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Women’s Plague Writing in Early Modern England

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Womenswriting (Women’s Plague Writing in Early Modern England)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2020-08-31

While early modern plague epidemics have been thoroughly addressed within the disciplines of literature, literary history, history and material culture over the past decade, much of this scholarship has focused on male-authored texts that emerged from England’s “great” plague outbreaks. As a result, women’s participation in the textual landscape of early modern England’s plague outbreaks has remained relatively unstudied. This project examines the myriad ways in which women wrote about plague, as well as the ways in which early modern constructions of pestilence were gendered. The project has encompassed a range of outreach activities, participation in scholarly events, and writing projects, which, taken together, have resulted in a full-period view of how women were essential actors during early modern plague outbreaks. Through a range of activities, including skills training and teaching, focused on gaining expertise in early modern paleography, I have significantly enhanced my ability to work with manuscripts. Early modern women frequently recorded their interactions with plague in manuscript, documenting recipes against infection in manuscript receipt books or writing about the disease in relation to day-to-day events in life writing, such as diaries or spiritual journals.

My project also features a significant trans-Atlantic dimension, and I have spearheaded an edited volume entitled Medicine and Religion in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1600-1815, which has been submitted to Penn State University Press. The volume features eminent scholars in the fields of trans-Atlantic studies, early modern history and literature, and plague writing. The volume includes valuable contributions that situate early modern plague outbreaks within the Atlantic world.
In the final stage of the project, I spoke at two different events. My talk scheduled for Dublin RSA in 2022 was rescheduled for the RSA Virtual Conference – “‘To Print such Dreadful lines’: Women and Plague Mortality Statistics in 1665.” I also gave an invited talk, virtually, in May 2021, presenting the paper “Plague and Print Culture in William Winstanley’s The Christians Refuge: or Heavenly Antidotes Against the Plague (1665),” as part of the the Gibson Library Society Talks at The Gibson Library, Saffron Walden, UK.

The final period of the Fellowship also saw opportunities to further my expertise in early modern paleography. In August 2022, I co-taught a course with Claire McNulty for the Folger Institute through the Folger Shakespeare Library and Queen’s University Belfast. The course addressed pedagogical approaches to paleography. Prior to this, in January 2020, I co-taught a course with Claire McNulty at Queen’s University Belfast, entitled “Introduction to English Paleography.” In both courses, I was able to deliver research-led teaching that drew directly upon my Fellowship research on women’s plague writing.

The publications connected with the project have progressed in the final period of the Fellowship. I was invited to submit a chapter to the volume Circuits of Disease and Caregiving in Shakespeare's Changing World in August 2021, which will be published by Arden. I submitted the chapter “‘we did not all dye thereof’: Chemical Medicine and the Shut House in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (1610) and Mary Trye’s Medicatrix (1675)” in March 2023, and revisions are requested for August 2023. I submitted the completed edited volume Medicine and Religion in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1600-1815 to Penn State University Press in 2021. The volume will be revised and resubmitted in July 2023. The volume includes my introduction, as well as my chapter “Printing England’s Plague Past in New England.” The Fellowship monograph is nearly completed and will be submitted to Oxford University Press in 2023.
The unexpected intersection of the Fellowship research on early modern plague epidemics and the twenty-first century pandemic of covid-19 has resulted in a marked increase in interest in how disease shapes texts. This intersection has been highlighted within the publications associated with the project, with reviewers commenting on the timeliness of my research.

I have been awarded a Folger Short Term Fellowship in spring 2024 to investigate the intersection of plague and smallpox in a trans-Atlantic context. This upcoming project draws directly upon skills I refined and acquired while completing the Fellowship.