Prof Elaine Hobby
Professor of 17th-Century Studies
Today, fully absorbed in running the AHRC-funded project Editing Aphra Behn in the Digital Age, I can see connections across my 30 years at Loughborough and my academic career before that. Since my appointment as Lecturer in Women’s Studies in 1988, tasked then with developing the study of women’s writing at the University, the investigation of forgotten female authors has been my central interest. I have taught undergraduate and Master’s modules focused on women’s writing, supervised PhD research in that area, and published a range of books and journal articles designed to encourage others to investigate this world. Along the way, I was promoted to Reader in Women’s Studies in 1992, and to Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies in 2000. As Head of the Department of English and Drama from 2006 to 2013, I also took especial delight in encouraging my colleagues to pursue their own intellectual passions, contributing to the rich environment now offered in our English and drama programmes.
Before Loughborough, I was Lecturer in English and General Studies at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology (which has since morphed into Anglia Polytechnic University), and before that was based in the USA from 1981-83 as a Harkness Fellow. My BA (1978) and PhD (1984) are from the University of Birmingham, and my Master’s degree from Essex University (1980). Having been a Welsh child growing up in England in the 1950s and 60s, I have an enduring interest in the experience of migration.
In recent years I have been employed full-time on research, and I engage only occasionally in undergraduate teaching. I do though love being with students, and for many years contributed to (and sometimes ran) modules in Critical Theory, Approaches to Poetry, Women’s Writing, and Renaissance and Restoration Drama at undergraduate level, and to Research Methods and a range of modules on early-modern culture for Master’s students.
As a 1970s feminist, I began my career with the desire to contribute to the rediscovery of forgotten women writers, and both my first book, Virtue of Necessity: English Women’s Writing 1649-1688 and my current project as PI on the AHRC-funded Editing Aphra Behn in the Digital Age are testimony that that commitment has always inspired me. Both those areas of work also contain the seeds of other dimensions of my activities. Much 17th-century women’s writing, for instance, is in genres not generally regarded as literary – those women wrote political pamphlets, religious meditations, cookery books and midwifery manuals rather more than they composed poetry, plays, or fiction. As a result, my research has usually been inter-disciplinary, requiring me to explore the history of medicine and the theology of early Quakers and Baptists, for example, as well as the aesthetic dimensions of literature. Those enquiries also prompted other forays, for instance into the (mostly male-authored) lineage of the English-language midwifery manual (see my The Birth of Mankind, 1540-1654).I also ventured into the 18th century to finish The Collected Verse of John, Lord Hervey (1696-1744) (Cambridge University Press, 2016) for the late Bill Overton.
Over the years, this work has been supported not only by Loughborough University, but also by grants from the AHRB, the AHRC, the British Academy, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Harkness Fellowships, the Harry Ransom Center, the Houghton Library, the Huntington Library, Princeton University Library, the University of Illinois, the Wellcome Trust, and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library.
These days, Aphra Behn (1640?-1689) keeps me busy, both because I am editing several of her plays for the forthcoming Cambridge Edition of the Works of Aphra Behn, and because I manage the international team involved with that project. Behn was not only Britain’s first professional woman playwright, but also a poet, fiction-writer, and translator from French. Those involved with bringing the Cambridge Edition to completion include academics who hail from the USA, Canada, Australia, France and Austria, as well as from across the UK. The year 2020 will see the appearance of the first volumes of the Cambridge Edition, alongside a range of activities celebrating the 350th anniversary of the debut of Behn’s first play. Watch this space.
My current PhD students are working on Aphra Behn, whose diverse oeuvre has also provided topics for earlier doctoral projects I have supervised. Most of the theses I have guided have concerned some aspect of 17th-century culture, ranging from investigations into early Quakers and Baptists to studies of early-modern perceptions of the human body. Some have had a more purely literary focus, including topics such as the novels of Frances Burney, and the verse of John Dryden. I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students in any of these areas.
Much as I love working with students and conferring with colleagues, it has always been important to me to communicate with people beyond the academy – perhaps most of all because I come from a family whose members have not usually stayed in education beyond the minimum leaving age. I have participated in various television and radio broadcasts (including The One Show and Woman’s Hour, and a live evening-long programme on Radio 3 commemorating the execution of Charles I), co-written (with my colleague Catie Gill) a booklet about the prophecies of early Quaker women, and am currently working on several projects designed to popularise understanding of the achievements of Aphra Behn.
My external activities within the academic world have included membership of the AHRB Postgraduate Panel (2003-07) and the AHRC Peer Review College (2007-10); acting as External Examiner for PhD theses at more than 20 universities in the UK and overseas; and regularly speaking at academic venues that range from international conferences to postgraduate research seminars.