Professor Alison Shell

Postgraduate Tutor

External phone: 020 7679 3150
Internal phone: 33150

Alison Shell

Education and Experience

Alison Shell was educated at the North London Collegiate School and Oxford University (B.A./M.A. and D.Phil.).

After a period as Rare Books Curator at the Royal Institute of British Architects, Alison became a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at UCL between 1994 and 1997. Her first permanent academic post was at the University of Durham, where she worked between 1997 and 2010.

Alison is an editor for the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies’ series ‘Catholic and Recusant Texts in Early Modern England’.

She reviews for the Times Literary Supplement, the Church Times and a number of academic journals.


Alison has published extensively on early modern literature and religion, manuscript circulation, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century book trade, and the intersections between literature and architectural history (see list of publications below). She is currently researching the architect Sir John Soane’s interest in Shakespeare for a forthcoming monograph, and working on an edition of Thomas Traherne’s Roman Forgeries for Oxford University Press. Other, longer-term projects include a study of Shakespeare and secularism, a book of essays on Catholic manuscript culture and an edition of Heywood’s Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels.

She has special interests within the following fields: Shakespeare and Renaissance drama; Tudor and Stuart poetry, especially the work of John Donne and Robert Southwell; the English and neo-Latin writing of post-Reformation British Catholics; early modern religious prose, especially the work of Thomas Traherne; early modern polemic and anti-Catholicism; the literature and imaginative representation of Anglicanism; folklore and superstition in early modern Britain; early modern book history and manuscript studies; the literature of antiquarianism; intersections of literature and architecture. She would welcome approaches from graduate students working in any of those fields.

Published books

Shakespeare and Religion (Arden Shakespeare, Critical Companions, 2010).

Oral Culture and Catholicism in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2007, paperback, XXXX). This volume was awarded the Dietz Prize by the journal Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900.

Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660 (Cambridge University Press, 1999, paperback 2006).

(with Alison Emblow) Index to the Court Books of the Stationers’ Company, 1679 to 1717 (Oxford University Press/ Bibliographical Society, 2007). I contributed all the entries for the years 1679-1697, the editorial material and a 15,000-word introduction. The volume was shortlisted for the Wheatley Medal of the Society of Indexers.

(co-edited with Giles Mandelbrote and Arnold Hunt) The Book Trade and its Customers (St Paul's Bibliographies, 1997). In it she authored ‘The Antiquarian Satirised: John Clubbe’s History and Antiquities of Wheatfield (1758)’, pp.243-273.

Published articles and book chapters (selected):

‘The Death of Donne’ in Jeanne Shami, M. Thomas Hester & Dennis Flynn (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Donne Studies (Oxford UP, 2011), pp.646-657.

‘The 16th- and 17th-Century ‘Lives’ of Edmund Gennings’, Recusant History, 30:2 (2010), pp.213-227.

‘Tragedy and Religion’, in Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan (eds), The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy (Cambridge UP, 2010), pp.44-57.

‘Seventeenth-Century Poetry: II (Herbert, Marvell, Vaughan, Crashaw, Philips)’ in The Cambridge History of English Poetry, ed. Michael O’Neill (Cambridge UP, 2010), pp.211-230.

(with Arnold Hunt), ‘The Book as Gift in Elizabethan Durham: Barnabe Barnes’s A Divine Centurie of Spiritual Sonnets’, in Paul Scott (ed.), Collaboration and Interdisciplinarity in the Republic of Letters (Manchester UP, 2010), pp.117-133.

‘Divine Muses, Catholic Poets and Pilgrims to St Winifred’s Well: Literary Communities in Francis Chetwinde’s “New Hellicon” (1642)’, in Roger Sell & Anthony Johnson (eds), Religion and Writing in England, 1558-1689: Studies in Community-Making and Cultural Memory (Ashgate, 2009), pp.273-88.

‘St Winifred’s Well in British Catholic Literary Culture’, in Peter Davidson and Jill Bepler (eds), Triumphs of the Defeated: Early Modern Festivals and Messages of Legitimacy (Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, 2007), pp.271-80.

‘Elizabeth Cary’s Historical Conscience: The Tragedy of Mariam and Thomas Lodge’s Josephus’, in Heather Wolfe (ed.), The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613-1680 (Palgrave, 2007), pp.53-67.

(With Peter Davidson) ‘Towards a Definition of “Baroque”’, PN Review, 33:1 (2006), pp.14-17.

Why Didn't Shakespeare Write Religious Verse?' in J.R. Mulryne & Takashi Kosuka (eds), Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson (Ashgate, 2006), pp.85-112.

(with Arnold Hunt) ‘John Donne’s Religious World’, in Achsah Guibbory (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to John Donne (Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp.65-82.

'"Furor Juvenilis": Post-Reformation English Catholic Mission and Exemplary Youthful Behaviour', in Ethan Shagan (ed.), Catholics and the Protestant Nation (Manchester University Press, 2005), pp.185-206. This volume went into paperback in 2009.

'"Often to my self I make my mone": Early Modern Women's Poetry from the Feilding Family', in Victoria Burke & Jonathan Gibson (eds), Early Modern Women's Writing in Manuscript (Ashgate, 2004), pp.259-77.

‘Donne and Sir Edward Hoby: Evidence for an Unrecorded Collaboration', in David Colclough (ed.), John Donne's Professional Lives (Boydell, 2003), pp.121-32.

'What is a Catholic Poem? Explicitness and Censorship in Tudor and Stuart Religious Verse', in Andrew Hadfield (ed.), Literature and Censorship in Renaissance England (Macmillan, 2001), pp.95-111.

'Autodidacticism in English Jesuit Drama: The Writings and Career of Joseph Simons', MaRDiE (Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England), 3 (2000), pp.34-56.

‘Multiple Religious Conversion and the Menippean Self: The Case of Richard Carpenter’, in Arthur Marotti (ed.) Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism in Seventeenth-Century Texts (Macmillan, 1999), pp.154-197.

‘Antiquarians, Local Politics and the Book Trade: The Publication of Philip Morant's History of Colchester (1748)’, The Library, 6th series, 21:3 (1999), pp.223-246.

`Popish Plots: The Feign’d Curtezans in Context’, in Janet Todd (ed.) Aphra Behn Studies (Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp.30-49.

`”We are made a spectacle”: Campion’s Dramas’, in Thomas McCoog & Joseph Munitiz (eds) The Reckoned Expense: Edmund Campion and the early English Jesuits (Boydell & Brewer, 1996), pp.103-118. This collection was reprinted in 2007.

`Publishing Pompeii: a Study in Cultural Censorships’, Biblion: The Journal of the New York Public Library (June 1996), pp.1-23.

`Catholic Texts and Anti-Catholic Prejudice in the Seventeenth-Century Book Trade’, in Robin Myers & Michael Harris (eds) Censorship and the Control of Print in England and France, 1600-1910 (St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1992), pp.33-57.

Co-editor of Early Printed Books, 1478-1840: Catalogue of the British Architectural Library Early Imprints Collection (London: Bowker-Saur), contributing to vols I-III (1994-1999). The set of volumes was given the Besterman Prize (awarded to a reference book) at the CILIP awards in November 2003.

Review articles and selected shorter pieces:

‘Recent Work on Robert Southwell’, Reformation, 14 (2009), pp.184-193.

Notices on William Lane and Jane Barker for the Missing Persons volume of the Dictionary of National Biography; notices on Anthony Rivers and Joseph Simons for the online Oxford DNB (2004).

Entries on 'Reformation and Counter-Reformation' and 'Jesuit Drama' for the Oxford Encyclopaedia of Theatre and Performance (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Entry on Robert Southwell for the Oxford Encyclopaedia of British Literature, ed. David Kastan (Oxford University Press, 2005).

‘Hymns and Prosopopoeia: Samuel Crossman’s ‘My Song is Love Unknown’, Religion and Literature, 42:3 (2010), pp.191-198.