Dr Ruth Abbott, St John's



Biographical Information

I am University Lecturer in the Long Nineteenth Century in the English Faculty. Between 2012 and 2014, I was Fellow, Lecturer, and Director of Studies in English at St John’s College, Cambridge; before arriving at St John’s, I was a Lecturer and Junior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford, and a Visiting Fellow at Cornell University, USA. I did my BA, MPhil, and PhD in English at Clare College, Cambridge. I teach for Part I Paper 1 (Practical Criticism and Critical Practice), Part I Paper 6 (English Literature and its Contexts 1660-1870), Part I Paper 7a (English Literature and its Contexts 1830-1945), Part II Paper 1 (Practical Criticism), Part II Paper 9 (Lyric), Part II Paper 10 (Special Period 1847-1872), and Part II Paper 15 (The English Moralists); I supervise dissertations throughout these areas. I also teach for the 18th Century and Romanticism and Modern and Contemporary MPhil courses, and supervise graduate students working in my fields.

In 2015, I was awarded a CUSU student-led teaching award, with a special mention in the supervisor category, and in 2016, I received the CUSU award for outstanding lecturing. I currently serve as the Faculty's Access and Outreach Officer and am a member of the University's Outreach Steering Group; I also serve on College and Faculty Working Groups on Gender Equality and am a member of our Faculty's Athena SWAN self-assessment team. As a member of the University's Harassment Avoidance Working Group, I helped to develop 'Breaking the Silence', a campaign to improve the prevention, response, support, and investigation of all instances of harassment and sexual misconduct across the collegiate university: https://www.breakingthesilence.cam.ac.uk/.

Research Interests

My research focuses on 18th and 19th century manuscripts, chiefly writers' notebooks, with a particular emphasis on compositional practices, reading practices, research practices, and the organisation of knowledge; I also pursue such questions on a larger scale in the history of institutions, libraries, and museums. My first book, Wordsworth’s Notebooks, is a study of the complex manuscript notebooks in which the poet William Wordsworth worked on his never completed, life long project of writing a philosophic poem in blank verse; other work on Wordsworth’s versification and compositional practices has appeared in the journals Textual Practice, Memory Studies, The Wordsworth Circle, The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth, and Notes and Queries. My second book will be George Eliot and the History of Scholarship, a study of George Eliot's scholarly practices, especially as embodied in her commonplace books, a project for which I held an Early Career Fellowship at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (Cambridge) in autumn 2014, a Wallace Fellowship at the Harvard University Institute for Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti, Florence) in autumn 2016, and an Andrew W Mellon Foundation Fellowship at the Huntington Library (California) in winter 2017; other work on Eliot's poetry and manuscripts has appeared in ELH. I am interested in the practice of reading aloud, the practice of metrical composition, and in the relationship between literature and learning, and I am preoccupied by the history of scholarship, the history of universities, and the history of libraries. All my work aims to address the significance of the forms in which ideas were embodied and encountered in the 18th and 19th centuries, uncovering relations between aspects of literary form, such as genre and versification, aspects of material form manifested in manuscripts and compositional practices, and intellectual and institutional history. 

Areas of Graduate Supervision

I have supervised graduate work at MPhil and PhD level on Anna Barbauld and empire, 18th century philosophies of language, William Wordsworth's political iconography, Virginia Woolf's reading of Sigmund Freud, Samuel Butler's Erewhon, Charles Dickens's performance manuscripts, Thomas Gray's antiquarianism, Romanticism and medicine, and John Clare's poetics. I would be glad to hear from potential graduate students wishing to work on any of my research interests.

Selected Publications

Recent and forthcoming publications include:

  • 'Song: Denise Riley in Parts', in Forms of Late Modernist Lyric, ed. Edward Allen (forthcoming from Liverpool University Press, 2018)