Helen Smith



A graduate of Glasgow and York, Helen taught at St Andrews and Hertfordshire before returning to join the York department in 2004. Helen's research interests are wide-ranging, embracing history of the book, feminist literary history and theory, the social and cultural uses of religious experience, and materiality.

Helen has published extensively on the material text and the book trades. Her monograph Grossly Material Things: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2012) won the Roland H. Bainton Literature Prize, awarded by the Sixteenth-Century Society and Conference, and the DeLong Book History Prize, awarded by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, in 2013.

With Simon Ditchfield (History), Helen co-directed the AHRC-funded project Conversion Narratives in Early Modern Europe.  She is Principal Investigator for the AHRC Research Network Imagining Jerusalem, c. 1099 to the Present Day.  Her current monograph project aims to uncover ideas about matter and their material incarnations in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries, and is supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.



Helen is currently working on a book-length project investigating early modern understanding of matter and materiality, and their expression in texts ranging from plays and poem to philosophical treatises and music books. She is also continuing to pursue her interests in conversion and the effects of religious change. Helen is one of the editors of The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in England, c. 1530-1720, and, with Simon Ditchfield, is editing a volume on the theme of Gender and Conversion. Her current research ranges from women in the livery guilds to animals in the household, and kitchen techniques in the printing house.


Helen would be delighted to receive proposals for doctoral research on most areas of Renaissance literature and culture, particularly on book history, women's writing and social and cultural labour, and materiality. She is interested in questions of sociability, embodiment and environment, and intermediality.

Helen works with a very strong group of doctoral candidates. Recent and current theses she has supervised include:

  • waste paper
  • narratives of needlework
  • taste in early modern England
  • ballads and history
  • women writers and masculine identity
  • the paper stages of the civil wars
  • Catholic objects


Selected publications


  • ‘Grossly material things’: women and book production in early modern England (Print. Oxford University Press, 2012: Oxford Scholarship Online, published September 2012, DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199651580.001.0001). Reviewed in Early Modern Literary Studies, The TLS, Renaissance Quarterly, Journal of the Northern Renaissance, Early Theatre, The Library, Textual Cultures, Essays in History, Journal of British Studies, and Women’s History Review.

Edited collections

  • Renaissance Paratexts (Cambridge University Press, 2011), co-edited with Louise Wilson.
  • The Oxford Handbook to the Bible in England, c. 1530-1700 (forthcoming, Oxford University Press, 2014), co-edited with Kevin Killeen and Rachel Willie.
  • Gender and Conversion: Religious Change and Sexed Identity in Early Modern Europe, co-edited with Simon Ditchfield (forthcoming).

 Articles and chapters

  • ‘“Metaphor, Cure, and Conversion in Early Modern England’, forthcoming in Renaissance Quarterly, 64.2 (Summer 2014).
  • ‘“This written paper”: Materializing Early Modern Women’s Writing’, in Patricia J. Pender and Rosalind Smith (eds), The Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing: Production, Transmission, Reception (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014; in press).
  • ‘Women’s Work’, in Matthew Dimmock, Andrew Hadfield, and Abigail Shinn (eds), The Ashgate Research Companion to Popular Culture in Early Modern England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014; in press).
  • ‘“Rare poemes ask rare friends”: Popularity and Collecting in Elizabethan England’, in Andy Kesson and Emma Smith (eds), The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 79-100.
  • ‘“My own small private library”: U.S. Armed Services Editions and the Culture of Collecting’, in Matthew Day and John Hinks (eds), From Compositors to Collectors: Essays on the Book Trade, 1660-2010 (New Castle, Delaware and London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2012), 337-353.
  • ‘“Imprinted by Simeon-such-a-signe”: Reading Early Modern Imprints’, in Helen Smith and Louise Wilson (eds), Renaissance Paratexts (Cambridge University Press, 2011), 17-33.
  • ‘“more swete vnto the eare / than holsome for ye mynde”: Embodying Early Modern Women’s Reading’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 73:3 (September 2010), 413-32.
  • ‘Old Authors, Women Writers, and the New Print Technology’, in Kent Cartwright (ed.), A Companion to Tudor Literature and Culture, 1485-1603 (Blackwells, 2010), 178-191.
  • ‘Shakespeare: A Man in Print?’, in Richard Meek, Jane Rickard, and Richard Wilson (eds), Shakespeare's Book: Essays in Reading, Writing and Reception (Manchester University Press, 2008), 59-78.
  • ‘The Publishing Trade in Shakespeare’s Time’, in Andrew Murphy (ed.), A Concise Companion to Shakespeare and the Text (London: Blackwells, 2007), 17-34.
  • ‘“This one poore blacke gowne lined with white”: The Clothing of the Sixteenth-century Book”, in Catherine Richardson (ed.), Clothing Culture: 1350-1650 (Ashgate, 2004), 194-208.
  • ‘“Print[ing] your royal father off”: Early Modern Female Stationers and the Gendering of the British Book Trades’, in TEXT: an Interdisciplinary Annual of Textual Studies, 15 (2003), 163-86.





Helen teaches across the Renaissance and early modern period, including the early and later Renaissance period modules. Her special module 'Women and Words in Early Modern England' explores women's relationship to language across a broad range of literary and historical texts. She frequently contributes to the dedicated English-History bridge module, 'Texts and Histories'. In 2009 she received a Vice-Chancellor's Teaching Award in recognition of her innovative teaching.


At MA level, Helen offers a ground-breaking course on 'Objects and the Early Modern', and contributes to the core courses for both the MA in Renaissance Literature and the Renaissance and Early Modern Studies MA.

Detail from Bruce Krebs, De Generation en Generation, La Rochelle

Contact details

Dr Helen Smith
Department of English and Related Literature
University of York
Y010 5DD

Tel: 44 1904 323353