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School of English and Drama

Professor Claire Preston, D.Phil Oxford; M.Phil Yale; MA Oxford; BA Illinois


Professor Emeritus of Renaissance Literature



I joined Queen Mary in September 2013 after spending much of my career at Cambridge. I have also held posts at Oxford and Birmingham. My doctoral research considered word and image relationships in Sidney and Shakespeare; my subsequent research on Renaissance literature has been supported by awards from the British Academy, the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as a major AHRC grant supporting the OUP’s Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne (forthcoming from Oxford, 2023-26), of which I am the general editor. My books include monographs on Edith Wharton (2000), Sir Thomas Browne (2005), the cultural history of bees (2006), and the poetics of seventeenth-century science (2015). Within the 8-volume Oxford Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne I am editing Urne-Buriall, The Garden of Cyrus, Letter to a Friend, and Musaeum Clausum, and I’m simultaneously working on a monograph about the rhetoric of ‘big science’ from Oldenburg to Oppenheimer; on articles on ekphrasis in the description of early-modern laboratories, and geological poetry of the seventeenth century. I was awarded the British Academy’s Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 2005 and the British Society for Literature and Science Prize in 2015.


Research Interests:

  • The literary writing of science 1580-1730
  • Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
  • Word and image relations 1500-1700 (especially ekphrasis, the emblem, the impresa)
  • American literature (especially 19th and early-20th century writing; Edith Wharton; money-novels)
  • Philip Sidney and the Sidney circle
  • Early-modern epistolarity
  • Renaissance curiosity and the poetics of collections
  • Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)

Within the 8-volume Oxford Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne (now in progress), I am editing The Garden of Cyrus, Letter to a Friend, and Musaeum Clausum. I’m simultaneously working on a monograph about the rhetoric of ‘big science’ from Oldenburg to Oppenheimer; on articles on ekphrasis in the description of early-modern laboratories, and geological poetry of the seventeenth century.



The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford, 2015) [winner of the BSLS Annual Prize, 2015]

Sir Thomas Browne: The World Proposed, eds Claire Preston and Reid Barbour (Oxford, 2008)

Bee [a cultural history] (Reaktion Press, 2006; rev. ed. 2019?) [translated into Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic; Chinese translation forthcoming]

Thomas Browne and the Writing of Early Modern Science (Cambridge, 2005; pbk 2009) [winner of the British Academy’s Rose Mary Crawshay Prize, 2005]

Edith Wharton’s Social Register (Macmillan (UK)/St Martin's (USA), 2000)


The Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne, 8 vols (forthcoming, Oxford; vol 1, 2023)

A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, revised 4th edition (Blackwell, 1998)

Selected Works of Sir Thomas Browne (Carcanet, 1995)

The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton (Virago, 1995)

Essays, articles and chapters:

‘‘Commerce, Credit, and Transaction: the Rhetorical Origins of Big Science’ in The Poesy of Scientia in Early-Modern England, eds Subha Mukherji and Elizabeth Swann (Palgrave, forthcoming 2024)

‘Affections of Matter’: empirical description in early-modern natural philosophy’ in

The Oxford Handbook of Restoration Literature, eds Matthew Augustine and Steven Zwicker (Oxford, forthcoming 2024)

‘Thomas Browne’s Retreat to Earth’ in William Engel et al., eds, Memory and Mortality in Renaissance England (Cambridge, 2022), 159-176

‘Critical Assembly: the Rhetorical Structures of Scientific Investigation’, Shakespeare Studies 49 (2021)

‘Botany’ in Music and Instruments of the Elizabethan Age: The Eglantine Table, eds Michael Fleming and Christopher Page (Boydell, 2021)

‘The “punctual relations” of Musaeum Clausum’, Studies in Philology 115:3 (2018), 598-614

“The Gallery, the Eye, and the Rhetoric of Observation in Some Seventeenth-Century Descriptions”, The Seventeenth Century, (December 2017), 2-22)

‘Word and Image in the English Renaissance’, Oxford Handbooks Online: Scholarly Research Reviews, ed James Simpson ( (Oxford, 2016)

‘Robert Boyle’s Accidents of an Ague and its Precursors’ in The Palgrave Handbook of Literature, Science, and Culture, eds Howard Marchitello and Evelyn Tribble (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2016)

‘”Meer nomenclature” and the description of order in The Garden of Cyrus’ in Angus Vine and Abigail Shinn, eds., The Copious Text: Encyclopaedic Books in Early Modern England (Renaissance Studies special issue, 2014)

‘Speculative and philosophical prose and poetry’ (with Reid Barbour) in The Oxford History of Classical Reception in the English Renaissance, eds. Philip Hardie and Patrick Cheney (Oxford, 2013)

‘The Pedant as Propagandist: Dugdale’s History of Imbanking and Drayning’ in Encyclopaedism before the Enlightenment, eds Greg Woolf and Jason König (Cambridge, 2012)

‘Dining Out in the Republic of Letters: the Rhetoric of Seventeenth-Century Scientific Correspondence’ in Debating the Faith: Religion and Letter-Writing, eds Anne Dunan-Page and Clotilde Prunier (Springer, 2012)

‘Scientific Prose’ in Andrew Hadfield, ed., The Oxford Handbook to English Prose, c. 1500-1640 (Oxford, 2012)

‘Spenser and the Visual Arts’ in The Spenser Handbook, ed Richard McCabe (Oxford, 2010), 684-717

‘Stand-Up Browne: Religio Medici in the Classroom’ in Teaching Early Modern Prose, eds Margaret Ferguson and Susannah Monta (Publications of the Modern Language Association, 2009), 272-81

‘An Incomium of Consumptions: A Letter to a Friend as Medical Narrative’ in Thomas Browne: The World Proposed, eds Claire Preston and Reid Barbour (Oxford, 2008), 206-21

‘Of Cyder and Sallets: The Garden of Cyrus and the Hortulan Saints’ in Literature Compass (peer-reviewed online journal) (May, 2006), 867-883; revised version reprinted in A Man Very Well Studyed: Contexts for Thomas Browne, eds Richard Todd and Kathryn Murphy (Brill, 2008), 149-72

‘The Jocund Cabinet: Collecting, Curiosity, and Comedy in Seventeenth-Century English Literature’ in Curiosity and Wonder in the Renaissance, eds RJW Evans and Alexander Marr (Ashgate, 2006), 87-106

‘Ekphrasis: Painting in Words’ in Renaissance Rhetorical Figures, eds Sylvia Adamson and Gavin Alexander (Cambridge, 2006), 114-129

‘In the Wilderness of Forms: Ideas and Things in Thomas Browne's Cabinets of Curiosity’ (in The Renaissance Computer, eds. Neil Rhodes and Jonathan Sawday (Routledge, 2000, 170-183)

‘Creative Finance: Making Money and Making Fiction in The Custom of the Country’ (Q/W/E/R/T/Y, October 2000, 57-65)

‘Ladies Prefer Bonds: Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, and the Money-Novel’ (in Soft Canons: Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and the Masculine Tradition ed. Karen Kilcup (Iowa, 1999))

‘Edith Wharton’ in Annotated Bibliography for English Studies (on-line international bibliography) (1997-2001)

‘The Poetics of Arcadia: The medicine of cherries and the philosophy of cavaliers’ in English Renaissance Prose: History, Language, and Politics, ed. Neil Rhodes (Medieval and Renaissance Text Society, 1997), 91-108


‘Sovereignty and Counsel: the Patron, the Poet, and Penshurst’, Sidney Sussex College Quatercentenary Essays, eds. D. Beales and H.B. Nisbet (Boydell and Brewer, 1996), 55-74


‘”Unriddling the World”: Sir Thomas Browne and the Doctrine of Signatures’, Critical Survey 5, no. 3 (1993), 263-70  

‘The Emblematic Structure of Pericles’, Word and Image 8 (1992), 21-38; repr. Cengage/Gale, 2011

‘Swinburne's Poems and Ballads, Third Series, 1889' The Book Collector 31 (1982), 101-103

See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile.


Recent doctoral topics supervised:

  • The Hero and Leander myth in English Renaissance art and music (Queen Mary)
  • Public legacies in English museums 1683-1753 (Queen Mary)                       
  • Meteorology and Literary Culture 1560-1700 (Queen Mary)
  • The Collections of Hans Sloane (Queen Mary)
  • Thoreau, the American Transcendentalists, and Seventeenth-Century English Writing (Queen Mary)
  • The library and collections of Sir Thomas Browne (Queen Mary)
  • Renaissance writing and optical theory (Cambridge)
  • Spenser’s Mantuan (Cambridge)
  • The early short stories of Edith Wharton (Cambridge)

Public Engagement


A Quincunx for Sir Thomas Browne, 2016

For the Love of Honey (with Martha Kearney), 2015

The Century that Wrote Itself (with Adam Nicolson), 2014


Free Thinking, on Thomas Browne (BBC Radio 3)

National Public Radio (USA) (stand-alone documentary on Thomas Browne)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (on bees)

In Our Time on Sir Thomas Browne (BBC Radio 4)


Thomas Browne and Curiosity (Royal College of Physicians, 2017)

Public lectures

International Bee Day Symposium, Erste Foundation, Vienna (2023)

The seventeenth-century viol consort (with Lestrange Viols)) (Electric Earth Music Festival, 2018)

Sir Thomas Browne Day Inaugural Lecture (City of Norwich, 2017)

Renaissance curiosity and collecting (Norwich Castle Museum, 2014)

Renaissance curiosity and collecting (Tate Britain, 2008)    

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