Helen Smith



A graduate of Glasgow and York, Helen taught at St Andrews and Hertfordshire before returning to York in 2004. Helen is currently Director of the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies. Her wide-ranging research interests embrace Renaissance poetry, drama, and prose; history of the book; feminist literary history and theory; conversion; the Bible; the history of reading; and materiality.

Helen’s first monograph, Grossly Material Things: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England  (Oxford University Press, 2012), was awarded 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. She is co-editor of Renaissance Paratexts  (Cambridge University Press, 2011; paperback, 2014), and of The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, c. 1530-1700.  Conversions: Gender and Religious Change in Early Modern Europe, co-edited with Simon Ditchfield is forthcoming from Manchester University Press in 2016.

Helen has published numerous articles and chapters on topics ranging from the printing of Shakespeare’s early plays to the links between reading and digestion, and from the cultural and domestic presence of animals to the imaginative connections between physical illness and spiritual trial.

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. Helen is Research Leader for the 2015-16 academic year on the SSHRC-funded project Early Modern Conversions [http://earlymodernconversions.com/].

Helen’s current monograph investigates the liveliness of matter and its dramatic and poetic expression in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries. She was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in support of this project in 2014.



Helen’s book, Grossly Material Things, and edited collection, Renaissance Paratexts, have done much to shape recent debates about the presence of women as actors and agents in the literary marketplace, and the shaping effects of books on their readers during the early modern period.

The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England is the first comprehensive study of the English Bible across the two centuries following the Reformation, whilst Conversions: Gender and Religious Change in Early Modern Europe, breaks new ground in considering the intimate connections between religious identity and the sexed self across and beyond Europe during a distinctly multi-cultural age.

Helen has organised conferences and seminars on the themes of ‘Remembering Jerusalem’, ‘Narrative Conversions’, ‘Women and the Popular’, ‘Conversion and Gender’, ‘Music, Space, and Sociability’, ‘Conversion Narratives in the Early Modern World’, ‘Books on the Battlefield’, ‘Renaissance Paratexts’, and ‘Texts, Ma(r)kers, Markets’. With Simon Ditchfield, she directed a Weekend Faculty Seminar on ‘Narratives of Conversion in Reformation Europe’ at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, and with Matthew Dimmock (Sussex) she led a seminar on ‘The Language of Religious and Cultural Encounter’ at the Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting in 2014.

Helen has given a number of public talks and lectures related to her research, as well as collaborating with Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire for an exhibition on the theme of ‘Virtue and Vice’, which included the staging of a ‘flash quartet’ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3-xOHp6kho]. Her work formed one of the department’s impact submissions to REF 2014.


Helen’s current projects include an ambitious account of early modern materiality, which traces the liveliness of matter and makes the case for literature as a means of engaging with, experiencing, and assaying the world around us. She is also at work on a project which considers the book as an object of attention in the Renaissance: its sensuous, aesthetic, and conceptual appeal to artists, natural philosophers, and poets, as well as to printers and readers.


Helen is delighted to work with an outstanding group of doctoral candidates. She has supervised doctoral theses on:

  • proximal intertextuality: book form and poetics in the 1590s
  • the physical and imaginative spaces of early modern science
  • waste paper
  • narratives of needlework
  • recipe books and food knowledge in early modern England and Iberia
  • taste in early modern England
  • ballads and history
  • women writers and masculine identity
  • the paper stages of the civil wars
  • Catholic women writers

Helen would be happy to receive proposals for doctoral research in any area of Renaissance literature and culture, particularly on questions of materiality and the history of science and philosophy; book history and material texts; and women as authors, workers, and cultural agents. She is interested in questions of sociability, embodiment and environment, and intermediality.



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