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Brian Cummings came to York in October 2012 as one of sixteen Anniversary Professors appointed across the arts and sciences to promote the University’s international research profile in its 50th year. Before moving to York he was Professor of English at the University of Sussex, where he co-founded the Centre for Early Modern Studies in 2004. In Spring 2014 he was Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, based at the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. He has also held Visiting Fellowships in Los Angeles, Munich, and Oxford, and he was previously Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Among a number of academic honours he has given the Shakespeare Birthday Lecture in Washington D.C. in 2014, the Clarendon Lectures in Oxford in 2012-13, and the British Academy Shakespeare Lecture in 2012. From 2009-2012 he held a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, and in 2007 he was a British Academy Exchange Fellow. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, one of the oldest learned societies in the world.
As well as his academic work, he was guest curator for the Diamond Jubilee Exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library from May to July 2012, which was opened by the Prince of Wales and Archbishop Rowan Williams; the exhibition was called Royal Devotion: the Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer. He has also talked on BBC Radio 3 and BBC South East TV.
He is known for his research in a number of fields, including Shakespeare and Renaissance literature; Erasmus, humanism and the history of philosophy; religion and secularity; the history of the book; the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer; poetry and poetics (including modern poetry and literary theory). He has given lectures on these subjects at universities all over the world, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Western Australia, the University of Oslo, Freie Universität in Berlin, LMU in Munich, the European University Institute in Florence, and the Royal Dutch Academy of Science in Amsterdam.
Professor Cummings has written widely on sixteenth-century religion and literature, including an edition of The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. His book The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace has profoundly influenced scholarly thinking about the poetics of religion. His latest book, Mortal Thoughts: Religion, Secularity and Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture, appeared in 2013, and considers the debate around secular and post-secular concepts of culture. In 2012 he gave the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford University on the subject of ‘Bibliophobia: Power and Fear in the History of the Book’, the title of his next book. He has also published widely in journals such as Shakespeare Survey, English Literary Renaissance and Studies in Church History, and is a contributor to The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (1999), The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) and The Oxford Companion to the Book (2010).
He has co-organized international conferences on the boundary between Medieval and Renaissance literature (at Harvard); on the relation between science and literature (a Royal Society conference on Newton and Milton); and most recently on Shakespeare and the current state of literary biography (at the Folger Library in Washington D.C.). In July 2007 he co-directed the 32nd International Summer School for Doctoral Students at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. He has been involved in research projects funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in Munich in Germany; the The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in Amsterdam; and the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
For the MA programme at York he teaches courses on Shakespeare; and on Religion and the Book: the latter course involves specialist training in bibliography and book history and is taught at York Minster Library using early printed materials. He has supervised doctoral dissertations on Sidney and Renaissance poetics; civil war literature and politics; early bilingual dictionaries; ruins in post-Reformation England; the Geneva Bible; concepts of space in early modern science; Milton and the passions; and also on topics in modern literary theory and philosophy (truth in literature; the idea of the canon) and modern prose and poetry (Beckett; Geoffrey Hill; Ted Hughes). He welcomes proposals for doctoral work in these and related areas.
His current projects include an iconoclastic study of Shakespearean biography called an ‘anti-biography’; a wide-ranging history of the book as a physical artefact (both as a cult object and an object of fear and anxiety); and an edition of the philosophical poems of Fulke Greville (in the Oxford Edition of the Works of Fulke Greville, edited with Freya Sierhuis).