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Dr Richard Serjeantson

Dr Richard Serjeantson

Fellow and Lecturer in History, Trinity College

Trinity College
Cambridge CB2 1TQ
Office Phone: +44 (0)1223 338589


B.A., University of York
M.Phil., Ph.D., University of Cambridge
Procter Fellow, Princeton University 1996–97
Lecturer in History, Trinity College, Cambridge 2001–
Visiting Professor, California Institute of Technology 2007
Crausaz-Wordsworth Fellow, CRASSH 2013

Departments and Institutes

Trinity College:

Research Interests

My research interests lie in British and broader European history between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Within that period I am particularly interested in the shared history of philosophy and the sciences, and in their conceptual foundations; in political thought and action; in the production, circulation, and censorship of manuscripts and printed books; and in religion and irreligion. Figures studied have included Elizabeth Cary, Edward Herbert (of Cherbury), Thomas Hobbes, Meric Casaubon, John Milton, John Locke, and David Hume. A study of the scientific education of the naturalist Francis Willughby (1635–1672) has recently been published in a volume of essays on Willughby, while an account of the career of John Wilkins (1614–1672) immediately prior to the founding of the Royal Society is in press.

Work-in-progress includes studies of the political significance of Thomas More’s Utopia; of the early philosophical development of René Descartes; of the politics of religious violence in the second Reformation; of Edward Herbert and the history of religion; and of the Emperor Constantine in Reformation and Counter-Reformation historiography.

I am also pursuing ongoing research into the figure of Francis Bacon (1561–1626), both as a political actor and thinker and as a natural philosopher. A study of the significance of Bacon’s notion of the ‘Interpretation of Nature’ for late Renaissance natural philosophy appears in the December 2014 issue of Isis.

Research Supervision

I offer Ph.D. supervision and advice in topics from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, with a focus on seventeenth-century Britain, for the Faculty of History, the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, and the Faculty of English.

I teach at Masters level for the M.Phil. in Political Thought and Intellectual History, the M.Phil. in Early Modern History, and the M.Phil. in History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science, Technology and Medicine. Masters students have written on a range of subjects, including: the reception of Lucretius in Renaissance Europe; the status of war in humanist educational writings; the natural philosophy of William Gilbert; Lancelot Andrewes; the reception of Giovanni Botero in England; theories of error in seventeenth-century philosophy; Sir John Eliot's prison writings; the study of politics in the English universities in the  earlier seventeenth century; Thomas Hobbes's changing account of the state of nature; George Rust and intellectual life in 1650s Cambridge; James Harrington as a reader of John Selden; the Royal Society's 'History of Trades' project; John Locke after 1689; the vegetarian writings of Thomas Tryon; Samuel Clarke's theory of human nature; the natural philosophy of Jean-Théophile Desaguliers; anti-Trinitarian debates in the earlier eighteenth century; perceptions of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman pasts in William Lambarde, David Hume and Edward Gibbon; and John Adams and republican political thought after the American Revolution.

Ph.D. students have worked, or are working on: the theory and practice of princely education in sixteenth-century Britain (Dr Aysha Pollnitz); the doctrine of presumptions in late Renaissance civil law (Dr Adolfo Giuliani); natural philosophy and natural theology in the period 1570–1630 (Dr Thomas Woolford); the idea of sovereignty in early modern English historical writing (Dr Rei Kanemura); theories of the origins of religious belief in the British Enlightenment (Robin Mills); and the reception and translation of Giovanni Botero's writings in England (Jamie Trace).


I teach history at Undergraduate, MPhil and PhD level.

Other Professional Activities

Key Publications

Student Introductions

  • Introduction’ to Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Tom Griffiths (Ware: Wordsworth Classics, 2014), pp. vii–xxviii