School of English and Drama

English menu

Dr Ruth Ahnert, BA MPhil PhD (Cambridge)


Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Studies



I grew up in Great Yarmouth, and studied for my BA, Masters, and PhD at the University of Cambridge. After holding a postdoctoral fellowship funded by the Society for Renaissance Study, I came to Queen Mary in 2010. I research broadly in the area of Tudor culture and book history. My first book The Rise of Prison Literature in the Sixteenth Century (2013) explored the kinds of writing undertaken by Tudor prisoners. More recently, my research has employed digital methods from the field of Complex Networks to study Tudor letters. Work in this area has been funded by Stanford Humanities Center, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the AHRC, and the QMUL Innovation Grant. I am also involved in a number of centres and projects that seek to bring together collaborators interested in network analysis.

A network visualisation of Protestant correspondence, 1553–1558. Martyrs are marked with dark grey squares and so-called sustainers with light grey circlesWith Joad Raymond I am Director of the Centre for Early Modern Mapping News and Networks (, which we established and launched in September 2013. I am on the steering committee of QMUL’s Digital Initiative Network. With Elaine Treharne I am also series editor of the Stanford University Press’s Text Technologies book series.


You can follow me on Twitter here


Image: A network visualisation of Protestant correspondence, 1553–1558. Martyrs are marked with dark grey squares and so-called sustainers with light grey circles

Undergraduate Teaching

In the 2017-18 year I am not teaching apart from PhD supervision.


Research Interests:

  • Tudor literature and culture
  • Letters
  • Network theory
  • Prison writing
  • Religious history

Recent and On-Going Research

Since January 2012 I have been collaborating with Sebastian Ahnert, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, using mathematical tools to examine the social and textual organization of letter collections. In 2015 we published an article on Protestant letter networks dating from the reign of Mary I (see Publications), and we are now undertaking a study of the letters collected within the archive of Tudor State Papers (accessed via State Papers Online), which will lead to a book and online resource provisionally entitled Tudor Networks of Power. We are also working on a collaborative manifesto with Mark Algee-Hewitt (Stanford), Nicole Coleman (Stanford), and Scott Weingart (Carnegie Mellon) on the use of network analysis in the humanities.

My work on the Protestant letter network has also led to another more traditional project: an edition. I am working on the two-volume Letters of the Marian Martyrs with Thomas Freeman (Essex).  




The Rise of Prison Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2013)  

With Sebastian E. Ahnert, Tudor Networks of Power (in progress)

With Sebastian E. Ahnert, Mark Algee-Hewitt, Nicole Coleman, and Scott Weingart, Networks: A Manifesto for the Humanities (title TBC; in progress)

Editions and edited collections

Re-Forming the Psalms in Tudor England, edited by Ruth Ahnert as a special issue of Renaissance Studies, 29:4 (2015)

The Letters of the Marian Martyrs, edited by Ruth Ahnert and Thomas S. Freeman,  (in progress)

Articles and Chapters 

'Maps Versus Networks', in News Networks in Early Modern Europe, ed. Noah Moxham and Joad Raymond (Brill, 2016)

With Sebastian Ahnert, ‘Protestant Letter Networks in the Reign of Mary I: A Quantitative Approach’, English Literary History (2015)  

‘A Community Under Attack: Protestant Letter Networks in the Reign of Mary I’, Leonardo 47 (2014), 275  

‘Inscribed in Memory: The Prison Poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt’, in Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance, ed. Thomas Betteridge and Suzannah Lipscomb (Ashgate, 2013)

‘Imitating Inquisition: Dialectical Bias in Protestant Prison Writings’, in The Culture of Inquisition in Medieval England, ed. Mary Flannery and Katie Walter, Westfield Medieval Studies (Boydell and Brewer, 2013)  

‘Drama King: The Portrayal of Henry VIII in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons’, in Henry VIII in History, ed. Thomas Betteridge and Thomas S. Freeman (Ashgate, 2012)  

‘The Prison in Early Modern Drama’, Literature Compass, 9:1 (2012), 34-47  

‘Writing in the Tower of London during the Reformation, ca. 1530-1558’, in Prison Writings in Early Modern Britain, ed. by William Sherman and William J. Sheils as a special number of the Huntington Library Quarterly (2009), 168-92 

Encyclopedia entries  

‘William Marshall’, and ‘Robert Copland’, in Blackwell Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, ed. Alan Stewart, Garrett Sullivan, Rebecca Lemon, Nicholas McDowell, and Jennifer Richards (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)


See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile

PhD Supervision

I would welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of the areas of my research. I have recently supervised the following successful PhD project:

  • Lotte Fikkers, 'Women’s Testimony: Legal Records as Forms of Life-Writing, 1558-1649’ (2017)

I am currently supervising:

  • Jennifer Cryar, 'Bridewell Prison and Representations of Deviancy in Early Modern London’

Public Engagement

For a full list of my media and public appearances click here.

See a Q&A on my research here

This Faculti video features me talking about my book, The Rise of Prison Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 2013): 

The following podcasts relate to my work on medieval and early modern Psalm culture. The first reflects on the enduring influence of the book of Psalms into the present day, and the latter reports on the conference I organised with Tamara Atkin, ‘Psalm Culture and the Politics of Translation’:


Return to top