Simon Brown

PhD Candidate

Early Modern Europe


I study early modern European history, with a focus on Britain from the Reformation to the Enlightenment. My dissertation, "Useful Subjects: Theology, Education and Practical Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century Britain," examines the history of "useful knowledge" as an aspiration and project from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century in England and its empire. It focuses on the ways that knowledge typically left out of this category, particularly religion and ethics, was valued for its use and practicality in the late stages of the Reformation in the form of "practical divinity." I trace how the popularity and consensus around practical divinity shaped the ideas about pedagogy, plans for schools and practices of teaching that would be at the base of schemes to educate people in the useful knowledge of handicrafts, manufactures and navigation. 

I am an editor at the Journal of the History of Ideas Blog. I co-founded and convened the Religion and History Graduate Seminar, and have organized the Berkeley-Stanford British Studies Reading Group. I have taught for introductory courses on modern European and early American history, the history of religion and undergraduate thesis research. I received a BPhil in history and philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh.


Research Interests

  • Religion 
  • Political Economy
  • Education
  • Intellectual History

Select Conference Presentations

 Free Schools, Divinity Degrees and “Beneficial Manufactures” from Interregnum to Restoration                  

            North American Conference on British Studies, Vancouver (November, 2019)

English Preaching Manuals, Clerical Expertise and the ‘Learned Ministry,’ 1570-1660                                                

            Learning by the Book: Manuals and Handbooks in the History of Knowledge,

            German Historical Institute, Princeton University ( June, 2018)

John Dury, Practical Divinity and the Advancement of Useful Knowledge in the Seventeenth Century           

            Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA (March, 2018)

The Politics of Pedantry: English University Reform in the Public Sphere, 1642-1660

            Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA (April, 2016)

Panels Organized 

"Knowledge, Use and Utility in the Seventeenth Century,"  North American Conference on British Studies, Vancouver (November, 2019)

Publications (Not Peer-Reviewed)

"Higher Education and the Stuff of Revolutions," Tocqueville21 /  Journal of the History of Ideas Blog (2019)

"Learning to Demonstrate the Spirit in English Practical Divinity," History of Knowledge Blog (2018)

"A 'Usefull (Indeed Most Usefull) Thing' and the Fortunes of a Scholarly Petitioner in Interregnum England," Journal of the History of Ideas Blog (2017)

Book Review: God in the Enlightenment, eds. William Bulman and Robert Ingram, The Immanent Frame (2016)