Marginalia and the Early Modern Woman Writer, 1530-1660


This Project aims to provide an ambitious new literary history of how early modern women read and wrote in the margins of their books, uncovering new texts, practices, writers, and readers across the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Reading is a central mechanism through which the English Renaissance was instituted: a means by which the classical world reached the early modern subject and vernacular textual culture came to flourish. Evidence for how reading operated can be found in the traces readers left behind in their books, including marginal annotations. These annotations provide not only crucial evidence of reading practice, but also an overlooked source of extraordinary writing. A world of textual activity can be found here: marks, signatures, requests for remembrance, short lyrics, devotional meditations, letters, and extended prose tracts teem in the margins of early modern books and manuscripts, in both scribal and print forms. The margin has emerged as one of the most significant new textual sites of the period, moving from the edges of scholarship to a place of central importance. However, most scholarship in this field still focuses on men’s use of marginalia, overlooking hundreds of instances of marginal annotation by women. This project will provide the first comprehensive examination of how early modern women readers engaged with the margins of their books. It will radically expand our conception of what constituted early modern women’s writing and how it was circulated. It will also reevaluate, from a new perspective, our understanding of reading, writing, and book use in early modern England and disseminate its findings in new digital forms, bringing together materialist and digital humanities scholarship to create a digital archive enabling future research.  

Read about our latest discoveries of early modern women’s marginalia:

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A Woman Reading a Letter, 1665.
Gerard ter Borch the younger.

(The Wallace Collection)

The subject here is modelled on Gerard's sister Gesina, who herself was an artist. Here's her 1660 self-portrait from the Rijksmuseum. She was born #otd 15 Nov in 1631.

Hearing confession in 1658 from the ever wonderful birthday person Gesina ter Borch (Rijksmuseum) She was born #otd 15 Nov in 1631.

You also see Benediction in the background.


Smith, Rosalind. “Narrow Confines: Marginalia, Devotional Books and the prison in Early Modern Women’s Writing.” Special Issue, “Early Modern Women and Transmission.” Women’s Writing 26 (2019): 35-52. 

Smith, Rosalind. “Fictions of Production: Misattribution, Prosopopoeia, and the Early Modern Woman Writer.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 50, no. 1 (2020): 33-52.


Smith, Rosalind Smith and Kathy Acheson. “Women’s Marginalia in Early Modern Books.” Panel Convenors, Seminar 48, Shakespeare Society of America Virtual Conference, April 2021.

Smith, Rosalind. “Public action and private doodling: visual and textual marking in early modern women’s printed books.” Shakespeare Society of America Virtual Conference, April 2021.

Smith, Rosalind. “Women’s Marginalia in the Emmerson Collection.” Bibliographic Society of Australia and New Zealand Virtual Conference, December 2020.


Professor Rosalind Smith

Professor Rosalind Smith

Researcher profile

Professor Rosalind Smith is Chair of the Discipline of English and Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at ANU. She is also co-convenor of the Early Modern Women Research Network (EMWRN). She works on gender, form, politics, and history in early modern women’s writing, with particular interests in the ways in which women’s writing is produced, circulated, and received. View full bio >

Research Assistants

Jake Arthur

Jake Arthur

Researcher profile

Jake Arthur is a DPhil candidate and Clarendon Scholar at the University of Oxford. His thesis “‘The stuffe not ours’: the work of derivation in women’s writing, 1560–c. 1664” examines early modern women’s work in translation and paraphrase and seeks to reclaim the expressive and intellectual possibilities of “derivative” works. He works as a researcher on the ARC funded project Marginalia and the Early Modern Woman Writer, 1530-1660, and the ARC-Marsden Grant funded project, ‘Woe is me:’ Women and Complaint in the English Renaissance.

Dr Julie Robarts 

Dr Julie Robarts 

Researcher profile

Dr Julie Robarts is a Research Officer in the School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics at ANU, where she is Research Asssitant and administrative assistant for the ARC funded projects Marginalia and the Early Modern Woman Writer, 1530-1660, and Transforming the Early Modern Archive: the Emmerson Collection at SLV. She completed her PhD in Italian Studies (2019), at the University of Melbourne on Roman virtuosa singer Margherita Costa (fl. 1628-1654), which explores the gender dynamics, and effects of print censorship within libertine literary and musical circles in counter-reformation Rome, Florence, and Venice. View full bio >


HDR Candidate

Hannah Upton

Hannah Upton

Hannah Upton will work with Professor Rosalind Smith on one aspect of this project, such as a study of early modern women’s marginalia in a single archive (e.g., the British Library or the Emmerson Collection at State Library Victoria) or a study of early modern women’s use of print marginalia. Working with the project’s digital resources, she will collaborate with a team of research assistants and international scholars to recover a new corpus, develop new models of reading and writing practice, examine gender and authorship, and contribute to new theorisations and practices surrounding digital humanities and early modern texts. She will undertake funded fieldwork in UK and US archives, present her work at national and international conferences, and have collaborative publication opportunities. She will also work in close collaboration with the Early Modern Women Research Network, co-convened by Professor Smith. View full bio >

Partner Institutions

Folger Shakespeare Library

The University of Oxford

This research is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council Future Fellowship scheme (Marginalia and the Early Modern Woman Writer, 1530-1660 FT180100371).