Helen English

Helen English is a Senior Lecturer at The University of Newcastle, NSW, and an Associate Investigator (2017) with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Her research interests lie in performance and creative work, nineteenth-century cultural history, music sociology and equity in access to music education. Following a career as a freelance musician, Helen English’s first academic appointment was at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music, UTAS in 1995. At the University of Tasmania she pursued an interest in exploring past temporalities through interdisciplinary creative work. Works from this period include The Schewyng, based on the life of Julian of Norwich, and Consuming the Feminine, an exploration of music and art in the time of Louis XIV.

From 2007 she explored temporalities through the medium of the soundscape. Works include Margery’s Times: Margery Through the Looking Glass (2008) and Forgotten Composers of the Hunter Valley (2012). In 2016 she was awarded a PhD at the University of Newcastle (UON) on the topic Music as a Resource for World-Building in Newcastle, NSW and its Townships, 1869-1879.

Helen English’s research into nineteenth-century music-making in Newcastle began in 2008 with research into music and texts from the period of Mark Twain’s brief visit in 1895. This research led to her PhD topic that focused on music-making in Newcastle’s coalmining townships and its effect on body, emotions and mind. To support the thesis argument that music was a world-building resource for settler communities, she developed an interdisciplinary approach that draws on social theory, affordance theory, concepts of respectability and the public sphere and soundscape theory. Post PhD completion, she is investigating the cultural significance of amateur blackface minstrelsy in Hunter Valley coalmining communities. She is also undertaking a joint collaborative project with Jane W. Davidson that builds on the thesis findings to inform research into current music communities in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.


Academia Profile
The University of Newcastle Profile


Blackface at Work and Play: Amateur Minstrel Troupes in Colonial Newcastle, NSW

Music and World-Building: From Past to Present


Journal Articles

English, H. J., S. Monk and J. W. Davidson. ‘Music and World-Building in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia’. International Journal of Community Music 11.3 (2018): 245–64.

English, H. ‘Singing and Identity Formation in Newcastle, 18601880: Choirs, Cultivation and Connectedness’. Journal of Australian Colonial History 19 (2017): 95‒118.

English H. 'Music-Making in the Colonial City: Benefit Concerts in Newcastle, NSW in the 1870s'. Musicology Australia 36 (2014): 5373.

English H. 'Musical Entertainment in Newcastle, New South Wales, in the 1870s: Audience, Identity, Power and Cultural Ownership'. Crossroads: an Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics VI (2013): 7383.

Book Chapters

Vella, R. and H. English. 'Embedding Creative and Critical Thinking in Performance Studies The Challenge'.  In Assessment in Music Education: From Policy to Practice, edited by D. Lebler, G. Carey and S. D. Harrison. Springer International Publishing: Switzerland, 2015.

English, H. and S. Q. Wye. 'Musical entertainment in Newcastle, NSW, 187577'.  In A World of Popular Entertainments: An Edited Volume of Critical Essays, edited by G. Arrighi and V. Emeljanow, pp. 20720. Cambridge Scholars: Newcastle upon Tyne, 2012.

Published Conference Paper

English, H. ‘Re-viewing History through Sound  Fact or Fiction?'.  re-Visions: Proceedings of the New Zealand Musicological Society and the Musicological Society of Australia Joint Conference (2013).

Creative Work

English, H. Forgotten Composers of the Hunter Valley, 18701879. Newcastle, NSW, Australia (2013). 

English, H. The New Adventures of Mark Twain: from Coalopolis to Metropolis. Pearl Gallery, New York (2007).

English, H. Margery’s Times: Margery Through the Looking Glass. University of Leeds, UK (2008).


English, H. Conference Paper: ‘Blackface at Work and Play: The Rise of Minstrelsy in the Hunter Valley, 1840‒1880’, Nineteenth-Century British Music Conference, University of Birmingham, UK, 28‒30 July 2017.