Achinstein, Sharon 1963-

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ACHINSTEIN, Sharon 1963-


Born June 15, 1963, in Baltimore, MD; daughter of Peter Achinstein and Merle Ann Beck; married David Norbrook, June 5, 1997. Education: Harvard University, A.B.; Princeton University, Ph.D.


Home—Oxford, England. Office—St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 4AR, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Cambridge University Press, Edinburgh Building, Shaftesbury Rd., Cambridge CB2 2RU, England. E-mail—[email protected].


Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, assistant professor, 1989-95, associate professor of English literature, 1995; University of Maryland, College Park, associate professor of English; Oxford University, England, tutor in English. North American Conference on British Studies, member.


Milton Society of America, Phi Beta Kappa.


AT&T fellowship, 1991-92; American Council of Learned Societies fellowship, 1991-92; Huntington Library fellow, 1992; W. M. Keck Foundation fellow, 1992; William Andrews Clark Memorial Library residential fellow, 1992; James Holly Hanford Award, Milton Society of America, 1994, for Milton and the Revolutionary Reader; Northwestern University research grant, 1995; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 1997-98.


Milton and the Revolutionary Reader ("Literature in History" series), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1994.

Gender, Literature, and the English Revolution, Gordan & Breach Science Publishers, 1995.

Literature and Dissent in Milton's England, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Member of editorial board, Palgrave "Literature" series; contributor to academic periodicals.


English literature scholar and educator Sharon Achinstein's first book, Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, was praised by English Historical Review critic Christopher Hill, who called the work "a praiseworthy attempt to rescue Milton from those who see him as principally a student of the Greek and Roman classics." Hill added that Achinstein "demonstrates that Milton participated actively in the thinking to which the novel experience of the English revolution gave rise."

In Milton and the Revolutionary Reader Achinstein focuses on noted seventeenth-century English writer John Milton's career up to and including his major work, Paradise Lost. She studies pamphlets that were used to initiate political debate during Milton's day and considers whether they were instrumental in solidifying the debate on opposing sides. She notes the goal of Milton to create revolutionary readers who could absorb opinion through the printed word and considers his relationship to other writers and the impact of their writings on his country during the English Civil War. Joad Raymond wrote in Review of English Studies that Achinstein's Milton "is a convincing one, and she has a strong case to make for the nature of reading in the mid-seventeenth century. Milton appears as a rhetorical opportunist stimulated by the exciting transformations in literary-political pamphleteering and sensible of the rhetorical practices and ideological gestures constituting the culture of print." Notes and Queries writer N. H. Keeble felt that Achinstein's thesis—that the English Revolution "was a revolution in reading"—"is advanced through marvelously detailed, comprehensively annotated (in both primary and secondary literature), and lucid analyses of representative cases, managed in the context of the pamphlet literature more generally."

Achinstein concentrates on seventeenth-century Restoration dissenters in her Literature and Dissent in Milton's England, in which she "challenges the traditional literary history of the late Stuart era by recasting it from Dryden's England to Milton's, from the royalist perspective to that of the religious radical and republican," as Melinda S. Zook explained in Clio. The book is divided into two sections. The first five chapters focus on the socially and politically excluded dissenters and their expressions of both dissent and commitment, not only through their writings, but also through their participation in prison-sitting, funerals, and other cultural forms. Zook explained that, unlike many scholars, who "portray Restoration dissent as quietist, retreating inward after the years of radical populism, … as Achinstein points out, religious nonconformists still rejected worldly authority, and this rejection became the basis for their political radicalism." Noting that the author "finds their continuing radicalism in the apocalyptic imaging of their poetics," Zook found Literature and Dissent in Milton's England to be an "ambitious study of dissenting literature" and "a book with big ideas." Journal of Ecclesiastical History contributor Elizabeth Clarke was equally impressed, calling Achinstein's work "an example of one of the most useful manifestations of historicist scholarship, in which there is a genuine interplay between literary criticism and history: literary analysis is used in constructing historical narratives, at the same time as historical narrative is employed to facilitate literary criticism."



Clio, spring, 2004, Melinda S. Zook, review of Literature and Dissent in Milton's England, p. 336.

Criticism, fall, 1995, David Norbrook, review of Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, p. 625.

English Historical Review, April, 1997, Christopher Hill, review of Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, p. 473.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, October, 2004, Elizabeth Clarke, review of Literature and Dissent in Milton's England, p. 790.

Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Lois Potter, review of Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, p. 551.

Journal of Religion, July, 2004, Albert C. Labriola, review of Literature and Dissent in Milton's England, p. 508.

Modern Language Quarterly, June, 1997, Sara Van Den Berg, review of Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, p. 111.

Modern Philology, May, 1997, Thomas N. Corns, review of Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, p. 529.

Notes and Queries, September, 1996, N. H. Keeble, review of Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, p. 346.

Renaissance Quarterly, winter, 1996, Samuel Glen Wong, review of Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, p. 887.

Review of English Studies, February, 1997, Joad Raymond, review of Milton and the Revolutionary Reader, p. 107.*