I’m an early-modern specialist in English literature. My approach to literary texts attempts to blend rigorous close reading techniques with understanding of intellectual and cultural contexts. Recently, I’ve been looking at the development of a poetics of scientific writing from (roughly) 1580 to 1730, a study which includes some major scientific writers like Galileo, Thomas Browne, and Robert Boyle, as well as major literary writers, like John Donne, John Evelyn, Abraham Cowley, whose work was heavily influenced by the scientific developments of their time.
My doctoral work at Oxford was on narrative structure and emblem-culture in Sidney and Shakespeare, and my first short-term teaching appointments were during and after I completed that degree. I moved to a fellowship in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 1990. I joined the Birmingham English department in 2011 after three years of research leave funded by the British Academy and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2005 I received the British Academy's Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. In 2012 I was awarded major funding for five years from the AHRC to support The Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne (OUP, 2015-2019). For more details about this project, please see 'Research', below.
I am interested in supervising postgraduate students in 17th-century topics, particularly in science and literature studies, early-modern prose,emblem culture, and the Sidney circle.
My research is primarily in the 17th century, and I am especially interested in the inter-relations between literary and scientific writing in that period; my current book in progress on that topic is called Retreats of Knowledge: Literature and Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England.
I also work on word and image relations in the period 1500-1700; and occasionally write essays on American Gilded Age literature and on Renaissance rhetoric.
I am general editor of the forthcoming Oxford edition in 8 volumes of the complete works of Sir Thomas Browne (supported by funding from the Modern Humanities Research Association and the Isaac Newton Trust), and will be editing the volume containing Urne-Buriall, The Garden of Cyrus, Christian Morals, and A Letter to a Friend. This edition recently won further substantial funding from the AHRC for five years.
The editorial team welcomes contact from scholars and others with interests in Browne and his milieu.
The editorial team:
Claire Preston (Birmingham), general editor
Volume I: Religio Medici, eds Reid Barbour (North Carolina) and Brook Conti (SUNY Brockport)
Volumes II and III: Pseudodoxia Epidemica, eds Kevin Killeen (York), William N West (Northwestern), and Jessica Wolfe (North Carolina)
Volume IV: Urne=Buriall, The Garden of Cyrus, Christian Morals, Letter to a Friend, eds Kathryn Muprhy (Oxford) and Claire Preston (Birmingham)
Volume V: Tracts, ed Olivia Smith (Oxford)
Volumes VI and VII: Notebooks, eds Felicity Henderson (Royal Society) and Antonia Moon (British Library)
Volume VIII: Correspondence, eds Anne Dunan-Page (Aix-Marseille) and Andrew Zurcher (Cambridge)
Research Associates: Harriet Phillips and Claire Williams