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Dr Rowan Tomlinson

Dr Rowan Tomlinson

Dr Rowan Tomlinson
BA(Oxon.), MA(Oxon.), PhD(Oxon.)

Senior Lecturer

Office 2.59, 17 Woodland Rd
19 Woodland Road,
Clifton, Bristol BS8 1TE
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+44 (0) 117 928 8482


Rowan Tomlinson is a specialist in the cultural, literary, and intellectual history of the European Renaissance and her research covers French, Latin, Neo-Latin, and Italian writers. She is especially interested in the interactions during the long sixteenth century – before the creation of the ‘two cultures’ that separated the arts and the sciences – between the literary and other disciplines (natural history, philosophy, philology) and in the ways in which Renaissance culture worked with the legacies of the classical past. Parallel research interests include the history of education and access to cultures of humanism and the liberal arts by those outside Renaissance institutions and seats of power, be this women, auto-didacts, or religious or political recusants, interests which reflect her concerns with and campaigning about the politics and policies of higher education today.

Publications include essays on Rabelais, Montaigne, Poliziano, the reception of Pliny the Elder, and theories of inspiration and invention in Renaissance poetics, as well as a co-edited volume on the translation culture of England and France from 1500 to 1660, which has been republished in a second, paperback edition. Her first single-authored book, Inventive Inventories. Literature and Natural History in Renaissance Europe will appear with Oxford University Press. The book examines the intriguing relationship between natural history and literature across the long sixteenth century, beginning in the 1490s with the Florentine humanist Angelo Poliziano and ending in the 1620s with the Jesuit writer Etienne Binet, by way of Erasmus, Juan-Luis Vives, Jacques Peletier Du Mans, Conrad Gessner, Rabelais, and Montaigne.

In 2016 Rowan was awarded a two-year Fellowship by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in recognition of the excellence and the impact, past, current, and future, of her distinctive scholarship. The project, 'Scholars, hacks, and gentlemen: the politics of authorship in Renaissance France', is concerned broadly with the socio-political status of different categories of writer from the early sixteenth century to the formation of the Académie française in 1635, telling a story of rival communities, divided disciplines, and the emergence of an increasingly exclusionary vocabulary of taste. The Fellowship has allowed Rowan to do intensive work on single-authored publications but also to establish a network of interested scholars who have met for workshops with radically creative formats, and to organize diverse public-engagement activities, from podcasts to public talks, in collaboration with scholars from across early-modern studies. 

Rowan has a strong interest in exploring the methodologies that inform historical study and in developing fruitful interactions between historical studies and other disciplines. She is a member of an ongoing cross-disciplinary research project, 'Early Modern Keywords: A European Vocabulary of Culture and Society in a Global Frame, 1450-1700' and, with her Bristol colleague Yasmin Haskell, is part of a cross-period and cross-disciplinary team of researchers exploring the potential of a project on 'The Poetry of Nature and the Nature of Poetry'. 




Before she began working at Bristol, where she earned the title of Senior Lecturer in October 2017, Rowan held early-career posts at New College (as Fellow and Tutor in French) and at St John's College (Supernumerary Teaching Fellow in French), University of Oxford, where she also read for her undergraduate degree in French and English and pursued postgraduate studies (including a year spent as an English assistant at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon). She attended a Brighton comprehensive and a non-selective sixth-form college and is active in promoting languages in the state-school system and, more generally, campaigning against selection in secondary education. 

In the wider academic community, Rowan is a member of the Executive Committee of the Council for the Defence of British Universities:, with whom she works to seek to protect higher education from the nefarious influence of marketisation.



Rowan regularly updates her courses and enjoys creating new options with which to entice students away from the familiarity of the modern and back to the wonders of the Renaissance. Her portfolio of courses include seven French units and one Modern Languagues unit: Introduction to French Renaissance Culture: Conventionality and the Writing Self; Before the Novel: Experiments in Prose NarrativeIdentity and Conflict: The Poetics and Politics of French Renaissance Writing; The French Renaissance: Myths and Realities; Me, Myself, and I: The Essays of Michel de Montaigne; Burning Books: Radicalism Before the Revolution; Journeys Through Poetry (co-taught with Ruth Bush); and Ancients and Moderns: Cultures of Humanism in Renaissance Europe. All these courses are historical in nature and prioritise detailed engagement with primary texts as a means of learning about Renaissance culture. However, this concern with the historical particularity of the early modern is underscored by a constant consideration of the ‘timeless’ issues facing the student of literary history (why do we study literature; what do we understand by the ‘literary’; where does the ‘meaning’ of a text lie?), as well as by a belief in the importance of foregrounding and questioning our own methods of reading past cultures (how do we as contemporary readers read the early modern?). In addition, Rowan is a seminar leader and lecturer on the first-year Shaping France course, a lecturer on Reading Literary and Visual Cultures, and teaches prose and translation to final-year students. She also teaches for the MA in Comparative Literature (where she explores the idea of the university, past and present), has supervised dissertations for the MA in Translation, and has taught on Bristol's Foundation Year in the Arts and Humanities: 

Rowan is keen to work with postgraduate students and welcomes queries from those interested in exploring study at masters and doctoral level on any topic linked to 15th, 16th, and 17th-century European culture and/or classical reception. In 2018 she was instrumental in helping three doctoral candidates develop their ideas and applications and secure offers for highly competitive AHRC studentships from the South, West, and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership. 

She is currently co-supervising an MPhil on the reception of Thucydides in early-modern French culture. 





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