Photo of Professor Nicholas McDowell

Professor Nicholas McDowell

Professor of Early Modern Literature and Thought


Extension: 4269

Telephone: 01392 724269


Nicholas McDowell was born and brought up in Belfast, where he was educated at the city-centre grammar school, Belfast 'Inst'. He left to read English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating with a first-class BA degree in 1994. He then moved to Oriel College, Oxford, to complete M.Phil. (1996) and D.Phil. degrees (2000).

In 1998 he was elected to a stipendiary Research Fellowship of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge; he left this post in January 2001 to take up a lectureship in the Department of English at the University of Exeter, where he has since been Senior Lecturer (2005) and Associate Professor (2009). He was promoted to a Personal Chair at the beginning of 2012. As departmental Director of Research from 2011-13, he advised colleagues on their research plans and applications and compiled all elements of the 2014 REF submission for what is now one of the largest English departments in the UK, with over 60 full-time academic staff. 

Professor McDowell held an AHRC research leave award in 2004, was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize in the category of Modern European Languages in 2007, and has held visiting interdisciplinary research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (2009) and the Centre for Research into the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, Cambridge (2011). He is a Leverhulme Research Fellow for the academic year 2014-15.

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). He is the editor, with Nigel Smith, of The Oxford Handbook of Milton (Oxford University Press, 2009; paperback, 2011), which won the Irene Samuel Award of the Milton Society of America for the most distinguished collection on John Milton, 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 has completed a new 230,000-word scholarly edition, the first for over 50 years, of Milton's 1649 prose works in defence of the execution of Charles I and on behalf of the English republic. This volume has won the 2014 John T. Shawcross award of the Milton Society of America.

Professor McDowell has published over forty essays in books and journals, including 'How Laudian was the Young Milton?' (Milton Studies 52), which won the James Holly Hanford Award of the Milton Society of America for the most distinguished essay published on Milton in 2011. Recent published work includes essays on Milton and Ireland in The Plantation of Ulster: Ideology and Practice (2012), on Marvell's relations with both Cavaliers and Cromwellians in The Oxford Handbook of Literature and the English Revolution (2012), on Tudor and early Stuart political prose in The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1500-1640 (2013), on Milton's idea of Shakespeare as a 'British' writer in Celtic Shakespeare (2013) and on Milton's place in the Western history of toleration in Religious Tolerance in the Atlantic World: Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives (2014). Forthcoming publications include the chapter on Rabelais for the first volume of The Oxford History of the Novel in English and an essay on heterodox uses of biblical scholarship for The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in England,c. 1530-1700. He is currently editing, with his Exeter colleague Henry Power, a new 40-chapter volume, The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1640-1714.

Much of Professor McDowell's work is characterized by a strongly biographical and contextual approach which combines literary formalism with cultural and intellectual history, exemplified by the book that he is currently completing for Princeton University Press: An Intellectual Life of John Milton. During his 2014-15 Leverhulme Research Fellowship, he will be working on a new project which encompasses the cultural politics of translation from French into English and the development of the early English novel: 'The English Rabelais: Translation, Morality and Fiction, 1580-1780'. A longer-term project is a comparative and connected study of poetic responses to civil war in 17th-century Britain and 20th-century Ireland.

He has examined doctorates at Royal Holloway, London (on Marvell and justice), Trinity College Dublin (on Restoration plague literature), University College Cork (on Milton and romance) and the University of Leicester (on Marvell and privacy). He is external examiner of the Masters degree in English (1550-1700) at the University of Oxford from 2012-15. He is a contributing editor of Critical Quarterly, editor of the 17th-century section of Literature Compass, Associate Editor of the Blackwell Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature (3 vols., 2012) and a founding member of the editorial board of Marvell Studies.

Professor McDowell currently supervises AHRC-funded doctoral students working on Milton, Marvell and Anglo-Dutch relations and on Milton and materialist philosophies and will be pleased to discuss potential doctoral projects.

Professor McDowell has spoken on several occasions on BBC Radio Ulster on the subject of Milton and Ireland, and an extensive interview with The Guardian about Professor McDowell's career and research can be accessed here: