Professor Nicholas McDowell

Professor of Early Modern Literature and Thought


Extension: 4269

Telephone: 01392 724269

Nicholas McDowell's principal interest is the literary, cultural and intellectual history of the period 1500-1780, with particular focus on the Civil Wars of the 17th-century, and on major literary figures of that period, pre-eminently John Milton and Andrew Marvell. A subsidary interest is the legacy of 17th-century ideas and conflicts in the modern world, especially 20th-century Ireland.

Professor McDowell grew up in Belfast and was educated at Cambridge and Oxford. He is the author of The English Radical Imagination: Culture, Religion, and Revolution, 1630-1660 (Oxford University Press, 2003) and Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars: Marvell and the Cause of Wit (Oxford University Press, 2008); and the editor, with Nigel Smith, of The Oxford Handbook of Milton (Oxford University Press, 2009; paperback, 2011), and, with N. H. Keeble, of The Oxford Complete Works of John Milton. Volume VI: Vernacular Regicide and Republican Writings (Oxford University Press, 2013), for which he completed a new scholarly edition of Milton's prose works in defence of the execution of Charles I. He has published over 40 articles and book chapters, on topics ranging from political prose in Tudor England to Jonathan Swift's satirical voices.

Currently he is finishing Poet of Revolution, a major study of the intellectual life of John Milton commissioned by Princeton University Press, and working on a study of the translation and reception of Rabelais in 17th- and 18th-century Britain, a project assisted in 2014-15 by the award of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship: this will result in a book, The English Rabelais: from the Elizabethans to 'Tristram Shandy'. He is editing, with his Exeter colleague Henry Power, The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1640-1714. A longer-term project is a comparative study of civil war poetry in 17th-century Britain and 20th-century Ireland, the first fruit of which is an article in Essays in Criticism, 'Towards a Poetics of Civil War'. 

Professor McDowell's research has been recognized by the award of a Philip Leverhulme Prize in Modern European Languages, and in recent years he has won three of the annual awards of the Milton Society of America for the most distinguished publication on John Milton (the Irene Samuel Award for a collection of essays in 2011, the James Holly Hanford Award for an essay in 2013 and the John T. Shawrcoss Award for an edition in 2015). He has held visiting fellowships in Princeton and Cambridge. An interview in The Guardian with Professor McDowell about his career and research can be accessed here:

He is currently Director of Research in the Department of English at Exeter, one of the largest English departments in the UK, with over 60 academic staff. 

Forthcoming talks:

17 November 2016

'The Poetry of Civil War: from Andrew Marvell to Seamus Heaney'

Herbert English Society, Jesus College, Oxford


1-3 December 2016

'Civil Wars'

Political Thought in Times of Crisis - A Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought Symposium, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC


13 January 2017

'New Book Symposium - David Armitage's Civil War: A History in Ideas'

Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context, Law Building, Queen Mary University of London


30 March-1 April 2017

'Marvell and the Poetics of Civil War'

Andrew Marvell Society session, Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago


22 April 2017

'The Poetics of Civil War: Shakespeare to Marvell (to W.B. Yeats)'

Irish Renaissance Seminar plenary, University College Dublin


15 June 2017

'The Religion of John Milton'

Religon in the British Isles, 1400-1700, Seminar, Keble College, Oxford


4 July 2017

'The Intellectual Life of John Milton'

Early Modern Intellectual Biographies, Newcastle University