Humanities research at Essex

Research leading to action

At Essex we believe in research that allows people to take informed action. Our University was founded on interdisciplinarity and activism, and we draw on a broad range of perspectives to investigate what it means to be human.

As well as understanding the complexities of what it is to be human, our mission is to put human dignity and human rights at the heart of how we study the humanities, as well as to ground our work in real-life problems.

Working across disciplines – new methods for a new world

Universities are typically organised according to subject boundaries and are assessed and peer-reviewed along these lines. Yet the most pressing human problems of our time lie across and between such disciplinary areas.

Essex was founded on the principle of interdisciplinarity, and we maintain the flexibility of spirit and collaborative ethos to work across these areas as the situation demands.

Real people with real problems

Our common focus is on people in positions of vulnerability and marginality. We use our research and education to engage with the most urgent challenges to human dignity, in the places where they are most severely felt.

Our academics cover a broad range of interests and expertise but are bound by a shared set of concerns and a common social agenda.


  • The rights of people with disabilities

    Essex Autonomy Project

    Based in our School of Philosophy and Art History, the Essex Autonomy Project (EAP) has been commissioned by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to provide technical research support to UK government bodies in preparation for the upcoming UN review of UK compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

    The EAP research team has already supported the Ministry of Justice’s review of whether the Mental Capacity Act (MCA), part of the legal framework in England, is compliant with the CRPD and this new £100,000 project will extend that work to Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure all three legal jurisdictions have been reviewed.

    Access to museums

    Dr Michael Tymkiw from the Centre for Curatorial Studies in the School of Philosophy and Art History is leading research focusing on using digital tools to expand museum access for visitors with physical disabilities. Project partners include the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Firstsite in Colchester.

    Part of the project involves using eye-tracking technologies to study how visitors with different degrees of mobility navigate through museum spaces — a study motivated by an interest in developing a set of tactical guidelines that will help museums better install artworks and design galleries for visitors with mobility limitations.

    The other part of this project consists of developing a system that enables spectators to 'virtually touch' objects by donning sensor gloves. This system seeks to increase access among sight-limited visitors, for whom the sense of touch typically represents the single most important means of experiencing museum objects.

  • Terminal illness

    Serious illness, depression, addiction or aging can leave people in a state of powerlessness – feeling unable to change or improve their situation. Our friends, family and the professionals looking after us in the most difficult circumstances can also often find themselves helpless to improve the situation.

    Philosophers from our Humanities Faculty are now looking to understand experiences of powerlessness by working with academics and healthcare professionals including staff at St Helena Hospice in Colchester. The three-year research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), responds to the crisis in public policy regarding how health care professionals should approach this issue in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Liverpool Care Pathway.

  • Refugees

    Refugees and international humanitarian law

    We are first university in the UK to sign a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). This creates a range of research opportunities and is based on our long-established expertise in international humanitarian law. Lead experts in this area include Professor Geoff Gilbert from the School of Law of Law and Human Rights Centre.

  • Prisoners

    Detention, rights and social justice

    The Detention, Rights and Social Justice Programme is an interdisciplinary programme that aims to identify the parameters of legal and legitimate detention and the social forces that give shape to it. It also focuses on treatment in detention and seeks to develop an understanding of the experiences and lived reality of detainees.

    Recent activities include the Programme’s work on the review on the UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners and puyblishing a second addition of the Torture Reporting Handbook.

    See our Human Rights Centre website for more details about project and its publications:

  • Marginalised bodies

    Human rights and big data

    Based in the Human Rights Centre in our School of Law, the ‘Human Rights, Big Data and Technology’ project maps and analyses the challenges and opportunities presented by the use of information and communications technology (ICT) and big data from a human rights perspective.

    The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

  • Access to justice and services

    National human rights institutions and access to justice

    The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in Providing Access to Justice project examines the roles that National Human Rights Institutions in Europe do, and should, play in dispute resolution. The project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

    Austerity and access to justice

    Access to Justice is a new book examining how government austerity measures affect access to justice and public services, published by Professor Ellie Palmer, Dr Tom Cornford, Dr Audrey Guinchard and Dr Yseult Marique from our School of Law:

Work with us

Visit our Business pages to find out how you can work with us and access our expertise, or contact our Research and Business Partnerships Managers, Kai Yin Low at, or Ville Karhusaari at

Humanities research profiles

Find out more about Humanities research expertise by visiting our departments' and schools' websites:


See our news section to find out about the high-profile projects our academics and students are involved with plus the many public events and talks we organise.

Research and enterprise

Our academics are leading major research projects ranging from the art of Latin America through to the English Civil War and the issues surrounding mental capacity.

Learning and teaching

We seek to build on our excellent reputation for the quality of student experience, while helping our students develop the skills they need for the future.

Schools and departments

Our schools and departments cover a huge range of disciplines and we are committed to encouraging interdisciplinary approaches so our students see how subjects interconnect.