Melissa Reynolds is a cultural historian of medieval and early modern Europe with broad research interests in the history of material texts, the history of gender and the body, and the history of medicine and science. In her research and teaching, she is particularly interested in tracing how elite or learned cultures of knowledge are conveyed to ‘ordinary’ people through non-elite media, and in turn, how media circulation can bring about cultural change. These interests are reflected in her first book, “How To: Medicine, Science, and Renaissance Readers in an Information Revolution,” which compares over 150 vernacular medieval manuscripts with over 250 printed ‘how-to’ books to demonstrate that engagement with popular medical and scientific books transformed how ordinary English people saw themselves as readers, writers, and consumers of knowledge—a transformation that reverberated throughout society to impact nearly every aspect of English culture.
Additionally, Reynolds is preparing two articles on the circulation of vernacular medical knowledge: the first, on women’s reproductive lore in late medieval manuscripts, and the second, a transcription and study of a little-known English surgical manual. She is also developing a book for the general public based on the seminar she taught in spring 2020 for Princeton's Department of History. This fall she will once again co-teach in the Humanities Sequence (“Interdisciplinary Approaches to Western Culture I”), and for spring 2021, with funding from a David A. Gardner '69 Magic Grant, she is developing a new interdisciplinary digital humanities course on “A History of Words: Technologies of Communication from Cuneiform to Coding.”
Reynolds received her Ph.D. in History from Rutgers University. Her research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, the Richard III Society and the Medieval Academy of America, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Rare Books School at the University of Virginia. Her articles and essays are published in the Journal of British Studies, the Washington Post, and the online forum The Recipes Project, where she is a member of the editorial team. She was also a member of the translation and transcription team for Secrets of Craft and Nature in Renaissance France, a digital critical edition of a sixteenth-century French craft manual produced by the “Making and Knowing Project” at Columbia University.