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Dr Annabel Brett

Dr Annabel Brett

Reader in the History of Political Thought, University of Cambridge

Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Gonville and Caius College
Cambridge CB2 1TA
Office Phone: 01223 3 32244

Subject groups/Research projects

Political Thought and Intellectual History:

Departments and Institutes

Gonville & Caius College:

Research Interests

Annabel Brett is a specialist in the history of political thought from the late middle ages to the mid-seventeenth century. One main area of research concerns scholastic moral and political philosophy, from Aquinas to the Spanish neo-Thomists of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. Within this tradition, she has examined in particular questions of natural law and natural rights, although her focus on the theory of human agency behind these issues has involved her in broader questions about human subjectivity and freedom, including the theory of the soul and its potentials. She has extended these lines of enquiry to include the humanist and Protestant natural law traditions, especially Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes, and early-modern understandings of international law. She has a strong interest in ancient philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle, while issues of concern in contemporary theory are connected with the themes of her historical research: human rights, animal rights and in general the interface between human political constructions and the natural environment. She was invited to give the Carlyle Lectures at Oxford in 2008, which have now been revised and published as Changes of state. Nature and the limits of the city in early modern natural law (Princeton 2011).

Research Supervision

Annabel Brett supervises for the MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History on all topics in scholastic and Aristotelian political thought, natural law and natural rights, especially for the period between Francisco de Vitoria and Thomas Hobbes, and on 16th/17th-century political thought and intellectual history more generally, e.g. Francis Bacon and the new science; Juan Luis Vives and education; the early imperialist ideology of Charles V; renaissance neo-Stoicism; early modern historiography; etc. etc.

PhD supervision includes political representation in the later middle ages, fifteenth-century theory of the church, early-modern Aristotelianism, later scholasticism, Hobbes, gender in the construction of the early-modern state, early-modern imperialism, early modern natural law.


Annabel Brett lectures on Paper 19, 'History of political thought to c. 1700' in Part I of the History Tripos, and on Paper 6, 'States between states: The history of international political thought' in Part II. She has lectured on historiography for the Historical Argument and Practice paper, and teaches a range of classes and topics for the MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History.

Key Publications

  • Liberty, right and nature: Individual rights in later scholastic thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1997)
  • 'What is intellectual history now?', in D. Cannadine ed., What is history now? (London: Palgrave Press 2002)
  • Marsilius of Padua: The Defender of the Peace. Edited and translated by Annabel S. Brett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2005)
  • (co-edited with James Tully) Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006)
  • Changes of state. Nature and the limits of the city in early modern natural law (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2011)
  • 'The space of politics and the space of war in Hugo Grotius's De iure belli ac pacis', Global Intellectual History 1 (2016)