Professor Abigail Williams

Lord White Fellow and Tutor in English; Professor of English Literature; Knowledge Exchange Champion for the Humanities Division
Tel: +44 (0) 1865 278901


I am Fellow and Tutor in English at St. Peter's Abigail Williams Tutorialand a Professor in the English Faculty. I have been a Fellow of St Peter's since 2001, beginning shortly after I finished my doctorate on politics and literature in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. My research is on eighteenth century literature, and at the moment I am working on two book projects: a study of the history of reading aloud in the home, and a book on the ways in which books are creatively misread in the eighteenth century. I enjoy, and have benefitted from, the connections between my teaching and my research, and am keen to help my students to develop their fullest potential both while they are at St Peter's, and when they leave.


At St Peter's, I teach undergraduate courses in the period 1640-1832, and the Shakespeare paper. In the Faculty, I lecture on Restoration comedy, High and Low Culture, Pope, Swift, Montagu, Behn and Rochester, and the history of reading. Along with Ros Ballaster, Christine Gerrard, and David Womersley, I have also taught a third year syndicated option on 'Grub Street', which explores the ephemeral productions of the early eighteenth century alongside more canonical texts. I have recently begun teaching an interdisciplinary course on eighteenth century domestic and material culture with Dr Giovanna Vitelli, of the Ashmolean Museum.

Abigail WililamsI have supervised a range of doctoral projects, all based on eighteenth-century literature. These have included the following topics: celebrity and female actors in the eighteenth century; Defoe and historiography; quotation of Shakespeare in the eighteenth-century novel; the correspondence of Jacob Tonson; slavery and labouring class poetry. I am just about to begin working with a doctoral student on domestic reading in the eighteenth century. This is a collaborative doctoral award with the Geffrye Museum of the Home.


I am interested in many areas of eighteenth century literature and history, but my research has led to some areas of particular focus: the relationship between politics and literature; textual criticism; eighteenth century poetic miscellanies and popular reception history; letters, obliteration and the revision of eighteenth century texts; domestic reading and the history of the home. I am one of the convenors of the Restoration to Reform seminar, the Faculty's eighteenth-century graduate research seminar, which is currently held at St Peter's College.

In 2010 I was awarded a Leverhulme Research Project Grant, which enabled the creation and completion of the Digital Miscellanies Index. This three-year externally funded project resulted in a freely available database enabling researchers to track the changing fortunes of individual poems and authors across the thousand or so miscellanies (popular poetic anthologies) published during the eighteenth century. It has developed into my current research, another Leverhulme funded project, entitled ' A New History of Reading and Authorship', which will link together existing data about miscellanies from 1580-1780, and allow me to analyse the material I have collected, in a book for Yale University Press, entitled The Social Life of Books.

I think it is important that academics communicate their research outside the academy, and have been involved in a range of projects, from radio to theatre performance and primary school work, all communicating with wider audiences (see links below).

Selected Publications (See Faculty page, linked below, for more details)

Journal to Stella: Letters to Esther Johnson and Rebecca Dingley, 1710-1713. Jonathan Swift, edited by Abigail Williams (CUP, 2013).

Poetry and the Creation of a Whig Literary Culture: 1680-1714. Abigail Williams (OUP, 2005).


Faculty Page
Digital Miscellanies Index
Swirls and Secrets (Online Lecture)
The Pedant's Progress (Radio 4 Documentary)
Word of Mouth (Radio 4 Documentary)