of Westminster for twenty years, and am the founding editor of the 'Journal of War and Culture Studies' (currently published by Taylor and Francis).

In 2005 I was made a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French Government in recognition of services to French language, literature and culture. I am the Co-Director of the Routes into Languages Capital L London Consortium which encourages continued language learning amongst school and university students and the author of the Routes Research Report 'Languages and International Events'; I am also the Co-Director of the Network for Languages London which provides professional development and support for all those working in the languages community across primary, secondary and further education institutions.

In 2016, I became the Deputy Director of the AHRC Open World Research Initiative Research Programme 'Language Acts and World Making' led by King's College London and of its research centre based there. 

Over the course of my career my research interests have covered three inter-related areas: Text and Image Studies (with a focus on the twentieth century avant-garde), French and Francophone Literary and Cultural Studies (including Franco-British cultural relations in the 19th and 20th centuries), and War and Culture Studies (often with a focus on Memory Studies).

I directed the Group for War and Culture Studies (GWACS), an international research group of scholars for twenty years from 1995, and in 2008 founded the 'Journal of War and Culture Studies' (currently published by Taylor and Francis). In this field of study I also co-edited with Valerie Holman 'France at War in the Twentieth Century. Propaganda, Myth and Metaphor' (Berg, 2000) and edited 'Remembering and Representing the Experience of War in Twentieth Century France' (Mellen, 2000). In the field of French and Francophone literary and cultural studies, my major publications are 'Pierre Albert-Birot. A Poetics in Movement, A Poetics of Movement' (Associated University Presses, 1997) and 'Autobiography and Independence. Selfhood and Creativity in North African Postcolonial Writing in French' (Liverpool University Press, 2005). I have also published diverse articles and book chapters on writers such as Pierre Albert-Birot, Robert Pinget, Philippe Soupault, Jean Tardieu, Guillaume Apollinaire, Albert Memmi, Assia Djebar, and Albert Camus.

I have also been an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, having worked on the MA Cultural Memory there and published several articles on French and Francophone writers within the framework of memory studies.

As a member of a research network of British and French scholars working on the cultural relationship between Britain and France since the end of the 19th century, I  worked on cultural aspects of the Franco-British Exhibition of 2008, and this led to my current interest in Franco-British cultural relations as manifested in London in the 19th and 20th centuries. My most recent work includes a funded collaborative project on the History of the French in London from the 18th century to the present day, and I co-edited the first book on the subject with Professor Martyn Cornick (University of Birmingham): 'A History of the French in London: Liberty, Equality, Opportunity' (IHR Publications, 2013). My current research continues that work with a sole-authored book concerned with the place of French gastronomy in London. I use French cuisine as the lens through which to analyse the French (and Francophone) experience in the British capital, historically and in the contemporary city: ‘being’ French in London. I  also consider French culinary knowledge and practice at work in the city as a form of identity, of culture and of what we call in research terms ‘cultural capital’, examining its place in London’s constantly evolving culinary landscape: ‘eating’ French in London. This project brings together for the first time the main events associated with the arrival, developing presence, integration and changing nature of French cuisine and culinary knowledge  – and the changing experiences of Frenchmen and women associated with it – in London from the 19th to the 21st centuries It also examines what reciprocal exchanges between Londoners and the French who live(d) and work(ed) in London tell us about Londoners' perceptions of the French community in the British capital as seen through cultural attitudes towards food and gastronomy. This research will be published as a book by Liverpool University Press in 2018.

 I am also committed to knowledge exchange and was made a WestFocus Knowledge Exchange Fellow. I was principal investigator on two knowledge exchange projects in the former Department of Modern and Applied Languages, the first on museums and galleries and the international visitor experience (AHRC-funded); the second on 'Languages and International Events' (HEFCE-funded) which lead to a report on the HE language sector's contribution to high-profile public events and to consultancy work for the London 2012 Olympics. My current research on the history of the London French continues to include a number of public workshops and events, and contributions to festivals and other events such as the Bankside Bastille Day Festival.

  • Francophone Studies Research Group
  • Group for War and Cultural Studies
  • Homelands