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University of Oxford Faculty of English

Achinstein, Professor Sharon

Job Title: Professor of Renaissance Literature, CUF Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow
College: St Edmund Hall
Period/ Subject: Early Modern

Email address:

Research Interests:

My research has explored the intersection of literature and political communication in the early modern period, specifically focused on questions of toleration, religious dissent, and women’s participation. My two monographs, Milton and the Revolutionary Reader (1994) and Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England (2003) and two edited collections, Milton and Toleration (2007) and Literature, Gender and the English Revolution (1994),  in their different ways, demonstrated the significance of previously neglected bodies of literature in relation to the emerging public sphere and challenges to political and religious authority.  The major author through which I have charted these issues has been John Milton. I am also interested in the history of my discipline of Renaissance literary studies, exploring how the economic pressures and values of the post-war University in the USA shaped the study of renaissance literature.  My most recent research has placed the history of marriage in relation to literature, law, politics, and theology in my forthcoming edition of Milton’s writings on divorce (Oxford University Press), which has set Milton’s arguments more fully in line with Reformation politics, theology and gender struggles.  This project has developed my interests more broadly into the topic of secularism and early modernity, the subject of my current research.  Another strand is to study the history and theory of literary genre as a means to understand the media through which sociological change is experienced.

Teaching Areas:

She runs the Faculty Works- in-Progress colloquium, serves on the English Faculty Board, and has supervised graduate students working on dissertations on Milton; Post- Reformation Religious Literature; History of Political and Legal Thought; gender; Bunyan, and she warmly invites students in the fields of political, cultural and religious intersections with literature from the early modern period to make contact.

Recent Publications:

“Milton’s Trifles:  Lyric Disparagement in an Age of Walking Books,” Modern Language Quarterly 73:1 (2012)

“Saints or Citizens?  Ideas of Marriage in Seventeenth-Century English Republicanism,” The Seventeenth Century 25:2 (2010)

Milton and Toleration, co-ed. with Elizabeth Sauer ISBN 078-0-19-929593-7 (Oxford, 2007), winner of
the Irene M. Samuel Award of the Milton Society of America.
Literature and Dissent in Milton's England (HB ISBN: 0521818044/PB ISBN: 0521050707 (Cambridge,

Over thirty articles on seventeenth century literature. These include:
Published Essays:
2008 “Cold War Milton,” University of Toronto Quarterly 77:3 (2008), 801-836: Special Issue on Milton
in America, ed. Paul Stevens and Patricia Simmons.
2008 “Cloudless Thunder: Milton and History” Milton StudiesXLVIII , 1-12 .
2007 (with Elizabeth Sauer), “Milton and Toleration: An Introduction” in Milton and Toleration, eds.,
Elizabeth Sauer and Sharon Achinstein (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Volume winnter of Irene
Samuel Award, Milton Society of America, 2008.
2007 “Toleration in Milton’s Epics: A Chimera?” in Milton and Toleration, eds., Elizabeth Sauer and
Sharon Achinstein (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Volume winnter of Irene Samuel Award, Milton
Society of America, 2008.
2007 “John Bunyan and the Politics of Memory” in Vera Camden, ed., John Bunyan: New Essays
(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press)
2007 (with Marshall Grossman), “Ethics or Politics? An Exchange Passing through Areopagitica” in
Marshall Grossman, ed., Reading Renaissance Ethics (London: Routledge).
2007 “Mary Astell, Religion, and Feminism” in William Kolbrener and Michal Michelson, eds., Mary
Astell: Reason, Gender, Faith (Aldershot: Ashgate).
2006 “George Herbert in the Restoration,” English Literary Renaissance 36:3 (2006), 428-63.
2004 “Dryden and Dissent” in Maximillian E. Novak and Jayne Lewis, eds., Enchanted Ground:
Reimagining John Dryden (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), 70-90.
2003 “When civil fury first grew high: Politics and Incivility in Restoration England,” in Jennifer
Richards, ed., Early Modern Civil Discourses, (London: Palgrave), 85-98.
2003 “Pleasure by Description: Elizabeth Singer Rowe’s Enlightened Milton,” in Milton and the
Grounds of Contention, eds., Mark Kelley, Michael Lieb and John T. Shawcross (Pittsburgh: Duquesne
University Press), 64-87.
2002 “Samson Agonistes and the Politics of Memory,” Altering Eyes: New Perspectives on Samson
Agonistes,” eds., Joseph Wittreich and Mark Kelley (Newark: University of Delaware Press), 168-191.
2002 “Romance of the Spirit: Female Sexuality and Religious Desire in Early Modern England,
English Literary History 69, 413-438.
2001 “John Foxe and the Jews,” Renaissance Quarterly 54, 86-120.
2001 “Samson Agonistes,” in Thomas N. Corns, ed., A Companion to Milton (Oxford: Blackwell),
411-428. Volume winner of the Irene M. Samuel Award, Milton Society of America (2002).
2001 “Texts in Conflict: The Press and the Civil War,” in Neil Keeble, ed., The Cambridge Companion
to the writing of the English Revolution (Cambridge University Press), 50-68.
2000 “Honey from the Lion’s Carcass: Bunyan, Allegory and the Samsonian Moment,” in David Gay,
James R. Randall and Arlette Zinck, eds., Awakening Words: John Bunyan and the Language of
Community (Newark: Univ. of Delaware), 68-80.
1999 “Milton and King Charles,” in Thomas N. Corns, ed., The Royal Image (Cambridge University
Press), 141-61.
1999 “Imperial Dialectic: Milton and Conquered Peoples,” in Elizabeth Sauer and B. Rajan, eds.,
Milton and the Imperial Vision (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press), 67-89. Volume winner of the
Irene M. Samuel Award, Milton Society of America (2000).
1999 “Milton and the Fit Reader,” in Robert DeMaria, Jr., ed., British Literature, 1640-1789: A
Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell).
1997 “Milton’s Spectre in the Restoration: Marvell, Dryden and Literary Enthusiasm,” Huntington
Library Quarterly 58,2: 1-30.
1996 “Samson Agonistes and the Drama of Dissent,” Milton Studies 33: 133-58. Volume winner of
the Irene M. Samuel Award, Milton Society of America (1997).
1994 “Women on Top in the Pamphlet Literature of the English Revolution,” Women’s Studies 24,1:
Rept. in Lorna Hutson, ed., Feminism and Renaissance Studies: Oxford Readings in Feminism (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2000), 339-372.
1994 “Introduction: Gender, Literature and the English Revolution,” Women’s Studies 24,1: 1-13.
1994 “The Uses of Deception: From Cromwell to Milton,” in The Witness of Times: Manifestations of
Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England, eds., Gerald J. Schiffhorst and Katherine Z. Keller (Pittsburgh:
Duquesne University Press, 1994), 174-200.
1991 “The Politics of Babel in the English Revolution,” Prose Studies 14,3: 14-44.
Rept. in James Holstun, ed., Pamphlet Wars: Prose in the English Revolution (London: Cass, 1992).
1992 “Milton Catches the Conscience of the King: Eikonoklastes and the Engagement Controversy,
Milton Studies 28: 143-164.
1992 “Plagues and Publication; Renaissance Popular Ballads and the Representation of Disease in
the English Renaissance,
” Criticism 34,1: 27-49.
Rept. in Twentieth Century Literature Criticism (Detroit: Gale Research, 1996).
1992 “Audiences and Authors: Ballads and the Making of English Renaissance literary Culture,” The
Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 22,3: 311-26.
1989 “How to be a Progressive without Looking Like One: History and Knowledge in Bacon’s New
Atlantis,” Clio 17,3: 249-264.

2007-08 “John Milton: 1608-2008”: An exhibition to celebrate the Quatercentenary of John Milton,
Bodleian Library, Oxford. With accompanying catalogue.

Exhibition Catalogues:
2007 Citizen Milton: (Bodleian Library ISBN 1-85124-302X)
2007 Citizen Milton website

Other Information:

Sharon Achinstein is a specialist on Milton and the literature of the seventeenth century, focussing on political and religious questions in the longer histories of political, religious and cultural enfranchisement. With book publications including Milton and the Revolutionary Reader (Princeton, 1994), Literature and Dissent in Milton's England (Cambridge, 2003), and editing essay collections, Literature, Gender and the English Revolution (1994) and Milton and Toleration (Oxford, 2007), she is currently editing Milton's Divorce Tracts for Oxford University Press and preparing an exhibition at the Bodleian Library on John Milton 1608-2008. Dr Achinstein has published numerous articles on topics including John Foxe and the Jews, sexuality and spirituality, Elizabeth Rowe, the reception of Herbert, historicism, and the history of print. She received a BA from Harvard, a Ph.D from Princeton, and was a tenured Professor at Northwestern University and the University of Maryland before coming to Oxford in 2002, where she is currently Professor of Renaissance Literature and a Fellow of St Edmund Hall.

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