By Anneliese Ng and Tingcong Lin

We are happy to have the opportunity to talk with Dr. Jessica Valdez, about the Nineteenth-Century Research Cluster she established, her interest in interdisciplinary research, and her memorable experiences at the School of English, HKU.

Jessica founded the Nineteenth-Century Research Cluster in 2020 to encourage more interdisciplinary communication between scholars in nineteenth-century studies​. Her MPhil student at that time, Shellie Audsley, helped design the cluster’s website ( Jessica hoped that, by bringing together researchers across departments and facilitating dialogue across disciplines (mainly in the Faculty of Arts), the cluster would help its members to reflect on their research approaches. Although the original intention was to organize face-to-face gatherings of various kinds, this part of the plan has been greatly constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the time being, the cluster acts as a useful space where members’ works are collected and shared, and where some related online academic events are held. Jessica looks forward to seeing more face-to-face activities when the pandemic subsides. She also welcomes more people joining and encourages graduate students to take up different roles in the cluster.

Jessica recounted that her interest in interdisciplinary research developed during her time in HK, through her interactions with researchers working on China Studies, as well as the trend in her field of “diversifying” or “undisciplining” Victorian studies. By engaging with scholars in other fields at HKU and elsewhere, she realized how Victorian texts she had loved since childhood could be situated in a broader network of global relations, deep inequality, and imperial violence. Her current book project, Despots and Democrats: China and America in Nineteenth-Century British Literature, seeks to move beyond the framework of metropole/periphery in thinking about the relationship between nineteenth-century Asia and Britain, instead considering China, Britain, and America in a triangulated relationship.

Jessica reflected that her current book project is in many ways a product of her personal experiences in Hong Kong. Coming to Hong Kong as a specialist in Victorian studies and as an American, she was aware of how she was associated with two empires. This made her think very carefully about her role as an educator in Hong Kong teaching British literature in the 21st century – “Where does all this put me ethically?”. Also, the years of the protests in HK led her to reflect on Hong Kong’s complicated relationship with a British imperial past and mainland China, as well as more generally with the larger geopolitical forces that individuals are caught up in.

Jessica recalls that her current interdisciplinary research grew out of her teaching experience and learning from her students. Students in her undergraduate course on crime stories (e.g. A Study in Scarlet, Murder on the Orient Express) had picked up on the “oriental” objects in the texts and how they expressed tensions between the East and the American West. From being more focused on canonical literature, she began to diversify her approach by introducing more object analysis in the classroom, and by guiding students to think more deeply about objects, texts, and materiality. Jessica believes that the practice of intertextuality requires a respectful attitude to other fields and a humble spirit of learning and enquiry, instead of simply co-opting or appropriating concepts, theories, and frameworks from other academic fields.

Jessica has been serving as the Chair of the Departmental Research Postgraduate Committee (DPRC) at the School of English. At the end of our interview, Jessica talked about her experience with graduate students and with her fellow colleagues at HKU. She said that it was a great pleasure to be part of a community that is driven by learning and discussion. For her, the School is a great academic department where people are committed to research, and where people are very happy to share and communicate with each other. She appreciates the constant support the faculty has given to researchers and students alike. She feels very happy and lucky to have been here as a member of this community.

Jessica will assume her new position researching nineteenth-century global literature at the University of East Anglia in September this year. She looks forward to expanding her research in the new environment. For this semester, she is a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford.

Published on: May 31, 2022 < Back >