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Name: Caroline Curtis

PhD: English Literature

Thesis Title: Architects of Fortune: Autobiographical Writing and the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, 1660-1706

Thesis Description:

I intend to explore the correlation between the impetus to study the natural world and to study oneself in the wake of Bacon’s challenge to natural philosophical traditions. My research will analyse this relationship in two ways: firstly, how the language of the new scientific method influenced the literary language of its promoters and developers, and secondly, by exploring the philosophical impact of empiricism on that study of the self as an object.

Taken to be the motto of Paracelsus by John Aubrey, the phrase 'faber quisque fortunate suae' ('every man is the architect of his own fortune') occurs in Bacon's Advancement of Learning and Essays, and the diary of Samuel Pepys, always used to positively describe a self-made man.  I propose to explore further the conscious and unconscious uses and connotations of this phrase, set against the backdrop of scientific revolution and the emergence of print culture. My research shall be structured using this phrase, exploring its frequent use in the autobiographical works of seventeenth-century Royal Society associates, and analysing the act of self-writing as a form of both public and private self-creation. I will be examining what impetus caused these authors to take themselves as their own subject, and if the establishment of inductive reasoning in natural philosophy contributed to perceptions of their own lives as being ontological, whereby axiomatic knowledge about the self is established by examination of the everyday particulars. 

Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr Hugh Adlington, University of Birmingham

Dr Peter Auger - University of Birmingham

Professor Martin Dzelzainis - University of Leicester




  • Seminar lead, 2nd year undergraduate Medieval literature module,  University of Keele

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • Conference paper Undigested Thoughts: Seventeenth Century Experimentalist Essays delivered at Scientiae 2019 (Queen's University, Belfast)
  • 'Theory Lucky Dip' session co-lead at Theories of Reading Study Day, in connection with Oxford Critical Theory Network and TORCH (University of Oxford)


  • Conference paper The Curious Publication of Robert Boyle’s 'Occasional Reflections’ delivered at the 3rd International Conference on Science and Literature (Sorbonne Université)
  • Conference paper Autobiographical Aspects of the Work of Robert Boyle delivered at History and Philosophy of Science: Methodology, Experimental Practices and Concept Formation (University of Bucharest)


  • Committee Chair, Spectrum postgraduate conference, University of Birmingham
  • Conference paper 'A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure': Francis Bacon's Survival Guide for Intelligent Peers delivered at Spectrum postgraduate conference, University of Birmingham
  • Conference paper Ethics versus Aesthetics in Measure for Measure delivered at the British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, The Shakespeare Institute


  • Tutorial Fellowship Appointment Panel undergraduate representative, New College, University of Oxford
  • Marketing and Publicity Officer, Oxford Think Week, University of Oxford


Professional Memberships:

  • The British Society for Literature and Science
  • Elected to the Bibliographical Society, September 2018


Other Research Interests:

  • History of science
  • Renaissance humanism
  • Bibliography
  • Travel literature


University email address:



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