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Professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures+44 (0) 191 33 43444
Director in the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 


Research Interests

My research interests lie in French language and literature, broadly conceived, with a particular emphasis on early modern studies, comparative and world literature, translation and transcultural studies, word histories, and questions of critical method. 

I am the author of Émigrés: French Words That Turned English (2020); Montaigne and the Art of Free-Thinking (2010); and The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe: Encounters with a Certain Something (2005). Other publications include Thinking with Shakespeare: Comparative and Interdisciplinary Essays (2007); Fiction and the Frontiers of Knowledge in Europe, 15001800 (2010); Caribbean Globalizations, 1492 to the Present Day (2015); and Montaigne in Transit: Essays in Honour of Ian Maclean (2016). My work has appeared in several languages and my first two monographs (2005, 2010) were translated into French.

Current Research

My current research, funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2021-24), explores reponses to Thomas More’s Utopia across the early modern world and asks what these responses add to our wider understanding of utopianism. Utopian studies tend to overlook the global reception of More’s 1516 landmark work before Bacon's New Atlantis (1627). Yet More's earlier readers, I suggest, decisively shaped the development of utopian literature and thought. Their most important contribution, producing a myriad of alternative worlds, was a border-crossing culture of invention that saw Utopia variously – and controversially – translated, remade, and rethought.

This project is related to the ongoing work of broader collaborative projects in which I am involved. I co-direct an international research group based at Durham's Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Early Modern Keywords, whose aim is to compile a new vocabulary of early modern European culture and society in a multilingual and interdisciplinary perspective. I am also a member of Storming Utopia. The project has so far seen an intergenerational group performing a ‘tempestuous experiment in practical utopianism’ in several ways: making a new piece of theatre that draws on More’s Utopia, Shakespeare’s Tempest, and Montaigne’s essay ‘On Cannibals’; performing the show in Oxford and Venice; and running events enabling members of the public to engage in the questions of research and creative practice that lie at the heart of the project. I previously directed a major collaborative project exploring evolutions of Caribbean cultural identity in the long age of globalization.

International Collaborations

Co-director of Early Modern Keywords with Ita Mac Carthy (Durham). This international research project aims to do for early European modernity what Raymond Williams did for British modernity in Keywords (1976). Our work, unlike his, involves taking a multilingual approach and reflecting on questions of method. The project thus offers a unique interdisciplinary interface for language-based research in intellectual, cultural, and social history, the history of art, linguistic and literary studies, and politics. Having published Renaissance Keywords, ed. Ita Mac Carthy (Legenda, 2013), we have held meetings at the University of Oxford (2014) and the Fondazione Cini in Venice (2016 and 2018).

Member of CEIPPREM (Centre d’études interdisciplinaires sur Pascal, Port-Royal, et l’Europe moderne) led by Alain Cantillon (Université de Paris-III Sorbonne Nouvelle) (since 2018).

Founder of The Oxford-Venice Initiative, a series of collaborations between the Fondazione Giorgio Cini (Venice) and the University of Oxford’s Humanities Division (201418).

Member of the ANR-funded AGÔN research project led by Alexis Tadié (Université de Paris-IV Sorbonne) and Prof. Alain Viala (University of Oxford and Université de Paris-III Sorbonne Nouvelle), investigating cases, quarrels, and controversies in early modern France and England (201015). 

Visiting Fellow, Theorizing Early Modern Studies Collaborative, University of Minnesota (2007). 

Member of the interdisciplinary international early modern research group Les Frontières de la modernité (20037).

Postgraduate Supervision

I have supervised PhD students working on a range of topics, including French studies, comparative literature, word histories, and intellectual history. I would welcome enquiries from students who wish to pursue PhDs in these fields and all others related to my research interests.

In September 2021 I began a three-year period of research leave thanks to the award by the Leverhulme Trust of a Major Research Fellowship. I moved to Durham University in 2019 to take up the Chair in French created by way of succession to Lucille Cairns and John O’Brien. I had spent the previous thirteen years at Oxford, as Fellow and Tutor in French at Oriel College, and as (first) University Lecturer in French and (latterly) Professor of French and Comparative Literature. 

I am the founding General Editor of Translatio, a book series published by Durham University IMEMS Press, exploring pre-modern translation in all its guises. I am a former Editor of Early Modern French Studies, the journal of the UK Society for Early Modern French Studies, on whose Executive Committee I sit. I am a Member of the Jury du Prix XVIIe siècle (on behalf of La Société d’Étude du XVIIe siècle, France) and of the Editorial Board for the French Renaissance Texts in Translation (FRTT) series published by AMS Press (New York).

I am the recipient of a Philip Leverhulme Prize and a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques. I have held visiting research positions at several national and international universities and research libraries. 

I was Deputy Head in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham in the period 2019-2021. While at Oxford, I served as the University’s Humanities Division Knowledge Exchange and Public Engagement Lead, developing partnerships with non-academic institutions in and beyond the UK.

Research interests

  • French language and literature
  • Early modern studies
  • Comparative literature
  • Translation and transcultural studies
  • Word histories
  • Critical methodologies


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