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Professor Nicholas McDowell

Professor of Early Modern Literature and Thought

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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, 150,000-word study of the intellectual development 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.This project was assisted in 2014-15 by the award of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship and will result in a book, The English Rabelais: Translating Laughter from the Elizabethans to the Eighteenth-Century Novel.

He is also 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 fruits of which are articles in Essays in Criticism ('Towards a Poetics of Civil War') and Global Intellectual History ('Civil Wars of Words').

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:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/feb/26/highereducationprofile.academicexperts

His administrative roles have included Director of Research in the Department of English at Exeter, now one of the largest English departments in the world with over 70 permanent staff, in 2011-13 and 2015-17.

Research interests


 

Literary, cultural and intellectual history c. 1500-1780, specializing in poetry and prose.

Topics and authors on which Professor McDowell has published include

  • literature and the English Civil Wars
  • literature and political allegiance
  • theology and religious difference
  • heresy, heterodoxy and radicalism
  • translation and literary transmission, particularly Anglo-French contexts
  • education, humanism and the universities
  • patronage and literary circles
  • representations of Ireland; connections between early modern English and modern Irish poetry
  • scholarly editing and textual studies
  • Milton
  • Marvell
  • Herrick, Lovelace, and the ‘Cavalier' poets
  • Swift

Nicholas McDowell's doctoral thesis was on the relationship between humanist educational culture and radical writing during the English Revolution, and was published in 2003 by Oxford University Press in the Oxford English Monographs series as The English Radical Imagination: Culture, Religion, and Revolution, 1630-1660. See http://www.oup.co.uk/isbn/0-19-926051-6

His second monograph, Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars: Marvell and the Cause of Wit (Oxford University Press, 2008), is on the relationship between allegiance, patronage and literary admiration in England between 1642 and 1660. The central focus is on the vexed question of Andrew Marvell's early political identity and the book seeks to make sense of Marvell's early poetic and political activity in the context of the decisions of his friends and fellow poets, including Milton and Lovelace. See http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780199278008

He is the editor, with Nigel Smith, of The Oxford Handbook of Milton (Oxford University Press, 2009; paperback, 2011), a collection of newly-commissioned research essays ranging across the poetry and prose by 35 leading scholars. This volume was awarded the Irene Samuel Award of the Milton Society of America for most distinguished collectionon John Milton. See http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780199210886 

He is the editor, with N. H. Keeble, of The Oxford Complete Works of John Milton. Volme VI: Vernacular Regicide and Republican Writings (Oxford University Press, 2013), for which he completed a 230,000-word scholarly edition, the first in 50 years, of Milton's 1649 prose writings in defence of the execution of Charles I and on behalf of the English republic. This volume was awarded the 2015 John T. Shawcross Award of the Milton Society of America. See  http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/academic/series/literature/oetjm/9780199218059.do

Currently he is writing an extensive intellectual biography of John Milton, commissioned by Princeton University Press, and editing, with his Exeter colleague Henry Power, The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1640-1714.

He is a contributing editor of Critical Quarterly and has edited a special issue on the theme of 'Shakespeare, Milton and the Early Modern: Current Issues and Future Approaches' (52, 4, 2010). See http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/criq.2010.52.issue-4/issuetoc 

He was one of the Associate Editors, with responsibility for 1625-1660, of The Encyclopedia of English Reniassance Literature, 3 vols. (Blackwell, 2012), general eds. Garrett Sullivan and Alan Stewart, assoc. eds. Rebecca Lemon, Nicholas McDowell, and Jennifer Richards.

In 2007 he was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize by the Leverhulme Trust in the category of Modern European Languages. Prizes are awarded to ‘outstanding scholars (normally under the age of 36) who have made a substantial contribution to their particular field of study, recognized at an international level, and whose future contributions are held to be of correspondingly high promise.’

In 2009-10 he was The Herodotus Fund Member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

In 2010-11 he was a Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, Cambridge, as part of the 2009-11 theme of ‘The Future University’.

In 2014-15 he was a Leverhulme Research Fellow, working on a new project which derives from his earlier essays on the reception and translation of Rabelais: 'The English Rabelais: Translation, Morality and Fiction, 1580-1780'. 

Research supervision

Professor McDowell currently supervises AHRC-funded doctoral students working on Milton, Marvell and Anglo-Dutch relations and on Milton and materialist philosophies. He will be pleased to discuss potential doctoral projects relating to literature and culture in Britain, c. 1500-1750.

Topics on which he can offer expert supervison include:

  • early modern poetry
  • early modern prose
  • literature and the English Civil Wars
  • literature and political allegiance
  • literature and religious difference / theology / the Bible
  • heterodoxy and radical ideas
  • translation and literary transmission, especially Anglo-French
  • education, humanism and the universities
  • literary patronage and literary communities
  • representations of Ireland / the Irish
  • scholarly editing and textual studies
  • connections between early modern and modern poetry
  • 17th-century reception of Shakespeare
  • Milton
  • Andrew Marvell
  • Herrick, Lovelace and the 'Cavalier' Poets
  • Swift and eighteenth-century satire

Biography

Nicholas McDowell was born and brought up in Belfast, where he was educated at a city-centre grammar school, The Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He left Northern Ireland to read English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating with a first-class BA degree and the title of Scholar 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 2000 to take up a lectureship in the Department of English at the University of Exeter, where he has since been Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor. He was promoted to a Personal Chair in 2012. 

He has held visiting interdisciplinary research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (2009-10), where he was the Herodotus Fund Member of the School of Historical Studies, and the Centre for Research into the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, Cambridge (2010-11), where he was a 'Future University' Visiting Fellow and also a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College.