Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern England: the Place of Literature


ERC-funded research project

CRASSH and the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge

This project uncovers the interface between imaginative literature and epistemology in its wider sense in early modern England (1500–1700). This period of intense literary production also saw the cultural forces of humanism and the Reformation collide; crucial shifts in the law; scientific advancement; and dramatic expansion in trade and travel. At stake across the board was knowledge: its theories and technologies, its excitements and anxieties. We examine intersections between literary forms and apparently disparate areas of thinking about ways of knowing; at the same time, we remain attentive to the thresholds between these more explicitly epistemic disciplines. Research is to be organised along the four disciplinary strands in the first four years, with literary intervention as a running thread. 

  • Theology
  • Natural philosophy
  • Economic thinking
  • Law

The final year will consolidate the project with specific events.

Subsequent disciplinary segregation has obscured the understood relations among these disciplines: epistemic transactions vital to the experiences of knowledge and belief which so deeply vexed and shaped the period’s thought.

Our point of entry is the specific intervention of literary texts in this conversation. What does literature know, or tell us, that other discourses cannot, or do not, because of their disciplinary investments? What aspirations to objectivity or assurance will it not share with science, religion or the law? How does it complicate economic ideas of insurance by translating them to affective notions of risk and surety? And crucially, how do these cognate practices engage with literary constitutions of knowledge? To recover the multiple frame against which this culture articulates its conceptions of knowledge, we read these fields as coeval but distinct. We grapple with the methods of each discipline; in our deployment of literary engagements, we do not posit literature as ethically superior but as methodologically productive for this enquiry. Through the thematic foci of knowing and knowingness, doubt and unknowing, we aim to recover a so-far uncharted history of the blind spots of knowledge, thereby rewriting the story of early modern epistemology.

This project, based jointly at the Faculty of English and CRASSH, is funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant, and is led by Dr Subha Mukherji, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of English.



Funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ ERC grant agreement no 617849.

For further information please contact


Principal Investigator

Dr Subha Mukherji (English, University of Cambridge)

Post-doctoral Research Associates

Dr Rachel E. Holmes
Dr Tim Stuart-Buttle
Dr Elizabeth Swann
Dr Rebecca Tomlin

Advisory Board

Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri (Jadavpur University, Kolkata)
Dr Natasha Glaysier (Department of History, University of York)
Professor Nicholas Hammond (Department of French, University of Cambridge)
Professor Jonathan Hope (Professor of Literary Linguistics and member of Digital Humanities Research Group, University of Strathclyde)
Professor Rhodri Lewis (Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford and Fellow of St Hugh’s College)
Dr Alexander Marr (Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity Hall)
Dr Craig Muldrew (Faculty of History, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Queens’ College)
Professor Claire Preston (Professor of Renaissance Literature, Queen Mary University of London)
Dr Richard Serjeantson (Faculty of History, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College)
Professor Barbara Shapiro (Emeritus Professor of Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley)
Dr Michael Witmore (Director, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C.)
Dr Rowan Williams (Master of Magdalene College and former Archbishop of Canterbury)
Dr Nicolette Zeeman (Faculty of English, University of Cambridge and Fellow of King’s College)

Ex-officio Member

Professor Steve Connor (Grace 2 Professor of English and Chair of the Faculty Board of English, University of Cambridge; Fellow of Peterhouse)

Exhibition Advisor

Dr Jane Partner (Trinity Hall)

Affliated Scholar

Dr Koji Yamamoto


Mrs Gaenor Moore


Past events:

Crossroads of Knowledge: Literature and Theology in Early Modern England, Fitzwilliam College – Saturday 14 February 2015

Crossroads of Knowledge: Knowledge, Belief and Literature in Early Modern England, Trinity Hall - Thursday 7 May - Friday 8 May 2015

Interdisciplines: Drama, Economics and Law in Early Modern England, Fitzwilliam College - Saturday 17 October 2015

Change and Exchange, Trinity Hall - Friday 29 April - Saturday 30 April 2016