Spotlight on: Dr Helen Parish

I joined the History Department in October 1999. I did my first degree at the University of St Andrews, and a D.Phil at the University of Oxford (Jesus College), before taking up a Junior Research Fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford. 


After several years at school labouring under the belief that nothing much of importance happened before about 1850, I intended to pursue a joint honours degree in Modern History and Economics, but rapidly decided that medieval and early modern history had more to offer (in terms of interest if not career prospects in finance), and now spend my time attempting to convince Reading undergraduates of the same.

I wrote my D.Phil thesis on the debate over clerical marriage in England in the mid-sixteenth century, published by Ashgate in 2000 as Clerical Marriage and the English Reformation: Precedent, Policy, and Practice. The book balanced a reading of religious polemic in Reformation England with an analysis of the patterns of behaviour, such as they were, of parish clergy in the period between the legalisation of clerical marriage in England in 1549 and the 1570s. These two interests have run through my more recent research.  A project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, to transcribe and edit the Parker Certificates, was undertaken in collaboration with Felicity Heal (Jesus College, Oxford) and Ralph Houlbrooke (University of Reading), with Dr Fiona McCall (now Portsmouth) employed as a research assistant. A print volume is to be published by the Church of England Record Society, and a web-based searchable database of the Elizabethan parish clergy of the early 1560s will be hosted at the University of Reading.


My most recent monograph, a more wide-ranging study of the debate over clerical marriage and clerical celibacy, covered the pontificates of sixteen Pope Benedicts, with a primary focus on the period between 1100 and 1700. The chapters on celibacy and marriage in the early modern period offered the opportunity to explore in more detail some of the issues raised in my first book, while other chapters involved ventures into chronological pastures new, and severely tested the patience of colleagues in medieval and modern history. 

I have also published on a range of topics to do with religion, magic, and superstition in medieval and early modern Europe. Building upon the alliterative foundations laid in the title of my first book, I published Monks, Miracles, and Magic: Reformation Representations of the Medieval Church with Routledge in 2005, and have published a number of essays and articles on early modern attitudes to medieval saints and miracles, and magic and the priesthood. I edited, with Bill Naphy, Religion and Superstition in Reformation Europe, and a collection of essays on debates over authority in the age of reformation, co-edited with Elaine Fulton and Peter Webster, will be published in January 2014.

monks2.jpg   religion-superstition-in-reformation-europe-helen-parish-paperback-cover-art

I have been Head of the Department of History, Senior Tutor for History and for the School of Humanities, Chair of the Department Examinations Committee, and am now Director of Research. I have served on the council of the Church of England Record Society, the publications committee of the Tyndale Society, and the Ecumenical Commission for the Diocese of Northampton. I have also been reviews editor for the journal Reformation

After a number of years attempting to navigate my car around the Handy Cross roundabout, I eventually persuaded my family to move close enough to Reading that the start to the day now involves a scooter, a buggy, and a bicycle. With two young children, leisure time that once involved visits to churches and castles now more often revolves around the creation of less than historic monuments from objects found in the household recycling. In what spare time remains, I enjoy singing, music, and – especially as deadlines approach – baking, while fending off questions from an inquisitive 5-year old. Having failed to offer an adequate answer to my daughter’s incisive question about a recent publication (‘mummy, why did you use the word ‘the’ on that line?’), I am, in my current research, attempting to address the more perplexing issue: ‘mummy, where do dragons come from?’. 




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1 Response to Spotlight on: Dr Helen Parish

  1. Are you aware of T. Pratchett’s work on the origin of dragons : Guards! Guards!, T. Pratchett ( originaly published in 1989 but most recent editions are widely available ) 🙂

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