Professor Neil Kenny FBA

Sixteenth and 17th-century literature, culture, and thought in Europe, especially France; the relation of literature & learning to social hierarchy; the role played by language in shaping knowledge and belief

Elected 2011

Headshot of Neil Kenny in front of greenery
Fellow type
UK Fellow
Year elected

Professor Kenny's first academic positions were as Frances A. Yates Fellow at the Warburg Institute (1985-1987), Stipendiary Lecturer at New College Oxford (1987-1989), and Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London (1989-1994). He then taught in the Department of French at the University of Cambridge for many years (1994-2012), before going to Oxford.

His main research area is the literature and thought of 16th- and 17th-century France. Professor Kenny has long been interested in how different kinds of knowledge were shaped and communicated by literary forms in general and by language in particular. His work on language first focused on 'concepts' (in particular that of curiosity) and then on 'tenses' (and the attitudes they communicate towards the dead).

His recent and current research is on the relationship of literature and learning to social hierarchy in early modern Europe, especially France. It explores connections between literary and intellectual history on the one hand and social history on the other.

He also works in the field of language policy as a member of various bodies, including the Academy’s Languages Executive Group.

Current post

All Souls College, Oxford Senior Research Fellow

Past appointments

Department of French, University of Cambridge Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader

1994 - 2012


Literature, Learning, and Social Hierarchy in Early Modern Europe

Published in 2022

Born to Write: Literary Families and Social Hierarchy in Early Modern France

Published in 2020 by Oxford University Press

La Librairie de Montaigne

co-edited by Neil Kenny and Philip Ford - Published in 2012

Death and Tenses: Posthumous Presence in Early Modern France

Neil Kenny - Published in 2015 by Oxford University Press

An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century French Literature and Thought: Other Times, Other Places

Neil Kenny - Published in 2008 by Duckworth

The Uses of Curiosity in Early Modern France and Germany

Neil Kenny - Published in 2004 by Oxford University Press

Curiosity in Early Modern Europe: Word Histories

Neil Kenny - Published in 1998 by O. Harrassowitz

The Palace of Secrets: Béroalde de Verville and Renaissance Conceptions of Knowledge

Neil Kenny - Published in 1991 by Oxford University Press

(ed.) Philosophical Fictions and the French Renaissance

Neil Kenny - Published in 1991 by Warburg Institute

Nine Fellows of the British Academy on how their subjects could shape the 2020s

24 Jan 2020

Leading professors in the humanities and social sciences set out the challenges and opportunities facing their subjects in the 2020s.

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