Spotlight on: Dr Rachel Foxley

Having grown up a few miles further down the Thames valley, coming to Reading in 2004 was a return to home territory. My academic path as a student took me through different subjects as well as three different universities, but I like to think that there is some underlying logic. I studied Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, as an undergraduate, focusing on ancient history and philosophy; then went on (in a reaction against the time-honoured respectability of Oxford Classics) to do an MA in Women’s Studies at York, a pioneering course which had then just celebrated its tenth anniversary. During my MA I developed my interests in gender history and the history of ideas, completing a dissertation on gender in Leveller thought – crucial in paving my way towards my PhD on the Levellers, but in hindsight a rather basic piece of work! For my PhD I moved to Cambridge, where I was supervised by John Morrill, and had the companionship of his ‘New Morrill Army’ of graduate students as I acclimatised to being an early modern historian and focused in on the political thought of the English civil war. After my PhD I was lucky to secure a post as Old Dominion Research Fellow, Clare Hall – being paid just to research – and my first experience of teaching was with enthusiastic Cambridge undergraduates taking the History of Political Thought to 1700 paper.

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My research always comes back to the history of ideas, and to close reading of the texts which developed those ideas (whether scattered pamphlets or lengthy books expounding political theories) – the close reading perhaps a legacy of my classical training. My book, The Levellers: radical political thought in the English Revolution (2013), developed my PhD in new directions. I am always fascinated by the ways in which writers wrestle with contradictions and difficulties in their ideas, and tug existing ideas into new shapes. For the Levellers, a group forged by the destructive but evidently also creative forces of Parliament’s war against Charles I in the 1640s, these tensions were particularly urgent and revealing: they uncomfortably asserted the supremacy of parliament in the face of parliament’s apparent betrayals of the radical cause, and struggled to define the relationship between parliament and a sovereign people who retained ultimate power.

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Classics has given me a crucial foundation for the study of early modern ideas, and in my current project, ‘Gender, democracy and the republican tradition’ I draw on my training both in classics and in Women’s Studies. This project, initiated with the help of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, investigates the way in which the (gendered) anti-democratic tropes of ancient Greek philosophers and historians were assimilated into the republican tradition of early modern Europe.

I am currently the department’s Admissions tutor, coordinating the department’s contacts with prospective students, but over the last few years I have also overseen exams and coordinated the undergraduate degree programme. 

I find being in a choir a great antidote to the stresses of term-time. I’m also a ‘grammar junkie’ (as a friend once said) so every now and then I get enthused by a new language – always well before I’m in any danger of mastering the previous one I was learning!

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One Response to Spotlight on: Dr Rachel Foxley

  1. Pingback: Magna Carta and the Levellers: public lecture | University of Lincoln Public Engagement

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