Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
Princeton University
Website URL
History of Reading, History of Knowledge, Early Modern Europe, Women’s and Gender History, English History, History of the Book
Additional Contact Information

Personal Info

About Me

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 is a Perkins-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows and a Lecturer in History at Princeton University. 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 and its transmission, or lack thereof, into printed works.

Her research has been supported by the 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. Reynolds’ work 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.

Recent Publications

Refereed Journal Articles

“‘Here is a good boke to lerne’: Practical books, the coming of the press, and the search for knowledge, ca. 1400–1560,” Journal of British Studies 58, no. 2 (April 2019): 259–288.

Editions and Translations

Digital critical edition of BnF MS fr. 640 for The Making and Knowing Project with Pamela H. Smith (Columbia), Marc Smith (École nationale des chartes), as one of a team of transcription and translation scholars; expected release Dec. 2019

Book reviews

Review of Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain (Oxford, 2011) in Past Tense: Graduate Review of History 3 (Spring 2015), 79–81.

Public-facing scholarship

“A Recipe for Reproductive Healthcare,” The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine (June 27, 2019),

“The key to lowering America’s high rates of maternal mortality,” The Washington Post, May 8, 2019

“But does it work? Playful Magic and the Question of a Recipe’s Purpose,” The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine (January, 24, 2019),

Media Coverage
Country Focus
Expertise by Geography
British Isles, England, France
Expertise by Chronology
1, 6
Expertise by Topic
Book History, Gender, Material Culture, Medicine