Prof Jennifer Richards, Peterhouse



Biographical Information

I came to Cambridge via South Wales, London, Poland (Gliwice and Warsaw), Edinburgh, and Newcastle upon Tyne.

My love of literature began at St Martin's Comprehensive School, Caerphilly, thanks to my brilliant teachers. I studied for my BA in English Literature at Queen Mary College, University of London. In the late 1980s I taught English Language at the Silesian University of Technology, Gliwice, and the Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw, before returning for doctoral study at the University of Edinburgh. I took up a lectureship in English Literature at Newcastle University in 1995, where I was the first woman to hold one of the oldest chairs in English Literature within the UK (established 1898), the Joseph Cowen Professorship, from 2016 to 2023.

I am now the English (2001) Chair in the Faculty of English at Cambridge University, and a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University.

I am a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), a Fellow of the English Association (FEA) and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS).

Since 2015 I have been the Chair of The English Association's Higher Education Committee, and I work closely with the Institute for English Studies, London, and University English, advocating for our subject and the Arts and Humanities more widely. I look forward to working with The English Association, and collaborating with colleagues across the sector, in 2023-24, starting a national conversation about the Future of English Studies


Research Interests

My expertise includes the history of reading, the history of rhetoric and the history of the book, but I approach all three through a focus on the physical voice. Books are not only objects held in the hand, to be read silently. They are alive with the voices of potential readers. This is especially true of books in the sixteenth-century - my period of specialism.

My work on reading and voice is informed by my study of schoolroom rhetoric as a performance practice, and by my collaborations with performers and digital humanists who are helping me to recover the idea of the print 'audiobook'. This approach underpins the AHRC-funded Thomas Nashe Project, and the edition we are creating for Oxford University Press. 

You can hear me talking about the sounds of the early modern schoolroom with Abigail Wincott for her Sounds of the Past series here, about the voice of Anne Askew on Not Just the Tudors with Professor Suzannah Lipscomb here, about 'Staging the Voice' in celebration of our new strategic partnership with Opera North here, and about voices, books and bees at the SRS Annual Lecture 2021 at the British School at Rome here.

I am the co-editor with Virginia Cox (Cambridge) of Rhetoric in the Renaissance 1380-1640Volume III in The Cambridge History of Rhetoric, General Editors: Rita Copeland and Peter Mack (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). This project, which is broadening our understanding of Renaissance rhetoric, how it is learned, in what contexts it is practised, and by whom, is developing my interest in the history of women's education.

I am a general editor of the Critical Edition of the Works of Thomas Nashe, alongside Joseph Black, Andrew Hadfield and Cathy Shrank. I am the PI of the AHRC-funded Thomas Nashe Project. With Kate De Rycker and Andrew Hadfield, I am co-editing The Oxford Handbook to Thomas Nashe (Oxford University Press: in preparation).

I am co-leading a Leverhulme Trust-funded Research Project (2022-25) exploring emotions and bees with software engineers, digital humanists, literary scholars, musicians, musicologists, bio-environmental scientists: Bee-ing Human: an interactive bee book for the 21st century. Our digital book will include a born-digital edition of Charles Butler's The Feminine Monarchie of Bees (1609, 1623, 1633), data from Vivek Nityananda's and Balumurali G.S's science lab, new musical composition, with an account of our collaboration. This research 'hive' is divided between Newcastle and Cambridge Universities.

You can read about our plans in the Leverhulme Trust 2021 Annual Review here. You can follow the progress of Bee-ing Human on GitHub.

The Bee-ing Human project is supported by Animating Text Newcastle University (ATNU), led by James Cummings with Tiago Sousa Garcia, working with the RSE team at Newcastle University. You can find out more about ATNU here and here. I look forward to building links across to Cambridge Digital Humanities. 

Areas of Graduate Supervision

I welcome applications in the area of Renaissance literature, rhetoric, the history of reading, early modern print and book history, all aspects of 'voice', scholarly and digital editing, and, of course, bees and apiculture.

Selected Publications

Voices and Books in the English Renaissance: A New History of Reading (Oxford University Press, 2019; paperback edition, 2022)

Winner of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE) biennial award for Literatures in the English Language (2020)

Highly commended by the DeLong Book History Prize: ‘Richards takes the reader on an intriguing journey in search of the voice within the text, hunting for vocal cues and instances of shared readings which turned books into performance events. Her fascinating and highly original study of the textual soundscapes of the English Reformation and Renaissance remind us that print is not exclusively a visual medium ... After Richards, book historians can no longer neglect the persistent presence of the voice within the culture of print.’

Read Irina Dumitrescu's review of Voices and Books, 'How to Read Aloud', in the London Review of Books.

Voices and bees: the evolution of a sounded book’ in Christopher Cannon and Steven Justice, eds, The Sound of Writing (Johns Hopkins University Press, in press)

‘How Lady Jane Grey may have used her education’ in Danielle Clarke, Sarah Ross, and Elizabeth Scott Baumann, eds, Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women Writers (Oxford University Press, 2022), pp. 39-51.

Voicing Text 1500-1700, co-ed with Richard Wistreich, Special Issue for Huntington Library Quarterly 82.1 (2019)

Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, eds. Anne Whitehead and Angela Woods, Sara Atkinson, Jane Macnaughton, Jennifer Richards (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

The Textuality and Materiality of Reading in Early Modern England, eds Jennifer Richards and Fred Schurink, Special Issue for Huntington Library Quarterly 73.3 (2010)

Rhetoric: New Critical Idiom (Routledge, 2007)

Rhetoric and Courtliness in Early Modern Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2003; paperback edition, 2007)