Dr Joe Moshenska, Trinity



Biographical Information

After receiving my BA from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge,  I spent a year at Princeton as the Eliza Jane Procter Visiting Fellow.  I stayed in Princeton to complete my PhD, and was elected as a fellow of Trinity College in 2010.  I am one of the Directors of Studies in English at Trinity, where I mostly teach Renaissance literature with some forays into earlier and later periods.  A lot of this teaching ends up circling, in one way or another, around the relationship between words and bodies. I especially enjoy teaching the Tragedy paper, which allows me to leap from Shakespeare to later passions such as Hegel, The Wire, and Cindy Sherman.  I often supervise undergraduate dissertations on Spenser and Milton, and on connections between literature, science and theology. I've had particular fun working with students on topics such as slime, puppets and honey in renaissance literature. 


Research Interests

My first book, Feeling Pleasures: The Sense of Touch in Renaissance England (OUP, 2014; paperback 2017), explored the varied and contested importance of touch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  I combined sustained analyses of specific figures - particularly Edmund Spenser, Lancelot Andrewes, and John Milton - with explorations of a variety of contexts: the touching of relics and the Eucharist, of paintings and sculptures, the role of touch in faith healing and experimental science, the philosophical history of tickling, and the early reception of Chinese medicine in England.

My current research has two strands.  The first of these concerns the seventeenth century polymath Kenelm Digby (1603-65), whose interests spanned literature, theology, natural philosophy, mathematics, alchemy and cookery.  My book - A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby - was published by William Heinemann in May 2016 (paperback 2017). It has been nominated for the James Tait Black Prize for biography, and the Elizabeth Longford Award for historical biography.

In this book I tell the story of Digby’s voyage around the Mediterranean in 1628, during which he fought a sea-battle near Turkey, freed English slaves from Algiers, collected Arabic manuscripts, stole ancient statues, and wrote criticism on Spenser’s poetry and a romance autobiography on a Greek island. I am also editing Digby's correspondence (under contract with OUP), for which I have discovered a significant number of new letters.

The second strand of my research is a book provisionally titled Iconoclasm as Child’s Play (under contract with Stanford University Press), which begins with the fact that, during the Reformation, holy things were sometimes given to children as toys rather than being broken or burned.  In it I consider the conceptual intersections between iconoclasm and play in sixteenth century culture, in later philosophical writing (especially Adorno and Gell), and in the poetry of Spenser.  An article on Spenser emerging from this work is forthcoming in PMLA.

In January 2017 I presented parts of my work on iconoclasm and play during a week as a Visiting Distinguished Scholar at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at UCLA.

My research has been supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, the Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies.

Public Engagement

I enjoy finding ways of communicating my research to a wide and varied audience.  In 2015 I was selected as one of the ten BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinkers. I  presented aspects of my work on Radio 3 during 2015-16, and have continued to do so.  My most recent appearances have been on panel discussions on Caravaggio -  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07yb8wq - and Milton - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08nf037.  I am currently preparing my first radio documentary, to mark the 350th anniversary of Paradise Lost, which will be broadcast on Radio 4 in August 2017.

My reviews and essays have appeared in publications including The TLS, The White Review, The Financial Times, and The Observer.

Selected Publications



  • ‘Aristotle and the Virtues,’ in Edmund Spenser in Context, ed. Andrew Escobedo (CUP, 2016).
  • ‘Sir Kenelm Digby's Interruptions: Piracy and Lived Romance in the 1620s’, Studies in Philology 113 (2016), pp. 424-84. (Awarded the Louis Round Wilson prize for the best essay in Studies in Philology in 2016).
  • ‘Why Can’t Spenserians Stop Talking About Hegel?  A Response to Gordon Teskey,’ Spenser Review 44.1.2 (Spring-Summer 2014).
  • ‘“A sensible touching, feeling and groping”: Metaphor and Sensory Experience in the English Reformation,’ in Passions and Subjectivity in Early Modern Culture, ed. Brian Cummings & Freya Sierhuis (Ashgate, 2013).
  • ‘The Forgotten Youth of Allegory: Figures of Old Age in The Faerie Queene,Modern Philology 110.3 (February 2013), pp. 389-414. (Awarded the Isabel McCaffrey Prize by the International Spenser Society for best essay on Spenser, 2013-14).
  • ‘“Spencerus isthic conditur”: Kenelm Digby’s transcription of William Alabaster,’ Spenser Studies 27 (2012), pp. 315-28.
  • ‘“Transported Touch”: The Sense of Feeling in Milton’s Eden,’ English Literary History 79.1 (Spring 2012), pp. 1-31.