Melissa Reynolds

Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities, History and Humanistic Studies
Perkins-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows
2019-22 Cohort

Melissa Reynolds is a historian of medieval and early modern England whose research focuses on practices of reading, writing, and knowledge-making at the moment of transition from manuscript to print. She received her Ph.D. in History from Rutgers University and holds a B.A. in English and M.A. in History from the University of Alabama. At Princeton, she is working on her first book, tentatively titled, “How To: Practical Books and the Making of Early Modern English Culture,” which examines the circulation of practical knowledge in late medieval manuscripts and early printed books. She argues that the development of the “practical manuscript” as a genre around 1400 indicates the emergence of an English reading public, which then adapted to and was transformed by the coming of the press. Through close comparison of over 150 practical manuscripts and 250 early printed how-to books, this project emphasizes the transformative impact of new media, returning to a narrative of the “print revolution” that centers on the everyday habits of literacy—reading a recipe, making a marginal note, or buying an almanac—that inculcated new ways of reading, writing, and knowing that were crucial to the religious, political, and scientific “revolutions” of early modern England. Other research in progress includes a study of the circulation of women’s reproductive medical lore in late medieval manuscripts, a transcription and study of a late medieval English surgical manual, and a book for the general public on the cultural history of women’s reproductive bodies.

Melissa’s research has been supported by a Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Schallek Award from the Richard III Society and the Medieval Academy of America, travel grants from the Folger Shakespeare Library and the National Science Foundation, and a Director’s Scholarship from the Rare Books School at the University of Virginia. She has been published in the Journal of British Studies, the Washington Post, and the online forum The Recipes Project, where she is also a member of the editorial team. Her translations and transcriptions will appear in the digital critical edition of BnF Fr. 640, a sixteenth-century French workshop manual, from the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University, forthcoming in 2020.

In Spring 2020 she will teach a course in the History department on the medical and cultural history of women’s reproductive bodies from antiquity to the Enlightenment, and in Fall 2020 she will again co-teach “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Western Culture I” in the Humanities Council.