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Helen Smith



A graduate of Glasgow and York, Helen taught at St Andrews and Hertfordshire before returning to York in 2004. Her wide-ranging interests embrace Renaissance poetry, drama, and prose; history of the book; feminist literary history and theory; religion and conversion; the history of reading; and materiality.

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

Her 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 and the DeLong Book History Prize. Helen is co-editor of Renaissance Paratexts  (Cambridge University Press, 2011; paperback 2014), The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, c. 1530-1700 (Oxford University Press, 2015; awarded the Roland H. Bainton Reference Prize), and Conversions: Gender and Religious Change in Early Modern Europe (Manchester University Press, 2017).

Helen’s current monograph project investigates the liveliness of matter and its dramatic and poetic expression in the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries. With Simon Ditchfield (History), Helen co-directed the AHRC-funded project Conversion Narratives in Early Modern Europe.  She was Principal Investigator for the AHRC Research Network Imagining Jerusalem, c. 1099 to the Present Day.

Helen is founding co-director of Thin Ice Press, the Department of English & Related Literature’s in-house letterpress studio.



Helen’s book, Grossly Material Things, and edited collection, Renaissance Paratexts, have shaped recent debates about the presence of women as actors and agents in the literary marketplace, and the effects of books on early modern readers. 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, while 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 a distinctly multi-cultural Europe.

Helen has given papers, invited lectures and keynotes to a wide range of audiences across the world, and enjoys giving public talks about her work. She collaborated with Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire for an exhibition on the theme of ‘Virtue and Vice’, which included the staging of a ‘flash quartet’. Her work formed one of the department’s impact submissions to REF 2014.

Helen is founding co-director of Thin Ice Press, a working letterpress studio and imprint, which also offers public workshops, events and training.


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 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: recovering 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 in early modern England
  • 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 and manuscript culture
  • early modern biocitizenship
  • disability, religion and gender in late medieval and early modern England
  • early modern bibliotherapy
  • the rhetoric of seventeenth-century conversion narratives

Helen is 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.



Helen teaches across the Renaissance and early modern period at both undergraduate and MA level, and lectures on everything from interdisciplinarity to animal studies. She pioneered our innovative English-History bridge module, ‘Texts and Histories’, and has received a Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Award in recognition of her dedication to teaching and learning.


At MA level, Helen offers a groundbreaking 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

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

Tel: +44 (0)1904 323353